An epic guide teaching you how to reduce plastic use at home, work and on-the-go. Includes tips for plastic-free shopping + reusable alternatives to single-use disposable plastic products.
Flashback to a past summer vacation. I was sitting on the beach of a lovely lake in Pennsylvania, sipping water from my HydroFlask.
I picked up a copy of Planet or Plastic? – the June edition of National Geographic magazine, dedicated to raising awareness about the global plastic pollution crisis, and started paging through.
Whoa! A bit of a downer for vacation, but it was gripping nonetheless.
The stats were mind-blowing (40% of plastic items are single-use, 9 million tons of it end up in the ocean each year), and the photos were hard to believe (a living stork trapped in a plastic bag, kids working in enormous heaps of plastic waste).
It left me with a heavy heart but motivated me to find some more areas to reduce plastic use in my own life, above and beyond what we are already doing. (If you want to dive in and learn more about this awful plastic waste problem, read more at National Geographic.)
Choose to Refuse Single-Use Plastics
Of course, eliminating plastic isn’t something you can just do overnight (or ever, to be completely honest). Anyone who strives to live a more eco-friendly, natural lifestyle knows that it’s a journey. Perfection is never the goal and it’s all about those baby steps you take along the way.
Something that helps me deal with the overwhelm of it all is to focus on one area of improvement or small change at a time. Over time time, those habit changes can have a big impact on the total amount of plastic you use.
Since single-use plastics are by far the worst contributor to the plastic waste problem, it makes sense to start there to try to lower your personal plastic footprint. Single-use plastics like water bottles, straws and food packaging have been found littered on beaches, clogged in waterways and have caused harm to marine life and the natural environment.
Choosing to refuse plastic items such a disposable straws and plastic cups, or opting for plastic-free grocery products are easy and powerful ways to reduce the amount of plastic you personally use.
Listen to me talking about some of my favorite ways to ditch plastic! ⬇
4 Places You Can Easily Reduce Plastic
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Breaking up with plastic may be a daunting idea – but there are many easy things you can do to eliminate single-use plastics in your home and life.
In this post we’ll cover four big ways you can reduce your dependance on plastic and switch to reusable, refillable and sustainable alternatives:
1. Reduce Plastic at the Grocery Store
Think about your typical trip to the grocery store. How much plastic do you come home with? If I’m not careful when I shop, I end up with more plastic packaging than I realize, which can be super frustrating. Use these tips to be prepared and aware so you can minimize the plastic you bring home with your food.
Keep reusable shopping bags in your car. Whether you have a jumble of miss-matched bags, or a fancy set of reusable bags, having them in the car will help you skip the single-use plastic bags at checkout! Pro tip – I actually keep grocery bags in both of our cars because I never know which one I might be using.
Have a stash of reusable produce bags. This was a harder habit to get into but now I use my own reusable produce bags all the time. I keep them in the car with my other reusable shopping bags – so they are always ready to go! Find my favorite style of produce bags here – they are lightweight and durable and even do double duty as a nut milk bag!
Skip the plastic clamshell packaging. It’s crazy how many foods are packaged in those hard plastic clamshells – from cookies & nuts to fruits & veggies. I do my best to avoid them as much as possible and either make homemade versions or look for brands with less packaging. Berries are a tough one but occasionally I find berries in cardboard boxes at the food co-op or farmer’s market.
Choose glass or paperboard over plastic. Scan the shelves for non-plastic packaging – you’ll be surprised how many times you have a choice. Think pasta sauce for instance – choose the brand that comes in glass instead of plastic. Same goes for juice (choose paperboard over plastic), salad dressing, sauces and many other packaged foods.
Buy from the bulk bins. In my opinion, bulk bins are one of the best inventions ever! Not only can you buy just the amount you need at a lower price, but you use much less packaging than usual. Bring your own bags, containers or glass bottles (or use one provided by the store) and fill them up (be sure to weigh empty containers first to get the tare weight).
Here’s a primer on how to buy food from the bulk bins if you are new to it or a bit intimidated. And once you’ve got bulk food down, move on to buying personal care and cleaning products in bulk (available at many co-ops and natural food stores).
Read more about plastic free grocery shopping here.
2. Reduce Plastic While On-the-Go
This is where I get caught way too many times. I’m out and about – running errands, driving the kids around or going out to eat – and I am not prepared.
Keeping reusable supplies in the car is a great step toward reducing plastic use on-the-go. So is being mindful of the choices you make when ordering food from restaurants and coffee shops.
Always bring your reusable bottle. For one thing, it’s always good to keep hydrated, but the big benefit of always having your reusable water bottle with you is that you will never be tempted to buy those awful plastic bottles of water – just pretend bottled water doesn’t exist!
Have a reusable coffee cup handy. If you’re like me and you rarely get coffee out at a coffee shop, this can be a tough one to remember – but is sure is nice to have your favorite insulated coffee cup ready when you need that caffeine fix. Besides, a reusable cup is much nicer to drink from than disposable coffee cups!
