Are you interested in learning new ways to reduce plastic around your home?
It might seem as though plastic is everywhere – and frankly, it is! But it doesn’t have to be. By thinking outside of the box, there are lots of ways that you can cut down on your plastic use for a more environmentally-conscious home.
Recently, a great image circulated around Facebook, visually prompting people to reduce plastic in nine easy ways. While my family was already implementing many of the suggestions, it prompted a thoughtful discussion about additional ways that we could reduce plastic in our home.
Here are a few ideas that we came up with:
Store Leftovers in Glass
Consider glass storage containers, such as those made by Pyrex or Frigoverre. Glass can be used in your pantry, fridge, or freezer. When freezing, fill mason jars, commonly used for canning, no more than three quarters full.
I know this might be the most radical suggestion, but it’s probably the most important of the three R’s: Reduce. Think twice before you purchase, and reduce copious amounts of plastic packaging on new goods. Do you really need a new appliance? Do your children have to have one more plastic toy?
Consider alternatives such as repairing items that still have some life in them, swapping with friends to provide your children with new-to-them toys, or see if something you already own can meet your needs.
Buy Previously Owned Items
Our family members are huge fans of thrift store shopping, yard sales, and auctions. By carefully inspecting used items to ensure quality, you can find incredible bargains on gently used goods.
Recently, some of my thrift shop “scores” have included a pair of $150 hand made shoes for $2.00, a stainless steel stovetop espresso maker for $.25 , and a wool diaper cover for $ .50. A word of caution: Don’t make purchases for the sake of the bargain alone. Still ask yourself, “Do I really need this?”
Herbs, printer toner, shampoo, nut butters, and dish soap are just a few items that my family refills at our local natural food store. Bring your container to the checkout counter first to have it weighed then fill it yourself from bulk bins. Reuse the same container for years!
You can trade cling wrap on containers made out of glass or steel – and rather than buying things like single-use plastic shampoo bottles, you can get shampoo bars (and soap bars) instead.
Join a Food Buying Club
Buying bulk is a fantastic way to reduce plastic packaging in your kitchen. If purchasing a 25 pound bag of rice, beans, grains, or nuts seems like too much for your own family, find someone in your community with whom to split a bag. Store bulk foods in glass gallon or half gallon containers in a cool pantry.
Buying from the bulk bins at the grocery stores, like dried beans, rice, or nuts and putting them in cloth bags will save you from using little plastic produce bags. Your apples don’t really need to come in a plastic bag, do they? You can get the same exact thing and put them in the cart directly.
Don’t have a bunch of little cloth bags? No worries…your apples and broccoli and bunch of carrots will get along just fine in the big reusable bag until you get home. I wouldn’t add bananas, though…they can be bullies 😉
Make Your Own Produce
Recently, a friend mentioned that she reduces plastic in her home by making homemade yogurt. When I looked in my recycle bin that evening, I noticed that over half of our recyclable plastic was indeed yogurt containers!
So my family is now experimenting with yogurt recipes that we can make quickly and easily at home. Best of all, we could save close to $10 a month doing it ourselves!
Yogurt isn’t the only thing you can make for yourself to reduce plastic. Making your own fresh squeezed juice is not only healthier for you, but cuts down on the plastic that needs to be used to produce the juice bottles, too.
You can even make your own cleaning products and just refill glass bottles. Not only will these cleaning products be better for your health but they’ll eliminate the need for multiple bottles of cleaner, too.
This usually goes without saying, but having reusable bags, especially at the grocery store, means that you aren’t taking more of the plastic shopping bags out. I know that when I have them at home, I never remember to return them to the recycling.
Of course, it could be argued that you can reuse them, but I want to reduce the amount of plastic usage overall.
e these really cute chico bags clip on to the side of your purse for easy carrying all the time. I have three of them on my purse strap, and they don’t really get in the way at all. But, you could always tuck them inside the purse or backpack or other bag as well. And, they store well in a glove box too.
I live around the corner from an Elementary school, and the most common piece of plastic trash I spot lying around the school perimeter is discarded Ziploc bags. Instead of using them once and tossing, wash them with dish detergent, dry them upside down and use them again!
Just Say No
The great news is that more and more businesses are going plastic-optional, trying to find ways to help customers cut down on the amount of plastic they use.
Many states have banned the use of plastic bags at places like grocery stores, while at restaurants, you’ll often be offered things like plastic straws. At the dentist, you might be offered a toothbrush. You might be given a pen at the bank.
Whenever you’re offered one of these items, just say no. Every time you accept one of these items, you’re creating a demand to make more. Ask yourself whether you really need to accept the offer, and say no to plastic whenever you can.
