- Carry reusable shopping bags.Carry whatever works for you. Some people like reusable canvas totes. Others prefer to put their purchases into a backpack or messenger bag. Do you often forget your reusable bags? ChicoBags are a great emergency alternative. While they are made from synthetic materials, they compress into their own attached stuff sack, which makes them very convenient and likely to be used. I carry several of them in my purse so I am never without a bag. If you have a car, keep your grocery bags in it and remember to bring them into the store with you! And one more thing: reusable bags are not just for groceries! Carry them for all your purchases, from electronics to clothing.
- Give up bottled water.Not only does it come in a plastic bottle, but tremendous resources are used to extract, bottle, and ship it. And many brands of bottled water are simply filtered tap water. Get a reusable stainless steel bottle (Klean Kanteen has just come out with a completely plastic-free water bottle — no plastic on the cap at all!) or stainless steel travel mug, fill it up with tap water before leaving the house, and refill it wherever you happen to be. I don’t recommend reusable plastic or aluminum bottles. Plastic may leach chemicals into the water and aluminum bottles are lined with an epoxy resin, some of which has also found to leach into water depending on the brand. Why take a chance? Read my posts about bottled water for more information.
- Carry your own containers for take-out food and leftovers.Request takeout places use your container instead of their disposable one. If they won’t do it, give them a Take Out Without card to help them understand why they should. Some examples of convenient containers are:
Stainless containers from Life Without Plastic, Eco Lunchbox, LunchBots, and others.
Stainless steel containers sold at some camping supply stores
Think bringing your own containers is too much of a hassle and won’t make a difference? Please check out my posts “Carrying Our Own Containers: Powerful Action or Pointless Inconvenience?“
- Carry a stainless steel travel mug or water bottle at all times for coffee and other drinks while out in the world. (I use my travel mug for water instead of a water bottle.) Besides the plastic lid and plastic straw, paper cups are lined with a plastic coating. When I first began this project, I got in the habit of requesting “no lid and no straw” when ordering a drink in a disposable paper cup. But nowadays, if I’ve forgotten my mug, I simply do without until I can find a water fountain or sit-down cafe or restaurant with durable cups and glasses. This process helps me to remember my reusable mug next time.
- Carry reusable utensils and glass drinking straws.
I keep a To-Go-Ware bamboo utensil set and a couple of GlassDharma drinking straws in my purse at all times. And actually, I didn’t need to go out and buy the bamboo. I could have just as easily used my own stainless steel utensils. Check out blogger Mindful Momma’s cute DIY utensil wrap.
- When ordering pizza, say no to the little plastic “table” in the middle of the pizza box.It’s called a “package saver.” Think about it. A single-use plastic device meant to save a single-use cardboard box. What about all the marine animals that swallow that type of disposable plastic? It doesn’t save them, does it? When ordering, say, “Please don’t put that little white plastic thing in the middle of the pizza.” They’ll know what you mean.
- Treat yourself to an ice cream cone.Instead of keeping containers of ice cream in the freezer, I will enjoy the occasional ice cream cone while I’m out. That keeps my ice cream consumption down, which is better for my health, and it also does away with the plastic-lined containers as well. Ice cream cones require zero container or utensil waste. If I do want to bring some home, I can have my ice cream hand-packed in my own container.
- Cut out sodas, juices, and other plastic-bottled beverages.I’ve made the decision to eat fresh fruit instead of buying juice. This eliminates the need for all disposable bottles — glass as well as plastic. I don’t drink sugary sodas, but I do like seltzer water. Especially in the summer. So I got a Soda Stream Penguin soda maker for those times I crave some fizz. The soda maker itself is plastic, but the carafes are glass, and the soda maker replaces hundreds of disposable bottles. What’s more, the reusable CO2 cartridges are returned to the manufacturer for refilling.
- Let go of frozen convenience foods.This was a hard one. I agonized for a while over which brands of frozen meals used the best containers, but in the end, there was just no sound alternative. They all use plastic. Even frozen food trays that seem to be made of cardboard are lined with plastic. The more we limit our consumption of frozen convenience foods, the less plastic waste we’ll generate and the healthier we’ll be!
- Say no to plastic produce bags.They are generally unnecessary. What are we worried about? That our apples won’t get along with our broccoli during the trip home? Or is it that the produce will get dirty? Hey, it grew in the dirt, and we’re going to wash it anyway, right? At the grocery store, I put most produce directly into my cart and then into my reusable bag.
