How to Live Plastic-Free: Small Steps for a Big Impact

How to Live Plastic-Free: Small Steps for a Big Impact

Why Live Plastic-Free?

Plastic waste has become one of the biggest environmental issues facing our planet today. From polluting our oceans to filling up landfills, plastic is everywhere. The average American generates over 200 pounds of plastic waste each year. Most of this plastic is used once and then discarded, creating a linear system of consumption that is simply unsustainable.

There are many reasons to start reducing your plastic consumption:

  • Plastic never fully biodegrades, it just breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces called microplastics that persist in the environment
  • Plastic waste harms wildlife that can get entangled in it or mistake it for food
  • Plastic contains toxic chemicals that can leach out over time, especially when exposed to heat or UV light
  • The more disposable plastic we consume, the more fossil fuels are extracted to produce it
  • Our recycling systems can’t keep up with the massive amounts of plastic waste being generated

The good news is that each of us can make an impact through the choices we make every day. While going completely zero waste overnight may seem daunting, even small steps to reduce your plastic consumption can add up to make a big difference!

How to Get Started Living Plastic-Free

Transitioning to a plastic-free lifestyle may seem overwhelming, but it can easily be broken down into small, manageable steps. Here are some tips for getting started:

1. Learn Where Your Plastic Use Is Coming From

  • Take a look inside your pantry, fridge, bathroom cabinets, etc. and make note of which items are packaged in or contain plastic. This will show you where to start targeting your reduction efforts.
  • Keep a list on your phone of plastic items you use daily or frequently (food packaging, grocery bags, straws, coffee cups, etc.) so you can find plastic-free swaps for each one.
  • Sign up for a waste audit in your city or town to fully see how much plastic you throw out in a week. This can be eye-opening!

2. Switch Out Single-Use Plastics

Single-use plastics like straws, bags, bottled beverages, and to-go containers are a big source of waste for many people. Try making these swaps:

  • Reusable bags: Bring your own reusable bags when shopping instead of taking disposable plastic bags. Keep them by the door so you don’t forget.
  • Reusable straws: Stainless steel, glass, and bamboo straws are easy to bring with you in small cases. Or just skip the straw altogether.
  • Reusable bottles/cups: Carry a reusable water bottle, coffee mug, and food containers with you to avoid single-use plastic versions.

3. Find Plastic-Free Alternatives for Items You Purchase Regularly

  • Grocery store: Look for loose produce rather than pre-packaged, buy from bulk bins with your own reusable bags, and avoid packaged snack foods.
  • Takeout: Request no plastic utensils or straws, and choose restaurants that let you bring your own reusable container.
  • Personal care: Swap plastic bottled products for bar soaps, shampoo bars, and other plastic-free alternatives. Use reusable cotton pads and organic cotton swabs.
  • Cleaning: Look for cleaning supplies that come in cardboard, glass, or metal versus plastic bottles. Or make your own cleaners.

4. Learn to Avoid Plastic When Eating Out or Ordering Takeout

  • Ask for no straw with your beverage.
  • Request sauces and salad dressings on the side so you can avoid those small plastic packets.
  • Skip the disposable utensils if you’ll be eating in the restaurant.
  • If getting takeout, bring your own reusable containers or ask for paper or aluminum containers if available.
  • Politely ask if any plastic-free options are available. The more we request them, the more restaurants will adapt!

Making Bigger Changes to Eliminate Plastic for Good

Once you’ve mastered the small everyday plastic swaps, it’s time to make bigger changes for an even greater impact! Here are some ways to take your low-plastic lifestyle to the next level:

Shop With Reusables

  • Invest in reusable produce bags and shop from the bulk bins at grocery and health food stores to skip all plastic packaging.
  • When shopping, bring your own reusable mesh bags for loose produce instead of using the plastic produce bags provided.
  • Decline plastic bags for meat and fish counters and instead bring your own reusable containers.

Use Alternative Materials

  • Swap out plastic-bristled hairbrushes, toothbrushes, and kitchen scrub brushes for ones made of wood or other natural materials.
  • Ditch plastic-handled tools and gadgets for wooden or steel versions.
  • Opt for natural fiber (cotton, hemp, bamboo) clothing instead of synthetic fabrics like polyester which are plastic-based.

Skip the Plastic Packaging

  • Buy household staples like pasta, oats, nuts, seeds, and dried fruit from bulk bins instead of plastic packaging.
  • Choose fresh produce instead of frozen items that come in plastic bags.
  • Buy fresh baked goods instead of pre-packaged plastic-wrapped versions.

Use Non-Plastic Cleaning Tools

  • Swap plastic scouring pads and scrubs for reusable options like coconut fiber or silicone scrubbers.
  • Replace plastic sponges with natural sea sponges or dishcloths.
  • Use glass or metal containers for storing cleaning supplies instead of plastic spray bottles.

Make Your Own Bath and Beauty Supplies

  • Make your own shampoo, conditioner, lotion, toothpaste and more using natural ingredients like coconut oil, baking soda, arrowroot powder, and essential oils. Store in glass containers.
  • Remove makeup with reusable cotton rounds and face scrubs made from ingredients like oatmeal and honey.
  • Swap plastic razors and disposable blades for safety or straight razors.

How I Went Plastic-Free: A Case Study

To show just how effective small plastic-free changes can be, here is a case study from my own journey to eliminate plastic:

When I first started, an audit of my weekly waste showed I was throwing away 34 plastic items per week on average. Here were my top sources:

  • 15 single-use water bottles
  • 7 straws
  • 6 grocery store plastic produce bags
  • 3 plastic containers from takeout
  • 2 disposable coffee cups
  • 1 disposable utensils pack

I started out by doing a pantry overhaul and switching to reusable versions of my most common daily plastics:

  • Water bottle: I bought a reusable stainless steel water bottle to carry with me and refilled it instead of buying disposable plastic bottles.
  • Reusable straw: I got a metal straw to use at home and when eating out.
  • Grocery bags: I brought reusable mesh produce bags to the store.
  • Takeout: I brought my own glass food containers for leftovers when getting takeout.

After just 2 weeks of using reusable versions of these common items, my weekly plastic waste went down to 12 items per week – a 65% reduction!

Over time as I learned more ways to avoid plastic, I got my weekly plastic items down to just 2-3 per week on average. Small changes really do make an enormous impact!

Prioritize Progress Over Perfection

The most important thing when starting out living plastic-free is to not get overwhelmed trying to do everything at once. Set reasonable goals, celebrate small wins, and don’t stress if you can’t avoid plastic 100% just yet. Every piece of plastic you do manage to skip makes a difference!

Focus on areas where you use the most plastic first. Then tackle other changes over time as old habits are replaced with plastic-free versions. You don’t have to go completely zero waste overnight. Just do what you can and don’t be too hard on yourself. Protecting the planet starts with small, simple steps.

So grab your reusable water bottle and shopping bags, and get ready to go plastic-free! Our planet and future generations will thank you.