Rethink the Shipping Options
If you’re an Amazon Prime customer, you’ll notice that the company recently offered customers the ability to have a “Prime Day” in which all of the goods ordered throughout the week arrive in one shipment If you’re willing to wait a few extra days for what you ordered, this is a great way to cut down on waste – everything is shipped together, so it’s fewer trips to your doorstep and less plastic packaging.
Make a Reusable Kit
Consider making yourself a zero-waste kit that you can take with you everywhere you go. That way, you won’t have to pay for plastic products that you’re just going to throw away. Put your reusable kit wherever you leave your purse or shoes – or keep it in your car. Then you will always have it.
Some good things to add to your kit include a reusable water bag, a reusable coffee cup, a stainless steel straw, and a cloth bag to hold it all.
Hubby and I take our own coffee mugs to Starbucks now, and as a result, we get $.10 off each drink. We only go there once in a while, but that does add up. Plus, on those rare times we get the lattes with whipped cream, having our own mug means that it’s not smooshed all over the lid.
I also have a quart mason jar in my computer bag for when I go to the coffee shop to write. I use it for tea, water, or whatever. My kids get quart mason jars during the summer for drinks on the road or at the park, or whatever. You may worry about broken glass, but to be honest, we have never dropped one, and I’ve been doing this since my kids were 10, 8, and 4.
Bring Tableware and Napkins with you
Nothing uses more plastic than a potluck dinner or outdoor picnic with multiple families. It used to be a hassle to carry our own flatware and bring cloth napkins, cups, and plates with us, but now it’s second nature. Sure, I am still doing dishes each time, but we have set a trend with some of our friends, and they now bring their own, too.
Reducing the amount of plastic table ware, styrofoam plates and cups needed also reduces the cost for the group. Our Boy Scout troop likes that they don’t have to spend $40 each time they have a special dinner for the families. This cute bamboo tableware is easy to store, carry and each set has lasted our family well over two years and running.
Recycling Should Be the Last Resort
Wait, what? Isn’t recycling the goal?
Yes – but hold on a minute. Recycling is important, but it shouldn’t be the first and primary goal. Instead, your goal should be to stop unnecessary items from entering into your space in the first place. When you put plastic containers in the recycling bin it often isn’t recycled – it’s just downcycled to a poorer form of plastic.
While some materials like paper, aluminium, and glass can be recycled indefinitely, that’s not the case with plastic. Eventually, its lifespan ends. As a nonrenewable resource (it is made out of petroleum, after all), its manufacturing needs to be limited as much as possible.
Bring Your Cloth Bag
Bring your cloth shopping bag with you everywhere you go – even if it’s not the grocery store! Bring it with you to the clothes shop, the farmer’s market, and anywhere else you normally would need a plastic bag.
Recycle Your Chewing Gum
…and not just the gum packages. Did you know that multiple chewing gum brands actually include plastic in the gum themselves (gross, I know!)? Recycle your chewing gum, too – or better yet, choose a natural or organic one instead.
Skip Plastic Clothespins
If you’re air drying your laundry on a clothesline, kudos to you! That’s one big step toward environmentalism that many people do not take.
If you can swap out your plastic clothespins to wooden ones, you’ll notice a major impact on the planet.
Don’t Use Cosmetics with Micro-Plastics
Whenever possible, avoid using cosmetics that have microplastics. These tiny beads are not only bad in terms of how much waste is produced but also in that they can contaminate the waterways.
Similarly, choose brushes made out of wood and other biodegradable beauty products. There’s no need to sacrifice your beauty routine for the sake of environmentalism – just choose wisely.
Bring Your Own Doggy Bag
You might get some funny looks the first time you do this, but who cares?
When you head to a restaurant to dine in or for takeout, bring your own doggy bag. Many restaurants use plastic containers or Styrofoam – and as a pro tip, using your own containers will help improve the taste of your food!
Skip Frozen Foods
Unless you’re freezing food at home yourself, skip the frozen food aisle at the grocery store. Processed food isn’t good for you, anyway, and the packaging is mostly plastic.
Switch to Cloth Diapers
This might not be for everyone, but if you can swing it, make the switch to cloth diapers. There are more than 7.6 billion pounds of disposable diapers discarded in the US each year. Reduce your baby’s carbon footprint – and save money – with cloth diapers. What’s a little laundry?
Stop Using Disposable Razors
Another Beauty tip to help you cut back on plastic? Get a razor that has replaceable blades instead of swapping out a disposable razor every few weeks. These tend to offer a much better, closer shave, too.
Make or Buy Fresh Bread
Lots of people buy those highly processed loaves of bread at the grocery store that are sold in plastic baggies.
Not only is this bread horrible for your health, but it also isn’t great for the planet – it’s packaged in plastic. Look for fresh bread at the grocery store, which is more likely to be wrapped in paper – or even better, make your own!