If you do feel you want a separate bag for produce, cloth options are available. Some alternatives are Ambatalia, ECOBAGS, ChicoBag produce bags, or handmade bags from Etsy sellers. Check out this video of a woman who can make five reusable bags from one T-shirt!
Wondering how to store your produce without plastic once you get it home? Check out this extensive list of ways to buy and store produce without plastic, or specifically buying and storing loose lettuce and leafy greens. (Here’s why I never use Evert Fresh green bags.)
- Shop your local farmers market.Farmers markets are a great way to buy fresh, local produce without plastic, as long as you remember to bring your own bags. Normally, the fruits and vegetables at farmers markets don’t even have those little plastic stickers on them. And for small fruits like berries and cherry tomatoes, use your own container or bag and hand the vendor’s plastic container back to reuse. Read more about farmers markets going plastic-free.
- Return containers for berries, cherry tomatoes, and other small fruits and vegetables to the farmers market to be reused.One reader asked what I do about cherry tomatoes or berries since they can get crushed in a reusable bag. I buy them at the farmer’s market in the green plastic basket and then return it to the farmer each week for a refill, so I never have to take new ones. Don’t have a farmers market nearby? Ask your local grocer to take them back. Or empty your berries into your own container before leaving the store and leave the plastic basket behind. If enough of us do this, perhaps merchants will take note.
- Bring your own container for meat and prepared foods.I take my own containers with me to the butcher counter at Whole Foods or local butcher shop. (While the humans in our house don’t each much meat, the kitties do.) The butcher can weigh the container and deduct the weight, just as is done with bulk foods. The servers at the deli/prepared foods counter can do the same thing. Just ask. (Read about Buying and Storing Meat without Plastic and Plastic-Free Beef Jerky.)
- Buy fresh bread that comes in either paper bags or no bags.At the farmers market or natural food stores, I can buy bread that comes in only paper. At the bakery down the street, I can have my bread placed in my own cloth bag and avoid all packaging. Bread keeps fresh when stored in the cloth bag inside an airtight tin. I reuse a popcorn tin that was sent to me as a gift several years ago. Often, thrift stores have more of these tins than they know what to do with. Fresh bread is a bit more expensive than its plastic-packaged cousins, but to me, it’s worth it. And since I buy so few new things, I can afford to spend more for quality, plastic-free food. See my post, Fresh Bread: Buy It, Store It, Keep It Fresh Without Plastic.
- Choose milk in returnable glass bottles.Many areas have local dairies that provide milk in returnable glass bottles rather than plastic or plastic-coated cardboard (yes, all cardboard milk containers are coated inside and out with plastic, not wax.) In my area, I buy Straus milk, which is available in natural grocery stores. Unfortunately, the milk bottle does contain an unrecyclable plastic cap. But I would rather buy milk in a glass bottle capped with plastic than milk contained in plastic on all sides.
- Buy large wheels of unwrapped cheese.They can be hard to find, but when I do come across plastic-free cheese, I buy the whole thing. Going in on it with friends can make it more affordable. Check out my instructions for storing cheese without plastic.
- Choose wine bottled in glass with natural cork stoppers.This is kind of a trial and error project since you can’t see the stopper until you open the bottle. There’s a mobile website called Corkwatch you can use to see what kind of stopper–plastic or natural cork–is in a particular wine bottle before you purchase it. If you haven’t already, please read this post about endangered cork forests and why it’s important to support them by choosing natural cork over plastic stoppers or metal screw caps (which contain BPA in the lining.)
- Learn to love the bulk bins.Look for stores in your area that sell foods from bulk bins and allow you to use your own bags or containers. In the SF Bay Area, for example, stores include Rainbow Grocery, Berkeley Bowl, and Whole Foods.) When I lived there, I could get almost all dry foods as well as some personal care products from the bulk bins. These foods included rice and other grains, pasta, beans (learning to cook dried beans is an important part of plastic-free living), seeds, nuts, all kinds of flour, baking soda and other dry baking ingredients, cereal and granola, pretzels and chips, some candy, tofu, oils, nut butters, olives, herbs, tea & coffee, and more things than I can think of right now.
But you don’t think you have to live in a crunchy place like San Francisco or Berkeley to shop bulk bins. They are everywhere. You just have to look. My new favorite grocery store is MOM’s Organic Market in Maryland. The BULK Mobile app can help you find stores in your area. Goods Holding Company offers a kit to make zero waste bulk buying even easier!
