An epic guide for 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.
Flashback to my vacation earlier this month. 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 waste 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 is 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
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 at a time. After reading that Nat Geo – that focus is single-use plastics. Plus it just happens to be Plastic Free July – a movement with a mission to reduce the use of single-use plastics. I’ll be keeping their motto – Choose to Refuse – in mind all month, and hopefully by the end of it, I’ll have some new habits in place that I can keep going all year round.
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.
Listen to me talking about how to ditch plastic! ⬇
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1. Reduce Plastic Use – Grocery Shopping
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. I LOVE this grocery bag set from Esse because it has a handy carrying tote! People are always asking me where I got it. For even more reusable grocery bag ideas, check out my article in Rachael Ray magazine. 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 produce bags all the time. I stuff them into the tote mentioned above – so they are always ready to go! Find my favorite 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 (here’s my favorite homemade cookie recipe) 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 bag or container (or use one provided by the store) and fill it 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.
2. Reduce Plastic Use 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 water 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 they don’t exist!
Have an insulated coffee cup handy. If you’re like me and you rarely get coffee out, 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. It’s much nicer to drink from!
Skip the straw. The anti-straw movement has been gaining momentum and it’s great to hear 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 and other disposables when you are out on-the-go. It can be a pack of reusable bamboo utensils and stainless steel straws or buy this adorable cutlery pouch from Etsy and fill it yourself!), to a variety of reusable food containers or mason jars to package up leftovers or use for grocery shopping. By keeping these things in the car or in your office, they are there when you need them!
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. Reduce Plastic Use 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 things 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 I keep it in a repurposed glass jar so there’s no need for plastic. Another plastic-free option is Frau Fowler 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 tried a shampoo bar once and didn’t like it, but 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. So many natural beauty and personal care products come in glass, metal or paperboard containers these days. Some of my favorite brands with non-plastic packaging options include Goddess Garden, MyChelle, Sanre Organic Skinfood, Juice Beauty, Beautycounter and Pacifica.
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.
RELATED: Zero Waste Alternatives to Plastic Wrap
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.
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 use? What are your biggest struggles?
Source: National Geographic
Header photo attribution: Ella at FreshNLean.com
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