Eliminate Single-Use Plastics in Your Home With These Simple Tips

By Jake SchroederLast Updated Apr 16, 2021 4:29:18 PM ET
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Photo Courtesy: Brian Yurasits/Unsplash

Plastic waste is a worldwide epidemic. Globally, less than one-fifth of plastic is recycled, and in the United States, it’s even worse. Only nine percent of the plastic people use gets recycled; the rest ends up in landfills and oceans, where it takes years to break down.

One of the biggest contributors to the plastic problem is single-use plastics: items that you use once and throw away, like water bottles and beauty products. To lower your plastic consumption and decrease your environmental impact, follow these tips.

Drink From the Tap and Buy a Reusable Water Bottle

A million plastic water bottles are purchased every minute around the world. Even so, only 30 percent of the ones used in the United States get recycled. At the same time, the majority of water bottle usage happens in the home.

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Photo Courtesy: Evita Ochel/Pixabay

The best way to limit single-use plastics is by cutting out plastic water bottles. Unless the water in your home is severely contaminated, you can drink tap water from a reusable water bottle. If you dislike the taste of tap water, purchase a water filter, which will make it safer to consume and tastier, too.

Buy Everything in Bulk

When you start looking around your home for single-use plastics, you may be surprised to see just how many there are — especially in your kitchen cabinets. Packaging containers make up 23 percent of the materials found in landfills and much of the plastic in your home, too.

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Photo Courtesy: PublicDomainPictures/Pixabay

Limit the packaging you use by buying foods, cleaning products and beauty products in bulk. One larger container uses less packaging than multiple smaller containers. Some grocery stores also have bulk sections where you can refill your own containers with beans, grains, spices and more and pay by weight.

Bring Your Own Bag

Nearly 20 percent of global plastic waste consists of plastic shopping bags. While many cities and stores have begun to ban these single-use bags, they are still a scourge on the environment. Because of that, you should consider replacing your plastic shopping bags with reusable canvas ones. While such bags do need to be reused frequently to have a lower carbon footprint, keeping a few in your car or your purse can help you remember them when you’re out.

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But what can you do with the bags that are taking up space under your kitchen sink? Some grocery stores have a bin where you can bring your bags to be recycled. You can also reuse them for future shopping trips.

Clean Up Your Coffee Shop Act

Whether you’re running late for work or just can’t get enough orange mocha frappuccinos, your local coffee shop can feel like a godsend. That is, until you consider just how much waste you produce during every trip. Cups, lids, straws, stirrers and coffee cup sleeves all wind up in the trash after every visit.

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While it’s better to make your coffee at home, you don’t have to give up your coffee shop trips entirely. Bring your own thermos or tumbler and ask the coffee shop to put your drink in it. Skip the extras, and if you use them, recycle.

Don’t Buy Foods in Plastic Packages

Have you ever walked around your grocery store’s produce section and noticed just how many fruits and veggies are unnecessarily wrapped in plastic? Most produce comes in its own natural packaging, so encasing it in plastic wrap is entirely needless.

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Photo Courtesy: stevepb/Pixabay

Though they may look nice, you should skip these products entirely. Purchasing unpackaged items helps to limit plastic use and often save a few bucks, too. For pantry goods, look for products that use the least plastic packaging. Opt for condiments in glass bottles instead of squeeze jars, and choose snacks in cardboard boxes.

Bring Your Own Toiletries When Traveling

Are you planning to go on a vacation any time soon? Many hotels provide miniature containers of shampoo, body wash and lotion for their guests. While this service may seem convenient, it’s also a terrible waste. Most of the time, people use complimentary toiletries once and throw out the rest.

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When traveling, always bring your own toiletries so you can reduce the amount of plastic you use. If you forgot your shampoo at home, be sure to use up their product entirely. Then, you can refill it at home and bring it on your next trip.

