I've been on a mission to minimize my single use plastic, for the health of the planet, my family, and myself. Here are 10 ways to cut down on single use plastic.
Why we should Cut Down on Single Use Plastic
If you have been reading my blog or following me on social media for any amount of time, then you have undoubtedly seen or heard me rambling on and on about all the simple ways you can cut down on single use plastic in your everyday life. Some of you might be thinking "But who cares?". Well, let me help shed some light on why this topic matters and why we all need to do our part for the overall benefit of the environment and the planet as a whole.
We truly live in a throw away culture - we throw everything away, without regard for where it will end up and the greater impact it will have. Hell, we even throw away people. But let's just stick to single use plastic for today.
You are walking down the street, chatting with a friend and sipping on your iced coffee... Then you happen to see a garbage can and you toss the empty plastic cup in the trash (hopefully you aren't the kind of savage that just tosses it on the ground. That is another post entirely), without ever giving it a second thought. But where does it end up? This plastic ends up clogging landfills and in our oceans, negatively impacting animals, humans, and the environment. Don't believe me? Try doing a google image search for the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Plastic is not biodegradable and can take thousands of years to break down. In fact, plastic doesn't really even break down, it simply breaks up into microplastics. Microplastics are dangerous and come with some pretty severe toxicological health risks.
10 Ways to Cut Down on Single Use Plastic
So what can we do about it? Perhaps the easiest thing we can all do is to chip in and reduce our usage of single use plastic whenever and wherever possible. Not only is this a more sustainable approach and more eco-friendly, but it saves a lot of money in the long run. Why keep buying things that you are going to throw away, when you can buy something once and then use it over and over. Even if you don't care about the environment, it just makes good financial sense. Cutting down on single use plastic, will also cut down on your expenses... PERIOD.
In this post, I have compiled, by category, many of my favorite ways to reduce plastic in our home and in our everyday lives. If you have additional ideas, I would love to hear them. Go ahead and leave us a comment. Interested in how you can do even more? Be sure to check out my post on 40 Ways to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint
1. Use stainless steel, silicone, bamboo, or glass straws
One of the easiest way to cut down on single use plastic is to stop using plastic straws. Reusable straws are a really easy way to cut out unnecessary plastic. Just toss them in your bag or in your glove box and then you will always have them with you. You can use them in hot or cold drinks, then rinse and reuse. I have a couple of collapsible stainless steel straws that Jon and I take everywhere with us. They are especially handy with all the traveling we do; they come in a small carrying case and the case even has a built in cleaning brush. SO HANDY!
These reusable straws are compact enough that you can even clip one to your keychain. If you’re not a fan of the stainless steel straws, you can also use glass straws, silicone straws, bamboo straws or even paper straws. I've linked to some of my favorite options for you below. While many restaurants, cafes and coffee shops are starting to get on board with the "no straw" message, there are far more that are still creating an abundance of plastic waste. Bring a straw with you and when you order a drink, be sure to ask for no straw.
- Collapsible Stainless Steel Straw with Carrying Case
- Glass Straws with Cleaning Brush
- Silicone Straws with Cleaning Brush
- Reusable Bamboo Straws
- Biodegradable Paper Straws
2. Swap disposable zip top bags for reusable silicone bags
I ditched all of our plastic sandwich bags and varying sizes of ziplock bags a few years ago. In the past, I was completely guilty of using an abundance of them and then throwing them away with no regard for the impact it was having on the environment and the plant as a whole. I was using far more than the average person because of what I do for a living, and I was creating so much unnecessary waste. Once I switched to reusable silicone zip top bags, I never looked back. I tried a few different brands before finding just the right one. Thankfully I tested them out so that you don't have to.
Stasher Bags and Zip Top Bags are hands down the highest quality brands on the market. They come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and colors and they are dishwasher safe, microwave safe and can even withstand boiling water or the heat of the oven up to 400°F. These resusable bags are free of BPA, BPS, lead, latex, or phthalates, and they're even safe for raw meat storage and marinating, as they are non-porous, which inhibits bacterial growth. Best of all, you can toss them in the dishwasher for easy cleaning. We use them for everything - storing leftovers, traveling with snacks, marinating meats and vegetables, storing pantry items, in our hiking packs. I honestly can't say enough good things about them.
