How To Reduce Plastic Use Without Stressing Out

A happy person who's learned how to reduce plastic use in their life.

Plastic is one of the most controversial inventions of the 20th century.

There’s no end to the many uses it serves in our lives, yet, there’s a dark side to plastic that threatens our very existence.

So, how can we go about reducing the amount of plastic we use without disrupting our lives entirely?

The best way to start focusing on your plastic waste is by first understanding just how present it is in your life.

And it’s probably more common than you think!

Why is using plastic such a big deal?

Using so much plastic is awful in many different ways.

Firstly, you can’t eat it.

In fact, not much can. It doesn’t degrade quickly at all and can take hundreds to thousands of years to decompose.

This gives it plenty of time to get stuck in birds and turtles, and generally make our natural environments look gross and untidy.

marine plastic debris

While it doesn’t decompose quickly, it does break into microscopic pieces, which are so small that they get absorbed by plants and ultimately into the blood of anything that eats them.

Plastics have been associated with health conditions like endocrine disorders, and are suspected to be contributing to falling fertility rates around the globe. And these are just a few of the countless ways plastic is destroying our health and our ecosystems.

So, it’s important to know how to reduce our contribution and maybe strive to make it better overall, too.

How to reduce your plastic waste

Because plastic is so common and useful, it’s likely never going away entirely.

The trick to reducing your plastic waste is knowing your options when it comes to alternatives, and a lot of them may be things you’ve never considered before.

And you probably also want to know how to avoid microplastics – so we’re going to be covering that as well. The truth is, plastic is often sneakily added to a lot of products without your knowledge – even the things you eat and drink.

So, here are ten ways you can easily adjust your habits to stop relying on plastic:

A quick note: obsessing over any particular bit of plastic in your life will most likely only slow your progress down. You have to strike a balance between what’s realistic and effective, and any anxiety you have surrounding plastic waste!

1. Stop using skincare products with microbeads

Before you’ve even had your coffee, you may be flushing millions of pieces of microplastics into the drainage system every morning. Microbeads in common exfoliating body and face scrubs, and even in some toothpastes can be made from plastic.

These kinds of microbeads escape through wastewater treatment plants and into our rivers, lakes, and oceans – and go on to pollute our clean drinking water.

plastic skincare containers

Some bans are in place in many countries, but until microbeads are effectively regulated it’s important to support plastic free skincare brands that never use them.

Sustainable brands tend to use other exfoliants like coffee grounds, an easily upcycled vegan ingredient that isn’t derived from petroleum like so many other harmful skincare ingredients.

2. Don’t stop at plastic straws

Campaigns to ban plastic straws have been a big part of the plastic free movement in recent decades.

But much like the sham of plastic recycling, plastic straws may be more of a decoy than an actual effective measure against plastic pollution (but still, just get some reusable straws).

Straws only make up a tiny amount of ocean plastic every year, so cutting them out entirely would barely make a blip. Single use plastics, on the other hand, can be reduced in most aspects of your life quite easily.

single use plastic bottles

Avoiding unnecessary single-use plastic like straws, garbage bags, and just packaging in general is something you’ll slowly have to adjust to, most likely.

My best advice is to work on eliminating one source of single-use plastics at a time. Break down your plastic use into categories and chip away at finding alternatives a small amount each day.

3. Commit to using reusable bags

Using reusable bags is a meaningless gesture if all you do is leave them stuffed into a closet. So, if you’re going to buy reusable tote bags for shopping, commit to using them.

The cheap and efficient nature of the plastic manufacturing process makes it one of the most economical materials we have.

reusable grocery tote bag
Image by Milada via Flickr

And replacing a plastic bag with an organic cotton one, for example, might not result in a net gain for the environment until the reusable one has been used thousands of times.

Think of it this way:

  • Reducing beach plastic can happen immediately with a switch to cotton
  • Manufacturing emissions, on the other hand, will go up in the short term
  • Plastic waste is greatly reduced over a reusable bags entire lifespan

Yeah, still a bit confusing right?

There’s no easy solution to this – but if you actually use the bags you buy and don’t cave into using plastic when it’s offered this is a great way to reduce plastic pollution overall.

4. Buy zero waste groceries

The rise of zero waste stores is making it easier than ever to reduce plastic waste from supermarkets.

