How To Stop Using Plastic

by heather

Baagu reusable shopping bag

Baagu reusable shopping bag

Most of us, if not all of us, use plastic. And hopefully, we recycle plastic with a fervor.

I wanted to revisit one of the goals I set for myself at the start of this year. And that goal is to use less plastic.

You don’t need me to tell you that plastic is everywhere. It’s almost dizzying how much plastic we go through, and I could rattle off enough plastic statistics to make your head spin.

Want some?

  • The EPA reports that in 2007, the U.S. threw away over 14 million tons of plastic containers and packaging.
  • The total amount of plastics in the 2007 municipal waste stream was 31 million tons.
  • Earth911.com reports that in 2006 Americans threw away over 30 billion plastic water bottles. This means that out of every 10 bottles, 8 get thrown away and 2 get recycled.

I could keep going, but you get the picture. Our world is addicted to plastic. And, most of it gets tossed after just one use.

This makes me sad. So, I decided this year to drastically curtail my plastic consumption.

Why did I set such an ambitious goal? Well, there are a ton of reasons. The environmental cost of using plastic was the foremost reason. But another main one was my health; I just don’t trust plastic. More and more research is coming out about the dangers of chemical leaching (for more on this, see my article, “The Dangers of BPA“).

So, those were the two driving factors behind this ambitious goal to stop using so much plastic.

How I’ve Succeeded So Far…

Well, I have good news to report.

  • I’m now in the habit of taking my reusable canvas bags to the grocery store every single time. This means no plastic shopping bags.
  • I recycled 90% of my Gladware. I now only put leftovers in glass or stainless steel containers (which have no danger of leaking chemicals into my food). I kept two or three containers on-hand for emergencies, but I rarely use them.
  • I no longer buy bottled water. I take my stainless steel water bottle everywhere I go.
  • I stopped using plastic dish scrubbies to wash dishes. I now use Twist sponges, which are all natural and biodegradable.

    Courtesy Burt'sBees.com

    Courtesy Burt'sBees.com

  • I stopped buying cream hand lotion. I now use Burt’s Bees Hand Salve, which comes in a metal tin (and is fabulous, by the way!)
  • I return my styrofoam egg cartons to the small farmer I buy my eggs from for reuse.
  • I’ve almost completely stopped using disposable plastic bags like Ziplock. The ones I have left I reuse.
  • I purchased organic cotton produce bags from my local health food store, so I don’t need plastic produce bags when I buy fruits and veggies at the grocery store.
  • To-go coffees are a thing of the past (in the spirit of full disclosure, I do have occasional slip-ups on this one. But, they’re only occasional.)

    Courtesy GlassDharma.com

    Courtesy GlassDharma.com

  • I bought a glass straw from Glass Dharma, which I keep in my purse. This eliminates my need for a plastic straw when we’re out to dinner (yes, the product review on this is coming soon; I love this little straw!)
  • Now that I’m using the Diva Cup, I’m no longer buying plastic tampons. Yay!

Where I’m Having Trouble

Ok, here’s where I’m still struggling with my goal. It’s entirely food-related.

Up until last weekend, I was still buying plastic food items (mostly yogurt and cottage cheese). The brands I buy come in #5 plastic, which I could easily recycle at Recycle Livingston. But due to the economy, they’re now only taking #1 and #2 plastics.

I don’t know if this is an eco-freak thing to say or not, but the thought of buying those plastics and not being able to recycle them anymore is just horrifying. Thankfully we can save them and take them to my mother-in-law’s house (her city still takes all plastics), but, I think I need to try harder to stop buying the stuff in the first place.

But, it seems almost impossible! I mean, you walk into the grocery store and you’re assaulted with a sea of plastic. Butter tubs, yogurt, tofu, cookie mix, my beloved Oreos…all have plastic.

Nature’s Gate Shampoo! Jiffy Peanut Butter! Olives from the olive bar! FETA CHEESE!

And in my little town, there is no luscious Whole Foods or organic grocery store to buy fabulous products in bins. The nearest one is 40 minutes away.

*Please pause while I grind my teeth in frustration…*

I realized today that I needed to go into full research mode, and get creative. Now that Recycle Livingston, my enabler, is no longer supporting my plastic habit then I must curtail my consumption.

I’m reaffirming my goal here:

Heather, you are going to stop using so much plastic in the kitchen. End of story.

Anyway, while I was researching ways to curtail my own plastic use I thought I’d write a post about it as I went along to share what I found out.

