Tips for a Life Without Plastic: Plastic-free Guide
More than 75% of all waste is plastic, out of which only 9% is being recycled. Aside from being number one pollutant, plastic also causes adverse health effects in humans and other mammals. It is made of crude oil, making its production unsustainable in the long run. We didn’t yet manage to find adequate replacements for all plastic products, but it doesn’t mean that the use of some types of plastic (especially single-use plastic) shouldn’t be reduced. Completely avoiding plastic products can be quite tiresome, but if we look at the biggest plastic consumers and reduce the use of those products, we can also significantly reduce the amount of plastic waste. Fortunately, many eco-friendly alternatives are constantly emerging and becoming more accessible too.
Here are some tips and tricks on how to avoid the use of plastic or replace it with a more appropriate material. “Act locally, think globally”!
#1 Give up beverages in plastic bottles
Not only will you reduce the amount of plastic waste, but you’ll also avoid the intake of microplastics that almost all beverages in plastic bottles have. Health effects of microplastics are yet to be fully studied, but some of the latest researches suggest that it can have negative effects because of the traces of toxic chemicals used in the manufacturing process. Also, plastic bottles are a bad packaging for juices, especially the ones entirely made from fruit. Contact with light affects the quality of the juice, reducing the number of vitamins and other nutrients. It is best to keep juices refrigerated, in dark glass bottles.
Getting a reusable stainless steel or glass bottle is the best alternative. Also, note that most of the bottled water is just filtered tap water. It is cheaper, healthier and eco-friendlier to get a water filtering pitcher for home – the ones made of glass are the best.
#2 Carry your meals in a reusable container
Plastic bottles and food packaging make the majority of plastic waste. Getting some stainless-steel boxes and/or some cloth food bags is a great alternative to plastic wrapping. You can probably reuse something that you already have for this purpose too.
#3 Use natural beeswax coated cloth wraps instead of plastic foil
Beeswax-coated cloths are the best alternative to plastic cling film. They can be bought or made at home.
#4 Compost organic waste to avoid plastic garbage bags
A typical household in the US throws away around 200 kg of food each year. That’s more than half a kilo of food thrown out every day. To avoid a big waste of food, properly store items that are easily spoiled and plan your meals so you optimally use all the food you buy.
Of course, there will always be some food scraps and waste produced while the meal was made. Those can be placed in the compost bins and used as fertilizers after processing. Not all organic waste should be composted, so be careful what you put into your compost bin. Don’t compost organic waste like meat, dairy products, fish, grease and oils. They attract rodents and other animals, and also smell really, really bad. You can easily compost vegetable and fruit waste, old spices, eggshells (crushed), anything made of flour, coffee, tea bags, filters and similar products.
There are multiple different ways to compost organic matter, you can easily pick one that suits your home the best.
#5 Choose reusable bags instead of plastic ones
Reusable totes are the most obvious solution, but pay attention to what are they made of. Cotton is a plant which consumes a lot of water, fertilizers and pesticides during its growth. Bamboo and hemp totes are a better alternative, as they do not require such measures to have good yields.
You can use tulle bags for packing fruits and vegetables at the market. There are types made from natural materials like rayon or silk. They are reusable, very durable and easily washed.
#6 Shop for groceries at local farmer’s market
Getting fruits and vegetables from a farmer’s market is as fresh as it can get, if you don’t have a garden. Freshly picked fruits and vegetables contain more vitamins, phenols and other good stuff compared to the ones that come in plastic packaging. Most of the fruits and vegetables sold in the supermarkets have traveled a long way to get there. To keep them fresh as long as possible, they pick the fruits before they are ripe. Because of that, they are not as rich in nutrients as the locally produced ones.
#7 Meet the power of baking soda
Baking soda has a very versatile application and is very cheap. It can be used for cleaning dishes, refrigerator, kitchen and bathroom surfaces, unclogging drains, instead of numerous cleaning products that contain various toxic chemicals.
It also has deodorizing effect and can be sprayed on carpets and curtains to freshen them up. If you have a cat you can also spray it in the litter box, to keep away foul smells between litter changes.
#8Try cleaning with vinegar and water.
Vinegar is a good germ killer and it can be used instead of many antibacterial and antifungal chemicals. It should be mixed with water – one part vinegar to three parts water to make an all-purpose spray cleaner. Just as baking soda, vinegar is non-toxic and has various applications. It can be used to clean things like dishwashers, refrigerators, microwaves, carpets, showerheads, toilet bowls, windows, mirrors, hard water stains, smelly clothes and other similar items. But note that there are some things that shouldn’t be cleaned with vinegar because they are sensitive to acids. Such products include kitchen knives, granite and marble countertops, wood furniture and irons. All things made of wood and stone can be easily damaged by acidic cleaning products. If you want to use vinegar on such surfaces, it should be heavily diluted.
If you’re using both baking soda and vinegar for cleaning, make sure to use them separately, because mixing them will cause a tumultuous reaction – basically a chemical volcano. Although, you can use this reaction for the purpose of unclogging drains (it’s very fun and super effective).
#9 Replace liquid soap with bar soap
Bar soaps are made of natural materials like animal fat or plant oils, while liquid soaps require some artificial emulsifying agents and stabilizers. Some people worry that sharing one soap is less sanitary than liquid soap. Take this into account – bar soap gets rinsed every time it is used, while plastic liquid soap bottles aren’t. After some time, bacteria start to accumulate on the pump, no matter how often you clean it.
#10 Use plastic-free feminine hygiene products
Although most of the commercially available pads and tampons are said to be made of cotton, they also contain plastic and various chemicals, like sodium polyacrylate (superabsorbent polymer – it can absorb 100-1000 times its mass in water), which can cause damage if it comes in contact with the skin. Alternatives include washable cloth liners and pads made of bamboo or hemp. Menstrual cups are also a good alternative, as they are reusable and made of medical grade silicone which can be easily sterilized in boiling water.
#11 Avoid synthetic clothes
Clothes made from synthetic materials like polyester, acrylic, lycra and nylon release plastic microfibers after laundering. Polyester also has the tendency to accumulate bad smells, so after prolonged wearing, it often happens that the smell cannot be removed with one wash. Some plastic fibers can even cause rashes on the skin, especially cheap training clothes.
Avoiding synthetic clothes is not hard to manage, as there is a huge variety of natural fibers that are not just environmentally friendly but also have very good quality - some types of cotton, hemp, wool, linen, silk, just to name a few.
#12 When buying clothes, keep in mind that it doesn’t always need to be new
Second-hand shops, thrift stores and vintage clothes shops usually offer a great variety of well-preserved clothes and some may even have unique pieces. Keep in mind that sometimes you don’t even need to buy new clothes, as you can reuse some pieces that you already have and get creative. You can find many ideas and do-it-yourself instructions on the internet how to turn your old pieces into new ones, perfectly suited for you. Besides being fashionable and unique, it’s also good for the environment.
#13 Request zero plastic packaging
When you order something online, don’t be shy to ask for a non-plastic packaging. Most vendors will be happy to oblige and this kind of customer feedback is necessary to remind the vendors of the importance of plastic waste reduction. There are many different types of cellulose fibers that are biodegradable, which can be used instead of plastic packaging.
#14 Consider buying second-hand electronics instead of new.
There are many quality second-hand cellphones, laptops, computer components and other electronics that are cheaper than buying a new gadget. You can even find some older models that are better than the new products (this is especially true for well-kept musical instruments, amplifiers and other similar electronics).
Also, consider that some electronic waste can be sold for spare parts. Ask your local electronics dealer for more details.