How You Can Help Reduce Plastic Pollution
Updated: Apr 21, 2021
It’s Not Quite as Simple as Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
Welcome to Part 2 of the plastics series! To summarize the last blog, it’s important to reduce your use of plastic as much as possible, because of the pollution it causes when it breaks down into tiny pieces called microplastics, or when it doesn’t have a chance to break down and ends up injuring and choking animals, creating big mounds in the ocean, and clogging utilities and waterways. You’re likely even ingesting some plastic right now! If you missed the last blog and want more details, you can find that here. And without further ado, here’s how to reduce your plastic consumption!
Analyze Your Consumption Habits
The first step in reducing plastic in your life, as well as waste and clutter of any kind, is to take a look at what you buy, and adjust it. Try to stop impulse buys in their tracks— you can avoid them by making a detailed list of what you need at the store and focusing on that. You can also try unsubscribing to all those email advertisements you get from your fave companies!
A change in mindset may also be worth considering. Before you make purchases, stop and take a minute to think about why you want the item, and how often you’ll realistically use it. Most of us are guilty of thinking “I just need to buy it and it’ll motivate me to use it” about one thing or another, but in your experience, has this ever really worked for you? If it has, then great! If it hasn’t, maybe reconsider your cart.
Buying duplicates is also a common practice, but do you really need to buy three new lotions, or will the one do? Could you buy it from a company that uses aluminum packaging? Can you make it yourself? Do you already have a good enough lotion at home? Really take the time to think these through.
Use What You’ve Already Got
If you’re thinking about buying a new product, but you have a perfectly good one at home, why not use that one until you can’t anymore? Unless there’s a reason not to, like you’re allergic to it or it doesn’t work in the way you needed it to, use it up until it’s gone or loses its function!
A common mistake of first-timers in the zero waste, minimalism and environmentally conscious movements is to buy swaps for things that are still fully usable and ignore or throw away what you already had. If it’s all going to end up in the landfill or elsewhere anyways, why not just get your money’s worth first? This will reduce waste and help your wallet out a bit too.
For self-care, cleaning and crafting products, among others, there’s a plethora of resources available to you online that’ll teach you how to make your own! You can make your own laundry detergent, window cleaner, dog food, nail polish, soap, bug repellent, and almost anything else you can think of! Just give it a quick search on your favorite site (may I recommend Ecosia?) and you’ll find tons of recipes!
If none of the above suggestions fit your situation, here’s a master list of low-waste swaps to take a look at. Some of them are pricey, but in the long run they often make up for it with their high quality and reusability! If your favorite swap isn’t included here feel free to drop it in the comments to spread the word.
Furniture and Tools
Shower curtains— instead of going for PVC plastic curtains, try hemp, cotton or linen ones instead! They’re washable, so they’re easy to clean, and unlike plastic they’re fully biodegradable. You can easily find them on Etsy!
Toilet plungers— Many toilet plungers are made of plastic, but you can find some made of wood and rubber, like this one.
Toilet paper holders— wooden and metal toilet paper holders eliminate the need for plastic in this part of your bathroom, and they may even look nicer, too!
Toilet brushes— toilet brushes are commonly made completely of plastic, so it’s good to know that you can get a bamboo one here.
Sponges— there are plenty of upcycled sponges like this available, made of fabrics from things like coffee sacks.
Dusters— disposable dusters are a popular choice nowadays, but did you know you can purchase washable ones made of cloth? They’re pretty cute, too. Swoon!
Cleaning supplies— there are quite a few options for lower-waste cleaning supplies! My personal favorite is Blueland, because not only are their bottles reusable, their products come in tablet form, which means less carbon emissions during transportation! Other brands with reusable, refillable bottles include Puracy and Cleancult. You can also buy Dr. Bronner’s in bulk!
Coolers— coolers can be a hassle from how bulky they are, but fear not! There are a few options for more sustainable and space-conscious coolers, including NutShell’s, which is made from coconut shells, and Rareform’s, which utilize upcycled billboard vinyl.