The key is bringing my own reusable bags and containers with me to the store. You can carry the same kind of cotton bags for bulk purchases as for produce (see above.) Glass jars and other containers work great as well. Why shop from bulk bins and take new plastic bags?
Concerned about cross contamination for people with allergies? Check out my post on avoiding gluten while still living plastic-free.
Even if you live in an area that does not have bulk food stores, look for non-perishable goods in large size packages, which will decrease the amount of plastic used overall.
- Choose plastic-free chewing gum.Did you know almost all chewing gum is made of plastic? That’s right. When you’re chewing gum, you’re chewing on plastic. But plastic-free chewing gum options do exist. Read more about plastic in chewing gum and healthier alternatives here.
- Clean with vinegar and water.I use a mixture of 1 part vinegar to 3 parts water as an all-purpose spray cleaner (storing it in a reused spray bottle) and produce wash. I buy Spectrum vinegar which comes in a glass bottle. Only the cap is plastic.
- Baking soda is a fantastic scouring powder.Seriously, there are soooo many uses for baking soda.
- Use powdered dishwasher detergent in a cardboard box.Right now, I’ve got Ecover brand under my kitchen sink.
- Hand wash dishes without plastic.Use baking soda or bar soap. Seriously, I’ve been using baking soda to hand wash dishes for several months now. It scours well and leaves dishes feeling squeaky clean.
For really tough baked-on messes, I use a Chore Boy copper scrubber, which comes in a cardboard box with no plastic.
- Use natural cleaning cloths and scrubbers instead of plastic scrubbers and synthetic sponges.Compressed natural cellulose sponges are often sold without any plastic packaging because they don’t need to be kept moist; they expand when wet.
Natural fiber brushes are great for cleaning water bottles and scrubbing dirty dishes.
Skoy cloths are made from cotton and cellulose, work like a cloth, absorb like a sponge, and can take the place of 15 rolls of paper towels.
And of course, good old rags made from old clothing and towels are free and probably the greenest option of all.
- Wash clothes with homemade laundry soap and stain removers.Look for soap nuts in plastic-free packaging.
Borax and Washing Soda come in cardboard boxes.
Read about all of my plastic-free laundry methods, including how to make laundry liquid from soap nuts and how to get the stink out of nasty, oily cloths.
Treat laundry stains with a borax/water paste or with a handmade laundry stain bar. Try the stain remover sticks from Juniperseed Mercantile or Buncha Farmers.
- If you already own a Swiffer mop, try switching to a reusable pad.If you don’t know what a Swiffer is, don’t worry about it. It’s plastic and you don’t need one. But if you already own a Swiffer mop, check out the reusable Swiffer cloths from Juniperseed Mercantile.
- Use natural rubber gloves.When I needed a pair of rubber gloves (for some disgusting task — I can’t remember what) I opted for Casabella 100% latex gloves lined with 100% cotton flocking. Yeah, they’re girlie pink. But at least I didn’t have to buy plastic. An even better option is If You Care brand FSC-certified natural rubber gloves.
- Check labels of personal care products!Did you know some facial scrubs and other personal care products contain tiny plastic beads? Avoid anything with “polyethylene” listed as an ingredient. Read my post, Flushing Plastic Down The Drain! for more information.
- Switch to bar soap instead of liquid soap.People sometimes worry that sharing a bar of soap is less sanitary than sharing a bottle of liquid soap. But think about it: the bar soap gets rinsed off every time you use it. The plastic pump? Not so much. Where do you think the most germs are accumulating?
My favorite bar soaps are from Aquarian Bath and Chagrin Valley. But for those folks who prefer body wash to soap, there is now solid, packaging-free shower gel. Try it and see what you think.
- Give up shampoo in plastic bottles.There are several plastic-free options:
The “No-Poo method uses a baking soda & water wash and an apple cider vinegar rinse. That’s the method I use, and the number of people who swear by it is growing.
If No-Poo seems too hard-core, there are solid shampoo bars you can use. Brands include:
Aquarian Bath shampoo bars
J.R. Liggett’s Old Fashioned shampoo bar
Or try a searching for shampoo + bar on Etsy.com and request that the seller send your shampoo bar without any plastic packaging.
- Try hair salves and pomades in metal tins or glass jars.My favorite product used to be one called Product, which only contains a handful of ingredients and came in a glass jar, albeit with a plastic cap. And then I discovered Made-On Second Life Hair Butter, and my life changed completely. This stuff is awesome for taming frizzies if you have curly hair like I do.
