We all know that plastic waste is causing an environmental crisis, but with plastic so ingrained in our way of life, it can seem like an insurmountable problem. I'm here to tell you that's simply not true.
Through small changes, we can make a huge difference when working toward a more sustainable world—and we're already making strides. Swapping single-use straws for stainless steel, carrying washable shopping bags, and investing in sleek reusable water bottles are becoming commonplace.
Here are some other easy-to-apply tips for reducing single-use plastic waste in every area of your household.
The Kitchen: Rethink Food Packaging
Ditching plastic can be tricky when it comes to food. Most products don't come in eco-friendly packaging, but with a few adjustments, the number of plastic containers in your fridge and pantry can markedly shrink.
- Evaluate your condiments and sauces. Condiments, salad dressing, and all those bottles and containers that live on the fridge door are unfortunately usually plastic. These are often recyclable nowadays—but not all of them. Although you may need to swap brands, you can find some dressings and condiments in glass bottles. Search on the top shelves at grocery stores for these jars. For a fun kitchen project, make your own vegan mayo and store it in an upcycled glass jar.
- Look beyond the jugs. Almond milk, orange juice, and lemonade can all be found in plastic-free containers. In the refrigerated section, you can find a plethora of drinks and dairy items now in cartons or eco-friendly containers. If you can only find plastic jugs, don't worry—most these days are recyclable, as are the cartons made of paperboard and aluminum foil.
- Opt for unbagged produce. Fruits, veggies, and other forms of produce are generally sold in plastic bags. If not too dirty, these bags can be recycled—but not always. Buying direct from farmers will cut down on packaging, but it's not always possible to get the produce you want where you live: I'll never get local oranges in Ohio! You can instead bring your own washable and reusable mesh produce bags that won't add to your weight at checkout.
- Ditch single-use plastic baggies. Most lunches and leftovers stored in plastic baggies just end up in a landfill. Make a small investment in reusable baggies and containers to do a solid for the planet. Reusable baggies can be found in many varieties with zippers or drawstrings. Most have an internal liner that is waterproof, and some are made fully out of plastic that's meant to be reused. Cloth bags can just go into the washer with your cloth napkins, while plastic bags need to be handwashed.
The Closet: Assess Household Items
It may feel odd to clean your home with reusable tools, but give it a chance! With the right products and a willingness to try something new, routine tasks like doing laundry and cleaning floors can become more sustainable.
- Peruse new laundry detergents and softeners. For starters, these big plastic jugs take up a lot of room in your closet. And there aren't a whole lot of options for reusing the containers, meaning you end up buying the same product, in the same plastic container, again and again. Instead, look for powdered detergent in boxes. You can also make your own detergent with a few household ingredients, which often come in recyclable boxes. It's also a really easy switch to go from fabric softener to dryer balls.
- Check out floss packaging. Take a second look at your container of dental floss—the entire thing. The dispenser and the floss itself all eventually end up in the trash. Floss picks are even larger single-use plastic tools. Consider swapping to compostable silk floss that comes in a glass container.
- Use compostable scrubbers. I'm talking dish scrubbers, floor brushes, mops, and so forth. I've taken to using compostable dish scrubbers made of crushed walnut shells. This feels like a huge win since it's reusing a waste product. Also try looking for wood-handled brushes with replaceable heads made with eco-friendly bristles that can be composted.
The Office: Look at School and Office Supplies
The call for plastic-free office supplies is being answered by many companies. Take a look at your supplies: chances are, plastic-free is perfectly achievable.
- Break up with plastic pens. Compostable pens do exist, but are often expensive and quite elusive—if you find one, buy a few! Fountain pens are a fancy replacement that you can refill with ink and often contain zero plastic. There are also ballpoint pens that can be refilled. While the pen itself will probably be plastic, it will have a much longer life than the standard pen.
- Seek out cardboard binders. Every eco-minded parent knows about those hard plastic three-ring binders on the annual school shopping list, which are impossible to dispose of responsibly at the end of the year. Seek out unadorned, sturdy cardboard binders that can be dissembled and recycled at the end of their life. You can also work with your child's school to collect used binders at the end of the year and recycle them with TerraCycle.
- Replace tape. It's really hard to even fathom tape that's not sheer, shiny—and plastic! The dispenser is often plastic, too. Neither of which are ever recyclable! Consider gummed paper tape instead. This can replace your packaging tape and masking tape. What about reusable poster putty, also called sticky tack, for sticking stuff to walls? Take a good look at what you really use your clear tape for. Could you use glue or a thumbtack instead?
There's so much plastic in our lives, but with some perseverance, we can all work toward reducing single-use plastic waste. Do a home audit and find out where you're leaning on plastics that will only be used for a very short time. Switching to a glass option or a reusable variety will be a better choice and help your family get closer zero-waste.
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The views and opinions expressed in any guest post featured on our site are those of the guest author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of Tom's of Maine.
Why It's Good
Taking stock and looking deeper at the plastic habits of your home may open your eyes to the amount of trash your family produces unintentionally. Luckily, you can make easy swaps at home to reduce your plastic waste.