Are you looking for some quick wins in your sustainable journey? I have the perfect solution! These easy plastic swaps are perfect for beginners looking to build momentum.
If you’ve read my post on low impact living, you’ll know I’m a big proponent of snowballing small habits into larger changes. While it’s tempting to toss all of your plastic in the trash and vow to never buy anything non-compostable again, you’re setting yourself up for failure.
Plastic is all around us. It’s in our toothbrushes, our coffee filters, and even our drinking water.
Banishing plastic from our lives is easier said than done. But we do have the power to dramatically cut back the quantity.
These easy plastic swaps are so simple, you’ll wonder why you didn’t make them sooner.
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Swap plastic produce bags for mesh cloth
As a kid, I was the designated “produce bagger” when grocery shopping with my mom. She’d tell me how many plastic bags to pull out of the dispenser, and I’d help her coax the stubborn things open.
Using plastic produce bags was a long-ingrained habit, and I was well into my 20s before I finally realized how unnecessary they were. For a while, I was just tossing my fruit and veg into the cart, taking care that it didn’t slip through the gaps.
And then I discovered these reusable produce bags.
They work wonderfully for holding all sorts of fruits, veggies, and greens. You can even put them straight into the fridge to keep your produce organized.
Ditch plastic water bottles for reusable ones
Did you know that Americans purchase nearly 50 billion water bottles per year? That’s nearly 13 bottles per month per person!
If you’re always drinking water on the go, it’s better (and way cheaper) to buy your own reusable water bottle.
They sell stainless steel and glass options at pretty much every major supermarket and department store. However, most of those have plastic lids.
For a truly eco friendly option, you can’t beat this stainless steel bottle from Tree Tribe. It’s BPA free, vacuum sealed, and the company plants a tree for every purchase. A win-win!
Bring a reusable mug to avoid plastic drink lids
It’s easy to “go topless” when you’re ordering a coffee to have in. But when you’re driving around with a 140°F latte in your cup holder, a plastic lid is unavoidable–unless you bring your own cup.
Most independent and chain coffee shops will happily let you BYOC. Just let them know how many ounces it holds and they’ll charge you accordingly.
Bamboo cups are all the rage, but they aren’t as sustainable as you think. They’ve also been linked to chemical leaching at high temperatures.
I prefer a glass and silicone travel cup. It’s sleek, durable, and can last you a decade or more (depending on how much coffee you consume).
Opt for aluminum cans of soda instead of plastic ones
This is a slightly controversial suggestion in the world of easy plastic swaps. That’s because the overall carbon footprint of plastic bottles vs. aluminum cans depends on where you live.
In places with good deposit schemes–states and countries that charge refundable fees on soda cans–aluminum is a far better option than plastic.
Of course, the ultimate solution is to stop drinking from single use bottles. But if you’re not ready to give up your fizzy drinks, reach for the aluminum cans.
Choose glass food and condiment bottles when you can
Like the aluminum suggestion above, the glass vs. plastic issue isn’t straightforward. All sorts of factors, including transport weight and recoverability, affect the eco-friendliness of each option.
However, introducing more single use plastic into the world is always problematic. So, it’s generally better to choose glass food and condiment bottles over plastic.
To get the biggest sustainable bang for your buck, opt for large jars that you can reuse. I store bulk items, berries, homemade dressings, and all sorts of other stuff in cleaned out containers.
Buy loose fruits and veggies instead of packaged bundles
Pro tip: those bulk packages of fruits and veggies wrapped in plastic are not a good deal. You’ll save little to no money (and sometimes spend more) vs. buying the same items loose.
And when you buy single pieces of produce, you can easily check the quality of each one. Discovering moldy potatoes hiding in the middle of the bulk bag is never fun.
Swap single use plastic straws for washable metal
Metal straws are pretty awesome. They look cool, they don’t float up out of your drink, and your cats won’t want to steal and bat them around on the floor.
That being said, this is one easy plastic swap most people don’t need to make. Unless you’re a straw addict. And if you are, make sure to get a good set of pipe cleaners to keep yours clean.
Purchase eggs in compostable cartons vs. plastic
For most of us, eggs are a staple. We pick up our usual brand without considering the packaging, even when it’s clearly not environmentally friendly.
Styrofoam egg cartons are popular in the US. But most supermarkets carry brands packaged in cardboard, which can be recycled or composted.
Save me for later!
Cut your own produce rather than buy pre-cut packages
Everyone loves a quick, no fuss dinner. It’s why the prepared food aisles are so massive and appealing!
But the convenience of pre-cut fruits and veggies comes at a cost: a mountain of single use plastic. Not to mention the health risks and outbreaks associated with prepared produce.
As someone who cooks 80% of their own meals, I promise that cutting your own produce doesn’t take long. With the help of a quality sharp knife–I love my WÜSTHOF–and some practice, you’ll be dicing your way to dinner in record time.
Fresh produce also makes for quick and tasty zero waste snacks.
Start meal prepping instead of relying on microwavable meals
Speaking of convenience food, microwavable meals have become a ubiquitous part of modern life. Short lunch breaks and overstretched schedules leave us reaching for easy, fast meals.
We say we’ll recycle the plastic trays, but let’s be honest. How many people properly rinse their microwave meal containers and put them in a recycling bin that actually gets recycled?
Breaking away from instant meals isn’t easy. But one way to start is by meal prepping lunches for the week.
Soups, stews, and hearty salads keep well in single serving mason jars. Stir frys and pastas can go in glass containers. They even make eco friendly bento boxes to store complete meals with a main course and sides!
If you’re worried about losing your Sundays to the kitchen, I have two suggestions.
