Is it possible to live without plastic? This is a question we are often asked. It is pretty tough in this day and age to avoid contact with plastic completely. Many of us need to use a phone, drive a car, or work at a computer in our everyday lives, and all of these items tend to have lots of plastic in them. Here at LifeWithoutPlastic.com we see life completely without plastic as the goal, but we understand that it is not necessarily the possible reality for today for most people.
Nonetheless, there are numerous things that anyone anywhere – including you! – can do that will drastically reduce your plastic footprint on the environment and help you live a healthier life. All it takes is a little awareness and initiative. Part of our Quest here at Life Without Plastic is to be a one-stop shop for safe, high quality, ethically-sourced and Earth-friendly alternatives to everyday plastic products, so many of the products mentioned below are available in our online store.
Below we provide the basics – things that are relatively easy to implement right away. If you are looking for a comprehensive guide to living without plastic in most aspects of everyday life, please check out our book: LIFE WITHOUT PLASTIC: The Practical Step-by-Step Guide to Avoiding Plastic to Keep Your Family and the Planet Healthy.
The Basics – 10 Easy Tips for Living with Less Plastic
1. Avoid the worst common plastics
There is no need to be eating or drinking toxic plastic residues. Identify the type of plastic of a product by looking at the recycling symbol molded on the item. This is a number from 1 to 7 surrounded by three chasing arrows forming a triangle. The three following plastics are very common,and are significantly harmful to living beings and the environment:
Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC #3): An extremely toxic plastic often containing multiple unsafe additives, including lead and phthalates. Still used for some toys, clear food and non-food packaging (e.g., cling wrap), some squeeze bottles, cooking oil and peanut butter jars.
Polystyrene (PS #6): Contains styrene, which is toxic to the brain, nervous system, and various organs. Used in Styrofoam containers, egg cartons, disposable cups and bowls, take-out food containers, plastic cutlery.
Polycarbonate (Other #7): Contains bisphenol A (BPA), which has been linked to numerous health problems. Used in some baby bottles (though increasingly banned in baby bottles by countries around the world), clear plastic “sippy” cups, sports water bottles, juice and ketchup containers, and in three and five gallon large water storage containers, and most metal food can liners. Please note that #7 is a catch-all category including any plastic resin that does not come within the first six categories.
Would you like to learn more about the different plastic types? Take a look at our sections on Common Plastics #1 to #7 and Other Plastic Types.
2. Refuse plastic bags and bring your own reusable bags wherever you go – heck, while you're at it, REFUSE all single-use disposable plastics
Plastic bags are often used for minutes only before being discarded. And most plastic bags are not recycled, thus ending up in landfills – where they take hundreds of years to break down – or in the environment as toxic pollution.
There are now all kinds of reusable bags out there. Choose what works for you, and carry it with you in your pocket, coat, purse or car. We offer various ones here, including bags for produce.
3. Avoid bottled water and bring your own reusable water bottle or mug with you when you go out
The realities of bottled water are:
it is less regulated than tap water;
usually it is simply filtered tap water;
it is very expensive;
it requires enormous resources to collect, bottle and ship it
And, of course, it generally comes in a plastic bottle – usually polyethylene terephthalate (PET #1) – which contains the toxic metal antimony. Some argue that the amount of antimony in this plastic and the potentially leaching from such bottles is negligible and harmless, but we prefer a precautionary approach. Such bottles are intended for single use, so if they are reused or exposed to heat or cold, they will break down faster and leach more plastic residue.
Get yourself a reusable stainless steel bottle or a glass bottle. You can do amazing things with a simple mason jar. We carry an assortment of bottles, including insulated ones for keeping beverages hot or cold for long periods of time. We prefer to avoid aluminum bottles because they are lined with an epoxy resin, which is plastic.
4. Use non-plastic containers for food – lunches, leftovers, freezing, storage, take-out, travelling...
There are now a variety of options to help you avoid using plastic for storing food...and avoiding polluting and leaching disposable take-out containers:
stainless steel and glass containers – airtight and non-airtight – with stainless steel lids
layered tiffins – for carrying various items at once in separate layers (e.g., nuts, fruit, chips, hummus, rize, curry...whatever)
insulated stainless steel thermal containers – for hot meals on the go
compartmentalized bento boxes made of stainless steel and wood – designed for sushi, fabulous for any lunch
again, don't underestimate the easy utility of the ubiquitous mason jar
Check out the tips at TakeOutWithOut to help take this step to the next level of societal change!
Note: If you must continue to use plastic containers for food, don't microwave them or expose them to temperature extremes because this causes them to break down faster and leach chemicals more readily. Also avoid using oily and acidic foods in plastics for the same reason. You know that old Tupperware container you put tomato sauce in and it now has a reddish residue embedded in the plastic? Well, if there's tomato sauce in the plastic, then there is plastic in the tomato sauce, and you are the one eating the tomato sauce.
