Plastics. Is it possible to live without them at home? This is a question I’ve been often asked since becoming a zero-waste minimalist. A question that is ever present on my mind today as it’s my family’s first no-plastics anniversary.
Now it goes without saying that while I choose to live without the intentional purchasing of plastics, I’m not a zealot. I recognize how hard it is to avoid plastic completely in this day and age. Many of us need to use a phone, drive a car, or work at a computer in our everyday lives, and all of these items tend to have lots and lots of plastic components within them. While I personally envision life completely without plastic as the end goal for our family’s lifestyle and household, I understand that it is not necessarily the possible reality for today for most.
It’s not about deprivation but rather about creating and implementing a household standard of being as low-plastic as possible!
Despite any initial challenges presented, there are numerous things that anyone can do to live with fewer plastics that will drastically reduce your plastic footprint on the environment and help you live a happy, healthier life. All it takes is a little awareness and initiative on the daily.
So you may be thinking, how do you start living without plastics? Well, there are several things that are relatively easy to implement right away. Simple changes you can start today in your life, your community, and beyond.
Here are 7 Tips to Live With With fewer Plastics:
1. Avoid 3, 6, and 7 plastics: There is no need to be eating or drinking toxic plastic residues. Identify the type of plastic your product is by looking at the recycling symbol molded on the item. Every plastic product hosts a number from 1 to 7, which is surrounded by three chasing arrows that form a triangle, that helps you to indentify it’s molecular makeup; these symbols are often located along the bottom of the product itself. The three following plastics are both very damaging to your health and the environment. Here’s why:
- Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC #3): An extremely toxic plastic often containing multiple unsafe additives, including lead and phthalates. Still used for some toys, clear food and non-food packaging, including all forms of cling wrap, squeeze bottles, cooking oils, and many peanut butter jars.
- Polystyrene (PS #6): Contains styrene, which is toxic to the brain, nervous system, and various organs. This chemical is used in Styrofoam containers, egg cartons, disposable cups and bowls, take-out food containers, and plastic cutlery.
- Polycarbonate (Other #7): Contains bisphenol A (BPA), which has been linked to numerous health problems. This chemical is used in some baby bottles, sippy cups, sports water bottles, juice and ketchup containers, large water storage containers, most metal food can liners, and all plastic resins. Including patio furniture!
When I first became a low-plastic household a year ago, these products were the first to be recycled as I couldn’t donate these products in good conscious. I replaced many of these items with glass replacements, including mixing bowls, measuring cups, and all plastic cups with a plethora of mason jars. I haven’t regretted this decision once.
2. Refuse plastic bags: This goes for grocery shopping and refusing all single-use disposable plastics. Remember, plastic bags are often used for minutes only before being discarded. Bags which are rarely recycled. Bags which ultimately end up in landfills where they take hundreds of years to break down. Bags which cause soil and water table toxicity while decomposing. A simple way to remedy this? Use reusable bags. Especially for produce.
This is such a simple way to reduce your household’s carbon footprint as there are tons of reusable bags on the market, including uber cute, affordable ones. Another bonus? Many stores, including Target, will give shoppers a small discount on purchases for using reusable bags. I personally use a myriad of bags, everything from canvas bags to mesh produce bags, which gives me peace in knowing that with each trip to the store I’m not adding to the world’s plastic waste epidemic.
3. Avoid bottled water: This is one of my favorite ways we’ve reduced plastics at home. As a family, we no longer purchase bottled water. Instead, we use our own reusable water bottles or mason jars when we go out and about. This has helped out family avoid chemicals such as polyethylene terephthalate (PET #1) – which contains the toxic metal antimony. It has also allowed us to prevent 1,065 plastic bottles (3 bottles per 3 family members, per day) from landfills and downcycling last year alone. My bottle of choice? Reusable glass bottles.
4. Use non-plastic containers for food: One of the biggest changes we’ve made as a low-plastic family is replacing all plastic ware with mason jars. We love them! We use them for everything. This includes lunches, leftovers, freezing, storage, take-out, traveling. Everything. I can’t stress how much I love mason jars and want you all to not underestimate the utility of the ubiquitous mason jar. They are affordable, come in all sizes, and are truly one of the best reusable food storage options on the market!
5. Carry your own non-plastic cutlery and straw with you: Plastic disposable cutlery and straws are among the worst plastic pollution culprits. Like bags, single-use utensils are usually used and quickly thrown away. Plus, common plastic cutlery, especially at take-out places, is made of polystyrene, known human hormone disruptors.
As a family, we’ve had to get into the habit of carrying your own cutlery with us in lunches and even leaving a set in the car for spontaneous snack sessions. Again, lots of options are available on the market, with everything from stainless steel straws to antimicrobial reusable chopsticks and cutlery set, often priced under $7.00 on Amazon!
6. Buy in bulk: This might surprise you coming from a zero-waste minimalist, that I live in a very, very small town (think Mayberry) without any co-ops, health food stores, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Fresh Markets, or Targets. Literally, we are three hours removed from any such store. So living an intentional and sustainable life has been quite the challenge for us as a family when it comes to buying foods at our local grocery store.
One of our workarounds for this has been buying food in bulk from our local Sam’s Club. Foods which contain plastic wrappings, though much less in comparison of purchasing single-use products locally. We make every effort to buy items in bulk including products such as baking goods, cleaning supplies, personal care products, hardware items – anything that may come in single-use plastic packaging. Our local club even allows us to buy ground coffee in bulk using mason jars!
While this isn’t plastic-free shopping, as we recycle all our product packaging from most bulk shopping trips, we have reduced our plastics by ninety percent while shopping, and at bulk buying centers you can purchase goods sans any sort of bag at all, which is perfectly in line with our low-plastic household ideal. It’s still a win in my book!
Now for those who do live in areas with more bulk shopping options you’re in luck! You can check with your respective stores to see if you can bring your own jars with you to be tarred and refilled in-store to eliminate plastics entirely. Also, some stores may be hesitant to allow you to do so. Just remain persistent.
7. Replace what you can: My biggest tip for living a low-plastic lifestyle? Simply look around your home and see what plastics you can replace easily and affordably. Do you have a slew of plastic shampoo and conditioner bottles sitting by the tub or in the shower? Find a brand you like and try and get it in bulk. You can eliminate plastic deodorant containers by using baking soda for deodorant. What about your toothbrush, comb, and hairbrush? Wooden options exist with bristles made of bamboo. Plastic razors? Replace with safety razors that over time can save you upwards of 95% over retail pricing! Every little bit helps!
So, I say all that to say this- Have fun living with less plastic – don’t let the enormity of the plastic problem get you down!
Sure, plastic waste is a huge problem, and it is a real drag that chemicals are coming out of plastics and being eaten and absorbed by people and wildlife all over the world, but remember, waves of change are in motion all around you, and you are part of a community of people who are committed to using less plastic.
Change can be as simple as educating yourself and those in your home about the about the damage caused to health and the environment by plastics, especially single-use and disposable products. So have fun with your plastic-free journey – be innovative and creative in looking for new ways to express your life without plastic. You can do it. Flawlessly.
Here’s to living with fewer plastics,