21 Small Changes That Can Help You Reduce Your Plastic Use

by JR Thorpe

Reducing our daily plastic use can do a lot to curtail the amount of plastic waste that ends up in the environment. Plastic trash is a long-term issue with big environmental consequences; only 9 percent of all plastic in the U.S. is recycled, The Guardian reported, and more than 40 percent of all plastic used worldwide is used just once and then thrown out. Much of it ends up in the ocean, where it can be deadly sea life. If you want to try reducing your plastic, there are a lot of ways to do it — many of which are cheap and easy, without much of a change in your habits.

Small-scale changes might not seem like the way to make a difference, but collectively, small changes in the way we use plastics can help stem the flow that's clogging our oceans and polluting ecosystems worldwide. (It also sends a message to corporations that they don't need to produce the amount of plastic that they do.) You don't need to be a millionaire to do without plastic, either; reusing and recycling come after reducing, and it costs nothing to use less. Be aware of your plastics usage, and also keep up the pressure on bigger producers to explore sustainable alternatives.


Reusable Shopping Bags All The Way

The best way to keep plastic bags out of your shopping is to provide your own; a tote or 15 when you're on your way to the shops is always a good plan, and it's worth keeping some on your person at all times to hold unexpected purchases. Space an issue? Carry small ones. "Keep at least two reusable bags attached to your key ring at all times. You may already have some that have a nifty ring attachment," Kate Bratskeir advised for Mic in 2018.


Choose Glass Or Paper Straws Instead Of Plastic Ones

Plastic straws have drawn a lot of focus lately, and with reason; many of them find their way into the environment every year, and they're not recyclable. While banning plastic straws entirely has been questioned by disability rights activists who point out that plastic straws are necessary for many disabled people, if you're able to cut back, why not? Bring your own straw if you need it, and get a glass or metal version as a replacement.


Get A Reusable Water Bottle

Reusable water bottles are an excellent way to cut down on the purchase of pricey plastic bottles or cans, whether they're water, juice, or La Croix. Always fill up before you leave the house so you're not caught out on the go.


Don't Bother With Bottled Water At All

Plastic bottles of water are not the way forward for a plastic-free world. "Not only does it come in a plastic bottle, but tremendous resources are used to extract, bottle, and ship it," My Plastic Free Life explains.


Avoid Shrink-Wrapped Fruit & Veg

One of the main ways many of us pick up plastic is while grocery shopping — particularly when picking up fruit and veg. "Try to avoid snacks that come wrapped in individual plastic and instead grab popcorn kernels and banana chips from the bulk section of the store," advises National Geographic. Bring your own box or bags to carry fruit or veg if you're worried about germs.


Get A Travel Mug For Coffee & Tea On The Go

Can't wake up without your morning coffee? Forgo plastic cups, straws and other accessories by bringing your own travel cup, preferably made out of something environmentally friendly like sustainable bamboo. Bonus: many places will charge less if you bring your own cup.


Go With Refills Rather Than New Products

Rather than going out and purchasing an entirely new plastic bottle or container of a product, look for ways to fill the old one up again. Kevin Goodson of Money Saving Expert explains, "Buying refills of products such as air fresheners, coffee granules, handwash and herbs and spices saves money as well as cutting down on plastic waste in terms of lids, bottles and so on, as our table shows. (Some refills will still result in plastic waste, so it’s worth comparing how recyclable the packaging is compared with that of the original product before purchase.) "


Get Plastic-Free Cleaning Products

Yes, it's possible to have low plastic use in your cleaning products. "Use natural cleaning cloths and scrubbers instead of plastic scrubbers and synthetic sponges. Compressed natural cellulose sponges are often sold without any plastic packaging because they don’t need to be kept moist; they expand when wet," explains My Plastic-Free Life.


Swap Out Plastic Wrap

Plastic Wrap is wasteful (it always ends up being thrown out) and not necessary when it comes to preserving food. "Beeswax and soy wax wraps – reusable, biodegradable alternatives to cling film – are now widely available. Made from cotton, wax and resin, these wraps can be moulded around containers and food itself to keep it fresh, then washed, dried and reused. They last for up to a year and, once they’re spent, some can be composted," notes Goodson at Money Saving Expert. They're commonly available on Etsy. You can also use a plate to cover up items in bowls, or placing cut fruit and veggies face-down on a plate.