5. Carry your own non-plastic cutlery and straw with you
Plastic disposable cutlery and straws are among the worst plastic pollution culprits. Like bags, single-use utensils are usually used, hmmm...once for a few minutes, and then recycled or thrown away (remember that there is no “away”, it simply means landfill, environment or pollution-causing incinerator). Plus, much of the plastic cutlery, especially at take-out places and events like festivals, is made of polystyrene, so the user is getting a little dose of hormone disruptors.
Get in the habit of carrying your own cutlery with you and leaving a set in the car. Again, lots of options: just grab a stainless steel knife, fork and spoon from your home cutlery drawer and put it in a little cloth bag; bamboo cutlery; maple wood cutlery; SPORKS! We love sporks – what an amazing invention.
And for straws, stainless steel ones are available, as are beautiful glass ones of various shapes and sizes.
6. Buy in bulk to minimize or eliminate packaging
This goes for food and drink as well as cleaning supplies, personal care products, hardware items – anything that may come in plastic packaging. Bulk food and supply sections are normal at natural health food and environmental stores, and becoming the norm at regular supermarkets as well.
You can bring your own containers and just have them weighed before you fill them up. The store staff may be resistant at first – especially if you are the first to ask! - but persist. The more that do this, the more it becomes a societal habit with everyone wanting to join in, as opposed to proactive folks being ridiculed for trying to change a bad habit. Although ridicule never seems to bother such proactive folks, because they realize the benefit to the Earth and health are worth a little resistance.
7. Avoid overpackaged, processed, canned and frozen convenience foods
If plastic packaging was eliminated, there would be a lot less plastic pollution and waste in the world, and people would be a lot healthier. Three tomatos sitting on a styrofoam tray and covered in plastic clingwrap. Green peppers individually wrapped in plastic cellophane. We've all seen them or close fascimiles. Food needlessly enveloped in toxic waste.
The cans used for most canned foods are lined with an epoxy – a plastic coating – containing bisphenol A (BPA). If you must eat canned food, and admittedly, it is handy at times, especially in winter in a cold climate, here is a list of some companies that use BPA-free cans.
Avoiding these things also forces you to eat more fresh foods and be more creative in your food preparation, both of which contribute to a healthy, fulfilling life.
8. Look around your kitchen and see what plastics you can replace
Is the dish detergent in a plastic squeeze bottle? You could buy detergent in bulk and use a mason jar.
Do you really want to use a Teflon non-stick pan which when heated releases toxic perfluorochemicals? There are options, such as stainless steel, ceramic, and cast iron.
That plastic scouring pad could be replaced with a copper scrubber, and you could oust the plastic dishwashing brush for one made of wood and natural fibres.
Did you know there are alternatives to plastic ice cube trays and popsicle makers? There are. We had a stainless steel ice cube tray made based on the lever design used to make the vintage aluminum ones from the 1950s. And our stainless steel Freezycup popsicle molds are adored by children and adults alike, plus they double as a tumbler. Sorry about the shameless plugs, but we just love these items.
9. Look around your bathroom and see what plastics you can replace
Do you have a slew of plastic shampoo and conditioner bottles sitting by the tub or in the shower, or both? Find a brand you like and try and get it in bulk. If it's not available in bulk – ask the manufacturer to offer it. Better yet, use a shampoo bar. You can eliminate plastic deodorant containers by using baking soda for deodorant – suprisingly effective, it is easily applied to dry underarms with a powder puff.
What about your toothbrush, comb and hairbrush. Plastic? Wooden options exist with bristles made of wood or natural fibres.
And how about the plastic razor and uber expensive plastic encased replacement blades? They could be replaced with a safety razor with replaceable steel blades. If you're really adventurous you could go for a single straight razor and eliminate the need to buy blades ever again. There may be a learning curve, but like anything, all it takes is a little practice.
We sell safety and straight razors here, and you can find used safety and straight razors on eBay or in antique shops. Just be sure to sterilize used ones well before use.
10. Have fun living with less plastic – don't let the enormity of the plastic problem get you down!
Sure, plastic waste is a huge problem, and it is a real drag that chemicals are coming out of plastics and being eaten and absorbed by people and wildlife all over the world, but remember, waves of change are in motion all around you, and you are part of a community of people who are commited to using less plastic.
So have fun with your plastic-free journey – be innovative and creative in looking for new ways to express your life without plastic.
Here's one example... the Costa Rican NGO Preserve Planet teamed up with local artist Francesco Bracci to create a giant wave of 6000 braided plastic bottles. Called La Ola Plastica ('The Plastic Wave'), the huge art installation in downtown San Jose, Costa Rica, raises awareness about the damage caused to health and the environment by plastics, especially single use and disposable ones.
Photo credit: insidecostarica.com