Kitchen Supplies and Utensils
Eating utensils— it’s important to use reusable utensils whenever possible, including when you eat out. In order to reduce plastic waste from disposable cutlery and straws, you can take a to-go kit with you, like this one from Patagonia, which doesn’t contain a straw but has chopsticks! EkoTraveler has one that contains a straw as well, and you even get a free bamboo toothbrush with it. Nifty, huh? When you order takeout, try to ask for them not to include these items, and if you order through a delivery app, include this in the special instructions. If you absolutely need to use disposables try to keep some biodegradable ones on hand.
Scrub brushes— refer to the above section for info on sponges, but dishwashing and bottle brushes are available in bamboo and wood form as well!
Food preservation and storage— There’s tons of options for this one. First of all, you can get glass tupperware containers with silicone lids instead of using plastic ones! They’re more durable and they won’t stain or smell like plastic tupperware does. You can find these in pretty much any store that sells general tupperware items. Second, reusable food wraps are gaining popularity quickly! Most are made of beeswax, but I would recommend soy wax ones if you aren’t allergic. If you’ve already got a bowl or a can and are just missing a lid, try a silicone food hugger (yes, these can also go directly on partially cut fruits and veggies!) or a silicone stretch lid for larger items. Silicone storage bags are also on the rise, and they come in a variety of sizes and models. You can find some different brands here. If disposables are a must, take a look at biodegradable storage bags.
Personal Care and Hygiene
Cotton swabs— LastObject makes reusable alternatives to everyday, disposable products, including cotton swabs with their most well-known product LastSwab! These bad boys can replace up to 1000 disposable swabs, and they’re easy to clean.
Deodorant— low-waste deodorant can be hard to come by, but thankfully options are becoming more accessible. Brands like Dove and Old Spice are now starting to provide reusable containers for customers, but if you’re looking for other options, Myro ships deodorant refills to you on a regular basis for their adorable refillable containers. Others include Papr, which comes in cardboard packaging, and Biork’s crystal deodorant, which comes packaged in cork.
Body wash— again, refillable bottles from places like Puracy and Dr. Bronner’s are an option here. If you aren’t into that, you can look into soap bars, which are super easy to find— some of my favorites are from Package Free Shop. If those aren’t quite your thing either, you might want to check out body wash concentrates from brands like Ethique.
Hand soaps— As mentioned before, Blueland, Dr. Bronner’s, and Puracy are great options for low-waste hand soaps.
Toothpaste— Bite makes toothpaste tablets that come in a glass jar. You just bite down on it and it turns into toothpaste in your mouth! Plastic-free and super carbon-efficient.
Mouthwash— Bite, among other companies, also makes tablets for mouthwash that work in the same way. No more of those bulky bottles!
Toothbrushes— bamboo toothbrushes aren’t hard to get your hands on, and you can buy them in packs of 10 and in fun colors here. You can also get a bamboo electric toothbrush if that’s more your style.
Floss— Bite also carries compostable, vegan floss that comes packaged in tiny glass jars. You can also find many similar products where the floss is made of silk instead!
Hair ties— Kooshoo makes plastic-free hair ties, and also carries compostable scrunchies and eco-friendly headbands!
Brushes and combs— Wooden and bamboo hairbrushes and combs aren’t difficult to find, available in many places where you buy your other haircare. Package Free Shop carries a variety of options if you want to check some of them out.
Hair clips— Metal hair clips can also be found in most places your other haircare is bought, and are more durable and long-lasting than your typical plastic ones!
Razors— disposable razors are terrible for the environment, but you can buy stainless steel razors instead. You need only replace the blades, which are recyclable (but not curbside)! If a normal safety razor is too much for you, Leaf has a few great options to give you the best of both worlds.