- Color hair with henna purchased without plastic packaging.Read about how I purchase henna in bulk or in solid form without plastic and how I mix and apply it to cover those gray hairs that make me look older than I feel.
- Baking soda is the best deodorant EVER.Instead of deodorant in a plastic container, I use baking soda mixed with a few drops of tea tree oil applied to dry underarms with a reusable cotton round. It works better than any commercial deodorant I have ever used. Seriously. If you don’t think baking soda deo is your thing, there are other options. Read my Great Big Plastic-Free Non-Toxic Deodorant Review. But honestly? Try the baking soda first. No kidding. I would use it even if I weren’t trying to cut down my plastic consumption.
- Try solid shave soap instead of canned shave cream.There are shave soaps especially made for that purpose (Simmons, Williams) but I’ve found that any rich soap bar will do.
- Choose lotions and lip balms in plastic-free containers.Organic Essence packages its body lotions in compostable cardboard jars and its lip balms in ingenious cardboard tubes that squeeze from the end. There are also lotion bars and lip balms and glosses that come in glass or metal containers. And I’ve also made my own homemade lotion, but now that Organic Essence is using responsible packaging, I’ll leave the lotion-making to them.
- Switch from a plastic razor to a second-hand safety razor.I found mine in an antique store. More on the razor and the blades here.
- Reconsider how you clean your teeth.Read about toothpaste/powder/soap choices here or try new Bite Toothpaste Bits.
Read the truth about “biodegradable” toothbrushes and compare less plastic toothbrush alternatives here and here.
Find plastic-free, zero waste dental floss.
- Coconut oil is great for grown-ups.Seriously, it makes a great lube, and its natural anti-fungal properties are particularly good for women. But be aware the oil-based lubes don’t play well with latex.
- Choose toilet paper that’s not wrapped in plastic.Who Gives a Crap brand toilet paper comes in a cardboard box with paper-wrapped rolls. No plastic. They offer a choice of recycled paper or bamboo. And the company gives 50% of its profits to build toilets and sanitation in developing countries.
Seventh Generation recycled individually wrapped toilet paper can be ordered by the case through Amazon.com. It comes in a cardboard box without any plastic wrapping.
- Use plastic-free feminine hygiene products.Some of the options include washable cloth liners and pads. One great brand is Luna Pads, which are made of organic cotton. Or search for cloth + menstrual + pads on Etsy.com. Remember to ask the seller to ship with no plastic packaging.
Some women prefer the Diva Cup, which can be washed and reinserted.
- Look into plastic-free sunscreen options.I’ve found two great plastic-free sunscreens: Balm! Baby and Avasol. Read about them here. Several readers have offered other options. Check out my May 7, 2010 post and especially the comments for plastic-free sunscreen alternatives.
- Explore plastic-free hair accessories and tools.Read about my plastic-free wooden hairbrush with wooden bristles here.
Check out these new plastic-free, organic hair elastics.
- Keep your own reusable foodware at the office.I brought a plate, bowl, glass, and utensils to keep at my desk. This way, I can avoid all the disposable cups, plates, and cutlery in the lunchroom.
- Carry lunches in reusable stainless containers or cloth bags.A few examples of good lunch container options are:
PlanetBox lunch boxes
Life Without Plastic lunch sacks and stainless containers
Life Without Plastic insulated lunch bag
Eco Lunchbox containers.
LunchBots stainless snack and sandwich containers
To-Go Ware tiffins and individual sidekick containers
- Choose reusable cloth sandwich/snack bags over plastic baggies.Read about the many reusable cloth lunch baggie options here.
- Choose glass or stainless steel food storage containers and reuse what you already have.We save nearly all glass jars and bottles for purchasing bulk foods and for storing leftovers in the refrigerator or even the freezer. When we run out of jars, we store leftovers in bowls with saucers on top instead of plastic wrap. Bowls with saucers are great for stacking. We also use Anchor glass refrigerator containers to store daily portions of our homemade cat food. More on that below. The key to freezing foods in glass is not to fill the jar too full since the food will expand inside the container. The other caveat is not to heat the glass too quickly. Let foods thaw at room temperature to avoid glass breakage.
Another option for the refrigerator or freezer are the flat-topped airtight stainless steel containers from Life Without Plastic. Their flat top makes them easy to stack and the fact that they are airtight means food can be stored longer. Read about my favorite container here.