Clean with Baking Soda and Vinegar
Earlier, I mentioned that making your own cleaning products is a good way to cut down on plastic waste. An even better method is to clean with baking soda and vinegar. These are not only effective cleaners but they’re inexpensive and can cut down on waste, too.
Use That Junk Mail Wisely
When you ship packages in the mail, use junk mail or other paper to stuff into the package to prevent damage to whatever it is you are shipping. This will cut down on the amount of bubble wrap or air-filled plastic that needs to be used!
Try Reusable Batteries
Batteries themselves don’t typically contain plastic, but the packaging does. Buy reusable batteries (or buy in bulk) to reduce the amount of waste produced when buying batteries.
Upgrade Your Cutting Board
Plastic cutting boards don’t just get stained easier – they’re also not as good for the planet. Instead of using a plastic cutting board, upgrade to one made of wood or glass. As a bonus, it will make your kitchen look a million times nicer, too!
Make Your Period Waste-Free
Tampons and pads are expensive – and they come encased in plastic packaging and applicators that are extremely wasteful. Consider using a reusable pad or Diva Cup to help cut down on the waste produced by these essential products.
Zero Waste Coffee
Coffee is essential – I don’t think anyone would argue with that! But all the plastic that goes into our daily caffeine habits is not so essential. If you use a Keurig machine, it’s time to get rid of it. Those little plastic pods contribute so much to the landfills! Intead, look for a more sustainable option.
There are compostable coffee pods made out of paper you can buy – or you can switch to a traditional coffee maker instead.
Stop Buying Balloons
Balloons negatively impact wildlife and the larger environment as a whole. They can’t be recycled and when they end up in the ocean, they resemble jellyfish and are often mistaken for food by marine life. Choose other types of decorations instead!
Treat Yourself to Pizza and Ice Cream!
But do it wisely.
When you go out for pizza, say not to the little plastic table that comes in the middle of the pizza box. This is totally optional and you can ask the pizzeria to skip it instead of including it in your order.
When it comes time for dessert, instead of keeping containers of ice cream in the freezer, just buy an ice cream cone when you’re out and about. Not only will this keep your consumption of sweets down – better for your health, after all! – but it also eliminates the plastic-lined containers that are used to hold that shot bought ice cream, too.
Use Natural Cleaning Cloths and Sponges
Instead of using plastic scrubbers and synthetic sponges, use compressed natural cellulose sponges and natural fiber brushes. They work much better and are better for the environment, too.
Skip the Deodorant
…you won’t smell as bad as you think! And if you aren’t ready to forego the deodorant entirely, consider using baking soda instead.
You can make other bathroom swaps, too, including using biodegradable toothbrushes and tooth powders instead of plastic-bottled toothpastes. Even toilet paper can contain plastic (in the packaging) but you can choose recycled paper or bamboo choices instead.
Repair, Don’t Replace
There are so many tools, appliances, and other things we have for the home that are made out of plastic – and unfortunately, getting rid of them is much easier said than done. You need plastic tools and supplies! However, many of us would rather run out and replace an item when it breaks rather than taking the time to repair it.
If it’s able to be repaired, fix it – that’s less junk ending up in the landfills and less plastic being produced!
Keep Your Pet Plastic-Free, Too
If you have pets, there are even ways you can cut down on your plastic use in caring for them, too!
Choose plastic-free, natural cat litter (usually, this will be made from wheat instead). You can flush it instead of having to throw it in the trash. You can choose pet toys and furniture made from natural materials and use metal or ceramic dishes to feed your animals.
Finally, know that you can always buy second hand pet supplies instead of brand-new ones. Even if you have to buy plastic, by buying used gear instead of new stuff, you’ll be helping to combat the use of plastic.
Shop Thrift Stores
Last but not least, always buy used when it’s an option. Going to thrift stores is not only fun, but it’s a great way to find hidden treasures that will allow you to save money and cut back on what’s being contributed to the landfill. Buy used whenever you can – both your wallet and the planet will thank you!
Reduce Plastic – One Step at a Time
Even though I like to imagine myself as an environmentally conscious person, when I walked through my home and honestly assessed the amount of plastic we still use, I was surprised. It takes a bit of effort to remove plastic from our homes, but the health, environmental, and economic benefits are worth it.
The best tip I can give you for reducing plastic? Get everyone on board. If you can get your family, friends, and coworkers to reduce plastic, too, you’ll make an even bigger impact than if you went it alone.
Print out these tips to reduce plastic or better yet, share them via email or Facebook with a friend! Keep the advice train rolling and let us know in the comments if you have any other great ways to reduce plastic that you’d like to share.
updated Sep 8th 2021 by Rebekah Pierce
Heather’s homesteading journey started in 2006, with baby steps: first, she got a few raised beds, some chickens, and rabbits. Over the years, she amassed a wealth of homesteading knowledge, knowledge that you can find in the articles of this blog.