You don’t have to be a devout environmentalist to begin phasing plastic out of your life. There are several simple swaps that anyone can tackle. Some are more extreme than others, but every little bit helps so you should never feel overwhelmed. It’s as simple as one step at a time. I’ve put together this list of plastic-free swaps that I have integrated into my life over the course of 3 years. Many of them took some getting used to, but now they are simply a part of my day-to-day life. Every lifestyle is unique and we all can commit differently, but you can make a difference!! Something as simple as using a reusable grocery bag can prevent 1,500 plastic bags from being thrown away annually. Every single one of us is part of the problem, so decide to be part of the solution.
It is very easy to have a negative outlook on plastic pollution because it is a problem that has quickly spiraled out of control. Seeing the reality of plastic pollution can be disheartening and it is much easier to turn away than to face it, but we owe it to ourselves, our planet and our children to try harder. The time to act is now.
Perhaps the easiest place to start when cutting plastic from your life. There is a huuuuge amount of plastic that passes through the kitchen: grocery bags, plastic jars, sponges, packaging and on and on. It can seem overwhelming, but rest assured there are simple swaps that will have you well on your way to a plastic free kitchen.
Reusable Grocery Bags
Perhaps the most practical of the entire list. Many people have already taken this step, but the part that counts is actually using your reusable grocery bags. They don’t do much good sitting in the pantry forgotten about. Until you are in the habit of bringing your bags with you every single time, try leaving them in a prominent spot. A spot so prominent that it’s borderline in the way. I have been known to leave them on top of my shoes, and I always have a couple stashed in my car just in case I forget or in the event of an impromptu grocery run.
Reusable Produce Bags
You can find these in mesh, and cotton varieties. I personally prefer the cotton bags, just because they can also be used for bulk bin items. The mesh bags are handy however, because it is easier to determine what is in the bag, both for you and the cashier. A couple of each is the best route. Most reusable produce bags have a small tag with the tare weight so it is easy for the cashier to deduct the weight of the bag at checkout. That is a feature worth looking for when selecting your bags.
Shopping bulk bins is an up and coming method of grocery shopping. And its not just health food store that have bulk bins! They are becoming more and more common in conventional grocery stores and utilizing them for your dry goods can drastically reduce waste from plastic packaging. I use the same cotton produce bags for my bulk items and I get everything from rice, beans and oats to nuts, dried fruits and even candy. Most baking goods can be purchased this way as well. Several Spice shops allow you to bring your own jars to reup on herbs, spices, and teas. Shopping bulk is almost always cheaper as well, so double win!
Glass Over Plastic Jars
This is as simple as being a little pickier when selecting an item off the shelf. When possible, opt for the glass jar/tin lid option. Then the jars can be used later to hold the items you buy in bulk!
Make More From Scratch
Several foods that are pre-made are packaged in plastic. Just taking some time to make something from scratch can help fight plastic pollution. Whether its sauces and dressing or cookies and cakes, making from scratch is a fun way to be part of the solution.
Buy Fresh Bread From a Local Bakery
A delicious alternative to prepacked, processed bread. This is a great way to support your local economy and trust me, you won’t miss the old stuff. Nothing compares to a loaf of fresh baked bread served in a paper bag.
Bonus Swaps: Chainmail scrubber for cast iron, bamboo dish brush, natural fiber sponge, DIY all purpose cleaner, wooden cutting boards, silicon sandwich bags, beeswax cling-wrap.
Creating a plastic free bathroom can be tricky, just because it involves personal care routines. Ultimately, using less plastic in your bathroom ends up being better for you, your wallet and the planet.
Disposable razors make up a large amount of plastic in our oceans and landfills. I wish I would have made the switch to a safety razor way before I did. I have saved a ton of money since the switch. In two years, I have only had to buy two packs of replacement blades. The razor itself was pricey, but you can find them as cheap as $20. Absolutely worth it! It works great and I am happy to have it. While we are in the realm of shaving, look into zero waste shave creams. There are many DIY recipes, but you can also find shave bars that are packaged in recycled cardboard.
To me, this was a mindless switch. There is no need to use a plastic toothbrush when sustainable, compostable options are so readily available. From handle, to bristle, bamboo toothbrushes are durable, effective and completely plastic free. This is a great example of a switch you can make today.
Toothpaste Powder/ Tablets
When you pick up your brand-new bamboo toothbrush it feels great to grab for some sustainably packaged toothpowder instead of the horrible plastic tube. Toothpowder is not a new invention, but rather a step back in time. Of course, it has been redesigned to be the more effective than it was 100 years ago so you won’t be sacrificing any dental health. You will however be taking a huge step to fight your plastic waste.
This one took some major adjusting, but after a year or so it’s no different than using from a plastic bottle. The simplest first step is to use bar soap as opposed to liquid body wash/ hand soap. Hair care is something that is taken very serious to many people so you should never go out of your comfort zone. However, using a shampoo/ conditioner bar is not as wild as it sounds. I had to do some shopping around and experimenting, but eventually I found the perfect combination. Just experiment with them and see if you find something that works for you.