3. Switch to reusable produce bags
Lots of grocery stores have switched to biodegradable or compostable produce bags now, but even the more eco-friendly options can take decades to break down. Plus, it's just unnecessary waste. I keep a stash of reusable grocery bags and reusable produce bags in the back of my car at all times. I can just never tell when I may end up at the grocery store. It is one of my favorite places, after all. Reusable bags are great because you can use them in the grocery store, carry your produce home in them, and even use them for storage -- the material is cotton, so it’s very breathable. The vegetables in our refrigerator last way longer when we store them in the reusable produce bags - double bonus! To clean the bags, simply throw them in the wash between uses, the cotton varieties are even dryer-safe. Below are a few of my favorite options:
4. Keep a stash of reusable grocery bags, and don’t forget them in the car!
Another really easy way to cut down on single use plastic is by bringing your own reusable grocery bags with you when shopping. This one is pretty common switch; you might already have a few reusable grocery bags stashed somewhere in your car or around your house. Some reusable grocery bags can be just as plastic heavy as traditional plastic bags, which is why I prefer fabric bags. I have a mix of heavy duty collapsible bags for heavier items like glass bottles and jars, and a bunch of fabric totes for all the lighter items. Jon and I both keep a stash in the back of our vehicles so that we always have them. But sometimes the trickiest part is just remembering to bring them into the store with you.
- Foldable Polyester Shopping Totes with Storage Pouches
- Reinforced Bottom Foldable Totes
- Canvas Grocery Bags
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5. Shop in bulk and store items in glass Mason Jars
One of my favorite rooms in my house is my pantry, which may sound a bit strange. But if you’ve seen my pantry, you know it’s filled with all of my most commonly used dry ingredients, stored neatly in mason jars with pearly white lids. Yes, the white lids are plastic, but they are not single use plastic and they get used over and over. They don't rust, or put off that weird old metal smell like the traditional lids that come with the jars. Even better that they are one solid piece.
When you shop in bulk, bring your own reusable bags to purchase your dried goods, and then transfer them to the jars when you get home. That way you are not only skipping the plastic bag you would use to get it home from the grocery store, but you are also skipping any single use plastic packaging. You also save money by buying in bulk. It's good for the environment and it helps stretch your grocery budget. Most bulk stores have scales, so you can bring your own storage items, tare the weight, and add the bulk items you’d like to purchase. Easy peasy. There are a lot of different ways you can label the jars, but I just write on the bottom with a sharpie so that the jars have a really clean and sleek look on the shelves. Below are the lids and various sizes of Ball jars that I use in my pantry.
- White wide mouth mason jar lids
- 16 ounce wide mouth mason jars
- 24 ounce wide mouth mason jars
- 32 ounce wide mouth mason jars
- 64 ounce wide mouth mason jars
6. Use silicone bakeware and baking mats
For many of the same reasons I listed above with the reusable silicone bags, I have also switched to a lot of silicone cookware. Silicone baking mats and silicone bakeware are a great nonstick, nontoxic option. They help to cut down on things like aluminum foil, parchment paper, wax paper, muffin liners, cooking spray etc. While those may not be single use plastic items, they are still items that cause unnecessary waste. Not to mention, that not having to use those items will save you a lot of money in the long run. My first foray into silicone bakeware was the switch to silicone baking mats, not just because they’re reusable, but because they’re so easy to bake with. You don’t need to grease them -- they’re naturally nonstick (without the toxins), and they crisp everything up just like parchment paper. Rinse them off with warm soapy water between uses and dry with a dish towel or let them air dry.
