Did you hear the news? Plastic sucks.
Americans throw away 35 billion plastic water bottles yearly. 90 percent never get recycled.
Flimsy plastic bags only take about a decade to be broken down, but most plastic takes 450-1,000 years to degrade. It’s not going anywhere fast. And even though plastic bags degrade fairly quickly- Americans still use 102 billion every year.
The whole earth is sick with plastic.
But even before any of these plastics fully degrade, they break down into micro-plastics, which can be found on shorelines all over the world. And before they get a chance to be broken down too small, you know what they look like?
Meaning fish and other sea life eat them. And we eat the fish.
And then the mercury, lead, and cadmium found in their bodies are found in ours, too.
Of course, just avoiding seafood won’t solve everything- plastic can get into our bodies in plenty of other ways too.
The toxins from plastic can be absorbed through your skin, breathed in, or consumed in the form of food that has absorbed toxins from its plastic packaging.
In humans, these toxins can alter hormones and are directly linked to cancer, developmental problems, reduced immunity, and birth defects.
There’s plenty more research out there and I’d encourage you to dig into this yourself. But as you read and learn, remember that it’s not all doom and gloom.
There are easy steps you can make to use less plastic and create less waste.
So how can you use less plastic? And does it really have an impact?
With these zero waste tips, you can make a difference!
There are decisions you can make, starting today, to reduce the toxins and plastic in your life!
For me personally, I refuse to be a fear-based environmentalist. Looking at these facts, it’s easy to become discouraged and wonder what on earth we can do to help our earth in the slightest.
The things we do never feel like enough, and we sometimes lean more towards overwhelmed and apathetic feelings rather than being hopeful and optimistic.
Sometimes we feel helpless, especially when looking at the sad picture of a polluted shore, or a bird dying because it has the plastic from a six-pack around its neck. Well, shoot… what can I do about that??
But I believe our choices are significant. They have weight. Even if I were the only person on earth who believed what I believe, it’s a step in the right direction, and that’s worth it to me.
The question is, what are you going to do? Each and every right decision is a step towards a healthier you, and a healthier earth.
And it’s all about baby steps.
Progress, not perfection.
So congratulate yourself on the progress you’ve made so far, and then keep looking for ways to grow and change!
Note: If you’re just starting out towards a lifestyle with less plastic, there are a few “zero waste” items that you should not buy right away. Read this post for more information on what zero waste products are best for beginners!
You can use the following zero waste tips as a launch point. Read on for easy ways to use less plastic, starting right now.
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How to start using less plastic
This is the first stop- are you doing these things?
They’re easy but so impactful.
For example, there’s even plastic in disposable coffee cups- otherwise, the coffee would go right through them! This makes them unrecyclable too.
Just taking your thermos to a cafe saves plastic from going into the landfill or ocean.
Every step you make to use less plastic can help save our oceans!
If you always forget your to-go cup or reusable bags, find ways to remind yourself! Hang your grocery bags by the door, and stop buying plastic water bottles or disposable coffee cups.
And if want extra incentive to bring that reusable mug places, just don’t let yourself buy coffee if you don’t have a reusable cup. That’ll help the habit form in no time. =)
Make it a habit to ask for no straw at restaurants, or bring your own straw. (They look pretty in your drink too!)
Single-use replacements to use less plastic
There are loads of other single-use items out there too, that you can learn to avoid in no time.
The list includes straws, paper plates, Styrofoam plates, plastic utensils, napkins, paper towels, cling wrap, and sandwich bags. The good news is that there are great alternatives to all of these! They might take some getting used to, but once you adjust, you’ll never want to go back!
Check out these fantastic zero waste products for some ideas:
- Glass or stainless steel straws
- Stainless steel substitute for plastic plates and bowls
- Paper towel substitute
- Cling wrap
- Sandwich bags
- Glass or stainless steel food storage
So those are some of the first steps.
Get there, but don’t stop looking for alternatives to the wasteful products we have all around us!
(You can read my post for more ideas on good zero waste products to start with)
If you want to go one step further, read on!
One step in the right direction is all we can do right away. Why not just do it? And then make one more step!
This is just the beginning, and I’m definitely still learning, growing, and slowly changing, but I know I’m on the right track.
