Our world is gradually (but amazingly!) becoming a place where single-use commodities are a thing of the past. Carrying a plastic bag out of a store or bringing a disposable water bottle to the gym are now starting to be frowned upon, even borderline ‘taboo’. We have witnessed an influx of reusable shopping bags, water bottles, coffee mugs, and some unique items like reusable coffee sleeves. We’re even seeing a reversion back to reusable cloth diapers. This is, no doubt, a big step towards a sustainable society.
But now that there’s a real market for this stuff, you probably want some information on what reusable goods are best. I’ve done some research to find out what environmental groups and shopping experts have to say about the plethora of reusable items out there. My ‘suggestions’ come from a compilation of answers from different websites, and may be different than your preferences. But that’s okay – the goal here is to make that switch to reusables!
This is the big one. The ‘paper or plastic’ debate seems to remain largely unsolved when it comes to carrying around your groceries and goodies (although plastic does surprisingly seem to win more often). This gets more complicated with reusable bags: canvas, polyester, or polypropylene? There are some environmental impacts associated with all of them. Herbicides are used on cotton for canvas, creating polyester bags (the thin ones that fold up easily into pouches) produces GHG emissions equivalent to seven disposable bags, and creating polypropylene bags (the ones you can buy at supermarkets) raises that to emissions equivalent to 11 disposable bags. With all factors considered, the winner is…drum roll please…all of them! (Or none of them, depending on your worldview). Canvas is said to still have a higher environmental impact than the others, but compared to using disposable bags time and time again, any reusable choice is a better alternative.
Mandy’s Suggestion: Polyester > Polypropylene > Canvas
The big issue surrounding reusable water bottles seems to concern health and safety more than environmental inputs. Water bottles made from polycarbonate (think the plastic ones you see often) can contain Bisphenol A (BPA), a controversial compound with a lot of media attention lately. The BPA can leach into the water you drink, and is known to cause cancer and hormonal changes. Moving away from plastics, there are aluminum and stainless steel water bottles to choose from. Stainless steel bottles have some advantages over aluminum bottles: they are known to keep water colder for longer, they are virtually 100% recyclable when their time is up, and they are more durable, which is good for clumsy people like myself! (Although aluminum SIGG bottles are deemed to be even tougher).
Mandy’s Suggestion: Stainless Steel > Aluminum > Plastic
I know you love your Starbucks/Tim Hortons/insert-coffee-providing-chain, but what nobody loves is all the waste produced by using a disposable cup every time! There are a variety of options available to replace that green and white/brown and red/you-get-my-point cup: porcelain, recycled plastic (polypropylene), stainless steel (making its second appearance), and ceramic. If keeping your beverage hot is your main concern (and I’m not sure why it wouldn’t be…), then stainless steel and plastic mugs with screw-on tops seem to be voted the best. Porcelain and ceramic travel mugs are typically more fashionable, but also more breakable and less devoted to locking in heat. Again, watch out for BPA, primarily with plastics.
Mandy’s Suggestion: Stainless Steel > Recycled Plastic > Ceramic > Porcelain
Of course, you can always reuse items that aren’t designed to be reused per se, such as old doors and furniture, even game boards and ketchup bottles. Here’s a link of really, really neat reusable ideas for you Pinterest addicts (of which I am now one – seriously, look here!).