If you shop for groceries the way our society assumes you will, you’re guaranteed to come home with loads of plastic. This entire model is based on the notion that people walk into a store empty-handed, assuming they’ll be provided with all of the necessary packaging to transport food home, but this is crazy! If you can change that mindset and view shopping as an assignment that requires key tools, as well as sufficient time to do it right, then you can drastically reduce the amount of waste you bring home
Bring Your Own Bag and Buy in Bulk
These ‘tools’ include reusable bags, containers, and boxes for carrying everything.
Opt for a Produce Subscription Box
Sign up for a food box or CSA program to get plastic-free vegetables. Try to avoid veggies and fruit that are pre-packaged in plastic; sadly, this can mean paying a bit more for loose produce, rather than the cheaper bulk packs.
Refill Your Milk Jars
If you eat dairy, it’s becoming easier to source milk in reusable glass jars; you pay a deposit for the jar and then return it to the retailer.
Buy Your Bread From Bakeries
Get ‘naked’ loaves of bread at a local bakery.
And Your Meat From Butchers
If you eat meat, this is very easy to buy plastic-free. Local butchers are accommodating of reusable containers, and it’s a much simpler, less messy process that allows you to put meat directly into the freezer or fridge as soon as you get home. You could also buy a partial whole animal for the freezer that comes wrapped in paper; actual butcher paper has no lining, but freezer paper does have a thin poly lining to provide a moisture barrier.
There are still many things that I haven’t addressed here, like condiments, oils, freezer foods, cheese, and snack foods, but I see those as less important in the overall fight against plastic food packaging. It’s best to focus first on the main dietary staples.
The next biggest source of plastic waste comes from the bathroom. Personal hygiene habits can be hard to break, but they bring significant health advantages. Many products commonly found in bathrooms contain unsafe chemicals linked to cancer, hormone disruption, and respiratory issues. You’re better off without them.
Buy Bar Soap
You can buy great solid shampoo-conditioner bars from Lush Cosmetics. Buy a metal tin for storage. The Soap Works also sells solid shampoo-conditioning bars, and Dr. Bronner’s paper-wrapped Castile Soap can be used as a shampoo, as long as it’s paired with a conditioning rinse afterward. If you want to continue using regular shampoo, check out Plaine Products, a new company that sells divine-scented shampoo in refillable metal containers. Consider switching to baking soda and apple cider vinegar, a method that I used for several years with great success.
The interesting thing about moisturizers, though, is that the fewer products you use on your skin in general — like makeup and detergent-containing facial washes — the less you’ll need to moisturize.
Dental care, cosmetics, shaving tools, toilet paper packaging, etc. are all other things that can be tackled in an attempt to reduce plastic in the bathroom, but these are less important in my view than the items listed above.
Food on the Go
How many times have you found yourself far from home and ravenously hungry? Those are the moments when one’s commitment to plastic avoidance tends to fall apart. It’s almost impossible to find packaged food on the go that does not come in plastic.
Pack Your Own Food
There are a few solutions to this problem. The first is to pack all the food you’ll need when you leave the house. Whether it’s your daily commute to work or a multi-hour road trip, make sure you’ve got all the snacks and drinks you’ll need along the way.
Invest in high-quality reusable containers made of metal or glass and washable cloth bags. Having these on hand will eliminate the urge to use disposable sandwich bags, plastic wrap, and plastic containers that age poorly and leach toxic chemicals into the food. Get a good water bottle for every member of the family. Purchase a set of versatile beeswax wrap as a substitute for plastic wrap.
Keep a Kit in Your Car
If you have difficulty packing food in advance, keep a zero-waste food kit in your car at all times. This means that, no matter where you are, you’ve always got a container, a reusable straw, a coffee cup, a water bottle, a napkin, and whatever else you may need. Here are some thoughts on how to put one together.
Dine in Instead of Taking Out
Finally, if you’re hungry and find yourself without reusable cups or dishes, take some time out of your day to sit down. Ask for your coffee in a ceramic mug and spend 10 minutes at a table in a cafe, enjoying it. Eat your lunch in a restaurant to avoid the plastic takeout container and disposable cutlery. Make sure you ask for no straw in your drink.
Establish these new habits, then it will be easier to tackle the next level of changes.