Swap Out Disposable Diapers for Cloth Ones

Any new parent can tell you just how many diapers they go through in a month. Diapers are essential, and the disposable ones can make your life a whole lot easier. But, they also create a ton of waste.

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Experts estimate that nearly 27.4 billion disposable diapers are thrown out in the United States every year. And these dirty diapers are not going anywhere soon; it takes around 450 years for used diapers to decompose. Consider switching from disposable diapers to reusable, cloth ones to lower your environmental impact.

Say No to Beauty Products in Plastic Containers

After the kitchen, the bathroom is the second-largest source of single-use plastics in the home. Most makeup, hair, and other beauty products come in plastic containers that you use once and then get rid of. Next time you’re out shopping, try to find products that are not in plastic packaging.

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Instead of using body wash and liquid hand soap, switch to bar soap for showering and hand washing. Bar soaps usually come in cardboard boxes, which you can easily recycle. For other skincare, haircare and beauty products, find products that are available in glass or metal containers.

Use Eco-Friendly Food Storage Options

So many traditional food storage options are made of plastic: cling wrap, plastic baggies and even plastic food storage containers end up at the dump eventually. Swap out your plastic storage options for ones that won’t pollute the oceans.

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Instead of using plastic sandwich bags, pick up some reusable silicone pouches. They come in a variety of sizes and are safe to put in the freezer, microwave or oven. Switch out your plastic containers for glass ones that will last longer and are easier to recycle. And lastly, swap your plastic wrap for natural, reusable beeswax wrap.

Use Candles Instead of Aerosol Sprays

Who doesn’t want their home to smell nice? However, using aerosol air fresheners and plug-in fresheners in plastic holders only increases your use of plastics in the home. Luckily, there are plenty of alternatives that leave your home smelling fresh and better than ever.

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Look for candles made of soy or beeswax and burn them when your house needs a refresh. You can also burn incense or essential oils. Use a diffuser or make your own air freshener with water and a few drops of your favorite oil.

Use a Glass Screen Protector on Your Phone

After spending hundreds of dollars on a new smartphone, it's only natural to want to protect it and keep it in the best condition possible. A lot of the screen protectors on the market, however, are made of plastic. Though it might not seem like a big deal, replacements can start to pile up.

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Purchase glass screen protectors for all of your devices instead. These are not only better for the environment, but they also offer better security for your phone. Take it one step further and ditch your plastic phone case. Use a wood, bamboo, or compostable one instead.

Eat More Whole Foods

Most of the processed foods at the supermarket are also the ones that use the most packaging. You can all but eliminate your single-use plastic by switching to a diet composed mainly of whole foods. The landfill and your waistline will appreciate it.

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A lot of the whole foods at the grocery store come unpackaged. So, instead of buying fruit cups in small plastic containers, you can instead buy loose fruit from the produce section. You are getting the same product (if not a better one) without all of the extra plastic.

Watch Out for Microfibers

At this point, it feels like there is plastic in everything, even the clothing that you wear. And there is. Synthetic materials like nylon, polyester and acrylics shed plastic microfibers every time you wash them.

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These microplastics make their way from your washing machine into rivers and oceans where they wreak havoc on the local wildlife. 64,000 pounds of microfibers enter the ocean each year from the United States alone. When shopping for new clothes, select items made of natural fabrics like cotton and linen. You can also purchase a washing bag that is made to trap microfibers.

Stop Shaving

Okay, you don’t have to stop with the body hair removal altogether, but you should be smarter about it. According to the EPA, an estimated two billion razor blades are thrown out every year. And these blades aren’t recyclable, either.

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So what’s a person to do? Consider waxing instead! Though it may be a little painful at first, it’s much more eco-friendly and the effects last much longer — around four to six weeks. Is waxing not for you? Consider buying a reusable safety razor, electric shaver or a straight razor.

Reuse Your Old Plastics

You know the old slogan: reduce, reuse, recycle. While most of us put the emphasis on recycling, it’s key to first reduce consumption and reuse materials first. And since your home is already full of single-use plastics, it’s time to get creative with them.

