Sustainability and affordability are not two terms that most would associate together. In today’s world it seems as if anything and everything good for the planet comes with an extra-large price tag. What is the real price of living a sustainable life though? Is it as expensive as expected; or will the true cost drop some jaws? First, take a moment to evaluate the daily life of a working American. What objects can be identified as single use, or wasteful? A condensed list includes: Toothbrushes, Dental Floss Containers, Water Bottles, Coffee Cups, Straws, Grocery Bags, Paper Towels, Tupperware, Etc. The list goes on, but these are some of the most common of daily objects. Which of these are easily available, and what in fact are the eco-friendly replacements?
Toothbrushes are used at least twice daily and put into one of the most important parts of the human body: the mouth. The American Dental Association recommends at least four to five toothbrushes a year which leads to over 300 plastic toothbrushes in a lifetime. Over a billion toothbrushes end up in the ocean every year and they take on average about 400 years to decompose. Bamboo toothbrushes can decompose in as little as six months, or as long as ten years. Either way, this is a far cry from the 400 years it takes the plastic ones. The real question is: “How much do they cost?” A pack of four plastic toothbrushes costs somewhere between six and ten dollars where as a pack of four bamboo toothbrushes usually runs for about ten dollars. So, the price is not quite breaking the bank, one drawback though is that there are fewer places selling bamboo toothbrushes. In Alliance, OH the only place to get them is Rite Aid while big name stores like Walmart only carry them online. Altogether, while the availability is lacking, simply switching your toothbrush is not going to end up costing that much more and every single bamboo toothbrush equates to four plastic toothbrushes per year.
Plastic Tupperware is a commonality in nearly every kitchen across the country, especially for college students looking to save money and eat leftovers. Not only are these wasteful, but there is even research to suggest that plastic can leak harmful toxins into stored food when microwaved. A safe and eco-friendly alternative are glass containers which can cost anywhere from 25 to 40 dollars, whereas plastic ones can be as cheap as ten dollar or as expensive as 30 dollars. These can be more expensive, but glass containers last longer and can help reduce the 300 million tons of plastic produced per year—50% of which is single use.
One thing that has been trending all over the world for the last five years or so are reusable water bottles. Colleges around the world are placing special water bottle filling stations all over their campuses in an attempt to promote less plastic water bottle usage. The University of Mount Union has made great strides in this effort by having a water filling station in nearly every building on campus. This helps promote the purchase of reusable stainless-steel water bottles which can go for as little as ten dollars, or get into the 40’s on the pricier end. A pack of 24 plastic water bottles usually runs for anywhere between four and six dollars. While buying a reusable water bottle may seem costly at first, it is a one-time purchase and can help save over 166 plastic water bottles a year. Over 8 million metric tons of plastic end up in the ocean a year, and something as simple as not using plastic water bottles can help make a massive impact on this staggering number.
Dental Floss Containers
Also, on the dental side are plastic floss containers. Bamboo couldn’t possibly replace these, so what could possibly be an eco-friendly supplement? Glass. A single glass floss container is able to supplement for seven plastic ones. Similarly, to the toothbrushes, a vast majority of these sustainable carriers are only stocked online which makes obtaining them more difficult. In addition, plastic floss containers can cost as little as three dollars whereas the glass ones can range anywhere from nine to ten dollars apiece. So, for this product, the sustainable replacement does in fact jump up significantly in cost.
Another item that can be found in nearly every community dorm across not only Mount Union’s campus, but colleges around the country are paper towels. In a pack of nine, paper towels charge about 10 to 14 dollars, whereas cloth towels—that can be washed and reused—run for about 10 to 15 dollars per pack as well. There is barely any deviation in cost for this item and using one cloth towel can save over 7,300 paper towels per year which take months to fully break down.
A trend that has been sweeping the nation for the past few months is the metal straw epidemic. Millions of social media users are making their name based on their usage of metal straws rather than plastic ones. An even better supplement that are even a few dollars cheaper, are bamboo straws. They tend to come in packs of eight and can cost as little as two to four dollars. They are washable and some packs come with an additional cleaning brush to help get inside the tight space. Comparatively, a plastic straw costs around 2.5 cents out of the cost of whatever drink you bought, whereas metal straws cost between eight and ten dollars. The use of a bamboo straw can save over 540 plastic straws per year, which as most people have heard, are too small to be recycled.
Something less addressed by mainstream media, are to-go coffee cups. Paper, plastic, and Styrofoam cups are still frequently used, not only by The University of Mount Union, but by coffee shops around the country such as Starbucks, and Dunkin’ Donuts. A popular and simple solution is a tumbler. Like the water bottles, they are pricier upon initial purchase; ranging from 9 to 30 dollars, but they are a one-time purchase and can stop over 500 single use cups from ending up in a landfill, or in the ocean each year.
Over 1 trillion plastic bags are used every year, of which only 1% are recycled. This leads to them ending up in the ocean and harming marine life and disturbing ecosystems. A fun and simple replacement are produce bags. You can make your own using only an old t-shirt and a pair of scissors, or you can buy an eco-friendly one made of cloth or mesh. Plastic bags are typically included in the price of your grocery’s whereas produce bags cost as little as a dollar, or as much as twenty if you want to donate some of that money you spent to a wildlife fund. This might cost more in the long run, but the amount of plastic saved is insurmountable.
Overall, using these sustainable products will not break the bank, however; if you are determined to go full green and live plastic free, it can get costly very quickly. Is there a half-way solution? Sustainble-ish might be the solution. Perhaps going completely green is too much, so instead try making simple changes, such as switching your toothbrush, or taking a produce bag to the store to avoid the plastic bags. Every little effort counts in the fight to save the plant, and perhaps that means shelling out just a few more dollars to reduce one’s carbon footprint.