If there is one thing that tops my waste elimination hit list, it is single use plastic. It is everywhere but a lot of these items have an easy, sustainable substitute. In this post I look at some common single use plastic products and discuss some ways we are trying to eliminate or reduce them.
1. Plastic Straws
Plastic straws have had a lot of press lately and it is heartening to see that more and more places are either not offering straws or replacing plastic straws with paper ones. I also heard that Woolworths is not longer selling them. This is proof that consumer action and public awareness campaigns can change the choices businesses make. Keep making noise Footprinters! And say no to plastic straws. Either drink your beverage without one or carry and use a reusable bamboo or stainless steel straw.
2. Plastic Cutlery
In my handbag, I carry a pouch I made with a set of cutlery and my reusable straw. I work from home so I don’t often buy a takeaway lunch but if ever I do, I say no to the plastic cutlery and use my own.
I have bamboo cutlery which is light and can be taken on planes (not that I do that much either!) but there is no need to buy anything new. My daughter has a set of regular metal cutlery in her bag. It is easy to pick up used cutlery from secondhand and ‘junk’ shops and, in fact, I have collected several sets so that we also have a box in of ‘party’ cutlery in the cupboard and I offer it to family and friends to use too if they are having a big ‘do’.
3. Disposable cups and plates
If ever we need extra cups, glasses and plates for a party, I gather up everything we have, including our camping gear. If that isn’t enough I’ll borrow extras. You could also ask guests to bring their own. Gives a new meaning to ‘bring a plate’! Using flimsy disposable cups and plates isn’t much fun anyway.
At some future point, I would love to see local ‘libraries’ pop up where these sorts of resources, think dinner plates, serving platters, cake tins and all the rest, could be borrowed by community members. Our Buy Nothing group works a bit like this already. I recently borrowed a folding trestle table for a dinner party from a local Buy Nothinger but I’m not sure how many people would be happy to loan their dinner plates… But maybe I am not giving my extremely generous neighbourhood enough credit.
4. Water and soft drink bottles
I carry a small water bottle with me in my handbag. I know that doesn’t work for everyone (I’m looking at you husband!) but there are many ways to avoid purchasing single use plastic drink bottles. Have one on your desk at work. Grab one as you head to the car. Sit down at the cafe for your beverage. Know the location of water fountains (and refill stations – some local government areas are doing a great job of providing these, I hope we see more of it). If you find yourself really in need of a cold drink when you are out and about, look for one in a glass bottle and recycle it when you are finished.
5. Take away coffee cups
With so many cafés happy to use a reusable coffee cup these days, avoiding the plastic lined take away coffee cup is just a matter of changing habits. Simply take your office mug downstairs to the coffee shop, keep a ‘Keep Cup’ in your bag or car, and add coffee cup to your leaving-home-checklist: phone, keys, wallet, water bottle, coffee cup.
6. Single use plastic bags
Despite the plastic bag ban in supermarkets, it shocks me that so many plastic bags are still picked up at the checkout. I don’t care if they are promoted as being ‘reusable’. Nothing could be easier than having a stash of bags in the boot of the car to take into the supermarket. I have a number of those light foldable ones in my handbag too (yep, it is a bit like Hermione’s magic bag). It takes a little bit of habit change but it isn’t hard to do.
And then there are the single use plastic produce bags. If you are handy with a sewing machine, net produce bags are about the easiest sewing project out there but they are also available to buy pretty readily these days. Keep them with your shopping bags so you’ll always have them at the market. (Um, yep, I have a couple in my magic bag!)
7. Cling wrap & Ziplock bags
These two 21st century kitchen staples can be replaced with a little ingenuity. Beeswax wraps are a great stand-in for both these single use plastic products in our kitchen along with any existing plastic containers (I’m using what I have but won’t buy any more) and glass jars. See my Plastic Free Food Storage post for a fuller discussion on plastic free food storage.
8. Take-away food containers
Menu planning helps us to avoid eating a lot of take away food but taking a break from cooking with a G&T in hand on a Friday night is sometimes welcome. Choosing a plastic free option like pizza or fish and chips saves on the takeaway containers. I’ve heard of people taking their own containers to be filled but haven’t been bold enough to try this myself. Tell me if you have and what your experience was like.
9. Produce & food packaging
Food packaging is one of the biggest categories of waste we are still dealing with at our place.
Even at the Farmer’s Market, many of the stalls package their produce in plastic. Fortunately there are stalls that don’t and we patronise them and use our reusable produce bags or paper bags. I hope to be growing more of our own produce in coming months too – yay to reducing plastic AND food miles.
I collect bread from our local bakery in a cloth bag or buy unsliced loaves in paper bags. I promise instructions for making your own bread collection bag are on the way – SOON!
Shopping for dry goods at the bulk food store helps to reduce plastic packaging but I also look for supermarket groceries in paper and cardboard packaging rather than plastic as a compromise.
And, I’m now making from scratch things like pasta and naan bread. I know that sounds pretty labour intensive but it actually doesn’t take a lot of time. I’ll do a full post on this at a later date.
Using our own containers to pick up meat or deli products is the next area I plan to tackle.
10. Haircare and cosmetic packaging
As we use up our current supplies of haircare and cosmetic products, I’m looking for waste free alternatives. I have already replaced bottle shampoo and conditioner with solid bars and recently added face wash and scrub bars from the same brand. Fortunately, with so much growing awareness around plastic, it is getting easier to find alternatives. Since I have a pretty simple ‘beauty’ routine and don’t wear a lot of makeup, I hope I’ll be able to transition without too much trouble. Of course products that we use on our bodies is a very personal and individual thing so let the makers of your preferred products know you’d like plastic free alternatives.
11. Disposable razors
I am still using the same razor with replaceable heads that I bought MANY years ago. It is plastic, as are the replacement heads, but the waste is certainly minimised. Since I also I have an electric shaver, I haven’t bought a new packet of the heads in a very long time.
My husband has now grown a beard so he shaves with a blade much less often. When he does, he too is using a razor with disposable heads that he has had for a years.
The older style razors with replaceable razor blades are still available too.
And, to end this post with a ‘pop’ (haha, sorry, I had to!), I have outlawed balloons in our house. If I seem like a bit of a party-pooper, my kids might agree! However, I just don’t feel like the environmental impact of little bits of popped balloon everywhere is worth the temporary pleasure that they might bring. For party decorations, I’ll find plastic free alternatives like reusable bunting, paper decorations or floral arrangements. And, for a water fight, a water gun has much more fire power anyway!
Your single use plastic ideas…
I haven’t, of course, covered all types of single use plastic in this post. And the steps we are taking are not comprehensive and complete. So, help me out. What are your top ways of avoiding single-use plastics? Share them in the comments below.