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Plastic cups and yogurt tubs can be repurposed as planters. You can weave plastic bags into baskets or placemats. Plastic bread bags and newspaper bags can be reused to clean up after your dog. There are so many different things you can do with the plastics in your home!

Ditch the Plastic Straws

Scientists estimate that there are nearly 7.5 million plastic straws along US shorelines, and even more wash up on shore globally. Though straws only make up a small portion of the total plastic in our oceans, many restaurants, stores and cities have committed to eliminating plastic straws.

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Photo Courtesy: Kapa65/Pixabay

You can do your part to cut down the number of plastic straws that end up in the oceans, too. When you’re out at a restaurant or bar, don’t use the straw that they give to you. Alternatively, you can buy a reusable metal or bamboo straw to use instead. Unless you have a medical condition that requires plastic straw usage, it’s best to do without.

Skip the Produce Bags

As mentioned previously, buying unpackaged produce and eating more whole foods in general is a fantastic way to eliminate plastic use in the home. But there’s still one more step: getting rid of plastic produce bags. There’s no reason why all of your fruits and veggies need to be separated from each other.

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Next time you do your grocery shopping, go bagless! You’re gonna wash your produce at home anyway. If you’re not quite ready to give up your produce bags just yet, you can invest in some reusable ones.

Revamp Your Morning Caffeine Routine

Yes, it’s more environmentally-friendly to make your own coffee or tea than it is to buy it at a coffee shop. However, there’s even more you can do to trim your plastic waste. If you’re a tea drinker, purchase loose-leaf tea instead of tea bags, which are often sealed with plastic. Otherwise, use a plastic-free brand.

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Coffee drinkers should swear off single-cup pod coffee makers entirely, as the pods create far more waste than any other type of coffee maker. Use a drip coffee maker or french press instead. And as always, purchase your tea or coffee beans in bulk.

Say Goodbye to Spandex

Sadly, spandex is a type of plastic. And though your trendy work-out shorts will (hopefully) get used more than once, they do wear out eventually, and in most cases, they wind up in a landfill. Not only that, but they also shed microfibers when washed that end up in our oceans and rivers.

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If you’re trying to reduce your plastic use, it’s best to get rid of them altogether. Trade-in your spandex clothing for some that are made of natural fabrics. Look for sweatpants that are made out of cotton or hemp.

Shop Locally

Skip the grocery store entirely and buy your food from local retailers. Head to the farmers’ market for fresh fruits, vegetables and eggs. Get your meat from a local butcher and your bread from a neighborhood bakery. Typically, these businesses use less packaging than big grocery store chains do.

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If you want to get really local, you can try your hand at growing your own food. That way, there’s no packaging involved at all! Many herbs and salad vegetables are easy to grow in your garden or on a windowsill if you’re short on space.

Make Your Period Eco-Friendly

On average, Americans use around seven billion plastic tampon applicators every year. Unfortunately, many of them wind up polluting the ocean. While there’s not much you can do about your period, you can try to prioritize sustainability when your time of the month rolls around.

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Switch out your regular tampons with ones that do not come with applicators. You can also purchase a reusable applicator to make them easier to use. Alternatively, you can say goodbye to tampons and pads entirely and make the change to a reusable silicone menstrual cup.

Drink From Cans Whenever Possible

Of course, it’s always better to drink from a reusable cup or water bottle. Sometimes, however, you can’t avoid disposable containers. When that time arrives, always choose canned beverages over ones in plastic bottles.

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Americans use more than 2.5 million plastic bottles every hour, and the vast majority of them are not recycled. Aluminum cans, on the other hand, are often made from recycled materials, which makes them greener than plastic ones. If you do drink from a can, make sure to recycle it when you’re finished.

