It’s hard to imagine everyday life without plastic. Over the last couple of decades this all-purpose material has experienced an exponential rise in use.
Nonetheless, the disadvantages of plastic packaging and products are becoming increasingly known to the general public. Perhaps the two greatest disadvantages are the extremely long decomposition time and the health risks for living organisms.
Many types of plastic require centuries before they are completely degraded and reintegrated into the ecosystem, in the meantime polluting the landscape and oceans. Plastic microparticles get absorbed by fish and birds, thereby making their way into our food chain.
Some components of plastic are still insufficiently studied. Often only after years of consumption can a material’s negative effects on our health be fully established.
If you’d like to learn more about this subject, the film Plastic Planet would be a good start.
In this post we’d like to offer a few tips to help you start giving up a number of everyday plastic products. A complete switch is a challenge, considering how much time, attention and research is required. But as is often the case, the first step is the most important.
1. Never leave the house without your basic equipment
For me this means having my reusable metal water bottle and a bag on hand. I can avoid buying beverages (most of which come in plastic) and therefore save money, too. With the bag, I’m prepared for spontaneous trips to the supermarket and anything that doesn’t fit in my pants or jacket pockets.
If you drink tea or coffee to go, a coffee cup or thermos may also be a worthwhile addition to your “kit.”
2. Glass bottles instead of plastic bottles
Some of the main causes of plastic waste are the bottles that water, soft drinks and juice are sold in. Though many bottles are recycled and reused, nonetheless more and more accumulate as waste. Plastic bottles furthermore contain questionable substances, which over time can be absorbed in the drink itself. Highly poisonous substances are even deployed in the sterilization process of reusable PET-bottles.
If glass bottles are somewhat heavier and break now and then, the switch is nonetheless well worth it for the sake of the environment and your health.
The switch to tap water is also an improvement for the environment, not to mention your wallet.
3. Replace disposable items with reusable alternatives
Consider briefly your daily routine: how often do you use disposable products made of plastic? Starting with water bottles, to-go cups and plastic bags, all the way to drinking straws, cotton swabs and toothbrushes. Which things could be replaced, and which can be quit altogether? Can you for example swap a plastic toothbrush for a wooden variety?
4. Bring your own packaging with you shopping
Bringing reusable shopping bags or boxes to the supermarket has been common practice for some time now. Nonetheless the average European uses 500 plastic bags every year. The numbers are even higher in the Americas and Asia. This includes over 300 of the thin plastic bags for fruits and vegetables, which are hardly ever reused! The recycling quota is estimated at less than 7%.
What can you do?
- If you forget your reusable shopping bag and only need to buy a few things, grab a cardboard box from the produce department. The boxes for milk or yogurt are stable and useful for transporting groceries.
- In the fruit and vegetable section, you can put all items in a single basket and collect the price stickers on a single piece of cardboard. This can get you an odd look at the check-out, but I’ve never had any problems. At organic grocery stores and weekly markets, fruit and vegetables are usually sold loose or in paper bags already.
- Fashion and more: even when shopping for articles of clothing, books, gifts and other items, there is almost always a plastic bag to carry around. The “no thanks, I don’t need one” can sometimes lead to confused looks. For me it’s always a small victory when I can gallantly tuck away my purchase in my tote, backpack, or reusable bag.
5. Look out for packaging when shopping
When we go shopping, we often have the choice between dozens of products, and more often than not the price is the deciding factor. If you want to avoid plastic, however, it’s worthwhile to have a closer look.
Admittedly, some products in plastic-free packaging are expensive, but they often are healthier and taste better. If that’s not enough for you, you’ll find the next tip has the potential to save you a great deal of money, so you can break even on the extra expenditure here!
Here is a short list of products where the packaging makes a significant difference:
- Ketchup, mustard, oil, vinegar, and other products in glass jars and bottles
- Vegetables bought loose and not prepackaged
- Tissues- if mainly made of cellulose, then at least in a cardboard box instead of the plastic wrapping
- Cheese and sausages from the meat counter instead of precut and packaged in plastic containers
- Bread, when bought fresh from the bakery or even homemade, is more delicious, healthier, and without plastic packaging
- Yogurt in jars instead of in plastic cups and milk from glass bottles – these are particularly great for reusing (or simply for making natural yogurt, spelt or oat milk, or cashew yogurt yourself)
What other products can you think of that could be replaced to avoid plastic packaging? Are there any that it seems impossible to get without plastic? Share your thoughts in the comments.
6. Use glass jars to freeze food
Freezing food may be the best method to preserve vitamins and other vital ingredients in fruit and vegetable. Unfortunately we often use plastic containers or even one time use plastic bags for this. Did you know, that freezing food in glass containers is perfectly doable and with a few steps you can avoid breaking glass. This avoids a lot of useless waste and keeps you healthy.
7. Produce your own cleaning products
Some of the biggest sources of plastic waste are household cleaners and toiletry products. This includes shampoo, liquid soap, toothpaste, dish detergent, conditioner, and other washing agents.
These save not only packaging waste but also protects the environment and wastewater runoff. This is due to a factor we seldom think about: our everyday items are not only wrapped in plastic, but often have plastic inside of them, too! In some toothpastes there are small microbeads, and plastic likewise is included in many exfoliators, shower gels and even make-up products like eye shadow and eyeliner.
With a few simple base ingredients like baking soda, soda ash, vinegar, oils, citric acid, salt, curd soap and essential oils, you can easily produce many of these products yourself. Thus you can avoid plastic packaging and reduce the chemicals in your household.
Here are a couple of examples:
- Aluminum Free Roll-On Deodorant – Make it yourself in a Few Minutes
- Homemade Mouthwash – Freshens Breath and Prevents Cavities
- Natural Homemade Toothpaste: An Easy Recipe
- Homemade Laundry Detergent: Easy to Make, Cleans Your Clothes and is Good for the Environment
With homemade body products and household cleaners you don’t just avoid unnecessary packaging. You can save serious money. Maybe you can put the money you’ll save towards buying healthier and fresher groceries with less packaging :)
8. Avoid synthetic materials in clothing
Many articles of clothing, too, contain plastic. Viscose, polyester and nylon fabrics are just a few of thousands of plastic microfibers produced today. With every wash of these synthetic fibers, countless microscopic plastic fibers end up in our water supply.
By buying textiles made of natural fabrics like linen, soy or hemp, you can reduce your consumption of plastic here, too!
These are just a few steps for using less plastic in everyday life. You can find more at the blog foolfashion.
You’ll find more on the subject of plastic and its negative effects in our suggested book: Plastic Planet: the Dark Side of Plastic.
You may also be interested in these posts:
- How to Freeze Food in Glass Jars and without Plastic
- Repairing Apple Charger and Cable – Quick and Easy
- No garden? No Problem: These Veggies Can Be Grown Indoors!
- Ginger – an incredible root that helps you fight many diseases
Do you have other ideas and tips? Share them in the comments!