If you want to cut down on single-use plastics and aim for zero waste, have a look at these sustainable ideas for shopping and your kitchen.
If you are craving a simpler life, Decluttering 101: How to Let it Go and Get on With It may be just what you’re looking for.
The Problem with Single-Use Plastics
If you want to jump to the practical tips and recommended products, click here.
First, we’re going to dive into this mess we’ve got ourselves into and see what we can do about it.
Have you ever seen single bananas at the grocery store wrapped in plastic?
Or coconuts or some other thick-skinned produce covered in shrink wrap?
I recently needed zucchini and had a choice of bulk zucchini for $3/pound or perfectly fine ‘imperfect’ zucchini for half that price—except it was on a polystyrene tray and wrapped in cling wrap.
And no, I didn’t want single-use plastic garbage with my purchase.
It was packaged to control the volume purchased, but certainly there are better ways to do this?
Those are wild examples but unfortunately not that uncommon. In fact, we see them every day.
Plastic is everywhere.
We’ve become a culture that likes our packaging. And sometimes packaging for packaging!
Enough is Enough
Half of all plastics produced are sent to landfill within the first year.
For a material that never ever decomposes, that’s incredibly wasteful.
When I was in school (years ago) I wrote an essay about plastics and said, it’s the best and worst invention of the last century.
And now, all these years later, there’s way more of it and no end in sight.
Plastics have done incredible things to help us.
But, along with the hazards of production, our over-zealous consumption is just not sustainable.
Reduce Unnecessary Plastic Packaging
It’s one thing to have a plastic gizmo that serves its purpose for a lifetime.
It’s quite another to sell toys in over-sized packaging—far bigger than the toy itself—to woo the consumer at the store.
Outlawing frivolous packaging like that should be a no-brainer.
Another crazy example is deodorant. Why do we have to buy a whole new dispenser with every purchase? Why can’t we just buy refills?
Same for toothbrushes, shampoo bottles, dish soap, beverages, and a zillion other things.
It’s just too cheap and easy to produce disposable plastics.
And super silly that we pay for this garbage (literally) every time we shop.
We pay at the cash register. We pay in harm to the environment. We pay for disposal. And, as said, all this for something that we can never truly get rid of.
We’ve spent years hiding masses of waste out of sight and out of mind.
But time and space is running out.
Recycling Will Not Solve the Problem
For a long time, we made ourselves feel better thinking recycling was the answer. And it can play a role in the solution.
But, with so many different plastics produced—and many of them incompatible with each other—it’s tough going for communities to find markets and uses for this vast assortment of plastics.
On a global level, just 7-9% of plastics get a second life. Plus, plastics can only be reconstituted a few times before they give out.
It’s not good.
But what if corporations were responsible for their products from cradle to grave including end of life care?
That could be a game-changer. You want to make all that packaging? Or single-use goods? Or stuff that cannot be repaired?
Then first figure out an environmentally-positive life cycle for it, from manufacturing to disposal, and stop placing the burden on consumers and communities.
Landfills Are Overflowing
Landfills are busting at the seams. Shipping waste across oceans is absurd.
Whether we bury, burn, or reconstitute it, we’ve just got too much of it.
And it’s time for this party to end.
While I believe the most profound changes need to come from above – corporations, governments, and global agreements that even the playing field for pollution and emissions, as consumers and voters we can have a big impact.
How We Can Each Help
Let corporations know you don’t want the excess packaging. And avoid it where you can (see below).
And, when things must be packaged, let’s cut the excess and get innovative.
What if all that money put into single-use packaging at the front end and garbage collection and disposal at the rear (pun intended) instead went into ways of doing business that didn’t create so much pollution and waste?
There are so many possibilities!
Sustainable efforts should be part of the entire life cycle of a product:
- Before production, determine how it will ultimately be disposed of. Or, can it be repaired? Is it compostable, reusable, or recyclable?
- Are the materials renewable? Organic? Biodegradable? Non-toxic? Upcycled?
- Where are they made?
- Are workers treated fairly and earning a living wage?
- What’s the carbon footprint from factory to market?
We can tackle it from so many angles.
Imagine one deodorant dispenser and toothbrush handle for life!
Just those two things sound so insignificant.
Until you multiply it by all the plastics we use and throw out times billions of people.
Avoidance of the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance.
Here’s some practical solutions to go zero waste or reduce plastic waste for food shopping and kitchen prep.
We shouldn’t have to go out of our way to make environmentally-friendly choices when shopping: it should be built-into the system. But for now, it takes effort.
These examples are from the online shop, Earthhero. Items are selected based on sustainable practices including brand ethics, plastic-free, conscious shipping packaging, and social responsibility.
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1. Use What You Have
So many products come with packaging or containers that can be reused.
Hang onto plastic cling wrap, spray bottles, and glass jars—anything useful that you might otherwise buy.
When I read about the resources needed to create a glass jar or cup, I was astonished. And we’re paying for it over and over again with every jar of spaghetti sauce.
Wash and reuse whenever you can. Make time to cook from scratch.
Some things like shampoo bottles often can’t even be opened for refilling. That’s nuts and needs to change.