Showercaps— showercaps are oftentimes made of plastic, and a lot of them are disposable as well. Shhhowercap has made a reusable, machine-washable cap that’s completely fabric, and has a lot of other benefits as well.
Makeup remover— While it’s still made of plastic, the MakeUp Eraser is a reusable makeup wipe. Just pop it in the washing machine when it’s covered in makeup, and then get right back to using it! Billions of makeup wipes are used and thrown away daily, so this popular option is definitely welcome. Another brand, Marley’s Monsters, makes reusable cotton rounds, but you may need to find a removal liquid to go with it..
Menstrual products— when it comes to menstrual care, there are a variety of sustainable, low-waste options! Menstrual cups are medical-grade silicone replacements for tampons, which catch menstrual blood rather than absorb it. There are tons of different types, though, so do your research to find out which one is the best for you! Reusable pads are also an option, but are a bit more high maintenance than others. Period underwear, from companies like Thinx, are often used as a supplement to other menstrual products to stop leaking, but can be used on their own as well! Each of these is reusable, and therefore reduces menstrual plastic waste greatly.
Laundry Low Waste Alternatives
Microplastic filtration— GuppyFriend makes a bag to put your laundry in that catches any microplastics released by your clothes during the process. Filtrol also makes a filter that you can install that will pull microfibers out of your wastewater, saving it from polluting the environment.
Dryer sheets— Instead of using dryer sheets, you can use wool balls from Cleancult or elsewhere to help cut static from your dryer. Or, you can forgo them completely!
Groceries Zero Waste Options
Farmer’s Market— head to the farmer’s market for groceries first to avoid unnecessary packaging.
Bring your own bags and containers— Bring reusable grocery bags with you instead of using the disposable plastic ones they offer at the store. You can even buy these right at the checkout line! You can also purchase reusable mesh produce bags to cut down on the disposable ones in the store.
Buy in bulk at the grocery store— at some stores like Ingles and Earthfare, you can buy nuts, flour, oats, sugars, candies and other items in bulk and put them in mason jars, allowing you to cut out packaging fully for some items!
Drink concentrates— companies like JOI (nut milk) and Javy (coffee) provide concentrates for drinks, meaning you can have your beverages for cheaper and without nearly as much packaging as you would’ve before! You can also find frozen juice concentrates at your local grocery store.
Eco Friendly Tech Options
Phone cases and accessories— Pela is the world’s first biodegradable phone case company, and they carry a wide range of cases and accessories! It’s not hard to find a case that fits your phone on their site, and they come in many awesome designs, including clear cases! When your case has worn out, you can just send it back to them and they’ll make it into a new one. Pela also carries plastic-free phone grips, card holders, AirPod cases, screen protectors, and smartwatch bands. And this amazing company even offers radiation protection to go with your phone!
Sound gear— Symphonized is a brand that uses wood to make their speakers, earbuds and headphones. Beyond that, if you just invest in a good version of any of these products and take very good care of it, you’re already doing great!
Green Office Supplies
Pens— fountain pens are super fun and fancy to mess around with, and they’re also very functional! They work by letting you replace ink cartridges rather than the whole pen.
Baby Care for a Future
Pregnancy tests— pregnancy tests are a surprisingly large source of plastic waste, but Lia is here to fix that. This is a flushable, biodegradable pregnancy test! It works mostly the same as a regular test and you can flush it afterwards or follow the instructions to keep the test if you want.
Baby powder— Be Green has a baby powder that comes in an aluminum bottle, and can be refilled.
Pacifiers— natural rubber pacifiers make excellent replacements for your typical plastic one.
Toys— many toys come in plastics of all kinds nowadays, but that doesn’t mean you have to compromise here! Nova Natural makes all kinds of wooden alternatives to popular toys. Check ‘em out!
Diapers— reusable cloth diapers are always an option if you’re prepared to keep up with the hassle (and don’t forget a wetbag!), but you can also find biodegradable disposable diapers, like those from Dyper or HealthyNest.
