I really hate plastic! But what I hate even more is that it’s so difficult to live without.
Yeah, I avoid all the obvious stuff… I don’t use single-use shopping bags, I never buy bottled water or anything with a 6-pack ring, I always say “no straw” when I order a drink, and so on. In fact, I don’t even really think about those plastics anymore. Like a lot of folks these days, living without them has become habit.
But what about the other plastics that we haven’t weaned ourselves from just yet? We can’t really get rid of it all, can we? I mean, everything’s either made from plastic or wrapped in the stuff. It kills me!
It frustrates me when plastic packaging clutters my pantry. It grosses me out when it touches my food. And I feel like a murderer every time I see a photo of a poor sea turtle that’s been suffocated or starved by it, even though I feel like I’m doing my part.
It’s a never-ending battle! But one that I refuse to give up.
Weaning ourselves off plastic
The hard truth is, we’ll never rid ourselves of plastic entirely. And while trying to do so is incredibly noble, it’s pretty unrealistic. So let’s narrow our focus to the plastic alternatives that are better for our health and/or pretty easy to swap out.
Simple alternatives for food and drink
- Produce bags: Nature has already wrapped oranges, squash and other fruits and veggies in a protective cover. So skip the plastic bag and just toss thick-skinned produce in your shopping cart as is. For lettuce and other skinless produce, use a reusable cloth or mesh produce bag.
- Doggie bags: Don’t let Styrofoam touch your food or coffee. Bring your own glass or stainless steel container to the restaurant. If the waiter gives you a funny look when you hand it to him, just give him a funny look right back. 🙂
- Straws: Carry your own glass or stainless steel straw. I do! They look beautiful and usually come with a protective case that is easy to carry in your bag. They are also a healthy alternative to sucking liquids through plastic.
- Plastic utensils: Say no to plasticware at the takeout counter and keep a set of stainless steel or bamboo utensils at your desk.
- Packaged food: Eating fresh foods isn’t always conducive to a busy lifestyle. But in the moments you do get a chance to slow down, enjoy some real, chemical-free food made with fresh, unpackaged ingredients.
- Bulk bins: Bring your own bags or jars. Weigh your containers at the service counter before filling them. Their weight will be deducted at checkout. (Yes, supermarkets can do that.)
- Meats: Skip prepackaged meats wrapped in plastic. Instead, shop the deli and meat counter and bring your own glass or stainless steel container. (Bacteria can soak into plastic food containers, but not the glass or stainless steel.)
- Sandwich bags: Use reusable sandwich wrappers and snack bags. They aren’t just healthier; they also look schnazzy.
- Food & drink storage: This is pretty common knowledge by now, but just to cover the bases — glass and stainless steel are healthier than plastic.
Empty food jars are great for storage and decor
Don’t toss empty tomato sauce and pickle jars. Clean them out, remove the sticky label and reuse them. I actually keep them out on display in my kitchen. It looks chic, keeps my cabinets free from clutter, and I can find what I need more easily!
- Put sunflower, pumpkin and sesame seeds in salad dressing jars with thin necks. It’s easier to drizzle them over a salad that way.
- Put bulk bin spices into small mustard jars.
- Store dried beans, rice, oatmeal, nuts and flours in the larger jars.
- You can also use the larger jars in the fridge for leftovers and cut veggies.
Reducing plastic for babies & kids
- Skip the plastic dishware, pacifiers and teething rings. Use silicone or natural rubber instead. (Make sure it’s natural latex rubber and not synthetic latex rubber.)
- Buy wooden toys and school supplies instead of plastic.
- Use glass or stainless steel bottles and sippy cups.
- Choose rubber rain coats and rain boots over vinyl. Vinyl is PVC, a #3 plastic that leaches chemicals (specifically phthalates) onto your skin just by touching it.
Fast & easy swaps
- Trash bags: Don’t use a trash bag in the recycle bin. So long as you rinse your recyclables to keep pests away, a bag is completely unnecessary.
- Dry cleaning: Ask the cleaners to skip the bag. Hang the clothes in the car as is, or use a reusable suit bag.
Good to know
- Not all plastics are recyclable, even if they have a plastic recycling code. (I know, I feel duped too!)
- The bulk bins aren’t just great for buying beans, nuts, grains and flours. Markets often sell bulk shampoo, body wash and other personal care items as well. These items are much less expensive when you buy them in bulk. And you can fill larger containers if you want to, so you don’t have to shop for them as often.
- There are a different kinds plastics manufactured for a wide range of uses. But unless they’re bioplastic, they’re all made from petroleum and chemicals, which can leach into our food, our skin and even our lungs. Some plastics leach more toxins than others, but ultimately it’s worth our health to avoid eating, drinking and inhaling plastic particulates whenever possible.