7. Ditch the cling wrap and switch to a reusable option
To me, plastic wrap has always seemed wasteful. You can’t wash and reuse it, it gets all stuck to itself, and then it won’t stick to what you actually want it to stick to. Some great alternatives are Glasslock storage containers, silicone stretch lids, lily pad lids and beeswax food wrap. I think the Glasslock containers speak for themselves. We store everything in them. They are especially great for leftovers or food prep. The silicone stretch lids are a newer product and what makes them so unique is that they can stretch to fit a wide variety of bowl sizes, all while providing an airtight seal.
The lily pad lids are like some sort of wizardry. Not only can you use them to cover a bowl with an airtight seal, but you can also use them to cover pans on the stove while cooking. They will form such a tight seal, that you can actually pic the whole pan up by the lid. I actually prefer them to regular pan lids. Lastly, beeswax food wraps are another great option -- you can purchase pre-made sheets in different sizes and patterns. You can use beeswax paper like cling wrap, or with a little warm from rubbing your hands together, you can make it work like the press and seal wrap for an airtight seal. Using beeswax paper means that you’re supporting the bees, and saving the bees will help save us all.
- 18 piece Glasslock storage container set
- Silicone stretch lid food and bowl covers
- Silicone Lilypad Lids
- Reusable beeswax food wraps
8. Make your own sparkling water with a Soda Stream
This is one of my favorite ways to cut down on single use plastic waste. I love bubbles - sparkling water, champagne, kombucha, you name it - I am a sparkling kind of woman. Using a soda stream to make your own sparkling water at home cuts down on not only single use plastic, but also glass and aluminum (I know they are recyclable, but still) It also helped me kick my soda purchasing habit years ago. I used to buy case after case of Coke Zero, only to take a few sips and then waste the rest of the can. It took me a long time to realize that it was the carbonation I was craving and not necessarily the sweetness.
We bought a soda stream about 7 years ago and we never looked back. The only switch me made, was upgrading to a model that used glass carafes, instead of plastic bottles. Over time the plastic bottles made the water taste like plastic. I don't even want to know all the nasty things that were leaching out of those bottles and into my water. You can make the water as carbonated as you want and even add your own flavoring, either with a little bit of fruit juice, your favorite low carb water enhancer, or with citrus essential oils. My favorite flavors are grapefruit and citrus fresh (It is citrus with a hint of mint). The canisters of CO2 can be recycled or exchanged for full ones at many local grocery stores.
- Soda Stream glass carafes
- Soda Stream Aqua Fix Sparkling Water Maker
- Flavor your water with citrus essential oils
9. Give up bottled water and switch to reusable drinkware
Cutting out bottled water is one of the easiest ways to be more eco-friendly and cut down on single use plastic. I know plenty of people who like to go to Costco and get a huge palette of bottled water and run through it in no time flat. All those bottles add up really fast. Getting a reusable water bottle not only cuts back on all that waste, but it might encourage you to drink more water. If you are buying water because you have poor tap water in your home and need filtered water, there are sustainable options for that. Lifestraw water bottles come with a built in water filter and it filters the water as you drink. You could also get a Berkey Home Water Filtration system and use it to filter your tap water. Then just fill up your reusable bottle and skip the plastic altogether. The same applies for plastic coffee cups. You know, from all those iced coffees we love to drink. Most coffee shops will make your drink in the cup you provide. Simply bring your own hot/cold coffee tumbler with you and get your daily coffee prepared right in your own mug.
- Hydroflask insulated stainless steel water bottle
- 18 ounce glass beverage bottles
- Lifestraw water bottle with built in water filter
- Berkey water filtration system
- Yeti insulated travel coffee mug
10. Carry a set of reusable, portable utensils
Take out and fast food comes with a lot of waste, both paper and plastic. I like to keep a set of portable utensils with me, just in case. You can get them in stainless steel, bamboo, wood, or even in a super compact foldable set. Just wash them in between uses and put them back in your bag or car for a reusable utensil set on the go. These are also amazing for lunch at your desk, hiking, camping, or any other sort of outdoor adventures you might find yourself on. Plus, let's be honest, no one actually likes eating off plastic utensils anyway. Am I right?