- Try natural beeswax coated cloth wraps instead of plastic cling film.Check out my review of various beeswax-coated cloth wraps to substitute for plastic wrap. You can buy them new or make them yourself!
- Choose a glass blender.Avoid the high-speed blenders that come with a plastic pitcher. Those containers contain endocrine-disrupting chemicals. My Waring Pro is all glass and metal and works just fine. While you’re at it, please sign my petition to ask Vita-Mix to bring back the stainless steel blender pitcher it had when the machine was first invented.
- Spin salad without plastic.In one of my favorite posts, I compare an old-fashioned wire salad spinner to a plain old cotton produce bag. It was a fun experiment.
- Learn to preserve foods without plastic.Read how I freeze produce without plastic freezer bags. You can also learn to can foods in glass jars or dehydrate produce to keep through the winter.
- Avoid non-stick cookware.Cookware coated with Teflon or other resins give off toxic perfluorochemicals when heated. We’ve donated all of our non-stick cookware and replaced it with stainless steel and cast iron. I did question whether it was better to donate these unhealthy items or to trash them. In the end, I figured that if someone was looking for non-stick, they’d buy it anyway whether I donated or not.
- Choose stainless steel ice cube trays and Popsicle molds.If your old plastic ice trays have worn out, consider replacing them with stainless steel.
If you and your children enjoy popsicles in the summertime, consider investing in a stainless steel popsicle moldinstead of buying packaged frozen treats or using plastic or silicone popsicle molds.
- Don’t buy water filter cartridges unless necessary.We had our water tested to find out if we even needed to be filtering it in the first place. Turns out, our Oakland water is fine without a filter. So we can avoid plastic water filter cartridges from now on. For those who do need to filter their water, Brita has teamed up with Preserve to create a way to recycle the plastic cartridges. Here are the details: https://www.brita.com/recycling-filters/
- Make your own homemade yogurt without a yogurt maker!It’s easier than you might think, using only a Thermos, a pot, a thermometer, some milk, and some yogurt from a previous batch. (Your first batch can be store-bought.) See recipe and instructions here.
- Make your own soy or nut milk.If you regularly drink soy or nut milk, you can learn to make your own, either with a soy milk maker or on the stove. All prepared soy milk cartons contain plastic.
- Make your own condiments.Most are not difficult. I’ve learned to make my own chocolate syrup, mayonnaise, mustard, and ketchup. I squeeze fresh lemon and lime juice and keep it in glass jars in the refrigerator. And we make our own hummus, either from dried chickpeas or from the dry mix in the bulk bin at Whole Foods.
While it’s true that some of these condiments can be purchased in glass containers, the homemade versions often taste better and involve less packaging waste overall.
- Make your own snacks and energy bars.You don’t have to give up crackers, energy bars, and other snacks that come packaged in plastic if you learn to make them yourself. Read about my friend Katie’s awesome e-book, Healthy Snacks To Go.
- Acquire necessary plastic items used instead of new.Check second-hand stores, Freecycle, Craigslist or borrow. Car-sharing. Tool-lending. I have no problem acquiring second-hand plastic. I think it’s always good to give things as many uses as possible before sending them to the landfill or recycling center. I also look for items made from recycled plastic, for the same reason. Here’s a partial list of plastic items I’ve acquired second hand since my plastic project began:
Plastic cat litter boxes and cat carriers via Freecycle and thrift shops
Computer monitor from Craigslist when my old one broke and couldn’t be repaired
Power strips via Freecycle
Laptop computer from secondhand electronics store
- Repair things when they break.When a plastic item breaks, try to repair it instead of buying a new one.
I’m trying to conserve as many of the tools and appliances that I already own instead of allowing them to become obsolete or chucking them when they break.
- Make your own glue.Here’s a recipe for homemade wheat paste that really works.
- Avoid disposable plastic pens.I use pencils as much as possible and for times when a pen is necessary, I have switched to a refillable fountain penwith a cartridge converter that allows me to refill the pen from a bottle of ink rather than buying new plastic cartridges.
- Compost food waste to avoid plastic garbage bags (and keep organics out of the landfill.)I bought a 100% recycled plastic Urban Compost Tumbler and started composting. This solves several plastic problems. First, since we no longer put wet stuff in the garbage, we don’t need plastic garbage bags of any kind (bio- or petro-based.) And I can mix the compost with soil from the yard to pot my houseplants and avoid buying potting soil in plastic bags.