First, keep your meals simple–no dishes requiring fancy techniques or tedious steps. And second, consider cooking double batches of your dinners. We regularly stretch Monday night’s dinner into Tuesday and Wednesday’s lunches.
Buy a reusable coffee filter to replace disposable versions
Did you know that some disposable coffee filters contain polypropylene to keep them from tearing?
Thankfully, it’s not hard to find reusable coffee filters that fit popular brewing machines. Most are made of stainless steel mesh and last for years if cared for properly.
Look for designs that are 100% plastic free, as some of the metal mesh filters are set in plastic frames. This mesh filter is 100% stainless steel and fits popular coffee machines like Mr. Coffee and Black & Decker.
Check out my guide on brewing zero waste coffee for more tips!
Store food in silicone baggies rather than plastic zip locks
This is one of those obvious single use plastic swaps that took me years to implement. But once I did, I couldn’t imagine ever using a zip lock baggie again.
Ditch the flimsy bags and get yourself a set of reusable silicone storage bags. They’re durable, leak-proof, and freezer safe. You can even put some brands in the dishwasher, though I prefer to hand wash mine to make them last.
Choose glass storage containers instead of plastic ones
I grew up in the Tupperware generation. Most of our leftovers were packed away in plastic tubs with coordinating lids. And you always kept extra containers on hand during the holidays so that family members could take the leftovers off your hands.
It’s funny how plastic has insinuated itself in our nostalgia. But it doesn’t have to stay in our lives.
Thankfully, glass food storage containers have become affordable and easy to find. Plus, they last much longer and won’t warp from heat and cold.
This set comes with eco friendly bamboo lids. However, even containers with plastic lids are better than the 100% plastic alternative.
You can also reheat and freeze mason jars filled with soup, smoothies, and other leftovers.
Swap plastic wrap for beeswax wrap
Speaking of leftovers, do you find yourself reaching for the plastic wrap to cover your dishes or keep prepped food fresh?
There’s an eco friendly alternative to plastic wrap, and it’s called beeswax wrap.
Made from thin cloth and a coating of beeswax, these malleable sheets are perfect for covering plates and wrapping sandwiches. They’re washable and last a long time if cared for properly.
That being said, there’s one food covering material we use far more than beeswax wrap–dinner plates. We usually pop a plate on top of our leftovers in bowls and plates if they’re going to be microwaved later.
DIY your own multi-purpose cleaners instead of buying bottles
It’s amazing what you can do–and how much plastic you can avoid–by mixing a few basic ingredients in a spray bottle!
Here are a few simple recipes for the home:
- All Purpose Cleaner: 1 part warm water, 1 part white vinegar
- Granite & Marble Countertop Cleaner: 1 cup water, 1 tablespoon liquid soap
- Toilet & Tub Cleaner: 1 cup baking soda, 3 tablespoons liquid soap (castile soap is best), 3 tablespoons vinegar (hydrogen peroxide can also work)
Zero wasters swear by pure castile soap for its versatility and long-lasting concentration. Dr. Bronner’s is the top brand, and their diluted soap can be used for everything from washing dishes to shampooing hair.
Use a menstrual cup in lieu of tampons and pads
Who doesn’t love easy plastic swaps that also save money?
Silicone menstrual cups like the Saalt Cup replace tampons and pads, which are made with–and wrapped in–plastic. Depending on which cup you buy, it could last up to 10 years and replace several thousand tampons. In America, that’s a savings of nearly $1,000!
Opt for compostable cotton swabs vs. plastic ones
Whether you use cotton swabs to remove makeup or (gasp) clean your ears, there’s no reason to involve plastic. In fact, the UK recently announced that it’s banning plastic cotton buds, along with drink stirrers and straws.
Ditch plastic toothbrushes for bamboo
Here’s a sobering fact: every plastic toothbrush you’ve ever used is still sitting in a landfill somewhere. And it will take 400 years before it’s fully decomposed.
So next time the dentist hands you that free toothbrush after your cleaning, say “no thanks”. And get yourself a biodegradable bamboo toothbrush.
Depending on the soil conditions, a bamboo toothbrush handle buried in the ground will biodegrade in about 3 years. That’s 99% faster than the plastic alternative!
Buy hand soap bars instead of plastic pump bottles
Refillable soap bottles are good. But soap bars are even better, assuming they aren’t wrapped in plastic packaging.
Whole Foods sells paper-wrapped soap bars, and you can find unpackaged bars at many independently owned health and beauty stores.
Swap shampoo bottles for bars
Did you know they make shampoo bars? I first heard of them when LUSH took the world by storm.
Essentially, shampoo bars are a concentrated form of hair cleanser. When they come into contact with water, the ingredients are activated and form a lather that you use to clean your hair (much like liquid shampoo but less foamy).
While shampoo bars aren’t right for every hair and scalp type and have a multi-week adjustment period, they can replace dozens of plastic bottles.
Check out my recommended zero waste shampoo brands for more info!
Use silk floss or a water flosser in lieu of plastic floss
Flossing is a critical part of self-care. But it doesn’t need to involve yards of plastic ribbon.
Silk floss is a biodegradable alternative. However, depending on the spacing of your teeth, it may break easily.
A water flosser (also known as a waterpik) is another option. It uses strong jets of water to clean the spaces between your teeth. While the equipment is made of plastic, it should last you years.
Sign up for paperless billing vs. traditional mail
Until they get rid of those silly plastic windows in envelopes, mail will never be completely recyclable. If you’re still getting physical bills, see if the company offers a paperless option. It will save on trees and plastic production.
These easy plastic swaps are just the beginning. For even more sustainable living tips, join my newsletter below.