My New Hero…

While I was surfing around I found a wonderful blog that’s all about living with less plastic. Guess what it’s called?

Life Less Plastic

This is a truly wonderful site, and I urge all of you to head over there stat and check it out. She has got some really wonderful ideas on how to live with less plastic.

For example, Life Less Plastic has:

  • Started buying more food in bulk bins to cut down on packaging (Let me say this again: I WISH I had a local grocery store that would do this!)
  • Started making her own yogurt (I was actually thinking about doing this myself this weekend!)
  • Started using a shampoo bar instead of a bottle
  • Using a vinegar rinse in her hair instead of conditioner
  • Started making her own bread (eliminating those bread bags)
  • Cleaning with baking soda and vinegar instead of store-bought cleansers
  • Bringing her own takeout containers to restaurants instead of using styrofoam
  • Started using Dr. Bronner’s bar soap to wash dishes instead of using liquid dish soap (genius!).

She is my plastic reduction hero.

Another plastic-less hero is Beth over at Fake Plastic Fish. She has a wonderful list of ways she’s gotten rid of plastic on her own life, which you can find here.

Her list includes making her own condiments, buying only refillable fountain pens, and making her own soy milk. Yes, you read that right: Beth makes her own soy milk. How awesome is that?

These ladies are definitely walking the walk here, which is very inspiring to me.

My New Goals…

Ok, it’s safe to say that I’m feeling more confident that I can do this. I’m definitely taking these suggestions to heart (especially the tip on using bar soap to wash dishes!)

Now that I’ve gotten some ideas from the Internet, here’s what I’m going to start doing this week to use less plastic.

  • Think before I buy. For instance, if there is salsa in a plastic jar and salsa in a glass jar, then I’ll buy the glass jar (if it’s not yucky). When the growing season starts up here, I will start making my own salsa and canning it myself.
  • Today, I will put together a restaurant to-go kit and keep it in the car so I don’t ever have to come home with a styrofoam box full of leftovers.
  • I will try making my own yogurt so I can stop buying it in plastic tubs.
  • Once Farmer’s Market starts, I will be able to buy homemade butter again, which uses no plastic in its packaging. Same goes for cheese (which I can only buy right now in plastic packaging).

And this is just a start.

How about you? Do you have any nifty tricks or tips for reducing plastic in your life? If so, I’d love to hear them! I need all the help I can get, and I’m sure others are on the same journey as I am.

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{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Uncle B May 28, 2009 at 8:47 pm

Our local recycle program now takes plastic bags! Soon, as the dollar falls in value, and inflation happens, the price of oil, from whence our plastic comes, will rise, as before, in exponential fashion, and we will be asked to recycle even more plastics. We may even see poorer folks out collecting stray plastics to make a buck. Our days of shameless waste are soon ending in a world shorter each day of resources. Recycling plastic is what plastic is all about, it is a shame we don’t keep it in great piles in our homes, for sale by the pound when enough is accumulated! Canada has legalized growing of Hemp, hopefully Hemp bags, totally compostible, from Canada, a friendly country, will replace the oil born plastic bag industry!
SEE: Canadian government site for the truth!
http://www.nrc-cnrc.gc.ca/highlights/2008/0803hemp_e.html

heather May 29, 2009 at 5:46 am

Uncle B,

That’s awesome your recycling center takes plastic bags! Many are starting to.

More and more cities are expanding their plastic recycling facilities; I truly hope that more people start to realize how easy it is for them to recycle plastic..

Thanks so much for taking the time to write in!

Heather June 2, 2009 at 2:37 pm

You actually CAN recycle #5’s via the Preserve Gimme 5 Program. Whole Foods and other locations take them as part of the program. You can look to see if there’s a location near you here: http://www.preserveproducts.com/gimme5/. And if there’s not you can always send ’em in via mail if you’re really motivated to recycle those things. I was psyched to see that there is a location near me. Yeah!!

heather June 3, 2009 at 7:00 am

Heather,

Thanks SO MUCH for sending along that link!

I definitely wouldn’t mind mailing mine in if I found out that my city wouldn’t take them. I’m sure if you saved them up and just mailed them in a small box postage wouldn’t be that much.

Erik August 11, 2009 at 12:33 pm

This is great information.