Lately, though, I have not had the time or energy to maintain my compost bin. But here in Oakland(as well as Berkeley and San Francisco) we have city-wide composting. We can put all of our food scraps (including meat) and food-soiled paper, along with yard waste, into our green bins. It’s then picked up with our garbage and taken to a commercial compost facility where our food scraps are converted into rich soil amendments for residents and local farms.
Read more about collecting garbage without plastic trash bags.
- Choose natural cat litter.Integrity cat litter is made from wheat and comes in a paper bag. It’s also certified flushable. We feel okay about flushing our cats’ poop because they’ve tested negative for toxoplasma gondii and they are indoor-only cats. If you live in California, you should not flush cat poop unless you know for sure it is free of the parasite toxoplasma gondii, which is harmful to sea otters. Outdoor cats are susceptible because they pick it up from rodents.
- Choose pet toys and furniture made from natural materials instead of plastic.Purrfect Play makes beautiful all-natural toys made from wool and catnip.
I’ve also found all natural wool, leather, coconut, and feather cat toys at my local pet shop recently.
But the best cat toys of all? Wine corks, hands down. The real ones, of course. I don’t let my cats play with plastic.
We found a bamboo/sisal scratching post instead of synthetic carpet
Cardboard cat scratchers are great
This natural wood/sisal over-door climber is very sturdy and doesn’t contain any synthetic chemicals that can off-gas into our home our the bodies of our pets.
Our most economical cat climber? We cleared off most of the flat surfaces in our home (tops of bookshelves, etc.) so that our cats could roam and climb to their hearts’ content.
- Avoid feeding pets from plastic bowls.Did you know plastic food/water bowls cause pet acne?
- Buy secondhand pet supplies instead of new.We found our cat litter boxes and plastic cat carrier boxes through Craigslist and from thrift stores. They are plastic. But they are not new plastic!
- Learn to make homemade pet food without plastic.We make our cat food from scratch instead of buying BPA-lined cans that come shrink-wrapped in plastic or dry pet food in bags lined with plastic. Our recipe does include a supplement powder that comes in a plastic bottle, but it lasts two months. Read more about our less plastic homemade cat food here.
- When traveling, bring your own water bottle, even on the plane!Many people don’t know it’s actually fine to bring your own water on a plane. You just can’t bring water through airport security. So what do you do? Bring an empty water bottle through security and fill it up at the drinking fountain on the other side. It’s really okay. In fact, it’s what musician Jackson Browne does!
- Bring your own snacks on the plane, too.Avoid plastic-packaged food. Bring your own sandwiches or containers of fruit, cut veggies, trail mix, or other snacks. But avoid liquid or semi-solid foods when flying.
- Bring your own utensils on the road and in the air.Why should traveling be any different than staying at home? If you’re remembering to bring your own utensils while at home, don’t forget them when you go away.
- Bring your own travel mug.I’ve traveled to many different states in the U.S.and never had a problem getting my mug filled. In fact, most cafes these days will give a discount for bringing your own mug. And your mug can come in handy in hotels that provide plastic or Styrofoam cups in the room instead of real glasses.
- Don’t forget your headphones.When flying, bring your own headphones. Most planes will offer you new headphones in plastic packaging, but you won’t need those if you come prepared with your own.
- Bring your own personal care products.Skip the free travel size shampoos, soaps, and lotions offered by hotels. Just because they’re free doesn’t mean we should take them. What is the true cost of “free” when the environment is at stake? Instead, fill up your own reusable travel- size containers at home. If you’re not checking baggage, make sure they fit in your regulation Ziploc bag (U.S.residents).
- Refuse the mini bar.Mini bar snacks and drinks are incredibly expensive. And they all come in plastic packages or bottles. Find real food to eat. Do a little grocery shopping when you reach your destination and stock your hotel room with healthy snacks in less packaging. Even if you can’t avoid plastic entirely, you can resist single-serving sizes.
- Choose plastic-free camping equipment.Going to Burning Man four years in a row forced me to seriously consider alternatives to plastic camping supplies. I found:
A vintage canvas, wood, & metal camping cot on eBay
A secondhand double-walled 10-gallon container for water (also eBay)
A mostly cotton tent
And so much more…
- Find Do-It-Yourself alternatives for over-the-counter remedies.Last winter, I tried making my own homemade cough syrup and looked into natural remedies for heartburn. Lately, I’ve been checking into herbs that can be used to promote sleep. I also learned to do acupressure to treat a headache. Take a look at my favorite plastic-free cold remedies.
