After this miserable year in a miserable time in human history, you are right to greet summer with an explosion of joy and celebration. But summer also unfortunately usually comes with an explosion of trash, plastic waste, and other single-use garbage that will do nothing but choke the planet for the rest of time, and we already have a president who is taking care of that for us.
I get it, all the trappings of summer come adorned with easy-to-overlook waste: You want a straw through which to sip your frozen drinks, your morning cold brew comes in a plastic cup, the hot Summer sun will find you seeking hydration in plastic bottles, and all your outdoor picnics/cookouts/gender reveal parties tend to pile up single-use cups and utensils faster than horrifying news alerts pile up on your phone.
The photos from this recent National Geographic piece on the absurd spread of plastic waste should be enough to shock you into giving a damn; so should the fact that the amount of plastic entering the oceans is expected to increase tenfold in the next seven years.
We will literally be swimming in it soon, and some of the world already is. But if not, let me at least appeal to your sense of summer style, or failing that, your summer budget. Here’s how to have a waste-free – or at least plastic-free – summer.
Become a doomsday prepper but for summer
Doomsday preppers have their bug-out bags that contain everything they need to survive the increasingly likely apocalypse. Take a page out of their paranoid manual and have a summer chill-out bag at the ready, which will help you cut down on waste. In it you should have things like sunscreen (use the kind that doesn’t kill coral reefs!); some portable silverware for picnics; a frisbee or cards or whatever entertainment suits you; a beach towel; an emergency stash of weed; aspirin; a bike-repair kit, etc., plus most of the items listed below. Now you are prepped and ready to summer on a moment’s notice.
If you have a car, keep your bag in it at all times.
A proper summer should be as spontaneous and fast-moving as an afternoon thunderstorm. Yes, the joys of the modern world mean you can buy anything you need at a CVS, bodega, or boardwalk stand. But those things tend to be single-use items, designed for single-use people on single-use experiences that usually involve some sort of single-use sadness (long-haul truckers, the recently divorced, shiftless psychopaths, teens).
Planning ahead helps you avoid sandwiches wrapped in plastic, disposable Styrofoam coolers, those goddamn plastic water bottles. Forgive the cheesy mum’s-bathroom-art motto but it’s a good one to remember this summer: Leave nothing but footprints in the sand.
Get a fold-up, reusable tote bag and keep it on you at all times
The world has got a plastic bag problem, and you need an intervention. Plastic bag bans have been pushed across Australia, but only you have the power to truly curb this addiction. The average bag is used for a whole 12 minutes before it’s discarded.
They are hard to recycle, and most people don’t do it anyway, so they end up in trash cans, stuck in trees, clogging storm drains, and floating out to the oceans, where they will strangle your favourite fish and exist, functionally for the rest of time, as plastic trash. All for 12 minutes of use! On top of that, they are just horrendous at actually carrying groceries.
Instead, get yourself a few fold-up tote bags like these, the kind that scrunch into little balls and fit into your summer bag.
(I’m not even talking to you if you have a car: If you own a car and don’t have it full of reusable tote bags ready to go for every shopping trip, you are an actual ghoul.)
Also practice this phrase over and over again in your head until it is hardwired into your brain like your telephone number: “I don’t need a bag.” Say it automatically, every time you’re at the register. Because if you don’t, the cashier will absentmindedly wrap your one lime in four plastic bags and you probably won’t bother to stop them.
But not you, waste-free summer warrior, you stand boldly in the way, declaring, “I don’t need a bag,” then looking around your body/bag/summer bag until you find a place to keep your purchases. Maybe you even have two hands you can use.
Buy a good water bottle, and keep it on you
A good water bottle is 1 billion times worth the investment. It will remind you to stay hydrated, a basic function of human existence for which plain, free-running water – not Vitamin Water, not sports drink – is the best treatment. It will also remind you that a plastic water bottle is a grossly inefficient way to get your water delivery, for you need more than a single bottle to properly hydrate. Also don’t forget that water is free all the time, everywhere, and that running water is a goddamn miracle of modern life.
You might ask yourself: How bad can throwing away a bottle of water be? The answer: very bad! We’re now using 1 million bottles of water per minute globally, and 91 per cent of them are not recycled. Just another reminder that we live in a developed country where water runs free, everywhere (except for places like Flint, a horrendous embarrassment for the country that just goes to show how blessed you should feel to have access to clean water).