Natural Pet Care
Doggy bags— a brand that is wholly committed to sustainability, Well Earth Goods carries completely biodegradable doggy bags and a canvas bag-holder. They don’t even use plastic in their shipping!
Toys— Only Natural Pet has tons of toys, furniture and care products for both cats and dogs, made of materials like hemp and natural rubber.
Brushes— once again, Package Free Shop comes through with a variety of pet brushes and a selection of other pet products.
Litter boxes— litter boxes are commonly made of plastic, meaning that they’re flimsy, break easily, and absorb yucky smells. Thankfully, stainless steel litter boxes exist, and they’re much sturdier and don’t absorb odor at all.
Sustainable Fashion (stop fast fashion)
Clothing— thankfully, sustainable clothing isn’t super difficult to find. A few of my favorite brands include CHNGE, Big Bud Press, Lucy & Yak, NOCTEX, and Winter Water Factory. Other popular brands are Girlfriend, Reformation, Goodfair, and Pact, to name a few. Unfortunately some styles are harder to find than others, though.
Jewelry— Cape Clasp and 4Ocean are both amazing companies that make super cool jewelry, and your purchases with them go towards pulling plastic waste out of the sea! Their products are even made from recycled ocean plastics or post-consumer waste.
Bags— Rareform makes really cool, functional and completely unique bags of all types out of upcycled billboard vinyl. As aforementioned, they make coolers, but they also make wallets, totes, backpacks and others! And since they’re cut randomly from billboards, you get a unique design every time.
Shoes— Cariuma, a shoe company based in Brazil, makes their products out of organic, natural, and recycled materials, and bears the title of lowest carbon footprint of a shoe company ever. Rothy’s has a wide selection of designs and models to choose from, all made from recycled water bottles. Finally, Nothing New Shoes are also made of sustainable and recycled materials.
Here are a couple online sites if you’d like to browse more low-waste products.
Etsy is never a bad option, considering the independent vendors tend to use more sustainable materials, and you’re also supporting small businesses! Etsy also offsets 100% of emissions made from their shipping.
Package Free Shop has made many a cameo in this blog, and for good reason. With their wide range of products and incredibly low-waste packaging and shipping methods, they’re a great place to start!
Zero Waste Cartel also carries quite a few options and minimizes their plastic waste as much as possible.
Public Goods, while certainly not the poster-child of the zero-waste movement, definitely has a lot of low-waste options available to customers.
Upcycling and Reusing Plastics
Single-use plastic packaging can often be reused in some other capacity or turned into something different and awesome. Before you throw something away or recycle it, take a closer look and see if you can repurpose it. Maybe you can store something new inside of it, or turn it into a flower pot! Get creative with it, your mind is your only limit here. You can also find tons of suggestions and tutorials on this type of thing online!
How to Properly Recycle
It’s important to remember that not every type of plastic is recyclable, and that your recycling collector will have a different policy for recycling than other areas will. Check in with your recycling center to learn about what is and is not acceptable to recycle through your curbside bin, and what you can drop off with them otherwise. Even if you can’t recycle it there in any form, there are programs like TerraCycle that will take almost any type of recyclable material from you and take care of it, although this does cost money a majority of the time.
Vote With Your Wallet and With Your Heart
If you have the ability to vote, make sure you invest time and effort into researching your candidates, and decide who will do the best at implementing plastic-reduction policies. It may become cheaper for you and it’ll help you feel better about your impacts on the environment. These candidates will have a lot of control if they’re elected, so ensure you’re confident in your pick(s) beforehand.
All in all, there’s tons of ways to help reduce plastic waste and pollution in your own life. It’s important to remember that you as an individual aren’t responsible for negative impacts on the planet, but that you do have the ability to make a difference. It’s hard to stay on the positive side of all this, so stay tuned for some incredibly inspiring stories from around the world about people and innovations shifting the tide in our war on plastics.