Story by Pia Amberger, USAG Ansbach Environmental Management Division
U.S. Army Garrison Ansbach contributes to environmental protection by hosting and promoting a plastic-free month in April. The garrison-wide initiative centers on the reduction of plastic products used on a daily basis, enhancing our awareness and understanding of the use of plastic in our everyday life, and providing ways to avoid them.
TIP 1: Bring your own packaging with you when shopping.
Before your next shopping trip think about using a shopping basket, bag pack, cloth bag or reusable plastic bag instead of the single-use plastic bags available in the stores. If you still have one of the reusable cloth bags given out during past Plastic-free events at USAG Ansbach, grab it and store it in your car. You should always keep at least one shopping bag in your car. That way you can use it, if you have to go on an unplanned trip to the grocery store. For fruits and vegetables, you can get yourself a reusable mesh bag. Nowadays they are often available in the vegetable section of many stores for little money. Some stores also offer cardboard boxes in the produce department that customers are welcome to use for free. Just check with a sales person next time you shop. Make sure you get your 5 cent discount at the check-out for every own re-usable bag you use at the Exchange and Express.
TIP 2: Reuse glass containers on the go
Why not store or transport things in a glass container with a screw-on lid? You can store any food in them easily and safely. There are hundreds of other ideas for reusing an empty screw glass container or jar, for example, use to store spices, noodles or simply as a drinking glass. Glass containers are dishwasher-safe, suitable for carrying foods, reusable and unlike regular BPA containing plastics, they are microwave friendly. They are perfect as a replacement for most plastic to-go packaging. Furthermore, you can even freeze your food in glass jars if the glass is thick enough, although it is best not to screw the lid on until after the food is frozen. If you leave a bit of space in glass containers, freezing your food is no problem.
TIP 3: Use reusable bottles and mugs instead of plastic bottles and cups.
You can avoid carrying heavy plastic bottles to your household by using reusable bottles made out of glass or stainless steel, and filling them with tap water in your home or at one of the many water bottle fillers found all over USAG Ansbach. Get yourself a stainless steel thermos travel mug that you can use instead of the single-use to-go cups. They are available without any plastic and can be put in your dishwasher. As an added bonus, some mugs keep your hot drinks hot and your cold drink cold for hours on end.
TIP 4: Avoid individually wrapped products.
Do not buy food in pre-portioned packaging, buy in bulk instead! Instead of buying 15 mini packs of biscuits or chips for school lunch, buy a large single packet and portion it into containers. Apply this theory to yoghurt, custards, and anything else that can be bought in a larger size. Every bit counts! This one seems obvious, but it is easy to compromise if we do not take time to plan our movements, read labels, explore alternatives, and make intentional decisions. Ask questions about products and take a stand against single use consumables by choosing reusable items. It not only decreases your impact on the environment, but often leads to less money spent on useless stuff in the long-run.
TIP 5: Watch for product packaging
Choose to buy milk, yogurt, ketchup, mustard, oil, vinegar, and other products in glass jars and bottles. Buy tissues in cardboard boxes instead of plastic wrapping. Go with cheese and sausages from the meat counter instead of the precut and packaged version in the plastic containers. Apples, bananas, cucumbers and the likes do not have to be put into a plastic bag when you buy them. Just buy them as they are. Most fruits or vegetables already come in their very own packaging - their peel.
TIP 6: Look for plastic-free alternatives for any regular plastic items.
Do you need to buy plastic plates, cups or cutlery? Look for the kind made out of biodegradable plastic or even better out of pressed palm leaves, bamboo or other types of wood. If you cannot forego using straws, buy one of the plastic-free alternatives made out of paper, stainless steel, bamboo or even glass. Try to organize your next party or cookout plastic-free – it is possible!
TIP 7: Exchange your plastic toothbrush for a wooden toothbrush.
Take your plastic toothbrush and replace it with a wooden toothbrush made out of bamboo and mineral oil free bristles. An incredible number of plastic toothbrushes can be found on the beaches of this world, which stay there forever and can create a hazard for many animals. Toothbrushes made from wood achieve the same cleaning result and are a sustainable alternative to plastic toothbrushes.
