In honor of the completion of Plastic Free July, I've compiled a list of the thirty-one practices you should take up today to ditch plastic for good! How many of these do you already do?
Tip #1: Don't rely on recycling!
Relying on recycling doesn't always work in your favor. There is only a 30% recycling rate in the US and it is an energy intensive process. You can read more about why I don't think recycling is the answer in a separate post!
Tip #2: Buy food without packaging!
For this one, you might need to get a little creative depending on where you live! I am lucky to have a great Community Food coop but some people have way less bulk options. On my camping trip through the rural west however, I have been able to find apples, bananas, oranges, hard boiled eggs, pepperoni sticks, and donuts in gas stations without packaging! And in towns with a population of 1000 or less. So don't worry if you don't have a giant bulk store! Do your best and get creative to as many items without packaging as you can!
Tip #3: Bring your own reusable containers when you eat out!
Bringing your own container reduces the need for styrofoam and other plastic boxes while also allowing you to only eat what you want, guilt free of having extra! I recommend a light weight container for your purse (like a pop-up bowl) and sturdier glass containers for camping, etc.!
Tip #4: Say no to plastic straws!
When you walk into a restaurant, look to see if the water glasses have straws in them. If you spot one, make sure to tell your waiter "no straw please"! And when ordering any kind of specialty drink, I always specify again. 500 million straws are thrown away each day! Don't be a part of that number.
Tip #5: Ditch the plastic wrap!
Every year, people in the U.S. use enough plastic wrap to cover the state of Texas. Instead, just use containers or invest in bees wax wrap for your kitchen!
Tip #6: Buy things in compostable packaging when possible!
If your area doesn't have an item in bulk, look to see if compostable packaging is an alternative to plastic. Egg cartons, paper boxes, and industrially compostable bags/cartons/wrappers all reduce the need for petroleum products and allow resources to return to the earth.
Tip #7: Do a trash audit.
Keeping track of the trash and/or recycling you make each month allows you to target the areas in your life that need work. You might find you're throwing out more of something than you think!
Tip #8: Make your own makeup!
There are quite a few easy products you can make at home with way less plastic! Take cocoa powder and corn starch for example. It acts as dry shampoo, facial powder, and eye brow gel with some added aloe! For a more advanced recipe, try making your own mascara!
Tip #9: Properly dispose of plastic in the trash or recycling as appropriate.
Tony, let me tell you. Disposable plastic gifts mean you'll only get disposable love and end up litter on the street. I hope you learned your lesson. 💔
Tip #10: Be willing to make mistakes - but keep trying!
It can be easy to feel guilty when plastic winds up in ours lives unintentionally. I have seen many people give up because the frustration can be so intense! I myself wrote a post last year titled "Why My Plastic Free July Failed". I'd like to retract that title now and clarify something - you cannot fail on this journey. Because getting rid of plastic and waste in our lives is strenuous and going against the tide. Even the fact that you ATTEMPT it is making a huge difference by raising awareness. Yes, I get frustrated sometimes too. Like last night when I forgot to say "No Straw" with my horchata and scared a few patrons when I cursed out loud. But everything takes time to develop a habit and its human nature to make mistakes. So this Plastic Free July, make sure you give yourself room to make a few errors, learn a few lessons, and just keep trying! You ARE making a difference.
Tip #11: Cook food at home!
By taking control of your food, you have the power of reducing the waste associated with your meals. Cooking at home also tends to lead to better diets, closer family connections, and more money in your pockets! Many restaurants are applying more environmentally friendly practices but unless you're behind the counter, its hard to guarantee how the food is sourced and whether the company really recycles and composts properly. Take your food waste into your own hands and cook more at home! Yum!
Tip #12: Buy second hand clothes!
Clothing is always shipped to department stores wrapped in plastic with plastic hangers. If you buy second hand items, you eliminate the need to produce more clothes wrapped in yet more plastic and even made out of plastic! In the U.S. we throw out hundreds of pounds of perfectly good clothes - buy second hand and keep them out of the landfill!
Tip #13: Buy fresh produce!
Buying fresh produce is one of the ways I cut down on my plastic packaging the best. In my experience, produce is least likely to be packaged in comparison to grains, meat, dairy, or snacks. That means the more I buy fresh, the less plastic I have to battle on the way to my kitchen table! And it makes for quite the healthy diet as well.
Tip #14: Grow your own food!
Growing your own berries is a great way to get plastic free yummies all summer long! If you don't have access to enough space for a garden, try going to a U-pick farm and collecting enough for the whole year! By picking and freezing them yourself you not only save money, but have control over the containers you use and eliminate the need for them to be shipped and packaged for store shelves. Make sure to pick a lot though because you might eat half on the way home!
