40 swaps that will reduce your plastic waste

Let me start by saying this: I am not perfect at this. Last year I embarked on a journey to reduce plastic waste in my life. At first I attempted to completely eliminate plastic by living a plastic-free lifestyle. While it was liberating to feel free of my cumulative waste, I found the challenge of it to be overwhelming. So I took some time to re-evaluate my plastic-free journey, and to reflect on the plastic waste I could actually control. 

While it’s sad to say that I’m not 100 percent plastic-free, I can confidently tell you that there are A LOT of ways I have been able to minimize the overall waste in my life. I made some easy swaps in my life that have felt perfectly natural to do in my every day life.

Living with someone else? Don’t forget to compromise.

Over the past year, I’ve watched my husband conform to the changes that I’ve made around our home. He’ll compost food scraps, use reusable bags or containers, and will do what you can to choose the non-plastic option. He’ll even make sure to buy me flowers that are wrapped in paper!

However, there have been a few compromises that we’ve had to make. There are a few swaps that he just isn’t comfortable with. So in the spirit of marriage and, well, getting along, I decided to compromise on a few of these swaps. But that doesn’t mean I do my best to pick the most ethical practices for that item as possible!

First rule of thumb, USE WHAT YOU HAVE.

Remember the three words that we all know so well? Reduce, REUSE, and recycle!

There is absolutely no point in throwing out items you already have. Use everything up! Do not let any of those products go to waste. It took me over a year to make all of these swaps, simply because I was waiting for my products to finally run out. Reducing your waste will take TIME. Be patient with it.

Also, don’t bother buying something if you already have it. Have a coffee keep cup already? Use it! Lunch containers? Use them! Reusable grocery bags? Those, too! 

People get caught up in trying to “look” like a zero-waster, but it tends to be incredibly wasteful at the beginning. Truly evaluate what you already have before buying more stuff. There’s no reason to throw anything out if it’s in usable condition still.

Nevertheless, when something truly has run its course, make the swap. Here are some of the items that I’ve swapped out over the past year.

Ways that I swap out plastic

  • Coffee cups —> Keep cups
  • Plastic bottles —> Reusable bottle
  • Plastic cutlery —> Bamboo cutlery set
  • Plastic straws —> Stainless steel or glass straws
  • Plastic bags —> Reusable bags
  • Paper napkins/tissues —> Handkerchiefs
  • Single-use dishes —> REAL dishes
  • Polyester (fast-fashion) clothing —> Thrifted fashion, usually 100% cotton
  • Plastic toothbrush —> Bamboo toothbrush
  • Plastic razor —> Stainless steel razor with blade sets
  • Tampons & pads —> Period cup
  • Plastic floss —> Silk floss
  • Makeup in plastic —> Makeup in aluminum
  • Bottled soaps —> Soap bars
  • Plastic snack bags —> Reusable snack bags
  • Cleaning supplies in plastic —> DIY all-purpose cleaner in glass spray bottle
  • Plastic containers —> Glass jars or containers
  • Ordering takeout —> Dining at the restaurant
  • Plastic produce bags —> Mesh produce bags
  • Produce in plastic —> Loose produce
  • Loofa —> 100% cotton wash cloths
  • Makeup remover pads —> Reusable pads
  • Plastic wrap —> Beeswax wrap
  • Parchment paper —> Compostable parchment paper
  • Plastic freezer bags —> Freezable containers
  • Muffin wrappers —> Silicone muffin holders
  • Bread wrapped in plastic —> Fresh bread in a bread bag or bin
  • K-cups —> Reusable k-cup
  • Tea bags —> Loose tea steeper
  • Gift wrap —> Newspaper, brown paper, wrapped up scarves
  • Dryer sheets —> Wool dryer balls
  • Wipes —> Wash cloths
  • Plastic hair brush —> Bamboo hairbrush
  • Alcohol in plastic —> Alcohol in glass
  • Seltzer in plastic —> Seltzer in aluminum cans
  • Ice cream in a cup —> Ice cream on a cone

More ways to swap out plastic

Again, these items below are not items that I swap out. These are the compromises I’ve made with my partner in order to ensure a comfortable environment for the both of us.