Skip the straw. The anti-straw movement has been gaining momentum and it’s great to know that companies like Starbucks are eliminating them – but plastic straws are still everywhere. My challenge is to try to keep them out of my drinks at all times – even in sit-down restaurants where they often give you a straw with your water (ugh!)
Keep a zero waste kit in your car. What’s a zero waste kit? It’s anything that helps you avoid single-use plastic utensils, plastic containers and other disposables when you are out on-the-go. You can grab a pack of reusable bamboo utensils and stainless steel reusable straws or buy an adorable cutlery pouch from Etsy and fill it yourself!).
You can also keep reusable food containers or mason jars in your car to package up leftovers or use for grocery shopping.
Choose a cone instead of a cup. OK this one may only be relevant in July and August, but if you are craving an ice cream, go for the completely edible cone instead of the plastic-lined cup and plastic spoon. Enjoy!
3. Use Less Plastic in the Bathroom
Surprisingly, the bathroom is a hotbed of single-use plastics. From oral care to bath & beauty to supplies for that time of the month – so many products are used only once and then thrown away. You can make a dent in that plastic waste by switching to plastic-free versions of your bathroom essentials and opting for reusable over disposable. (Check out my post on Zero Waste Bathroom Swaps too!)
Try a bamboo toothbrush. Your teeth will certainly never know the difference if you brush with a bamboo toothbrush instead of plastic. An electric toothbrush with replaceable heads is another good option.
Buy refillable dental floss. I recently discovered Dental Lace – a refillable dental floss that comes in a glass container! Now what to do with all those freebies from the dentist….
Make homemade toothpaste. Never in a million years did I think I would make homemade toothpaste – but I did and it can be stored in a repurposed glass jar so there’s no need for plastic. Another plastic-free option is tooth powder, which comes in a metal tin. I love how fresh my teeth feel after using it!
Say no to plastic microbeads. Many facial scrubs use plastic beads for scrubbing power but why use plastic when natural ingredients are so much nicer? Try my customizable facial scrub recipe instead!
Experiment with a shampoo bar. Here’s an area where I’m still a work in progress. I’ve tried shampoo bars and they are not my favorite, but I know some people swear by them. I’ve also tried dry shampoo and the no-poo method but those didn’t work for me either. My local co-op carries one or two types of shampoo in bulk but I’ve been having too much fun trying out different non-toxic shampoo brands to stick with just one.
Ditch the disposable razors. I’ve always hated disposable razors – I mean why use a flimsy razor when you can get a durable one and switch out the blades? My Preserve razor is made from recycled plastic and I’ve had it for years! Some people prefer a safety razor for a truly plastic-free experience but I haven’t gone that route yet.
Buy plastic-free beauty products. Great news! Many natural beauty and personal care products come packaged in glass, metal or paperboard containers these days. Some of my favorite brands with non-plastic packaging options include Beautycounter, MyChelle, RMS Beauty, Sanre Organic Skinfood, and Pacifica. (Find more of my sustainable makeup picks here)
Use reusable menstrual products. Think about it. Those plastic lined menstrual pads aren’t exactly great for you down there. And those plastic tampon applicators? What a waste! It might take some getting used to but cloth menstrual pads and menstrual cups (like the Diva Cup or the Lena) are the way of the future.
4. Reduce Plastic Use in the Kitchen
A ton of plastic can get wasted in the kitchen if you are not careful. Personally, I find durable, reusable kitchen products so much nicer to use than cheap disposables! Find out my favorites and start swapping out plastic wrap and baggies for longer-lasting options.
Use bowl covers instead of plastic wrap. If there is one thing that has helped me the most in my efforts to reduce single-use plastic in my kitchen, it is bowl covers. I love my brightly colored fabric bowl covers from Etsy but these stretchy silicone covers work well too. You can pop them on bowls and stretch them over plates, but they also cover food directly like half a watermelon for instance.
Keep a stash of reusable bags. Reusable snack & sandwich bags are perfect for packed lunches but they can come in handy for food storage as well. Clear silicone bags are perfect for storing cheese, as well as vegetables or fruit and anything you need to freeze. Zippered bags help keep things like crackers or nuts fresh and dry. The more reusable bags you have, the more you can avoid wasteful plastic baggies.
Try out beeswax wraps. You may think beeswax wraps are too hippy dippy but you should give them a try! Once you experience the magical sticking power of beeswax, you’ll see why it’s a popular way to wrap food. Just be sure to wash in cold water so the beeswax doesn’t melt.
Rely on reusable containers. Clearly the Glad company would rather have you buy cheap plastic food containers by the dozen, but you are much better off buying a half dozen high quality food storage containers (choose glass containers or stainless steel or safer plastic containers if you have to) that you can use over and over again. Even my reusable lunch containers serve double duty for leftovers.
What are your favorite ways to reduce plastic at home & on-the-go? What are your biggest struggles?
Source: National Geographic
Header photo attribution: Ella at FreshNLean.com