This is part two of five in an earth month series. Check out the intro and other posts here.
This week, we’re taking a look at how we can reduce plastic use at home and on our outdoor adventures. Spoiler alert: this one’s tricky!
Looking back on my gear wish list in part one of this series, the 2nd “R” of waste management, REDUCE, presents a special challenge.
Are you like me? Do you wanna know the thing I find the most challenging to “reduce”? You’ve probably already guessed: PLASTIC.
Removing unnecessary plastic waste from our home life has gotten a lot easier over the years. From bamboo brushes to stainless steel cookery, reusable silicone bags to the illustrious Redbudsuds shower bars, we’re doing what we can and we feel about as good as we can about it.
But outdoor gear? Such a challenge!
Let’s review my original wish list: a paddle seat for my toddler, a new raincoat, and an ultralight camping mattress pad. Guess what all three of these items contain? Yep, plastic.
Plastics and synthetic materials seem nearly unavoidable, especially in outdoor gear.
If you’re like me, stats like “by 2050 there will be more plastic in the oceans than fish (source),” and the increasing threat of microplastics (source) - including in our drinking water, totally freak you out and trigger the response: isn’t someone doing something about this? Shouldn’t we be!?
One fleece jacket can shed 250,000 microfibers during a single wash (!) and microfibers from synthetic clothing account for an estimated 85% of all the microfibers in our waterways (source).
So what do I do about that gear list?
First, things first: don’t sweat the details.
It’s okay not to be a perfect environmentalist all the time. Seriously. Connecting with the outdoors is important, so as you choose your gear, be mindful, not obsessive. Thanks to ever-improving technology and outdoor gear companies’ commitment to sustainability, more sustainable options are available. Additionally, when you buy items that are well made and built to last, even if the materials available aren’t 100% sustainable, you can still be a good steward of that gear. It’s okay. Process not perfection. Get outside. Connect outside. Let go of your guilt and just get going.
Second, find enjoyable ways to minimize clutter and plastic use.
What can you improve? What sounds exciting? This will look different for everyone, and that’s okay! For our household, making intentional sustainability choices means preparing our own backpacking meals (when we can), reusing ziplock bags one million times (yes I totally gather ziplocks from friends’ trash cans and take them home to wash), finding second hand gear when we can, refusing what we don’t really need for now, and sharing. I don’t always enjoy washing ziplock bags, but I love the way I feel by purchasing more new plastic, and I love the satisfaction of eating meals we’ve made ourselves. It works for us! Find what works for you, and leave your judgment of others aside.
Third, practice Leave No Trace.
To any outdoor veteran, these basic 7 Principles seem like no-brainers, but every time I review them I learn something. Practicing them diligently is so important!! As an organization, Leave No Trace (LNT) also conduct research studies on how public lands are being used and how we can do a better job at caring for them collectively. Check out their resources to learn everything from how COVID has affected outdoor recreation patterns to how to use the Authority of the Resource approach to encouraging others to follow LNT too.
Now it’s your turn…
The Challenge: Reach Out
Do you ever feel like you’re alone in your concern for the environment, climate change, or plastic pollution? Chances are, you’re not. We just don’t have permission or reason to voice our concerns in regular conversation. So, this week’s challenge is to strike up a conversation with a friend, family member, or post on social media about something you find challenging to REDUCE in your sustainability adventure. What responses do you get? What other things surface?
Bonus: What are the ways in which you already REDUCE your waste on outdoor trips and in your home life? Take a minute to celebrate those wins, and share the ideas with someone you love! Here’s mine (because I love you, truly I do. You’ve read this far, you’re amazing!):
How to Reduce Microplastics in Your Wash (from epa.gov)
- Wash your clothes less often (heck yes!)
- Whenever possible, only wash full loads. The less friction, the better.
- Use a microfiber catcher, such as the Cora Ball.
- Use cold water for a shorter amount of time. Also helps your energy bill.
- Install an external filter on your machine, such as Planet Care.
- Use a front-loading washer. Also reduces water use in general.
Happy thoughtfully clean adventuring. And remember, if you find this helpful or thought provoking, please share! Sharing is caring (and fun).