8 Simple Ways to Reduce Plastic Waste at Home and While You Shop
Single-use plastic bags, styrofoam trays, plastic wrap, produce bags, zip lock bags, coffee cup lids, cups and straws… “In one week we go through 10 billion plastic bags worldwide, in the USA an average of 2.5 million plastic bottles are used every hour whilst over 500 million straws are used daily! Recycling is important but it will never be the solution to rapidly expanding consumption.” Here are 8 simple ideas on how to reduce this number closer to zero.
Plastic Free July is an initiative of the Western Metropolitan Regional Council (WMRC) in Perth, Western Australia. It was developed by clever Earth Carers staff. You can register your involvement here and with the following tips you should be on your way to healthier home and environment for the future.
1. Re-use old jars and plastic containers
Using old glass jars might sound hipster, but considering that it would take glass over a million years to break down in landfill, it’s therefore endlessly re-usable and environmentally-friendly. However, it is also good to recycle some of your bottles and jars as making recycled glass products saves 74% of the energy used to make the same jar from raw materials. Old yoghurt, cottage cheese and antipasto containers and even meat trays, once washed properly, are also great for around-the-home storage of odd bits and bobs and they make for great seedlings containers as well!
2. Invest in quality BPA-free containers
But aren’t they made from plastic? I mention quality BPA-free containers such as Yumbox and Lock & Lock, because unlike those single-use takeaway containers, they last for generations. Tupperware has actually gone BPA-free a few years ago so they are safer than storing foods in regular plastic. There are also metal and glass storage choices available for lunches – snacks, sandwiches and hot meals. I have recently invested in glass ones. Metal lunchbox containers, though not cheap, are also a great option and more sturdy than many of the plastic alternatives.
3. Wash and re-use zip-lock bags
If you’re using zip locks, opt for ones that are BPA-free and re-use them. Simply wash the bags in warm soapy water and drip dry. Especially handy for the freezer. If you’re using them for the kids’ lunchboxes – they can simply bring them home rather than throw them away. While their life will still have a limited number of uses, that’s better than single-use. Alternatively, Kids Konserve make beautiful sandwich wraps that are re-usable, bpa-free and save wasting meters of plastic film every week.
Oh, and did you know you can get your very own re-usable DIY Ziplock Icicle Bags? You can fill them with your own healthy icicle mixtures and ditch additives, preservatives and artificial colours at the same time. Wholefood smoothies are great for those.
4. Ditch single-use shopping and produce bags
Ditch single-use plastic bags altogether by taking your ‘green bags’ or canvas bags whenever you go shopping instead. Keep a small foldable-shopping bag in your handbag. While some can still be made out of plastic – many are made from cotton, at least they are re-usable. Also, when buying fruit and veggies, allow them to mingle in the basket. There is no real point of placing every single type of fruit and vegetable in a separate plastic bag which you will simply end up discarding when you unpack the groceries a home. See also Alexx’s tips for Plastic Free July and a few more for when grocery shopping.
If you do on occasion happen to buy something and carry it home in a single-use supermarket bag, remember that you can take them back to the store to be recycled.
5. Bulk stores welcome BYO containers
If you’re organised enough a trip to a bulk store with your own empty jars and containers is the best way to save resources and money. If you happen to buy something extra that you did not have a container for, then most of the stores actually sell their wares in paper bags which are a lot better than plastic.
6. Rubbish bin bags and composting
Despite our best efforts to do the right thing, the biodegradable rubbish bin liner dilemma remains. I guess the biodegradable liners are a lesser evil when compared to the regular shopping bag use because of their size and their relatively low resource use in production. Some advocate not using liners at all but that obviously uses up other resources like water and when combined with using harmful chemicals to wash the bins out weekly, it might not be the best solution either.
While I already talk about reducing food waste through mindful freezing and use of scraps in The Wholesome Cook book across the Wholesome Kitchen chapter, I am yet to truly embrace composting which seems like the big-impact change to landfill volumes and the environment.
7. BYO drink cups, bottles and straws
Coffee cups are one some of the worst waste offenders – 2.25 billion paper cups are used worldwide each year, and rising. This means A LOT of plastic lids ending up in landfill. To make matters worse, many trendy small hole-in-the-wall coffee shops now only offer the take-away option. Instead, invest in one of the many multiple-use cups (we have the original style plastic re-usable Keep Cups but they do come in glass now as well).
The same goes for plastic bottles and water, especially in situations where you are out and there is no recycling bin option available. Multi-use bottles made from glass or stainless steel are a great alternative. You can also now get stainless steel and glass straws.
8. Ditch single-serve and snack-sized packets in favour of bulk
Have you noticed how a large bag of cashews is much cheaper per 100 grams compared to a bag of 10 single-serve packets? Or how 1 kilo of yoghurt costs $4-$8 but to buy the same amount of yoghurt in those kid-friendly single-serve pouches you’d have to spend $13 to $19, even on those 5 for $5 specials – that’s over $1,500 a year.
You will be most likely to appreciate the savings associated with buying foods in bulk and portioning the items yourself into your choice of containers. Better still, if you buy dry ingredients from the bulk store or bulk bin using your own container the same amount will actually produce none… This approach also produces 1 large piece of rubbish that, like in case of a yoghurt tub, is recyclable. Compared to producing 1 large and 10 tiny bags of plastic rubbish or however many of those single-use pouches from yoghurt. See what I mean?
You can also buy re-usable BPA-free yoghurt pouches like Little Mashies – we love ours, or Sinchies which come in various sizes, and fill them yourself with the kind of yoghurt, babyfood or wholefood smoothies your kids like. With your choice and level of sweetener, if any, your choice of real fruit instead of cooked down purees.
PS To help you on your way to a Plastic-free July for life, I’ve included a lot of product ideas in this post. Having done a lot of searching for this post, I’ve found that Brisbane-based Biome Eco Stores has the biggest range of all of the items we already use and love in one place. They offer free shipping in Australia on orders over $130 (you can put an order in with a friend to get there) and they ship internationally, too. I am proud to be a part of their affiliate program.