21 Simple Ways to Reduce Plastic Waste

ways to reduce plastic waste

Recycling can help to reduce the amount of plastic that ends up in waterways and oceans. Yet it is not enough to prevent the plastic pollution crisis that our environment is facing. Did you know that by 2050, there will be more plastic than fish in the world’s oceans? (source) Plus, the rest of the plastic that sits in landfills takes hundreds of years to decompose and never fully biodegrades.  Therefore, it is crucial that we find ways to reduce plastic waste as much as we can – today!  

Once you get in the habit of reducing plastic waste and find zero waste alternatives for the single-use plastic items you once used, you will see that it is pretty simple and manageable to make these zero waste swaps

The key to success is starting with one simple swap at a time.  Reduce plastic waste in your home first, or if it’s easier to think about changes you can make at work, then start there. 

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WHY YOU SHOULD REDUCE YOUR PLASTIC WASTE

The main reason that most people want to reduce plastic waste is to help solve the plastic pollution crisis and keep plastic waste out of the oceans and waterways. Seeing animals become injured, sick or die from eating plastic waste is heartbreaking and is usually motivation enough to want to do better. 

I recently came across the work of Chris Jordan, who has documented the tragic effects of our plastic consumption and the ocean plastic pollution crisis in a series called, The Midway Project. Back in 2009, he filmed thousands of young albatrosses that lay dead on the ground with their stomachs filled with plastic. If you want to see his work and why it matters that we find ways to reduce plastic waste, I highly recommend you check out his photography series, The Midway Project, and the film, ALBATROSS

Additionally, avoiding plastic in your kitchen can limit your exposure to the toxic chemicals that are lurking in plastic containers and food packaging. Chemicals in these plastics can reak havoc on your body and your health by leaching chemicals into your food and beverages. So plastic not only harms our environment and wildlife but also had cause harm to your health. 

Related article: Avoid Plastic In Your Kitchen (Because It’s Harming Your Health)

Finally, by avoiding single-use plastic you can save money. Just imagine how much money you could save in a year by using one reusable water bottle instead of buying cases upon cases of disposable bottled water?  Just that one swap alone can save you a lot of money, and so can all the other reusable products you swap out as you reduce plastic waste in your home. 

Want to save time and money finding the zero waste swaps for your family? Download the FREE guide to 9 Zero Waste Swaps Every Family Can Make!

TRASH AUDIT

No matter which reason you have for finding ways to reduce plastic waste, you may want to start with performing a trash audit to really understand what kinds of trash and recycling you are producing each week.  For example, you may find some really easy ways to reduce your plastic waste when you see what is ending up in your trash and recycling bin.

You can casually do a trash audit by just paying attention to what you are tossing or recycling and making some mental notes.  Conversely, you could do a more formal audit and follow the suggestions on how to do a trash audit (or bin audit) at Plastic Free July.com

Once you complete your trash audit, aim for the easy wins or “low hanging fruit.”  For example, I noticed a few years ago that we had so many single-use plastic water bottles in our recycling bin. In my opinion, this is such an easy place to start and had a great impact to reduce plastic waste in our home. 

PROGRESS OVER PERFECTION

The more you do the better but it’s important that you don’t become overwhelmed by doing too much too quickly.  More sustainable changes and habits will come with time and making new routines for yourself.

Progress is the goal, not perfection.  If we all aim to reduce plastic waste little by little, we will have a bigger impact than just a few people who decide to become100% zero waste. 

So that’s the good news… You don’t have to be perfect to make a positive impact! 

In fact, I encourage you to be imperfect! It feels more attainable, more manageable, and will likely help you succeed with reducing your plastic waste. 

I talk a lot about how to go imperfectly zero waste because I have heard from so many people how they don’t think what they can do will help solve the ocean plastic pollution problem. I feel that this is untrue and that if everyone makes the changes that work for them, we can dramatically reduce plastic waste and make a positive impact on our planet. 

REDUCE PLASTIC WASTE: HOW TO GET STARTED

While there are probably hundreds of ways to reduce plastic waste, I don’t want to overwhelm you with choices.  Instead, I have focused on the simplest and most impactful ways to start reducing plastic waste.  

