Plastic is a problem. From ocean plastic to landfills to microplastics, this seemingly simple material has become problematic in many ways. If you’ve resolved this year to use less plastic, you may be wondering how to reduce plastics at home. We’ve collected a list of ways to reduce plastic at home.
What’s the Problem with Plastic?
To target the best ways to reduce plastic at home, it’s helpful to understand the problem with plastics. It’s important to note that plastic is not necessarily bad. Plastic is sturdy, lightweight, resistant to corrosion and has a long lifetime, making it useful in many situations, like construction or medical devices.
The problem is, we’ve simply used too much plastic, too often, too quickly. Plastic is overwhelming our oceans and wildlife, contaminating everything with microplastic particles, and filling landfills. Plastic requires fossil fuels and produces greenhouse gasses at every stage of its lifecycle, contributing to climate change. Much of this problem is from single-use plastics; plastics that are used one time and then discarded. As we look at ways to reduce plastic at home, we’ll focus on plastic items with a short lifetime.
What About Recycled Plastic?
Plastic first became widely used in about 1950. Since then, about 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic has been produced. For reference, one billion metric tons is equivalent to about 10,000 fully-loaded U.S. aircraft carriers. Only 9% of all plastic ever produced has been recycled. The truth is, recycling plastic isn’t economical, and most of the plastic we think is recycled isn’t, and never has been.
Is Plastic My Problem?
Plastic is a massive problem that consumers did not create, though we all participate in it. Manufacturers have relied on plastic in too many situations, because it is cheap and easy to use. Trying to reduce plastic helps to reduce its environmental impact. Also, forgoing plastic signals to manufacturers that investing in other materials or reducing plastic packaging is valuable. When consumers show that they want—and are willing to pay for—alternatives, change becomes possible at higher, more impactful levels, like production and legislation. With this in mind, let’s take a look at ways to reduce plastic at home.
12 Ways to Reduce Plastic At Home
1. Get a Water Bottle You Love
When you love the look, shape and function of your reusable water bottle, you’re likely to drink more water and less likely to buy a single-use plastic bottle. Even if you replace only two plastic water, juice, or cola bottles a week, you’ve saved about 104 bottles a year worth of fossil fuel-made plastics, landfill space, and transportation emissions!
Use the ICE2U app to find a vending machine near you and refill your water bottle with cold, clear, purified water, even when you’re on-the-go
Find a ice and water vending machine nearby »
2. Get a Reusable Coffee Cup
Many coffee shops will now put your favorite coffee beverage in a reusable container you bring yourself. Ask your preferred coffee shop first if they’ll do this. Many insulated water bottles can also double as coffee cups, too.
3. Get a Sturdy Shopping Bag
Flimsy plastic shopping bags are among the worst offenders of single-use consumer plastics. While any reusable bag is a great way to reduce plastic at home, you’re more likely to use it and enjoy it if your bag is sturdy and makes it easier for you to carry your groceries.
4. Reuse Plastic Bags
Plastic bags are so common they’re almost impossible to avoid. If you forget your reusable shopping bag, or if you’re stuck with leftover plastic bags from other sources, consider reusing them. Using a plastic bag or two instead of a garbage bag is a great way to save money and reduce plastic at home.
5. Replace Sandwich Bags
Replacing Ziploc bags or other sealable sandwich bags can also help you save money and reduce plastic at home. You might reuse the bag your bread comes in. Or, you could wrap your sandwich in a napkin, paper towel, clean cloth, or waxed cloth wraps. A reusable container, like a glass food storage container or even a cleaned and dried plastic butter or yogurt container, might also prevent your sandwich from getting squished.
6. BYO Utensils
If you frequently get disposable sporks, knives or straws at your favorite restaurant, say ‘no thanks’ and bring your own.
7. Try Reusable Glass
Though glass is highly recyclable, glass is not always a great alternative to single-use plastics. However, if you’re giving your glass containers a second life as a way to replace plastics, it’s a no-brainer. Glass jars or bottles might find new lives as containers for leftovers, lunches, plants, soap dispensers, spices, cleaners (more on this later), and more.
8. Try a Zero-Waste Store
Zero-waste stores invite customers to bring their own containers and fill up on many essentials. These stores go by many names, including bulk stores and refillable shops. These stores carry a wide variety of items, and allow you to skip the packaging on pretty much anything non-perishable. You can give your plastic or glass containers a second life as a refilled container for cereal, grains, beans, nuts, cooking oil, sugar, flour, honey, beer, cider, snack foods, candy, coffee, peanut butter, vinegar, shampoo, conditioner, soap, lotion, and more!
9. DIY Cleaners
Many of the cleaning products you use every day can be easily replaced with a few household items. DIY cleaners, including those for wood, glass, metal, floors, dishes and more, remove dirt, grease, mildew, odors and other issues effectively. Many of these cleaners require only vinegar, lemon juice, and water. Mix up your cleaner and reuse a plastic or glass bottle to reduce plastic waste at home.
Note: Before mixing a cleaner, make sure it is safe. Never mix chemicals randomly. Many household chemical combinations can be hazardous. Combining bleach and vinegar, for example, can produce a toxic gas.
10. Look for Alternative Packaging
Recognizing a need to reduce plastic, some manufacturers are trying different packaging. Products with paper, cardboard, or metal packaging can help to reduce plastic at home.
Be aware that many materials that claim to be “compostable” or “biodegradable” are only biodegradable under industrial-scale composting conditions, if at all. However, paper, cardboard and metal are usually easily recyclable.
11. Buy in Bulk
We previously mentioned bulk shops that help to reduce plastic waste by letting consumers fill their own containers. Even if you don’t bring your own container, buying in bulk helps to reduce packaging overall. For example, consider buying a large tub of yogurt and using smaller, reusable containers in your lunch, instead of many smaller containers. This is also a great way to save money!
12. Look for Long-Lasting Cotton Clothing
A common source of microplastics that many are not aware of is synthetic fibers, including the polyester used in most clothing. Polyester, nylon, and acrylic are all plastic. When clothes last for many years, this is much less of a problem, though it does produce microplastic in the washer. Say no to “fast fashion” clothing that will quickly end up in a landfill, and yes to natural cotton, linen, hemp, or jute clothing that will last.
If you’ve resolved to use less plastic this year, try some of these ways to reduce plastic at home. Remember that reducing plastic waste doesn’t have to be perfect, and any effort you make is valuable!