As the saying goes: ‘The longest journey starts with a single step. Well, luckily for you, I’m about to give you the first 15 steps on your plastic journey. If you are here, you may be thinking about how to reduce your plastic waste and honestly, the hardest part is knowing where to start. So, in this article I’m going to tell you 15 easy ways to stop using plastic that will send you on the journey to going plastic free.
I have broken the list down into three categories: eating and drinking; cosmetics and personal care and grocery shopping. This is by no means an exhaustive list and I will be going into greater detail and depth about plastic free living in future articles, this is meant to be a reference point for those who are just starting out on their plastic free journey.
Eating & Drinking
1. Plastic Straws – As you may have read already, plastic straws are my biggest pet peeve when it comes to plastic pollution as they tick all the annoying boxes: single-use, check; harmful to wildlife, check; unnecessary, check check. There are many different solutions to the plastic straw problem.
2. Chewing Gum – Do you remember when you were a kid and your mum always warned you about swallowing your chewing gum? Well, the reason she was giving you this great piece of advice is… most chewing gum is made from plastic, which is pretty disgusting to think about, right?
Now it makes complete sense, why every desk in high school had a 100 pieces of gum stuck to the bottom!
Slowly but surely, there are more and more natural alternatives becoming available. Chewsy is one of these alternatives. They use all natural ingredients and the gum is completely biodegradable.
3. Bottled Water & Sodas – While drinking tap water can be a problem in some areas, most of us living in the western world have drinkable tap water and don’t need to use bottled water. Where I live, in Nuremberg, Germany, the water has a pretty high level of lime, so my girlfriend and I use a water filter. We also have a Soda Stream as she loves carbonated water and I like to make sodas with fruit juices (see below). Added Bonus: These sodas have a lot less sugar in them.
4. Frozen Food – Frozen food, while convenient, is a problem because most of what’s inside has a plastic wrapping. The ‘cardboard’ box usually has a thin coating of plastic around it as well. Luckily for us, this is a win-win situation, as by cutting out frozen foods, you will not only be reducing your plastic waste but you will also be eating healthier food, unless you replace frozen meals with instant noodles!
5. Food & Drink on the Go – I have bundled all of these problems together as they pretty much follow the same premise. If you plan to have some food & drink on the go, the best thing you can do, is to be prepared. You can now buy; Eco lunch boxes, reusable cutlery sets and bamboo cups, so you never have to use disposable containers, cutlery and cups again.
Cosmetics & Personal Care
6. Check for Microplastics – Microplastics are the enemy you can’t see, they are hiding in many products, such as, shampoo, body wash, exfoliating scrubs and even toothpaste. Many countries have banned or are planning to ban them being intentionally put into products. Until they have been universally outlawed there is a cool app from Beat the Microbead, that lets you scan items to check if they contain microplastics.
7. Body Wash – As I mentioned in number 6, many body washes have microplastics in them but even the ones that don’t, come in a plastic bottle that won’t be recycled in the majority of cases. Companies like Lush are leading the way in plastic free soaps, shampoos and conditioners, although I have heard some of their soaps contain microplastics.
9. Toothbrushes, Floss & Soft Picks – When it comes to dental care, it seems plastic has managed to take over market. We put our toothpaste (with microplastics), onto our plastic toothbrush with plastic bristles, then use plastic dental floss or soft picks to remove the small bits of food that are left over. Not to mention the plastic gum we chew on between brushes. But there is hope….
8. Shampoo & Conditioner – Many plastic free and zero waste shops offer shampoo and conditioner soap bars with a variety of scents. By using them (as well as soap), you will notice the number of plastic bottles in your bathroom at any given time go down significantly (hooray!). Be careful to store these soaps away from water so you don’t lose half of them from simply being washed away.
As with many of the tips I have given in this article, your local plastic free shop should have some nice alternatives for you to use. If you don’t have a store close enough to you, there are many products on websites like Life Without Plastic, that are truly dedicated to the cause and that thoroughly check all of the products that they stock, which isn’t always the case with Amazon sellers.
10. Disposable Razors – It is reported that over 2 BILLION razors are thrown away every year! This makes razors one of the biggest plastic polluters, that should be reason enough to invest a little more money and buy a metal razor.
11. Plastic Bags – Since the introduction of the 5p charge for plastic bags in the UK, the number being used yearly has dropped by 85%!!! Many countries are doing the same, some are charging even more (Ireland charges 22 cents per bag). So if you haven’t already, make sure you pick up a reusable bag from your local supermarket, it makes a big difference.
12. Plastic Bottles – It really can be difficult to avoid plastic bottles when you do your grocery shopping, simply due to the number of household products that use them. You have water, soda, washing up liquid, soap dispensers, sprays, deodorants, the list goes on. My advice is to work out just how many you are buying and try to whittle that number down as you find viable alternatives. Many of which will be on this list or in other articles.
13. Bagging Fruit – There is nothing more frustrating (plastic straws aside) than seeing someone use their shiny new reusable bag (good start) and then proceed to fill the bag with 10 different types of fruit and veg, all in their own plastic bag as it completely defeats the object. There are a couple of things you can do to get out of this habit. The first option is to leave your fruit and veg loose as they will be washed, pealed or both before you eat them anyway. If you still don’t feel comfortable with letting your apples touch your oranges, then you can use plastic free reusable nets.
14. Containers – Taking your own containers with you when you go shopping can help save a lot of waste. When buying meat, feel free to ask your server to put it in your container. This may feel strange at first, but it soon becomes normal. Some places may not allow you to put food in your own containers, but you can always ask and find out which will.
15. Local Markets – While supermarkets can be filled with plastic packaging, shrink wrapped meat and plastic bottles, if you head down to your local market you will see an immediate reduction in the amount of plastic waste you household produces. This, together with the added freshness of your food, it makes a lot of sense to go local.
And If You Didn’t Know, Now You Know…
Well, that is my list of 15 easy ways to stop using plastic. I truly believe you can implement these changes without too many problems and if you do, you will be hugely reducing your yearly plastic usage. There are many more ways you can stops using plastic but as some of them can be a bit more difficult to start doing, we will leave it there.
If you liked this article you can also check out my guide to a having a plastic free Christmas.
If you have any comments or questions, please feel free to join in the conversation.
Thanks for reading!