Say No to Plastic Microbeads (In Facial/Body Scrubs)
Like the glass jars, this one boils down to selective shopping. Avoid products that have microbeads in them. Instead, look for products that have natural exfoliators in them, such as walnut shells, apricot pits, or sugar. Plastic microbeads are notorious for finding their way into the ocean and their small size makes them easily consumed by ocean life. They work their way up the food chain and eventually end up in the sea food we eat.
Bonus Swaps: Bamboo hair brush/comb, menstrual cup, recycle mascara wands to help wildlife here:
Habit is the name of the game when taking your plastic free life on the road. The easiest way is to put together your own plastic free kit. While reading the list it may seem like a lot to tote around, but if you put it all together in one bag, it is as simple as remembering one kit as opposed to all these odd ball items. Keep in mind, none of this happens immediately. It has taken me over three years to accomplish everything on this list and I still do not live completely free of plastic. Do not give up!
Stainless Steel Straws
This is just one of those things that doesn’t seem like a very big deal, but it certainly adds up. I bought myself a little 6 pack of stainless-steel straws and keep one or two in my purse, and the rest at home for when I’m feeling fancy or have guests. When I go out for a meal, I politely ask for no straw and pull out my own. Asking for a lemon is a bigger inconvenience so there is no reason to not carry your own straw around. If toting around a straw isn’t your style, try skipping it all together.
Reusable Water Bottle
A reusable water bottle is a swap I highly recommend. Not only does it cut down the number of plastic water bottles being thrown away, but it is WAY cheaper. It is almost insulting how much a bottle of water costs. Surprisingly, the quality of bottled water is not as amazing as you would think. Most bottled water companies are bottling tap water and selling it for astronomical profits. If you are not pleased with the quality of your tap water, consider one of the many filter options. When you start carrying your own reusable water bottle, you will notice that you inevitably stay more hydrated. My water bottle comes everywhere with me and I fill it up many times a day. That habit didn’t form overnight, but I will never go back.
Reusable Coffee Cup
Every coffee shop I have gone to is willing to put my brew into the cup I provide. (Some even offer a discount) I have a 12oz standard insulated cup with a lid. It has everything a disposable cup has to offer, and more. And not to mention it will last years, keeping hundreds of coffee cups and lids out of landfills and our oceans.
Stainless Steel To-Go Containers
Although you don’t have much control over the plastic used when you eat out, you can save some from being used by skipping the plastic or styrofoam to-go box. You can find stainless steel containers to fit every single need and they are very fun to shop for. When they’re not holding your take-out, they also double as a lunch box, or replacement for traditional tupperware.
Reusable Cutlery Set
Using a stainless steel or bamboo cutlery set stops the need for plastic forks, knives, and spoons. I’ve used both stainless steel and bamboo; I leave one in my car and I carry a set that also includes chopsticks. The whole set fits neatly in its own case that I keep in my fairly small purse. You also could go the spork route if you prefer. My set also makes for a very handy addition to my backpacking gear.
Use Reusable Bags for More Than Groceries
Once you master the art of bringing your reusable bags to the grocery store, make a habit of bringing bags to every kind of shopping trip. I have some decorative canvas bags that I bring to clothing stores, home stores, craft stores, just about anywhere. You can find stylish, durable bags in all kinds of sizes and materials so pick one or two up next time you’re out and about.
Buy More Second-Hand Items to Avoid Packaging
Thrift stores and even high-end consignment stores are a great place to find plastic free goodies. Most second-hand items will be free of their plastic packaging and looking for their second wind in life. Check out local music shops for pre-owned CD’s and DVD’s before buying them new as CD’s tend to be made out of particularly harmful plastic.
All-Natural Dog Toys, Bulk Treats, Natural Combs
Avoid plastic dog toys and opt for the natural route. There are many companies making plastic-free dog toys these days so you will have a vast selection. Many pet stores also have bulk treats which I love to stock up on. They are cheaper and allow you to skip the plastic bag. When buying accessories for your pup, skip the plastic combs, and collars, and look into compostable poop bags.
Consider Plastic Free Gift Wrap
Birthdays, holidays, celebrations. All of them tend to produce a mass amount of single use plastic. One way to fight it is by taking a look at the way you wrap gifts. Get creative and use natural materials instead of conventional wrapping paper and plastic tape. I have found that my gifts have a very special, genuine feel about them and I am always delighted to hand them over to friends and family.
I hope you now feel more confident taking on a plastic free journey. Remember that it is just that, a journey, with ups and downs. You will not be successful every day, but every single small effort is worth it. Plastic pollution is a daunting issue, but if we all are mindful of our consumption, we can put an end it.
When purchasing new items for your plastic free journey, be sure to shop local first. If you still can’t find what you need, there are plenty of online options. Here are some links to my favorite plastic free resources. Both stores were founded by phenomenal and inspiring young people that I have great admiration for. Everything you need you can find on their websites. For more economical options you can always check out larger companies, but I highly recommend supporting these entrepreneurs.