Not only can you refill your reusable bags or containers at bulk prices and buy products that aren’t wrapped in plastic, you’ll also be supporting the sustainability movement in general.

zero waste groceries

In many cases, prices are roughly the same if you shop smart – the only roadblock is convenience. Finding and visiting zero waste stores isn’t feasible for everyone, but as they become more popular expect them to pop up in more locations.

If you have a plastic free or bulk shop near you, but you’re on the fence about checking it out, just remember you don’t have to buy anything. Just go and see what it’s all about!

5. Grow your own food

Growing your own food is something that most people can do, to some degree. Chances are if you’ve got a window, you can grow a ton of different plants at home. If you have space to start a garden, even better!

Home-grown fruits and vegetables reduce all of the manufacturing and transport-related emissions, and any plastic packaging that may come with them.

homegrown vegetable spread

Growing your own food can be a low-maintenance task at almost any scale, and it rewards you with an eco-friendly alternative to buying from stores. Also, crops grown at home simply taste so much better – something you won’t know you’ve been missing before trying it out.

6. Be wary of biodegradable plastics

Bioplastics can be hit-or-miss. Many so-called biodegradable and compostable plastics do not fully disintegrate, which is why we’ve included bioplastics on our list of what not to compost at home!

Bioplastic packaging can also easily ruin recycling batches – meaning when they’re mixed together with other plastics they can contaminate the process and ultimately cause the recycling batch to be rejected.

With that being said, there are some decent biodegradable plastic options out there, and supporting bioplastic innovation will probably be a key part of a much needed global reduction in plastic use.

7. Avoid greenwashing

Any for-profit company selling a product has a financial incentive to get you to buy it – and many companies are lying to you too, in order to get your money.

That’s just the reality we live in, so be on the lookout for greenwashing.

compostable greenwashing

The lack of regulations when it comes to corporate propaganda can make it hard to judge whether or not a brand is actively trying to reduce its overall impact.

Buying things may make you feel good, but sometimes any environmental benefits are entirely fabricated. So do your due diligence, research companies thoroughly, and connect with others who are living sustainable lifestyles.

8. Reduce in general

On that note, we come to the first of the three R’s and despite its position at the top of the order, it’s the most overlooked.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle is not just a memorable phrase, but a hierarchy of importance in the recipe for sustainability.

We live in a society of unchecked consumption, and plastic waste is a symbol of this. Since plastic is in almost everything we buy, one of the best ways to reduce plastic usage is to simply cut down on your consumption in general.

plastic sales tax holiday

Despite a steady bombardment of suggestive messaging from corporations, we don’t need new things all the time. The first step to reducing consumption as a whole is to identify your needs and spot the things you’re being tricked into wanting.

At the risk of getting philosophical, the conservation of our planet relies on us finding inner peace.

Consumerism stems from insecurities and is linked to lower life satisfaction. There are corporate forces acting to keep it this way while profiting off our fears and self-loathing as we purchase their solutions to the problems they created.

So, the battle against global corporations’ destruction of the environment can be fought on a personal level, by refusing to feed into their culture and by learning and teaching others to buy less.

9. Reuse when possible

Not everything disposable has to be thrown away.

Reusing plastic bottles as plant pots will keep them out of landfill for a long time, and buying second-hand clothes can keep those in the chain too.

But an often-overlooked action of reuse is the donation of the things you don’t want anymore. By donating your old clothes, electronics, or furniture you’re actively contributing to your local community and reducing your consumption at the same time.

Reusing something is your backup plan for when reduction isn’t enough. If we have plastic that’s already been used, it’s better to use it again than tossing it.

10. Recycle, or don’t

There are two good reasons why recycling is the third-most useful step when thinking about Reducing, Reusing, and Recycling.

First, it’s the least efficient way of tackling the plastic issue. Recycling requires time, energy, water, and creates more waste in the form of microplastics.

The second, and most important reason is that recycling plastic is so ineffective it should be considered a scam – recycling plastic was simply never intended to work.

plastic waste generation by industry

While plastic production is increasing, plastic recycling is actually dropping, and the vast majority of plastic put out for recycling ends up in the same landfill as everything else.

Recycling is not one of the viable solutions to plastic pollution, at least as it stands today. It’s simply designed as a way to make you feel better about buying more plastic.

Final thoughts

Reducing your waste plastic can be tricky, especially with so much dishonest messaging around.

The best way to start is by becoming aware of just how much plastic you use, what greenwashing tactics are being used, and learning how to avoid falling for them.

Meanwhile, reduce and reuse as much as possible!

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