Creative ways to further reduce your waste
Here are some other fun ideas I’ve found to reduce waste and plastic:
Don’t shave! Or…
Buy a classy safety razor if you decide to shave. Unlike disposable razors or those expensive razors with disposable heads, these zero waste razors only have recyclable metal blades for you to replace.
The upfront cost might be a little higher, but you’ll make up for it by how cheap the blades are! It’s easy to get used to them (just use lots of soap and shave at a 30-degree angle) and you’ll never want shave with cheap-o plastic again!
Replace shampoo and conditioner bottles
Have you ever noticed how hefty shampoo and conditioner bottles can be? There is a lot of plastic in those bottles. If you’re willing to try something new, try shampoo and conditioner bars instead! They come in minimal packaging, last for a long time, and work just as well as a liquid soap- just without the toxins!
I enjoy the all-natural rosemary lavender shampoo bar from Earthley. It smells amazing, uses herbs that are great for your hair and hair growth, and is super easy to use– so if you’ve never used a shampoo bar before, never fear!
All you do is wet your hair in the shower, and lather up the bar in your hand before rubbing the lather into your roots like a normal liquid shampoo. Even though it’s a soap bar, it lathers up just as much as a handful of your normal shampoo!
As soon as your hair is cleansed the lather will go away. Then just rinse with warm water and carry on with conditioning!
I’ve also found that the bars last for months. The product page says it lasts about 4-6 weeks with regular showers (and I promise I shower regularly) but it seems like my bar has barely shrunk even after using it regularly for over a month! Shampoo bars are small but mighty, and they last much longer than bottles of shampoo- for the same cost.
Use a menstrual cup and/or reusable pads
If you’re a woman who bleeds, congratulations, and also, make sure you check out my post on how (and why) I made my period zero waste!
Menstrual cups are way more efficient than tampons, and they don’t involve putting something that’s chemically bleached (have you noticed they never tell you what tampons are made of?) into your lady-regions.
And fabric pads allow for more airflow, reducing your risk of a UTI -and potentially shortening your period!
Related: Natural ways to avoid a UTI
Visit this post for everything you need to know about using menstrual cups!
Bring containers to stores with bulk goods
I love shopping at bulk shops and in bulk aisles. First off, they’re usually cheaper since you aren’t paying for packaging, and you can put it in whatever you want!
At first, I had decided to just bring bags, and not jars. I thought you’d have to pay for the weight of the jar, but nope! Just visit someone at the front of the store and they’ll weigh the jar for you and write it on there. Then they just subtract its weight when you check out. Easy peasy!
If you want to learn more about bulk buying and how to use less plastic when you’re shopping, check out my post on how to do zero waste shopping.
Stop using plastic produce bags
You know those flimsy, single-use plastic bags they have hanging around the produce section?
They really aren’t necessary.
If you think about it, the people harvesting your fruits and veggies probably weren’t wearing gloves, and that produce has probably touched some surfaces that are just as dirty as your cart or the conveyor belt at checkout.
Produce bags are kind of a mental game, (it can just “feel cleaner” to use them) and it can take a little while to get used to going bag-free. But you’ll wash the produce anyway (get a good veggie wash for optimal results- I use this one) so why bother with a bag?
Think ahead when traveling
I’ve made lots of mistakes when it comes to creating waste during trips. But through all the mistakes, I’ve also found that it only takes a little bit of intentionality and planning ahead to use less plastic and be more sustainable when I’m traveling!
For example, those cotton bags I mentioned above are lightweight and perfect for stuffing in your checked luggage. You can use them for shopping while you’re traveling. They’re especially useful for bulk shopping– check out your destination ahead of time to see if there’s a bulk or zero waste shop!
Related: How to do bulk buying
For more tips on reducing your use of plastic when you go on trips, make sure to check out my post on 10 zero waste tips for traveling!
Make your own yogurt
When hubs and I started trying to reduce our use of plastic, we realized just how dang many of those little plastic tubs of food we went through each month. We live in the middle of nowhere so there aren’t many non-plastic substitutes in stores. Most of the containers were from yogurt.
We would sometimes use the empty containers for leftovers, but we just went through so many of them it was unnecessary and ridiculous (we already had plenty of glass containers for leftovers anyway).