TIP 8: Use plastic-free cotton swabs made of paper and cotton.
Regular plastic cotton swabs are plastic waste immediately after using them one time. Their packaging is also often made out of plastic. Why not switch to an alternative plastic-free option if it exists? All in the spirit of the USAG Ansbach Plastic-Free Month, think about changing to swabs made out of paper or bamboo. These also come in cardboard packaging rather than the usual plastic foil or container making them completely plastic-free.
TIP 9: Use reusable bamboo kitchen paper without plastic.
Although kitchen paper itself is not made out of plastic, it always comes in a plastic packaging, which is immediately disposed once you arrive at home. In addition, every paper towel is thrown into the thrash after only a few seconds of use, which creates a large amount of household waste throughout the year. Why not simply invest in environmentally friendly, reusable kitchen towels without any plastic? Such kitchen towels are made out of bamboo, and can replace up to 60 paper towels. They are much sturdier than conventional kitchen paper and can be washed around 100 times according to the manufacturers.
TIP 10: Avoid synthetic clothes
If you want to buy new clothes, look for natural materials such as cotton, silk or wool whenever possible. Often sportswear and outdoor clothing is made from synthetic materials like polyester, nylon or acrylic. With every wash, tiny textile fiber particles are released from the synthetic fibers. Since our wastewater treatment plants cannot filter these mircoplastics out of the water, all of it ends up in the world’s oceans. When buying clothes, you should therefore pay attention to natural materials if they can be used as an alternative to any plastic textiles. Look for special labels like the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) or the Fair Wear Foundation. If synthetic textiles cannot be avoided, use a washing bag, in which the clothing can be stuffed before putting the bag into the washing machine. Even just a simple washing bag can already significantly reduce the amount of microplastic that is detached from the clothing in the washer.
Tip 11: Avoid using PE, PP, PA or PET containing products
Many personal care products and cosmetics contain solid, liquid and waxy microplastic components. They are used as abrasive materials, binding agents or fillers. If you want to avoid cosmetic articles containing microplastics such as polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP), polyamide (PA) and polyethylene terephthalate (PET) watch out for any alternatives. Natural cosmetics do not require any plastic ingredients. It is not easy to recognize plastic in a product. A small Greenpeace guide available online helps and lists substances that refer to artificial polymers like PE, PP or even nylon. The microplastic in exfoliation creams, shampoos, toothpaste, make-up, shower gel and more, definitely ends up in our oceans and their packaging causes plastic waste that can also get into the environment. At the moment, no sewage treatment plant can stop these small plastic pieces. As such, the microplastic from any cosmetic article is washed into the sea, eaten by fish and eventually ends up back on our plates.
TIP 12: Use toothpaste, shampoo and deodorant in form of a bar or tablet.
Nowadays toothpaste, shampoos, deodorants and many other such products can be found as bars or in form of tablets that are free of any chemicals or scary additives. They come in many different flavors and are very environmentally friendly.
TIP 13: Explore your local packaging-free grocery store
Milk without a carton, and pasta from a jar? Packaging-free grocery stores are the latest thing to live a zero-waste, low impact life. All around the globe, these stores have opened up. More than 80 of them can be found in cities all across Germany. Such is the case in Ansbach or Nürnberg. These “unverpackt” (unpackaged) stores look decidedly different from your usual supermarkets. Boxes with loose fruit and vegetables, large canisters and metal drums with liquid goods, dry product in stately glass containers and bulk bins and a range of empty reusable containers, preferably made of fabric, stainless steel or glass. All of the products for sale are natural, sustainable and locally sourced, eco friendly and plastic free. How does it work? Customers either bring their own containers with them or buy them in the shop. Depending on the product you want to buy, these can be shopping nets, cloth bags, vegetable nets, mason jars, storage boxes and paper bags. Before you can start your shopping experience, the empty containers are weighed. After you fill them up yourself with the produce of your choice, the filled containers are then weighed again and the empty weight is subtracted.