I highly recommend that you start with just one of these simple ways to reduce plastic waste. Pick one suggestion from the list below and build on your success! Once you’ve tackled one way to reduce plastic waste, then move on to the next.

Little by little, these changes will lead to great habits and routines that will feel easy and attainable. 

Want to save time and money finding the zero waste swaps for your family? Download the FREE guide to 9 Zero Waste Swaps Every Family Can Make!

21 SIMPLE WAYS TO REDUCE PLASTIC WASTE

1. Use Reusable Water Bottles

Swap out plastic disposable water bottles from the grocery store for one reusable water bottle that you can wash and reuse every day. Glass and stainless steel water bottles are healthy options vs. plastic.

2. Use Reusable Grocery Bags

Reusable grocery bags are another easy swap.  Keep a set of cloth bags in your car so that you can bring them to the grocery store with you. However, at the time of writing this, some people may find that these reusable grocery bags are temporarily banned at many stores due to the pandemic. Yet, I have faith that companies will catch on that reusables are safe during COVID-19 and things will go back to normal soon. Until then, get creative when you can by shopping at farmer’s markets, if possible, or at places like Aldi and Costco where you can at least skip the bags and reuse the boxes they have for packing up your groceries. 

3. Use Reusable Utensils, Straws & Plates

Skipping plastic cutlery, straws and plates is a really easy way to reduce plastic waste and will also save you money.  Dine at home or bring your own zero-waste toolkit with you – a kit with your own cutlery, straw, and even napkin!

4. Use Reusable Containers for Food

Ditch the single-use plastic containers for leftovers! Reusable glass or stainless steel containers to store your food will not only help reduce plastic waste but also help protect your health from the harmful effects of plastic leaching into your food and drinks

5. Use Reusable Produce Bags

Plastic produce bags are single-use and have a very short practical life span before they end up in the trash.  Skip the bags in the produce section and bring your own reusable cloth or mesh bags instead. If you can’t bring them at the moment due to the pandemic restrictions, then just skip the bag altogether and place your produce in your basket, whenever possible.

6. Shop at a Farmer’s Market 

Shopping at a farmer’s market helps drastically cut down on the plastic packaging that a lot of fresh fruit and vegetables come in at the grocery store. You can also solve the problem of the pandemic restrictions on reusable grocery bags and reusable produce bags. This summer I have been able to shop at our local pop-up farmer’s market and bring my own reusable, collapsable basket. The farmers had no issue with me putting the produce directly in the basket, and I was able to avoid plastic packaging and bags completely! 

plastic free produce at the farmer's market

7. Make Your Own Plastic-Free Snacks

Skip the single-serving prepackaged snacks and opt for plastic-free snacks instead.  This will not only help you reduce plastic waste but will also lead to healthier snack options in most cases.  Some easy plastic-free snacks include fresh fruit and veggies, homemade hummus, homemade granola bars, applesauce made from scratch, nuts, and granola from bulk bins. 

homemade snack bars

8. Buy Bread in Paper Bags (or Make Your Own)

I find personally that food packaging is one of the hardest areas to reduce plastic waste.  Many families, like ours, have grown accustomed to convenience foods and the time it saves us. However, you can slowly start to find alternatives to reduce plastic waste such as buying your bread from the bakery wrapped in paper bags or making your own bread at home.  I just got a sourdough starter from a friend and plan to start making our own bread soon!  

9. Buy Eggs in Compostable Cartons

Another quick win is to look for eggs at the grocery store that come in compostable, paper cartons instead of the plastic cartons.  You can also buy your eggs straight from a farmer, if available near you, and reuse your cartons. 

10. Give Up Gum (or Switch to Glee Gum)

Many conventional types of chewing gum contain a synthetic gum base that is made from artificial ingredients, including petroleum and oil-based materials, which is essentially plastic. This means that all of the gum that is chewed and discarded remains on Earth forever since it can’t biodegrade. You can either give up chewing gum completely or switch to a gum that has a natural gum base made from chicle, like Glee Gum

11. Shop in Bulk Quantities

Reduce plastic waste by shopping in bulk quantities. The best route to go is to shop from bulk bins in zero waste shops (if you are fortunate enough to have one near you) or head to the bulk bins in your local grocery stores.  It’s best if you can bring your own reusable containers to fill but if that is not currently allowed, try to find paper bags to use instead of plastic. If nothing else, know that buying larger quantities of something can help reduce plastic waste in general.  

