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What’s the problem?
Plastic is EVERYWHERE. It’s cheap, lightweight, and durable, which means that it makes really great packaging for a lot of products.
Unfortunately, most plastic is not recycled. The EPA estimates that less than 10% of plastic in the US is recycled (I’ll go into the reasons for this in an upcoming post).
Most plastic ultimately ends up in landfills or polluting the environment. It is estimated that 8 million pounds of plastic enter the ocean every year. This is especially problematic because plastic doesn’t really break down, it breaks up- forming microplastics. These microplastics can pose risks to both aquatic life and human health.
Unfortunately, the supply of plastic for recycling far exceeds demand- meaning that plastic pollution is not a problem that can be solved by recycling alone. If we want to reduce plastic pollution, we need to try and cut back on the amount of plastic we use.
Here are 37 ways to help reduce plastic waste (broken up into 4 categories).
Tip 1: Minimize Plastic Packaging
One of the easiest ways to cut back on plastic is to opt for products with plastic-free packaging. Look for glass, metal, and cardboard alternatives (which are more likely to be recycled than plastic).
- Buy eggs with a cardboard carton instead of plastic or styrofoam.
- Buy milk in a cardboard carton or glass bottle instead of a plastic jug.
- Opt for hygiene products which have plastic-free or “zero waste” packaging (more on this in a future post), such as:
- Switch from liquid to bar soap, like Schmidt’s bar soap, which comes in plastic-free packaging and a variety of scents, including cedarwood & juniper, lavender & sage, ylang-ylang & calendula, activated charcoal, rose & vanilla, bergamot & lime, and fragrance-free. Also made with sustainably sourced palm oil!
- I’ve used Schmidt’s natural deodorant jar for a while now. It doesn’t work as well as a clinical-strength antiperspirant, but as a generally sweaty person who lives in Texas, I am VERY pleased with how well it works. I’ve also found that one jar can last me up to 6 months. Tip: use it sparingly (using too much can cause skin irritation).
- Buy in bulk: If you can afford it, buying large containers helps minimize plastic-to-product ratios. For example:
- Buying a single refill 56 fl oz bottle of hand soap instead of 4+ individual soap pumps uses less plastic in the long run (especially since soap pumps are not recyclable).
- The same applies for things like shampoo- I buy several 1L bottles of shampoo and conditioner when they go on sale, which is ultimately more cost-effective and produces less plastic than buying small bottles.
- Buying one large bag of chex mix produces less plastic than several snack-sized bags.
- Buy cat litter that comes in a paper bag instead of a plastic bin.
- Buy bulk coffee that comes in a paper bag.
- Bake your own bread.
- If you have access to a butcher when buying meat, have them wrap it in paper (instead of buying plastic-wrapped, pre-packaged meat).
- Shop in person when possible. I know this is particularly hard during the pandemic (and may seem a bit hypocritical given how many amazon links I’ve included in this post)- if you can find any of these products locally and feel comfortable going to the store, you’ll minimize plastic from shipping envelopes, bags, etc.
Tip 2: Minimize Single-Use Plastics
Single-use plastics account for 40% of the plastic produced every year. Here are some ways to cut back on single-use plastics:
- Switch to reusable metal or silicone straws (or forgo the straw altogether).
- Carry reusable cutlery.
- Use a reusable water bottle instead of disposable water bottles.
- Get less takeout- this cuts down on plastic from takeout containers, bags, styrofoam cups and lids, straws, napkins, etc.
- If you feel comfortable going in person to the grocery store, use reusable shopping bags.
- Tom and I buy our vegetables in bulk and use reusable mesh produce bags like these to reduce plastic packaging from fresh produce.
- Consider switching from pre-packaged makeup remover wipes to makeup removal cloths or reusable cotton rounds.
- Switch to more sustainable menstrual products, like Thinx period underwear or menstrual cups (more on that in a future post).
- Use reusable Keurig cups.
- Use reusable silicone bags instead of ziploc bags (they’re dishwasher safe, too!)
- Switch to reusable alternatives to plastic wrap, like reusable beeswax wraps, silicone stretch lids, or reusable elastic bowl covers.
- Use or make reusable cloth face masks
- Get a reusable silicon q-tip
- Buy gatorade powder and mix it in reusable bottles instead of buying pre-mixed, bottled gatorade
- Bring your own containers and buy spices, tea, coffee, etc. in bulk.
- Buy replacement ink cartridges for pens instead of buying new pens.
Tip 3: Switch to More Sustainable Alternatives
Disclaimer: before you go running out to buy any of these things, make sure that it is something you actually need. Don’t go throwing away your perfectly good plastic hairbrush in the name of sustainability. Wait until you need a new hairbrush, then think about buying a bamboo one.
- Switch to a bamboo hairbrush or toothbrush.
- Buy a metal razor– the blades are recyclable!
- Replace plastic tupperware for glass or steel containers.
- Use or make reusable cloth face masks
- Buy clothing second hand at a local thrift shop or from ThreadUp.
Tip 4: Reuse
Inevitably, you’re probably going to find yourself in possession of plastic items at some point. Before recycling, one option is to reuse these items. For example:
- Use a plastic cat litter bin as a mop bucket
- Use a plastic egg crate as a seed propagation tray
- Use plastic containers to store craft supplies
- Reuse old spice jars
- Use plastic bags for trash bags or to collect pet waste
- Use plastic to-go containers to propagate plants (watch a video on how to do this here)
Looking for more ideas for reusing plastic items? Check out these blog posts:
- 12 ways to reuse plastic bottles
- 40 ways to reuse plastic lids
- Ways to reuse plastic bags
- Ways to reuse plastic fruit containers
Progress, not Perfection
If you’re like me, thinking about the amount of plastic in our lives can get very overwhelming very quickly. Please don’t feel like you need to implement every single item on this list in your life. Focus on what seems practical and achievable for you. We don’t need a handful of people living a plastic-free life perfectly, we need everyone doing it imperfectly.
Have other ideas or product recommendations for reducing plastic consumption? Share them in the comments section!