Like you said, we should try to avoid plastic as much as possible. People that are recycling plastic are doing better than those who throw it away, BUT we can’t be sure that some of the plastic that is going to recycling centers isn’t just going to overflow into landfills. Most recycling centers can only sell and get rid of a certain amount of material.

We have to avoid it as much as possible…and this is pretty tough.

bob May 18, 2010 at 4:19 pm

plastic never biodegrades

Beth October 6, 2010 at 10:17 am

We just moved here from Germany where we could recycle just about everything. Or at least we were encouraged to try – where it went after collection, I do not know. The local Aldi (and any other drink-selling stores) were obligated to have bottle collection machines on site. Communities collected the trash, which we separated into different kinds. It was all part of our trash-collection bill. I wonder why communities here do not simply charge us to recycle? Is it more expensive? Sure. But then it gets done *and* adds an incentive for people to use less plastic…

Beth March 2, 2011 at 2:19 pm

Bravo, friends! I’m moving in the same direction. Thank you all from the fullness of my heart!

Nick May 30, 2011 at 6:54 pm

Heather, awesome stuff here! Thanks for sharing!

One thing that stuck out in my mind was that you buy cotton bags for your produce and things. A really good way to save on that is to use old pillowcases and other old material laying around the house and sewing bags for produce and for bulk items. Repurposing and cutting down on plastic! Woo-hoo! Hope that helps =)

Nick May 30, 2011 at 6:57 pm

Sorry, I think what I said was a little unclear…I meant to sew the old materials into bags which can be used for produce and bulk items.

Lisa November 12, 2011 at 10:42 pm

I love this site!

I make my own yogurt like you were talking about. You can buy milk in glass bottles from the natural foods co-ops and make yogurt from it and store it in glass mason jars–totally avoiding the plastic. I love that. Although we still do buy plastic in the yogurt tubs from time to time.

You can buy butter in paper wrappers at our food co-op.

I am not sure how to avoid the plastic-wrapped cheese, though, unless you make it yourself.

Lisa November 12, 2011 at 10:43 pm

PS: I forgot about the plastic caps on the milk jugs. I don’t know what to do about those. Get my own cow, perhaps?

Terry Reid April 19, 2012 at 6:34 pm

Thankyou… I am thankful to you for being so concerned conscious of the scourge that is plastic; that you have entered “full research mode”. My wife and i have realized also the panic and shear depth of this crisis and its impact on the on gross human happiness. Please let us know how we can be of service.

Jassmine Bazaar August 19, 2012 at 10:03 pm

Started buying pillow cases, and cases for coach pillows at used stores. Then washing them and using them for my veggies. I now buy shampoo, lotions, and body wash in gallons and put them in smaller glass bottles that I find at used stores. Buying directly from the farmer stops having to buy in plastic. But what I wonder is how do we get rid of plastic once it is recycled. We can sell it but what do they do with it when they get too much?

John Cheetham February 18, 2014 at 2:12 am

I put my home-made cleaning solutions and liquid plant fertilizer mixes in used 1.5L Perrier bottles which have the perfect sized opening to screw on a spray nozzle. Now to find a nozzle made without plastic. 🙂

Jody April 7, 2014 at 9:13 pm

Thank you for your passion, inspiration and commentss.
I was horrified today watching a very sad video about what plastics are doing to wild life. I am committed to using less plastic for sure.
Since you asked, and it’s one way I actually have been successful this year is I have bought waxed paper bags for my families lunches they take to school.
I will take your advice. Thank you.
We must be good to birds, and animals.
Sincerely,
Jody

robin in california February 15, 2015 at 10:25 pm

i just started my new thing no garbage , no plastic, i have done now for a week and so proud i have no garbage at all in my can, yippee, what i did, i got rid of all my plastic stuff tupper ware, food containers, i recycled my paper wrappers , and bags, we have a recycle bin here in cali that we put out on garbage day, that is very helpful. the problem i am having now is what t do with those little ketchup and sauces from fast food restaraunts. i know i can buy my own i guess or make it, but for now its my only garbage. the stuff i could not recycle i burned in my out door fire pit. i still need to replace my shampoo and toothpaste and soaps , cleaning products. but i had a good start. i am getting new tooth brush and spatulas, and measuring cups and spoons made out of stainless steel. now as far as hair stuff , is there such thing as hair clips not made of plastic??

Patricia April 22, 2015 at 9:44 am

Thanks so much for this! I am trying to avoid the plastic world as much as is humanly possible. It’s a huge challenge. Great to hear from others with the same mindset.

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