12. Switch to Zero Waste Coffee

Plastic-free coffee is not easy to come by since the popularity of the Keurig machine and other similar coffee makers. I admit to buying and using a Keurig machine myself for many years but became ridden with eco-guilt when I stopped to think about how much plastic I was throwing away (and not even recycling). Today, I am thrilled to have found Tayst coffee pods – the world’s first 100% compostable coffee pod that is plastic-free! Not only is it a sustainable option but it is also delicious, making it a great choice if you already have a Keurig machine. Another great plastic-free option is switching to a French Press Coffee Maker.

13. Compost Your Food Waste 

Composting is a great way to reduce your waste overall but is also a way to reduce plastic waste. When you throw away less food, you will be using fewer plastic garbage bags overall. 

14. Make Your Own Cleaning Products in Reusable Bottles

Swap out conventional cleaning products in plastic bottles and make your own cleaning products in glass bottles instead. Not only will you reduce plastic waste but you will also protect your health and reduce toxins that come in contact with your body. The DIY Lemon Vinegar Cleaner recipe in this post is what I’ve been using, in addition to some previously purchased microfiber cloths that have lasted me years and allow me to clean with just water! 

DIY Lemon Vinegar Cleaner

15. Use Bars of Soap (Instead of Body Wash)

Reduce plastic waste by eliminating plastic bottles of body wash each month. Instead switch to bars of soap that are wrapped in paper or cardboard for a zero waste swap that is easy to make! You can make this swap for liquid handsoap as well. 

16. Swap Out Your Disposable Razor

Disposable plastic razors are not typically recyclable and therefore sit in landfills without ever completely decomposing. The good news is that safety razors have made a comeback and are more widely available, such as these options at Life Without Plastic.  Plus, the blades are completely recyclable and plastic-free. 

17. Make Your Laundry Routine Zero Waste

Switching to a  zero waste laundry detergent will help your family cut down the number of plastic laundry detergent bottles entering our environment each year. The ugly truth is that it can take 450 years for those bottles to decompose. Check out my complete guide to zero waste laundry detergent for all the best alternatives available. 

18. Start a Zero Waste Period Routine

Menstrual products create a lot of plastic waste that can never be recycled. Consider switching to a zero waste and non-toxic alternative to pads and tampons. There are many additional options such as organic reusable cloth pads

organic cloth reusable menstrual pad

19. Switch To a Zero Waste Toilet Paper

While toilet paper is not made of plastic, the packaging is usually made from unrecyclable plastic wrap.  Use this zero waste toilet paper guide to see the top 5 plastic-free alternatives. If you are not ready to swap out your conventional toilet paper for the family cloth or a bidet, you will love Who Gives A Crap 100% recycled toilet paper which is plastic-free and comes in paper packaging.

20. Make Unpaper Towels 

Similar to conventional toilet paper, paper towels also come packaged in a lot of unrecyclable plastic wrap.  Reduce plastic waste by making your own DIY unpaper towels or using old rags to clean up messes around the house. 

21. Skip the Balloons

Plastic balloons negatively impact our environment and wildlife. They can not be recycled and more often end up in our environment and harming our wildlife when they are released into the sky. According to One Green Planet, balloons in water can resemble jellyfish and other marine life and are mistaken for food. These balloons can then become lodged in the digestive tract of marine animals and inhibit their ability to eat “causing a slow and painful death by starvation.” Opt out of balloon releases altogether and skip decorating with balloons at your next party.  

SMALL STEPS MAKE A BIG DIFFERENCE TO REDUCE PLASTIC WASTE

Remember that each of us can make small steps to reduce plastic waste that will together lead us to a big, positive impact on our environment. Take one of the suggestions listed here to focus on first. Pick the one that seems the easiest to accomplish and start there. Little by little you will build on each success and drastically reduce plastic waste in your home – and beyond!

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Want to save time and money finding the zero waste swaps for your family? Download the FREE guide to 9 Zero Waste Swaps Every Family Can Make!

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