how to reduce single-use plastic
We can all agree that our collective use of plastic is a problem and it’s really hard to completely abstain from using it. I always thought I was doing my part by recycling. Recent articles exposed that, despite our efforts, 91% of plastic never gets recycled. That fact coupled with disturbing images of plastic in sea life—oh and that huge plastic island bigger than Texas (UGGHHH), made me want to do my small part. It can be really overwhelming to try to change your lifestyle completely overnight. But all change starts with an awareness followed by implementing small steps—just doing the best you can, within reason.
Here are some tips to help reduce single-use plastic in your life. Even if you just do one step at a time, you can make a huge difference. Try not to penalize yourself for slipping or not being able to implement all these steps immediately. I’m sure you’re doing a lot of them already! For me, it’s especially difficult when I travel or am in a new place. However, just being conscious of plastic use is the beginning of improvement and change. Taking small steps to work toward a larger goal.
Replace plastic baggies. I just stopped buying plastic food storage bags altogether. If they weren’t in my house; I wouldn’t use them. I had to be resourceful for a while until I got use to it. Baggies are less ideal than little jars and tupperware, which fit nicely in your refrigerator and prevent food from getting smooshed when you travel. If you absolutely must have baggies, I love these reusable lunchskins. They also come in smaller sizes for snacks and sandwiches.
Invest in high quality tupperware. I usually prefer tin to glass tupperware because it’s lighter, and makes it more comfortable if you are taking leftovers to work or on a plane—these are my FAVORITE. I’ve also become somewhat of a jar lady—or hoarder. If I buy a glass jar of something at the market, I wash it and reuse it to store nuts, grains, sauces, drink smoothies, you name it! There are so many great uses for glass jars. You can go out and buy fancy Mason or Weck jars (which I do love), but I’ve built a collection just from simple repurposed ones I buy at the store.
Use beeswax paper to replace plastic wrap. I love my beeswax paper. It smells nice, looks nice and is sustainable. I use it to cover open top bowls or wrap up cheese. The wax paper actually allows food to breath while covering and protecting it.
Bring your own bag to the market as well as produce bags. I honestly get stopped every time I go to the farmers’ market or grocery store—people are always commenting on my produce bags! It’s a great way to spread the word, and you can feel good when people exclaim that they are going to go out and buy some! Produce bags keep lettuce and other fresh food much better than plastic bags, because they allow the food to breath. You can wash them easily too (cold cycle, hang dry). I started buying them for stocking stuffers at Christmas, they can make great little gifts.
Bring your own jars/containers. This one is the hardest because jars can get heavy and you have to take the time to weigh them. But, once you do that, just write down the weight directly onto the jar and each time you bring it to the market, the grocer can tare it for you. Most bulk items can temporarily go into the produce bags until you store it properly in a jar at home. If you are buying any food with liquid, such as olives or nut butter, you’ll need a jar. Since I’m a jar lady, I just keep a few empty jars in the reusable bags in my car.
Choose products based on packaging, or lake there of. Whenever possible, buy things in bulk with your own packaging. If that’s not an option, opt for products that aren’t packaged in plastic. It can be difficult in the produce section of the grocery store, where so many fresh veggies are wrapped in plastic. In fact, I just stopped going to Trader Joe’s because of all the plastic packaging. Even at Whole Foods or other supermarkets, I sometimes have to make a hard decision not to buy certain produce (ie. lettuce) if it’s in a plastic bag. If there are two items avialable: one in plastic and one in glass, support the brand packaging their product in glass. Then, add the glass jar to your collection at home!
Shop at the farmers’ market when you can. It’s a lot easier to stay away from single-use plastic at the farmers’ market. They tend to put their produce in paper-ware, and you can use your produce bags for most items like lettuce, tomatoes and other fruits and veggies. I always give rubber-bands and baskets back to the farmers, or store them at home and bring them back the following week.
For me, traveling is the hardest time to stay away from single-use plastic. Especially during plane travel, where they tend to use plastic-ware to serve drinks and food on most flights. If you don’t prepare ahead of time, it can be nearly impossible to stay away from plastic.
Reusable water bottle + coffee/tea cup. This is probably something you’ve already implemented in your routine. I have a few different sizes: one that I can fit easily in my purse and take with me on the plane, a large one to leave in my car or bring to work, a medium one that fits in my cup holder and some extras that I’ve accumulated over the years. You can always use a repurposed glass jar! If I find that I’ve left my water bottle at home and am in need of water, I choose to buy water in a glass bottle if possible. Or, I just ask for an actual glass of water at a restaurant or coffee shop and then drink it right there. Aside from harming the environment, chemicals from plastic bottles can leach into the water causing negative effects on your health. Even if a water bottle is BPA-free, there are other chemicals in plastic that have not been outlawed. In addition, research shows that most tap water is better than bottled water. In fact, some large water retailers use filtered tap to fill up their plastic bottles and sell it at a premium. Bringing around my reusable coffee cup is hard for me, I always seem to forget. I don’t really buy coffee out much anymore, I just make a cup in the morning and I’m good for the day…but if I’m traveling and in a pinch, I order the coffee or tea to drink there or ask for no lid and take the paper cup. I don’t like drinking through a plastic lid anyhow, I feel like I can taste it in my drink especially when it’s hot liquid.