Get some reusable produce bags
Eating seasonally is a key aspect of cutting down on waste in your everyday life, and summer provides a beautiful bounty to do so, but that doesn’t mean you need to wrap your fresh fruit or berries in a sarcophagus of plastic every time you go to the grocery store. A set of three bags like these will set you back about $15, last forever, and you can still weigh your produce without adding any extra ounces.
Choose your Summer Cup
A Summer Cup is required for unlocking one of the main aspects of the season: drinking outside in public places. Much like the grail in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, a the true summer cup will bring you life (alcoholic beverages), a false, single-use cup will take it from you (smothering the planet in plastic until your face withers like an old garbage Nazi).
Enforcement of drinking in public laws varies by state, but generally if you are drinking out of a cup that is not the original container of your beverage, you are safe from harassment. So get yourself an all-purpose, bang-around Summer Cup and keep it in your Summer Bag. It can be the novelty “Batman Forever” movie cup cup you still have in your cabinet, or a dollar store cup, or one of those $15 souvenir cups you immediately regretted buying at a cricket match. Pour your beer, wine, or cocktail in there, and enjoy knowing you’re not sending more Solo cups to the landfill.
You’ll need a good, durable cooler
It doesn’t have to be a hard-sided cooler, but it should be big enough for at least beers and sandwiches for two people — always open your summer up to the possibility of friendship beyond yourself. Under no circumstances should you purchase a Styrofoam cooler. Those are the ones you see shattered to pieces at the end of the beach day next to the beach trash can, their lifespan shorter than that of even a mayfly but their waste lasting hundreds of years. Coolers can basically be backpacks now anyway.
Carry a sweat rag
I am a recent convert to the concept of the summer sweat rag, but reader, it has changed my humid, constantly damp life. Summer involves being wet all the time: sweat, random drippings down your neck you hope are from an air conditioner, the occasional teen throwing a water balloon at your direction while screaming “OLD ARSE.”
Keep a bandana or whatever stylistically fits your whole summer lewk in your back pocket or Summer Bag — something that can be used for dabbing your brow or wiping off your hands. These are like $3 at your local thrift store, and they save you from having to waste a wad of napkins from every coffee shop you pass by with your disgusting, sweaty body.
Just buy a reusable mug for your cold brew already
You’ve got a cold brew addiction and you should treat it as such: At least use the good stuff. Anyone who has worked in a coffee shop for more than a day has been witness to this phenomenon: Someone orders an iced coffee, to go, then drinks it before they leave and throws the cup in the trash before they even reach the front door. The plastic was completely unnecessary, it turns out! Many plastic cups you get from Starbucks and the like are made of plastic No. 5 (which you can check on the bottom of the cup), which is becoming increasingly accepted at recycling programs (check your town’s guidelines to know for sure).
But just get something like a Klean Kanteen reusable coffee mug, which you can also reuse in the dreaded winter for hot coffee. It will keep your cold brew cold and cut down on plastic. Plus, many coffee shops give discounts for using your own cup; if yours doesn’t, tell them they should!
If you MUST use a to-go cup, at least consider skipping the lid, straw, and plastic stirrer. Which brings us to:
If you need a straw, buy a reusable straw (yes, a goddamn reusable straw)
That’s right, I’m coming for your straws. Straws are a huge scam run by Big Plastic to make you forget you have lips and that gravity exists. America uses 500 MILLION straws a day; that’s 182 BILLION straws a year; that’s enough to wrap the Earth in straws almost 900 times, every year – and that’s just the straws from America. You have one pair of lips, enough to wrap the Earth zero times. So consider if it’s worth the difference.
If you need a straw, get a stainless steel reusable one and put it in your Summer Bag. They cost $15 for a set of four and last forever.
Buy a bunch of thrift store silverware for picnics
Some conservationists will recommend you use disposable, biodegradable wood or bamboo utensils instead of wasteful plastic ones, but this tree-hugging, salad savorer calls bullshit on that, too. Those are made from trees, which involve a lot of fossil fuels to take down and transport. Instead, just go to your local thrift store and get a bunch of steel silverware you don’t care about. Thrift stores have baskets of these, and they’re perfectly fine to use as your bangaround silverware for the outdoor eating season, better than non-recyclable, ocean-floating plastic utensils.
If all of this isn’t enough to consider cutting down your waste, try collecting all the plastic you use in a day, dumping it in your bathtub, and trying to have a relaxing bath. It’s pretty gross! That’s what is happening to our oceans, and we like the oceans. Only you can prevent plastic ocean garbage islands this summer, friends.