Tip #15: Skip the grocery bags!
Using reusable grocery bags in one of the first things many people take up. Make sure to have some stashed in your car for those unplanned trips to the store!
Tip #16: Look for alternative recycling programs!
When you find a plastic item has reached the end of its life, don't immediately assume it has to go straight to the landfill! There are many recycling programs out there that help use tricky materials in household products again. I, for one, recently had to research where to donate broken phone chargers and found that Best Buy offers recycling bins for them in their stores! I wish I could find a more eco-friendly/plastic free charger, but for now I'll dispose of it in a way that at least extends its life in a small way!
Tip #17: Buy plastic - second hand!
Look for used items if you want to invest in something made of plastic. Buying second hand items keeps the demand for new ones lower and helps extend the products life. For my move to Portland, I was able to get used boxes and bubble wrap from a coworker whose parents moved into town. Once I'm done with them, I'll give them to someone else who is moving out of town!
Tip #18: Use reusable chopsticks!
Reusable chop sticks + Pho = Yum yum! Just one more item that we have grown accustomed to throwing out after each meal If you eat with chop sticks a lot, consider investing in a reusable set to keep in your car. Or, like me, just only eat at the places that already provide them!
Tip #19: Use reusable water bottles!
Plastic water bottles are recycled way less than we assume and often end up in the ocean disturbing marine life. I gave up disposable bottles years ago and have around five reusable ones scattered around my house and car now!
Tip #20: Make your own cleaning supplies!
A simple all-purpose cleaner can be made by soaking lemons in vinegar and then dumping it in a spray bottle! Baking soda is also a multi-purpose cleaner that works great on rust and shower scum.
Tip #21: Reuse the plastic you do have.
Before you toss plastic in the recycling bin, consider a way to reuse it in your house. By reusing the plastic for as long as you can, you extend it's life and give you time to research a future alternative. You also save energy on the cost of recycling!
Tip #22: Sign up for online bill pay.
Mail is something people often don't associate with plastic. But those tiny windows in envelopes are a hidden nightmare. By signing up for online bill pay, you reduce the waste coming into your house and the energy needed to ship them.
Tip #23: Ask for paper packaging when ordering online!
When ordering items online, look for small companies that are upfront about their practices. These type of companies are often way more open to request for paper packaging online when shipping something.
Tip #24: Invest in reusable menstrual pads and cups.
Pads and tampons add up each month! Consider investing in a reusable menstrual pad that you can wash after each use or a menstrual cup. You can also find cute underwear now with built in lining designed for periods!
Tip #25: Carry a smoothie cup in your car!
Most people easily name a reusable water bottle and to-go cup as a way to reduce restaurant waste. But a milkshake/smoothie cup is also important! Maybe you have a big enough water bottle, but having a smoothie cup with a straw stashed in your car will save you from having to refuse that chocolate malt shake headed your way.
Tip #26: Say no to disposable silverware.
A spork is super light weight and will function as a fork, knife, and spoon. Add a small one to your purse and say no to one more plastic item!
Tip #27: Ask for deli items "for here" then place them in your container!
An insider tip: If the deli won't put your food in your own container, ask for it "for here". Once it's on a plate and in your hands, they have no control over what you do with it and you can just dump it into your container to take home! Return the plate to be washed afterwards.
Tip #28: Invest in a reusable safety-razor for shaving!
Although a safety-razor may look like a big price tag up front, the investment will save you from buying those disposable heads each month and keep large quantities of plastic out of the landfill.
Tip #29: Carry your own thermos for coffee and drinks!
Coffee cups are often mistaken as recyclable, but given their thin plastic lining it's actually quite difficult to separate the materials. Instead of relying on them, keep a thermos close at hand for your morning coffee!
Tip #30: Take a step back and think before you buy.
Most of the plastic that ends up in my trash jar is from items I didn't stop to think about before purchasing. I was in a rush and thought I needed it ASAP, only to find that there was a plastic-free alternative available. Give yourself some time to research more and find an option that fits with your values before purchasing.
Tip #31: Continue to question and research the plastic in your life!
The ultimate tip to ditching plastic is questioning everything that comes into your life. Do I need this? Is there an alternative available? What is really in this product? Getting rid of disposable plastic isn't impossible but it takes time to develop habits. Plastic can be found everywhere and it is often unavoidable in things like appliances, medical supplies, and electronics. And in terms of those items, not many alternatives exist. But disposable plastics in all of the things listed above ARE optional and can be replaced by a more environmentally-friendly option. Don't wait to start making changes today and ditch plastic for good.
How many of these thirty-one tips are you already doing?