Refill depots are popping up in various cities. That’s a start.
More Options for Sustainable Living
There are plenty of ways to reduce consumption and waste!
- Share with family and friends
- Community sharing depots
- Buy used
- Fix-it or repair cafes
- Swap or barter
- Bamboo Cutlery Kit
We keep spare kitchen cutlery in our car. This bamboo kit is a good option for carrying in a purse or knapsack and the utensils are dishwasher safe.
If you have plastic utensils already, use those and see how long you can make them last.
2. Bring Your Own
Bringing reusable shopping bags to stores is a good start.
I have a couple of really lightweight ones that fold into tiny bundles in my purse and those alone have prevented me from needing hundreds (and hundreds) of plastic bags over the years.
This sling shopping bag at EarthHero is an excellent option if you will be walking home with groceries and like a cross-body bag.
Bonus points for stores that will fill your reusable containers for bulk foods, deli and takeout items.
It’s always worth asking.
The more staff, management, politicians, community leaders, and corporate heads hearing us, the better.
- Sling Shopping Bag
It’s machine washable, folds into an integrated pocket, and holds 40lbs!
End of Life: You can send it back to Chicobag and they will recycle it into a new item.
- Produce Bags
Made from 100% food-safe rPET fabric from post-consumer plastics. Perfect for buying produce in bulk.
- Use discount code melissa10 at EarthHeroEarthHero checkout for 10% off most items.
Mason jars or your other food storage containers are an option. layered stainless steel lunchboxThis layered stainless steel lunchbox is nice and lightweight.
- Stainless Steel Lunchbox
It’s a 3-in-1 nesting set, squish-proof, and freezer safe. Ideal for damp and dry foods, but not sauces or liquids.
3. Avoid Single-Use Plastics
I know—it’s very hard to avoid single-use plastics, and, unless you are hardcore zero waste and willing to make big sacrifices, it’s nearly impossible. Stores contain a sea of plastics!
But, start where you can. Figure out what is do-able for your life and go for it.
Sometimes the choice will be easy.
Other times you have to suck it up and pay double for zucchini just to avoid the wrapping.
Voice your concerns too. Be sure the stores you do business with know you want more sustainable options.
- Bamboo Toothbrush
Did you know over 4.7 million toothbrushes that will never biodegrade are dumped in U.S. landfills and oceans every year?
This one has a bamboo handle and plant-based bristles. Give it a second life as a plant marker!
Trying to Reason With The Man
Almost 20 years ago I asked a nation-wide bulk food chain to allow me to use my reusable bags and jars for my purchases. I was on a mission to reduce my plastic waste and this seemed like a sensible way to start.
They steadfastly refused.
After much back and forth by email, it came down to a phone call with one of their lawyers telling me that their food safety concerns were far more pressing than avoiding some plastic waste. The argument was that I might bring unclean containers, contaminate the food, and then sue them over it. I agreed to sign a waiver. Nope! They were adamant: no way could I ever use my own containers there.
It was infuriating at the time—and I stopped shopping there—but, all these years later, they finally now allow customers to use their own containers.
What they deemed impossible then is acceptable now. And it’s all about public pressure and new ways of seeing things.
Changes can take a long time, but the more we make these common-sense requests, the faster we can move things along.
- Be Good Dish Brush
Bamboo handle and scrubbers made from recycled plastic. My dream would be a reusable handle with interchangeable scrubber but this is close.
- Use discount code melissa10 at EarthHero checkout for 10% off most items.
- Beeswax Wraps
You can make your own using these instructions or buy them ready-made. They are reusable beeswax-coated fabric pieces for wrapping snack foods and covering containers.
- Silicone Stasher Bags
It’s a self-sealing, airtight, non-plastic bag that can go in the freezer, microwave, oven, and dishwasher. Contains no BPA, BPS, lead, latex, or phthalates.
4. Support Sustainable Efforts
Are we going back to the days of home milk delivery in washable bottles?
Here in Ontario, Canada, our cow’s milk comes in clear plastic bags packaged in bigger plastic bags or plastic-coated milk jugs. So reusable glass sounds very good!
Community supported agriculture (C.S.A.s) have been around for years.
Join a local CSA and get an array of fruit, veggies, herbs, eggs, milk, or cheese in good old cardboard boxes you can pick up or have delivered.
The sky is the limit for better ways to do things.
If you have initiatives in your area, give them your business.
Or start your own.
5 Grow Your Own
Maybe you don’t have the time or space, but then again, maybe you do!
Are there foods you could be growing—either inside or outdoors—that could take the place of store-bought?
Faced with wilted spinach in plastic bags, I was happy to learn I could grow my own all winter long in my dining room.
Got garden space to spare? Offer it to a garden-less gardener and share the harvest.
- How to Grow Salad Greens Indoors
An ebook with complete instructions for new gardeners.
And that’s it. As individuals, it’s hard to see how these things can help. But, multiply it by everyone we can encourage to do the same—and it starts to matter.
Speak up. Tell business and government leaders it’s time to limit unnecessary plastics. And keep voting at the ballot box and with your wallet.
~Melissa the Empress of Dirt ♛