Create a small travel kit for your car or to take with you during flight travel. There are plenty of options for reusable, travel cutlery sets that includ a fork, knife, spoon (or spork!) chopsticks, a metal straw, etc. You can bring your own small cup if you plan on drinking other beverages, or just have the flight attendants pour water directly into your bottle. At most airports there are now refill stations where you can fill up your bottles after going through security.
Cleaning products and household items
Eco-friendly tools. I love this EcoCoconut kitchen cleaning brush. The shape is really nice and I find that it easily gets into the little nooks and crannies of my dishes and kitchen tools. There are other great options out there with changeable heads as well. Here is a set of different wood cleaning brushes—I love the veggie scrubber brush.
Buy in bulk when possible. If you live in Los Angeles, there is a woman who sells bulk cleaning products and other home and beauty items at various farmers’ markets around LA. Her traveling refill station/shop is called Sustain LA and she is working on opening up a brick and mortar in Highland Park. I usually buy things like oxygen powder, laundry detergent and lotion from her. Items like baking soda are too expensive, so you have to pick and choose what is cost effective.
Cleaning products. I have found that products like Meyer’s and Method just don’t work very well. While, it’s nice that they don’t use chemicals, I feel like they aren’t cleaning and disinfecting. It is much cheaper to make your own and it looks nicer too! I make my own cleaning products in these glass spray bottles with a mix of essential oils, vinegar, alcohol, etc. Here is a great post about making your own cleaning products with downloadable PDF (I save it to my iBooks to refer to). She shares a lot of recipes for different types of cleaning, but I normally just make a batch of the disinfecting cleaner and a glass cleaner. I use a suds cleaner (Sustain LA sells some in bulk) mixed with water to clean my floors and most things. I do really like the Dr. Bronner’s suds cleaner, although it is packaged in plastic, the bottle lasts a really long time and you can always reuse it if you find a place that sells suds cleaner in bulk (some Sprouts and Whole Foods locations do). Suds cleaners make everything really nice and shiny. I also love this French block soap for doing dishes, it really cuts through the oils. To use, I wet my dish brush a bit, rub it directly on the soap, and scrub away! It lasts a long time and smells so good.
Use rags and microfiber cloths. Paper towels aren’t plastic, but they are usually wrapped in plastic and tend to be very expensive. I have almost completely weened myself off paper towels. I still keep one roll around just in case, but I think I’ve had it for about 6 months. I have a whole bunch of cotton rags and microfiber cloths. You can get both at the hardware store for very cheap. Microfiber cloths are great for cleaning stainless steal, glass or any surface that tends to streak. I keep two little pouches in the kitchen and the laundry room: one for cleaning rags (like bathroom and dusting) and another for kitchen rags used on counter tops or to clean up food messes. I wash them separately on sanitary mode (extra hot) and then store my kitchen towels in the kitchen and cleaning towels in the laundry room with the other cleaning supplies. There’s also a product called unpaper towels—but I haven’t tried them out yet and they seem a bit pricey for what they are. These look promising, and boast that they have the absorbancy of 15 paper towels! But I haven’t tried them either…let me know if you do!
For body wash, I use soap bars that they sell at my farmers’ market, which require no packaging. I use lotion or jojoba oil from the refill station for moisturizing my body and also hand soap that I refill into these bottles. There are a few product lines that sell things like hand soap and body oil in glass. For makeup, I use natural beauty products without additives (more on that here); luckily a lot of these companies tend to be more environmentally friendly with their packaging. Glass preserves beauty products much better than plastic does so I feel like these products are better anyhow, as the producers should have this knowledge. In addition, there is still the fear that chemicals from the plastic are leaching into the product over the course of its shelf-life, especially if that product contains any acids. There are still some beauty products that I really like that are packaged in plastic, but I am doing my best within reason. Credo Beauty offers a recycling program in which they give you points for bringing back your empty beauty recyclables! Credo Beauty and The Detox Market in Los Angeles, have a lot of options for beauty products that aren’t packaged in plastic. Here is a list of some of my favorite beauty lines/products that use non-plastic (Kjaer Weis even offer refills at a discounted price!):
Here are a few great blogs and resources for learning ways to reduce plastic and waste in general:
Resources for plastic-free products:
If you’re someone (like me!) who experiences periodic Environmental Guilt Syndrome, this is a great article to read.