Living Plastic Free: Nine Ways to Reduce Plastic Use

After spending most of February participating in Rodale.com’s Plastic-Free February, I’ve come to the realization that reducing plastic use is very difficult. I thought it would just be a little inconvenient. Instead, I found that it’s nearly impossible.

Rodale set up three ground rules for going plastic-free:

  1. No buying or acquiring new plastic.
  2. No cooking with plastic or storing food in plastic.
  3. Minimize all other plastic use.

I failed at all three of those. However, I learned a lot about how to reduce my plastic use along with a lot of ideas for the future.

1)Β  Don’t buy food wrapped in plastic. Easier said than done, as I found out through the past few weeks. I can generally avoid the shrink-wrapped foods. Who needs potatoes wrapped in individual plastic packages? It gets a little more tricky when picking a food packed in cardboard. Does it have a plastic bag inside? Is it in little freshness packs? Is each cracker in its own plastic wrap? I’m learning through trial and error.

2)Β  Choose foods sold in glass jars, rather than plastic squeeze bottles. This one reduces the amount of plastic I buy and I can reuse the jars for food storage. It only reduces the plastic; it doesn’t do away with it. Many glass jars have plastic lids and under the plastic lid is a plastic seal. Around the plastic lid is a little clear plastic … thingie? … that is sometimes perforated, but I usually have to cut it off.

3)Β  Cook from scratch. One thing I noticed when I looked at baking my own bread is that many ingredients don’t come wrapped in plastic. Flour comes in a paper bag. Baking soda and cornstarch come in cardboard boxes. Baking powder and yeast come in a glass jar with a metal lid. Spices also come in glass jars and some of those have metal lids.

4)Β  Store food in glass, stainless steel, or wooden containers. When I started plastic-free February, all my food storage containers were plastic. After some suggestions, I started saving glass jars with metal lids. It will take some time to replace my plastic in the kitchen, but I’ll get there eventually.Β  Several places sell lovely vintage glass containers with glass lids and stainless steel leftover containers.

5)Β  Avoid cookware with non-stick coatings. Non-stick coatings can produce a toxic gas when overheated and they eventually flake and get in the food.

6)Β  Use reusable dishes and flatware. You probably do this at home anyway, but consider taking reusable items for lunch and snacks at work. Several people I know keep a set of flatware in their desk drawer for office parties. Don’t forget to skip the straws.Β  Avoid bottled water, too.

7)Β  Reuse the plastic you buy. I have been unable to find milk in a glass jar. Rumor has it, it’s out there. Until I locate it, I can reuse plastic milk jugs in the garden or in crafts. Plastic yogurt containers can hold stray buttons, screws, nails, crafting materials, you name it. Those plastic shopping bags can be avoided with a little planning, but I don’t always bring enough of my own bags. I reuse them as liners for little trash bins, for collecting and carrying vegetable trimmings to the compost pile, or as pooper scoopers. For some seriously creative upcycling, I love the idea of cutting them up and making a basket from them.

8)Β  Ditch the wax paper. It’s not actually wax on there; it’s plastic. Who knew? Somebody did, but not me. There are some companies that use natural wax on their wax paper. They state it on the box, so it’s easy to tell. Use parchment paper if you can’t find the natural wax paper.

9)Β  Quit chewing gum. At least in the U.S., gum base contains plastic. Maybe people in other countries can count on their food containing food, but not here in America.

The biggest thing I learned in plastic-free February was to pay attention to the plastic in my life. Now that I know where the plastic is, I can watch for ways to reduce my plastic use.Β  Thanks to Margie, Misha, Becky Striepe, Roberta, greenbean, Christine, Nonna, Mels Bells, Janet, and Rick Chillot for pointing things out and helping with plastic-free ideas.

Image of a plastic-strewn beach in Malaysia by epSos.de, used with Creative Commons license.

Image of glass peanut butter jar with plastic thingie around the metal lid (c) Heather Carr.

Image of Bender made from reused plastic and other garbage by UrbanWoodsWalker, used with Creative Commons license.

Written by Heather Carr

13 Comments

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  1. Not only is going vegan better for your health, better for the environment, and better for animals- you can solve your plastic milk jug situation by buying Rice, Hemp, Coconut, Soy milk. All of these come in cardboard containers- and don’t have to be refrigerated until after they’ve been opened!

    • My first thought on how to get around the plastic limitations during February was to buy milk in cardboard containers.

      Cardboard containers that contain liquid are coated in plastic. I haven’t checked rice or soy milk, but the hemp and coconut milk containers have polyethylene on them, just like the cow’s milk.

      • A Facebook friend posted about making cashew milk the other day, and I’m pretty intrigued. Home made nut milks might be a good solution! I’ll make sure to post about it when I get a chance to try this!

  2. It is really really hard to try and go and buy at the grocery store and avoid plastic. At home I store in glass, we have water in the fridge in glass and it comes from the tap. During the season we shop at the Farmer’s Markets and take our own baskets. Other than these few things it is hard to avoid when shopping those things that are packaged in plastic and trying to get the day to day things the likelihood it is going to be in plastic.
    Great post today, was a really good read and has me thinking what else can I do.

    • I’m still working on the non-plastic food storage. You’re way ahead of me. I’ve learned a lot from people like you who have already figured out this stuff. There must be more ways to reduce our plastic use.

  3. Great suggestions (spotted on Twitter, and I’m going to share this on my Facebook page). Have you considered trying to find locally grown raw milk? It took some doing, but I finally found someone who allowed me to buy a “share” of the cow and thus get milk weekly. (This is the only legal way to get raw milk here.) The milk comes in half-gallon canning jars; I return my empties when I pick up fresh milk. LOVE the whole process, plus, I can skim the cream and make my own butter, too. This might help you find raw milk, if you’re interested: http://www.realmilk.com/where.html

    • Thanks for the tip. There’s one pretty close by me. I’ll have to get out there later this week and see what they have.

  4. I think we should all get together and write to our Congressmen to see if we can change the laws and get the plastic industry to produce more biodegradable or compostable plastics. The store bags of today I see attached to every fencepost located within 3 miles of any landfill here in Colorado. It’s really an eyesore and is hazardous to animals and birds.
    Using them as pooper-scoopers makes them just mummify the poop and doesn’t allow it to break down and be absorbed by nature. In 1000 years some archaologists will be digging up dog poop mummified in plastic grocery bags, and it will be as ripe as the day it was picked! πŸ™‚

    • I agree. The biodegradable plastics I’ve found seem to be the same price and quality as the non-biodegradable plastics. It shouldn’t be too hard for the plastics industry to do that and they would still make a profit.

      I’ve probably done plenty for future archaeologists. I’ll have to quit using plastic shopping bags for pooper scoopers now.

  5. I’ve been trying for years to reduce my use of plastic, it’s just about impossible! My worst hate is all the wrapping of vegetables and fruit in supermarkets, they come in a dish and then cellophane, it makes me mad! I’m old enough to remember toothpaste in metal tubes or tins! I’ll keep trying like the rest of you though ….

    • Haha! I remember metal toothpaste tubes, too.

      And I hear you about the plastic-wrapped vegetables. It’s ridiculous. I can’t wait for the farmers’ markets to open around here.

      • Aah those Styrofoam veggie trays annoy me to no end! I’ve often changed recipe ideas on the spot to avoid them in favor of loose produce, but some stores seem to use them for the bulk of their veggies.

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