- Use a handkerchief instead of paper tissue.I’ve never seen a Kleenex box without any plastic window. More importantly, we can avoid all waste by opting for reusable hankies. Some people make their own out of old t-shirts and cloth diapers. I found lots of hankies at a thrift shop. Another ingenious idea is the HankyBook, which makes carrying a cloth hanky so much neater.
- Avoid buying new plastic clothing.So much new clothing these days is made from synthetic materials with names like: polyester, acrylic, lycra, spandex, nylon. In other words, plastic fabric. And all synthetic fabrics create microfiber pollution when laundered. When buying new clothes, I look for organic cotton, hemp, ethically-raised wool, and other natural fibers. I avoid conventional cotton because of pesticides used to grow it. Sometimes the best place to find these materials is online. One of my favorite sources is Hempest.com. Just be sure and request no plastic packaging when placing your order.
- Shop thrift stores.Buying gently-used secondhand clothing and shoes is a good way to get the styles you want without buying new plastic — except of course for that inevitable tag hanger! It’s also a lot less expensive than buying new.
- Make your own clothes.Um… as someone who is afraid of the sewing machine, I can’t really elaborate on this one. But I know a lot of you crafty crafters are up for it. Be sure and choose natural fabrics.
- Look for plastic-free shoes.For example, Feelgoodz flip flops are made from natural rubber rather than plastic.
- Alter and modify old clothes into new.Do you have old clothes and shoes in the closet that you never wear because they don’t fit or are out of style? Take them to a tailor or cobbler for alteration. During my Buy Nothing New year in 2016, I had a pair of shoes modified to fit my feet better. It’s like having a new pair of shoes!
- Bring your own beverage container to parties and events.If you’re not sure whether the host will offer real dishware or disposable plastic, discreetly bring your own. Or be less discreet, depending on your relationship with the host. I carry a little stainless steel wine glass (which is good for events where glass is not allowed) and bamboo utensils with me, just in case.
- Throw a zero waste party.Here’s an example. Provide durable dishes, glasses, utensils. Ask guests to bring their own dishes or at least cups. Stock up on thrift store utensils and mugs (mixing and matching crazy mugs can be fun) especially for parties. Request no plastic cling-wrap on potluck offerings. Ask guests to bring containers for leftovers, as they did at our Thanksgiving potluck.
- Re-think your Christmas tree.Most artificial trees are made from toxic PVC. Opt for a real, sustainably-grown and harvested tree, a live tree that can be planted, or an artificial tree made from natural materials. There are “trees” made from recycled cardboard, wood, or even recycled glass bottles.
- Skip holiday plastic tchotchkes .Make your own plastic-free vegan Easter eggs. Avoid Valentine’s Day and Halloween plastic crap. Say no to fake plastic wishbones.
- Learn strategies for green gift giving.Give only what will be truly appreciated. Opt for experiences or services (like restaurant meals, tickets to events, your help with a task) over stuff. Read my Guide: Green Gifts Don’t Have to Suck to learn more.
- Consider giving charitable gift cards.But choose wisely and plastic-free. Read my comparison of charitable gift cards here.
- Request plastic-free gifts for yourself.It can be challenging to ask friends and family not to give you new plastic. But it can be done in a kind way. If you don’t need any new things, request a donation to your favorite charity, perhaps.
- Find ways to wrap gifts without plastic tape.Here’s a method I discovered for myself. And use paper tape for other types of packaging needs. Of course, reusing gift bags, reusing wrapping paper, and wrapping presents in reusable cloth bags or furoshiki are the best options.
- Request zero plastic packaging when ordering online.I’m trying to buy fewer things in general, but vendors do sometimes send me products to review for this blog. When that happens, I include a message to the seller requesting zero plastic or Styrofoam packaging, including plastic tape. (See my packaging policy here.) When this doesn’t work, I’ve started to send back unwanted plastic packaging with a letter of explanation. And I send back unwanted plastic I receive unsolicited in the mail or on my doorstep. Here are some examples of innovative zero-waste packing materials:
Reused packing materials from packages sent to you. Before buying new packaging material, use what you already have.
Yesterday’s News padded mailers made from recycled newspaper fiber
Jiffy padded mailers (the kind with paper pulp padding rather than plastic bubble padding)
Jet-Cor rigid cardboard mailers
Paper packing tape or Biodegradable Cellulose tape with natural rubber-based adhesive
Molded paper pulp
mushroom packaging molded packing material made from mushrooms
Geami protective wrap
Read more about plastic-free packaging materials here.