Skip The Top When You Grab A Coffee

Want to get a drink on the run? Forgo the plastic top. "Going topless is a curious way to save plastic, but for those who often sip something on the go, not worrying with the top might knock some serious non-biodegradable guilt off the docket. This goes for the to-go coffees, as well as fountain drinks from fast food joints or convenient stores. So, go topless when possible," recommends Jonathan Engels at One Green Planet.


Try A Bamboo Toothbrush

Get a plastic-free bathroom by looking at your toothbrush, advise the Wildlife Trusts: "Bamboo toothbrushes made from sustainable bamboo are an easy way to ditch the excess plastic." You just have to cut the plastic bristles off first.


Beware Shopping Online

If you order things that tend to arrive in meters of shrink wrap and five layers of plastic, resist the temptation — or ask the sellers to go plastic-free when they ship. "Don’t forget about the plastic packaging that engulfs almost all items that you purchase online — consider your plastic resolution a barrier to impulse shopping," says National Geographic.


Reuse Plastic Containers For Green Purposes

Reusing plastic is a good way to keep it out of landfill. "Save up yogurt pots and other small plastic pots to start growing fruit and veg in before moving them to your garden," Goodson recommends. "Tubs containing the likes of margarine and ice cream can be reused as dividers in drawers and cupboards."


Use Bar Soaps Instead Of Pump Soaps

Instead of pumping soaps or shower gels, go for bars instead. "It’s such a simple change – using bar soaps instead of pump soaps – but it can make a big difference for wildlife," say the Wildlife Trusts. "Using bars means no more bottles for your soap, reducing the amount of new plastic being made. This also cuts down your carbon footprint, since the manufacture of plastic creates a lot of CO2 emissions and liquid soaps have a 25 percent larger carbon footprint than bar soaps."


Go For Hygiene Products Not Wrapped In Plastic

Toilet paper, soap, body wash, bubble bath — look for products that don't come in plastic containers or wrapping. My Plastic Free Life recommends Who Gives a Crap brand toilet paper, because it "comes in a cardboard box with paper-wrapped rolls. No plastic. They offer a choice of recycled paper or bamboo. And the company gives 50 percent of its profits to build toilets and sanitation in developing countries."


Buy Loose-Leaf Rather Than Teabags

Drink tea? Buy loose-leaf (and a tea strainer) if you'd like to stay away from teabags, which can have plastic components. "You may be surprised to hear that many teabags have plastic woven into the fibres, or are sealed with a plastic based glue," the Wildlife Trusts write. "Following public pressure, a few companies have committed to eliminating plastic from their teabags, and a quick internet search will show you which brands are plastic-free."


Swap Your Period Products For Greener Options

Periods without plastic are possible, whether it's using a menstrual cup, using tampons without applicators (or reusable applicators!), or finding reusable cotton pads or period underpants.


Avoid Take Out

Do away with the plastic containers and cutlery of take out food. "Make ‘fakeaways’, i.e., replicate takeaway food by making it at home — as well as doing away with the associated plastic, it’ll undoubtedly be cheaper in the long run," says Goodson at Money Saving Expert.


Go To Grocery Counters For Meat, Fish, & Cheese

Old-fashioned it may be, but try to go fresh when you go shopping rather than heading for the supermarket's frozen or pre-prepped aisles. In supermarket deli counters, the food will be the same price, but you'll be able to order exactly as much as you need and ask for no plastic packaging. "Check out the counters before buying from the fridges," Annie Clarke of Mind Body Bowl told Women's Health.


Buy Secondhand As Much As Possible

Avoid plastic packaging and new plastic items by going thrifting and second-hand. "New items almost always come in plastic packaging, but you could reuse someone else’s items instead of buying new ones from a store," said Lifehacker.


Hand-wash Synthetics

You may not realise that washing synthetic materials in the washing machine can release a lot of their internal plastics into the waste water. The other option? Hand-washing. "Hand-washing synthetic fabrics significantly reduces the amount of fibres released, or if you’re reluctant to give up the convenience of the washing machine, shorter wash cycles, or purpose-made microfibre-catching laundry bags can minimise the impact [sic]. When buying new clothes, think twice about anything made with synthetic fabrics," the Wildlife Trusts advise. Reducing the amount of synthetics in your wardrobe means less time washing them by hand. Win-win.


Reducing plastic use in everyday life isn't massively difficult with a bit of ingenuity. And by summer you might have a row of cute new plants poking out of your old yogurt pots. Reduce and reuse for the win.