Katelyn Chostner, Editor-in-Chief

A coffee cup and the right state of mind can change your lifestyle. At least, that’s what happened to Jessie Early as she grabbed her morning coffee and chose to bring her own cup. Early, a wife and mother of two, lives a plastic-free lifestyle and cuts down on other wastes in her hometown, Bremerton, Washington.

Early started living completely plastic-free about two months ago after cutting back on plastic for a few years.

“This ‘fully-plastic-free’ life has been a recent commitment. Before, I would just try to reduce packaging or do what I can to be more earth-conscience. I wasn’t looking for 100 percent plastic-free or zero-waste. About six weeks to two months ago and I decided to go ahead and make a difference,” said Early.

According to the National Geographic, over 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic have ended up in the trash ever since plastic was created. To give a perspective, plastic became popular only six decades ago.

Early began plastic-free living after being introduced to support groups on Facebook and blogs. She realized that other people were living this type of lifestyle and it was accomplishable. One person that stuck out in her memory is a man who lives a zero-waste life. The trash he accumulated in one year was made of just a handful of things, like a sticker from a banana.

Starting a plastic-free lifestyle can be overwhelming given the amount of plastic that is offered to consumers. According to Early, “This is not an overnight process. If you tried to do everything all at once, it would be extremely overwhelming. It’s just thoughtfully replacing one thing at a time and slowly committing to learning about products that are plastic-free and zero-waste.”

She refers to a time when there were no plastic products. People were able to use things like wax paper, glass or metal rather than plastic. Early tries to incorporate this in her hometown where most of the stores do not cater to plastic-free or zero-waste. Bremerton is a suburban town near Seattle and does not have a bulk store that allows people to bring their own containers.

To combat this, Early is trying to talk the manager at her local grocery store into letting her bring in her own linen bag for things like produce. Currently, she is reusing one plastic produce bag rather than getting a new one each time. Doing so allows her to have peace of mind because the bag isn’t going to waste, but rather being reused.

Cardboard boxes seem to be the main alternative to plastic if glass is not an option. Early will opt for a cardboard box to put her groceries in if she has left her reusable grocery bags at home. At least this product can be recycled at some of the recycling plants that she goes to. When she enters a store without her plastic bag and cardboard boxes aren’t readily available, she gets crafty.

“I forgot my reusable bag and I actually turned around and went to the produce department and said, ‘Hey do you have a random box that I could use,’” said Early.

She ended up with three or four boxes from the grocery store. Not only did Early eliminate the use of plastic, but she also recycled boxes that would have otherwise been thrown away by the store.

Reducing the amount of plastics that she uses for her and her family has produced great results. In only two months she has been able to cancel her trash service. Things that she throws away are small products like tissues. For food waste she uses a Green Cone Food Waste Digester & Composter. Essentially, there is no use for her trashcan anymore because she reuses or recycles most of everything.

Many people have the mindset that living zero-waste or plastic-free is expensive but canceling her trash service is just one way that Early is proving them wrong. She also makes cleaning products at home that can be used for multiple things because it is eco-friendly. The dish scrubbers that she uses are homemade out of twine and the cleaner is made of vinegar and other ingredients that are on hand in her home.

There are many other things that save Early and her family money, such as buying toothpaste tablets in bulk, using an electric shaver instead of disposable ones, and even buying clothes from Goodwill to eliminate clothing waste.

“Sometimes there’s a bit of a cost, but most of it has reduced a lot of our spending and it’s actually been super affordable,” said Early.

The laundry detergent that Early was using for her and her family, before trying to go zero-waste, came in a cardboard box from Amazon. The bulk detergent saved the family money because the frequency at which they purchased it was lower and it was a more eco-friendly way to buy.

She explains that if you do research, a lot of things that are in plastic can be bought in cardboard and with little waste. If people need to buy something that is in plastic, Early explained it is better to buy in bulk. Which is what she does for some of her husband’s products.

Convincing her husband to reduce waste produced a little bit of a challenge because it was a life changing process. Early talks about how people need to communicate with their partners before creating unrealistic expectations.

“Always talk with your partner about it. Let them know why this change is occurring and see if it’s OK with them,” said Early. If someone’s partner is not willing to change their lifestyle, she explains why that’s OK. “Just one person reducing their [plastic] use is still a win.”

Living with less waste overall might seem daunting at first, but Early has found that when she talks to her friends, they start to get the plastic-free living bug.

“My friends see what I’m doing, the quality of life that I’m living, and they’re making changes,” said Early.

Modeling her lifestyle to her friends was all it took to get them to try at least one zero-waste activity. Early is slowly making a difference by maintaining her lifestyle and spreading awareness.

Early explains there are two reasons that people might not choose this lifestyle: convenience and price. Currently, there are over 300 million tons of plastic being created annually around the world, according to The New York Times. People are choosing to use plastic because it has a lesser cost than glass or metal and it is available in almost every store. But as Early proved, there are ways that people can afford it and save money during the process of living plastic free.

If people think that they can’t manage a plastic-free or zero-waste lifestyle, it is important that they find support groups like Early did.

“Don’t try to change everything at once… When in doubt, reach out to the internet and find those communities of people that are inspiring and that can help you by providing advice on how to live plastic-free,” said Early.

Starting this lifestyle begins with a simple step: eliminating one source of plastic or waste from your life. From there, people who choose a plastic-free or zero-waste lifestyle will be able to build on that step and make a difference. Early recommends ditching the paper coffee cup.