- Get off mailing lists to avoid plastic envelope windows.I have switched to online billing and online statements; canceled subscriptions; and called to have my name removed from mailing lists. I want to save paper as well as plastic. Catalog Choice can help. (Naturally, I’m trying to save not just the windows but the paper and all the energy to from delivery as well!)
- Look for second-hand electronics, games, and toys first.There are so many useful products already in existence that have been gently used and need a good home. Read about the awesome secondhand computer I bought when my old one wore out.
- Choose refurbished equipment from certified “e-stewards.”Learn how you can do your part to combat “planned obsolescence.”
- Take care of what you already have.Often we can avoid buying new stuff by keeping the stuff we do have in good condition. I learned this lesson the hard way when I broke my laptop screen through a stupid accident that could have been easily avoided.
- Avoid buying new CDs and DVDs.They are made of polycarbonate plastic, after all. Instead, I download and stream music and movies and borrow DVDs from the library. (This may not be as big of an issue in 2019 as it was when I first wrote this list in 2007!)
- Learn to recycle old disks.You can recycle old disks. But keep in mind that recycling is no substitute to reducing what you buy in the first place.
- Choose healthier electronics.Try to find electronics secondhand rather than buying new plastic, but when you do have to buy new electronic gadgets, choose those that have the least packaging and toxic materials. For example, thinksound ear buds are PVC-free, made from wood, and come packaged with almost no plastic.
- Find DIY solutions for techno needs.For example, I knitted a cover for my iPod instead of buying a plastic one, and I crocheted new headphone ear padswhen the foam on my old headphones wore out. And while this is not exactly techno (in fact, it’s the opposite), I also knitted and felted a new checkbook cover to avoid PVC.
- Avoid the worst types of plastic.If you do nothing else, try to steer clear of Polyvinyl Chloride (#3 PVC), Polystyrene (#6 PS), & Polycarbonate (#7 Other). PVC is found in many, many products and causes a whole host of environmental problems. Read my post about the problems of PVC. PS contains styrene, which is toxic to the brain and nervous system. PC contains BPA. Read more about BPA here. If you must use plastic, make sure it’s not #3, #6, or #7 polycarbonate. (Note: #7 is a catch-all for many types of plastic that doesn’t fit into the first six categories. Biodegradable plastic is also labeled #7. So when in doubt, ask.)
Is ‘natural’ always good?
I have repeatedly come across the idea that natural means good among eco-friendly folks like myself. It has emerged in online forums, conversations with friends, and discussions at health food stores. It has also popped up regularly in the comments section of this column, where astute readers can often be found cautioning against making this assumption.
I happen to agree with them: the assumption that natural equals good is wrong. But it’s understandable that people would feel that way, isn’t it? Natural just sounds good; easy. Natural sounds like puppies and sunshine and fresh air. Natural! The way nature intended! Before meddlesome mankind stuck our big noses in and ruined everything, that is.
The problem is twofold. First: “natural” doesn’t mean good – not entirely and not always. Second: “natural” sometimes doesn’t mean anything at all, at least not in the way it’s most commonly used – to imbue a product with a vaguely positive attribute in the hopes that consumers will buy it.
All of these things fit the dictionary definition of the word natural (“existing in or caused by nature; not made or caused by humankind”) yet none of them are really all that appealing as they relate to humankind. Beets stain everything and taste like dirt; sunburns ruin vacations; the seeds of the castor oil plant have the distinction of being the Guinness Book of World Records holder for world’s most poisonous plant, yet its charming purple flowers litter gardens around the world.
It is therefore not enough to see “natural” and read “good for me” in its place. It’s no secret that I’m a fan of natural treatments and beauty remedies and homemade cleaning products, but in order for them to be useful, they have to do more than simply have “natural” as their main attribute. There’s no sense in having a natural cleaner that doesn’t clean, or a natural remedy that only makes you sicker. In these cases, natural isn’t doing you any favours.
Our task, after first limiting our consumption, is to become more educated about what we do consume. This means asking why a product is good for us if it claims to be; not being fooled by fluffy terms used by corporations to suggest health benefits and learning about the ingredients that go into the products we use on our skin and in our homes.
Don’t assume that natural equals good. Actually, don’t assume, period. Ask questions, research, learn, and if you’re not happy with what you find out, work to change your products, your consumer behaviour, or both.