Cut Out Take-Out

We know: cutting out take-out seems nearly impossible, even if it’s to help the environment. But all of that delicious food is often served with a huge helping of single-use plastic. If you’re really committed to lowering your environmental impact, then the takeout has got to go.

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It is much more cost-effective and environmentally beneficial to cook dinner at home. If you want to treat yourself, eat out at a restaurant where you can still avoid using disposable containers and plastic cutlery. For those nights when you really can’t resist, order from restaurants that use recyclable packaging.

Watch Out for Microbeads

Some skin products and other cosmetics contain microbeads. These are tiny plastic beads that are often used as an exfoliating agent in beauty products, and though they may be small, they can still cause huge environmental problems when they travel down the drain and into rivers.

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Many countries have already banned microbeads in beauty products, and most large companies have begun to phase them out. However, it’s still important to be on the lookout for them. Check the ingredients of your beauty products to ensure they do not contain polyethylene or polypropylene.

Use Homemade Household Cleaners

The majority of household cleaning products are sold in single-use plastic containers. No, you can’t use eliminating plastic waste as an excuse to stop cleaning your house. But you can use it as an opportunity to create your own natural cleaners.

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Thankfully, it’s remarkably easy to make an effective household cleaner using ingredients that you probably already have in your home. Create an easy all-purpose cleaner using white vinegar, water, and a little bit of lemon juice. To make a deodorizer, simply mix four tablespoons of baking soda with a quart of water.

Be Careful When Purchasing Pet Toys

Before ordering a new toy for your pet, you should identify the materials it is made out of. Some plastics can contain BPAs, phthalates and other chemicals that can be dangerous to both your children and pets.

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Photo Courtesy: TheDigitalWay/Pixabay

However, this doesn’t mean you can’t buy your pet toys in the future. Rather than buying plastic toys, you should purchase rope- and cloth-based products. That way, you don’t have to worry about the potential side effects of chemical ingredients in plastic, and your pet can enjoy a toy that will last much longer.

Use Bamboo or Porcelain Plates

Paper and plastic plates might seem like an ideal product to use to avoid a long cleanup after eating, but there are better alternatives that are low-cost and have minimal impact on the environment. Tossing out paper and plastic plates might not seem like a big deal to you, but they drastically affect the planet.

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You should consider swapping out your paper and plastic plates for their bamboo and porcelain counterparts. Although they might cost more than your regular dinnerware, you can easily clean porcelain plates in the dishwasher, and they’re known to last much longer than plastic.

Refuse Plastic Utensils at Restaurants

If you want to give your stove a break and go out to eat at a restaurant, you might end up with several pairs of plastic utensils after your meal. Once you’re home, you’ll likely stash these in your house until you have an overflowing drawer of plasticware and ultimately toss them out to avoid the clutter.

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Rather than contributing to a local landfill, you should refuse plastic utensils at restaurants and always recycle any you receive in your take-home bag. Fortunately, takeout apps like Postmates make plasticware refusal even easier, since you can request that they not be included when placing your order.

Avoid Eating Frozen Dinners

Not everyone has the time to cook delicious homemade meals every day. That makes frozen food the next best thing — until it isn't. These dinners might be cheap and easy to make, but their impact on your wallet and the environment might make you reconsider the purchase.

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Frozen dinners are often wrapped in excessive plastic packaging, which only increases the amount of waste that’s being delivered to landfills around the world. Although it might not be as convenient as a frozen meal, preparing food before you leave for work can also help you save hundreds of dollars a year.

Switch From Plastic to Ceramic Pet Food Bowls

Plastic pet food bowls can save you a lot of time and effort if you have busy mornings and evenings, since you can toss out the bowl as soon as your pet is done eating. However, these plastic bowls can end up costing you a lot of money in the long-run and aren’t exactly environmentally responsible.

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Instead, you should consider switching to ceramic pet food bowls. This budget- and eco-friendly food bowl alternative can help prevent your dog from spilling food all over the floor, and they come in a variety of different designs and styles.