Plastic at Home, Really?

What change can you make to reduce your impact on the environment? I'm going to try to get three uses out of each paper napkin. Chime in and let us know!

One of my biggest hot buttons when it comes to human consumption and the environment is our indiscriminate use of plastic water bottles. Americans use 2.5 million plastic bottles every hour. Sixty million water bottles are thrown away every day in the U.S.(1) That's crazy. I used to buy cases of bottled water from Costco. It was pretty convenient to just grab a bottle of water and head out the door. It was an adjustment to switch to using a reusable bottle, but now I don't even think twice about it. It is better for the environment and better for my health.

There have been many studies that express concerns about the plastic leaching into the water. This is in addition to the questionable quality of the water that is found in these bottles. Opt instead for a stainless steel or aluminum water bottle, get a filter at home and fill up. At the very least, if you are going to use plastic bottles, recycle them. And, when you are at home or in the office, drink out of a glass and save on the bottles.

I cringe every time I see my sister and her boyfriend reach for a bottle of water at home when a glass and a sink are just steps away. They prefer the convenience of the bottle even when they are just hanging out at home sitting on the couch. Last time I visited them, they had nine cases of bottled water stacked in their living room—and that’s just for the two of them. It may be slightly more convenient (I’m stretching here because I’m not sure I see the inconvenience of getting a glass and filling it up), but the impact it has on the environment is worth the extra time and effort to forgo the plastic bottle as often as you can. (Just for the record, they do at least recycle the bottles.)

Of course, reducing our waste goes well beyond plastic bottles. On average, each of us creates 4.5 pounds of trash every day. This equates to 90,000 pounds of trash for each of us over the course of our lives.(2) Below are a few ways you can reduce your consumption and resulting waste.

  • When you are eating at home, use cloth napkins instead of paper. When you eat out, only take the napkins you need. Americans consume an average of more than 2,000 paper napkins a year (about six per day). If everyone in the U.S. used one less napkin every day, more than a billion pounds of napkins could be saved from landfills annually.(3) If you don't want to try cloth, how about reusing your paper napkin? My husband gets about four meals out of each paper napkin.
  • Print on both sides of the paper if that is an option and use "fast draft" to save on ink for when you don't need best quality. Do this at work, home and school, if you can.
  • Bring your own bags when you shop for clothes, groceries, pet food, and office supplies. I leave three reusable bags in the trunk of my car so that they are always with me. At the very least, opt for paper over plastic for bagging. U.S. households dispose of nearly 100 billion plastic bags every year.(4) Unfortunately many of these bags end up littering the environment and harming wildlife.
  • You can get books, CDs and DVDs for free just by heading to your local public library. Approximately three billion new books are sold every year, requiring 400,000 trees to be chopped down.(5) That's reason enough to make some changes in your reading habits.
  • Cancel phone books. With the Internet, phone books have become obsolete in my household. I cancelled by calling the number on the inside of the front cover and now I no longer get the books. Phone books make up almost 10% of waste at dump sites.(6) At the very least, they should be recycled.

What change can you make today to reduce your impact on the environment?


(1) Container Recycling Institute, www.container-recycling.org

(2) Container Recycling Institute, www.container-recycling.org

(3) Rogers, E. & Kostigen, T.M. (2007). The Green Book, p. 16.

(4) Rogers & Kostigen, p. 71.

(5) Rogers & Kostigen, p.17.

(6) Rogers & Kostigen, p. 9.


Dina Colman is an integral health coach and writer. She has her MBA from Kellogg at Northwestern University and her Master’s degree in Holistic Health Education from John F. Kennedy University. She has an office in Danville where she works with clients to live an integral life of health and wellness. She founded FourQuadrantLiving.com, a website providing information on healthy living through nourishment of the four quadrants of our lives—mind, body, relationships, and environment. This blog is from the Environment quadrant. Contact Dina at dina@fourquadrantliving.com

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Evalyn Segal October 19, 2011 at 10:34 PM
I use paper towels as napkins, saves on having two kinds of paper in the kitchen and Bounty paper towels are very sturdy. I use each "napkin" two or three times before finally wiping the kitchen counter with it, then tossing.
Kathleen October 24, 2011 at 12:59 AM
We use cut-up old towels or rags for many of the tasks that used to take paper towels and we cut paper napkins in half. Most of the time you don't need that much napkin! After we use paper towels and napkins, I then use them as liners for the food scrap bin, to save water on washing it.
David Ross October 27, 2011 at 03:38 PM
Your sister and her boyfriend are smart to have that much water stored in their living room. No, not for convenience but for disaster reasons. Bottle water is expensive - that's why I use a water filter pitcher.


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