  • Dish wand —> Bamboo dish brush
  • Toothpaste —> Tooth powder
  • Deodorant in plastic —> Deodorant cream (or baking soda)
  • Paper towels —> 100% cotton towels

Buy it in bulk

Now some zero wasters out there are really good at swapping out all of their goods. But what about paper towels, toilet paper, or even soap? Instead of stressing on how to get these items, or even attempting to make them myself, I buy them in bulk. It’s cheaper overall and will use less plastic in the long-run. 

This also applies to food! You can either bring some cotton produce bags to fill up yourself at the store (Whole Foods has a great bulk section), or you can try to find items in bulk already. Remember, stores usually are filling up those bulk bins with large bags weighing around 50 pounds or more, typically wrapped in plastic. You would be doing the same thing by buying bulk items. You could even share those bulk items with a neighbor or friend! 

Here are some of the items I still buy in plastic, but buy in bulk.

  • Paper towels
  • Laundry detergent
  • Dish soap (we refill our wand)
  • Hand soap (we refill our dispensers)

What about TOILET PAPER?

This is probably the most common question I get from people embarking on their plastic-free journey. Remember, toilet paper dissolves. It is not actually wasteful to throw toilet paper down the toilet. However, it does use a lot of trees to make toilet paper. Plus, toilet paper usually comes in plastic packaging.

In order to avoid the plastic, I did a huge order from Who Gives a Crap. Their toilet paper is made from 100% recycled paper, while 50 percent of the proceeds goes towards building toilets! All of their toilet paper comes wrapped in paper, which is easily recyclable. Their toilet paper rolls can be recycled with the paper, or even thrown into the compost bin.

Also, don’t use wipes! Those things don’t dissolve, and usually sewage workers have to peel them out one by one from the sewer system. Save them the messy work and just don’t buy them. If you need a really good wipe, use a washcloth. 

Try composting

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states that 22 percent of municipal waste going to landfill consists of food scraps. Food scraps that can easily be composted!

By composting in our home, we were able to reduce our overall waste by a significant amount. Instead of throwing out our trash once a week, we now throw out our trash every six or seven weeks. Sometimes even two months!

Without food scraps in our trash, it never smells. Food scraps smell when they are mixed with non-biodegradable products. But to be safe, we leave our compost in the freezer during the week.

Composting can seem really intimidating at first, but it’s a lot easier than you think. Especially if you live in an urban area that offers compost drop off locations for the community. Here’s how we compost at home.

Company missions I support

Most of the time I like to DIY my plastic-free lifestyle. However, there are a few companies I turn to for products that I don’t have the energy or finances to DIY. Sure, I could make my own makeup and beauty products, but I would prefer to support businesses that will help make this whole process easier for me.

  • Lush: Lush has an amazing waste mission that I admire. I can go buy shampoo, conditioner, body, and face soap bars without any packaging. I purchased a few stainless steel containers from Lush during my first purchase, which they happily refill each time I go. They also have other lotions and face masks that come in eco-friendly packaging. Not only is it reusable plastic, but at Lush you can return the black containers for them to properly recycle and reuse for their future products. No recycling needed by you!
  • Ilia: I slowly switched my makeup products to Ilia last spring, and I’m in love. Their beauty products are cruelty free, vegan, and don’t make my skin burn like other products! A majority of their products come in aluminum packaging, which can be cleaned and properly recycled.
  • Credo Beauty: I snag my makeup at Credo Beauty because they will actually recycle my containers. They use Terracycle, which is a company known for collecting empty product packages and properly recycling them. I can hand them my empty containers and they’ll properly recycle.
  • Package Free Shop: This small business in Brooklyn was my first stop when trying to go plastic-free. They have all of the essentials right in one place, which is where I was able to pick up a majority of my reusable items! Straws, cutlery, bags, razors, hairbrush — you name it, they probably have it.

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