Easy Ways to Wean Yourself from Plastic (Beyond the Obvious)

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5 min read

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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.

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.

Also read: Let’s un-plastic your bathroom, shall we?

In this article

Reusable bags and jar solutions

Nature’s already wrapped oranges, squash and other fruits and veggies in a protective cover. So skip the plastic baggie and toss any thick-skinned produce in your shopping cart as is. For lettuce and other skinless produce, simply use a reusable produce bag.

Once dinner’s done, I like to cut stuff up and throw it into jars, so it’s to see what I’ve got in the fridge. The problem is, I’m always losing the lids! I found some pretty cool silicone jar tops that stretch, so you can use them with any size jar. Plus you can use them on bowls too, which is incredibly convenient. I love solutions like that because they let me be lazy… but to everyone else, it looks like I’m cool and hip. Ha!

If you prefer baggies, because they’re easier to bring to work, I like reusable silicone bags over plastics. They’re a healthier solution… but they’re also kind of snazzy looking too, don’t you think?

Restaurant & cafe solutions

Ready for a doggy bag? Thankfully, a lot of places are moving away from Styrofoam, but I feel guilty using any single-use container. Bring your own glass or stainless steel container to the restaurant… or beeswax wraps are another great solution. If the waiter or the unenlightened folks at the next table give you a funny look when they see you wrapping your stuff up, just give ’em a funny look right back!

I rarely use straws anymore, unless I’m grabbing a smoothie. (Or a Bloody Mary. ) When I do, I’ll just toss a reusable straw in my bag. Bamboo, stainless steel, or glass straws — they’re all classier than plastic! (I recommend getting a protective case and a thin brush to clean them, as well.)

For grab-and-go lunches, you can easily say no to plasticware at the takeout counter. Just keep a set of stainless steel or bamboo utensils at your desk.

Other plastic-free food solutions

  • 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. You can weigh your containers at the service counter before filling them and their weight will be deducted at checkout. (Yes, many supermarkets will that if you ask.)
  • Meats: Skip prepackaged meats that are 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.)
  • Food & drink storage: This is pretty common knowledge by now, but just to cover the bases — glass and stainless steel are healthier than plastic.

Bulk body care? Yep!

Bulk bins aren’t just great for buying beans, nuts, grains, and flours. These days, I’m starting to notice that markets are selling fill-your-own shampoo, body wash, and other personal care items as well. Bodycare products are much less expensive when you buy them in bulk. And you can simply fill large containers, so you don’t have to bother shopping for them as often.

Reuse your empty food jars

Glass jars for storage

Don’t toss empty tomato sauce and pickle jars. Clean them out, remove the sticky label and reuse them. (Citrisolv is my secret weapon for getting the last bits of sticky junk off the glass.)

I actually keep my jars on display in my kitchen. They look chic, keep 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 — just make sure it’s natural latex rubber and not synthetic latex rubber.
  • Buy wooden toys and school supplies instead of plastic. (Read: Non-Toxic Toys For Children: What to Look For and What to Avoid)
  • Use glass or stainless steel bottles and sippy cups.
  • Choose rubber raincoats and rain boots over vinyl. Vinyl is PVC, a #3 plastic that leaches chemicals (phthalates) onto your skin just by touching it.

Skip these plastic bags altogether

  • Trash bags: I never use a trash bag in the recycle bin. So long as you rinse your recyclables to keep pests away, I find that a bag is completely unnecessary. I also reuse the bag in my tiny bathroom bin for months. There isn’t any food in there — it’s empty shampoo bottles, used cotton balls and q-tips, and gobs of my hair from the shower floor. (Gross visual, sorry!) Anyhoo, I just dump the small bin into my larger kitchen bag, whenever that one fills up and it’s time to bring it outside.
  • Dry cleaning: Ask the cleaners to skip the bag. Hang the clothes in the car as is, or use a reusable suit bag. If they’ve already wrapped your clothes in the bag, take a few minutes to carefully remove your clothes and ask them to reuse the bags for another customer.

Good to know

  • Not all plastics are recyclable, even if they have a plastic recycling code. (I know, I feel duped too!)
  • There are different kinds of 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.
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