So, we bought this wonderful thing, and started making our own yogurt! Yes, it does have plastic parts, but it’s not a single-use product and saves loads of plastic from going to the landfill. It’s cheaper and super easy, too!
Try it with your own Greek yogurt maker and you’ll see what I’m talking about. =)
Note: On the other hand, you could just cut out dairy from your diet too… I’ve done that for health reasons (dairy can be inflammatory for some people), and I loved how there was no need to buy things like sour cream, cottage cheese, yogurt, or other dairy products that normally come in a tub of plastic!
Plastic is almost impossible to avoid if you buy dairy products. There are plenty of other options though!
For example, I sometimes trade off eating yogurt for having chia seed pudding- these chia seeds are a fantastic value!
Choose a non-plastic shower curtain
Shower curtains are usually PVC or vinyl, and off-gas dangerous chemicals when they’re taken out of their package or heated by your shower.
Do a beach cleanup on vacation
Why not use your time off to do some good? Joining a beach cleanup can be a great way to give back to the earth that sustains you. The amount of plastic and trash you find might surprise you!
And if you have kids, you’re instilling good values in them too, instead of just having fun in the sun. Plus you’ll get in your daily dose of grounding!
Rethink your kids’ plastic toys
Kids toys are one of those things that just tend to pile up and multiply. Why not downsize, pass on toys, and rethink what you buy in the future?
There are plenty of wooden and DIY toys out there that will let kids use their imagination and save countless items from the landfill.
It’s especially important to avoid plastic in toys for teething, since babies are getting a dose of the chemicals in the plastic every time they chew on them. Try an all-natural rubber teething ring instead!
Ask Amazon to reduce plastic
Mama Eco has a great tip for reducing your plastic in online shopping- you can actually ask Amazon to minimize the amount of plastic and pointless packaging in the items you buy!
Just go to this website to fill out the form you need to reduce the waste in your Amazon shipments.
It won’t be perfectly zero waste, but you can give feedback after you get your package to let Amazon know how they’re doing!
Speak with your dollar
Shop at places that have a bulk aisle, or don’t use bags, as much as possible.
Related: How to do zero waste bulk shopping
Stores are starting to catch on, and making your opinion known by refining where you shop is one way to help stores make changes in the right direction.
Since it’s not likely that big corporations or lobbyists are going to start making selfless, beneficial decisions for our health and the planet any time soon, we need to take things into our own hands and realize our power as consumers!
It’s hard to avoid packaging with milk and eggs- and many other food essentials are wrapped in plastic too. Buying local (and reusing the egg cartons and milk jars) can save you from using pounds of plastic each year, and it supports local business! Win-win!
Buy loose leaf tea
Plastic is sneaky. It’s hiding everywhere. Did you know that most tea bags have plastic in them? They’d disintegrate otherwise. And putting tea bags in hot water lets the chemicals in the bags leach into your tea. Opt for organic, loose leaf tea packaged in tin or found in the bulk aisle instead. (Like this tea– it’s delicious, and you can reuse the tin!)
And instead of using tea bags to steep your tea, invest in a mesh strainer to hold loose leaf tea. If you want to use up any tea bags you still have, you can cut the bags open and just use the tea.
Plastic in your clothes?
When shopping for clothes, it’s best to look for items that are 100% cotton, wool, or linen. Synthetic fabrics, including polyester, nylon, or acrylic, are petroleum byproducts. The process for making synthetic fibers aren’t good for the planet to begin with, but it gets worse!
Washing clothes made with synthetic fibers releases microfibers of plastic into the water. These harmful microfibers are too small to be filtered out, so they eventually make their way into the ocean and add to pollution.
If you’re trying to avoid the harmful effects of plastic, think twice about any clothes purchases you’re making. Check out this post for more on avoiding microfiber pollution.
Think you’ll start implementing any of these ideas?
Want to go a step further?
It’s great to use less plastic in order to remove toxins and pursue a zero waste lifestyle.
Did you know that paper can also be a problem? Most paper in the kitchen (think paper plates, napkins, etc) actually includes plastic too! Plus it’s usually single-use and doesn’t normally get recycled. For more info, check out this post on 10 ways to go paper free.
Did you know that there are lots of other things you can do to reduce harmful toxins in other areas of your life also? For more information, download my free guide on reducing toxins below!