We didn’t think we used all that much plastic... But once we started learning more about all the sneaky ways it is in our lives we were shocked by how much plastic we actually use without noticing.
But what about recycling?
We always thought that since we recycle, we aren’t part of the problem. Right?!
But here's a sad truth: Even when you toss something in the recycling, it often doesn't end up being reused.
For years, many Western countries have been sending their recyclables to China to be processed. China has stopped accepting these shipments, and therefore, many recyclables are ending up in landfills... or even worse, the ocean or other waterways.
Why should I use less plastic?
I could shock you with all sorts of statistics, like the fact that reports say our oceans will be made up of more plastic than fish by 2050. Or how the infamous "trash island" in the Pacific is growing.
But in the end, it boils down to this: Our society uses way too much plastic.
Recycling should not be our first solution: Reducing our use of plastic should.
The "4-R" Rule
Here's a fun little "rule" to remember: Reduce, Refuse, Reuse then Recycle.
Reduce: First and foremost, REDUCE your use of plastics. Find alternatives. Lucky for you, this article is packed with simple and practical ways you can cut out plastic in your life.
Refuse: When single-use plastics are offered to you, politely REFUSE them. It has become habit to accept that bottle of water, even when we have our own refillable one, or to take the straw that is handed to us along with our smoothie. Just say no.
Reuse: When you do end up with a plastic item (it happens to all of us), REUSE it as many times as you can. Give it more than one life.
Recycle: As a last resort, RECYCLE the plastic items you have once they can't be used anymore.
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How to use less single-use plastic
We are not perfect, and we are still learning about ways to eliminate plastic from our lives. We have spent many years blindly purchasing products with unnecessary plastics, and we continue to make mistakes.
We aren't here to judge or to preach, but simply to show you some practical ways you can live with less plastic. We even have an article full of eco-friendly travel products.
Here are some simple and actionable tips to help reduce the plastic in your life, whether you're traveling or you're at home.
Bonus: Many of these tips can save you money too!
1. Stop buying plastic bottles of water
Invest in a sturdy water bottle that you'll be able to use for years to come. We love our Hydro Flask water bottles because they come with a lifetime warantee and they keep our water icy cold.
Stop buying bottles of water, and unless it’s necessary, politely decline them when they are given to you.
Instead, fill up at the tap. If you’re privileged to live in a place where the water is drinkable, great. If not, invest in a filter system.
If you're traveling in a place where the water isn't potable, consider packing a Steripen to make the water safe to drink.
2. Consider buying solid toiletries
We’ve gone to solid shampoo, conditioner, lotion, body wash, face wash, perfume, and eye makeup remover, to name a few. These items usually come without any packaging, or they come in refillable glass containers. (Let us know if you want any specific recommendations — we’re happy to share our favorites!)
We certainly still have toiletry items in plastic containers, but we're trying to phase some of them out little by little. Plastic-free containers for sunscreen and toothpaste are what we have our sights set next! (Any recommendations?)
You could also try to DIY toiletry items so you don't have to purchase new containers each time you run out. And bonus points because doin' it yourself usually saves you money!
3. Try plastic free deodorant
That’s right, you can buy it in a glass jar, or you can make your own. Plus, it’s natural and free of any harmful chemicals. I’ve had great luck with Piper Wai, but I want to try making my own soon. Recipes welcome :)
4. Travel with backup
Responsible travel is super important to us, and we have made it our mission to create as little waste as we can even when we're far from home.
We've found that when traveling, it is so much easier to say no to plastic items like straws, bags and cups when we are prepared.
Check out our eco-friendly packing list so you can be more prepared on your next trip and save lots of plastic.
5. Bring reusable bags to the store
Everyone know this by now, but one of the top reasons people don't use their bags (us included) is they forget to bring them. Stash them in your car or your purse or your pockets so you don’t forget.
When they pack up this small, you can have them everywhere.
(Psst! When you use our code TWOWANDERINGSOLES15 you'll get 15% off Tree Tribe).
6. Don’t use produce bags at the grocery store
All those veggies and fruit have already been touched by many hands… Gross, I know, but a plastic bag isn’t going to help protect them much. Just sayin'! Ditch those pesky (and unnecessary!) bags and just be sure to wash your produce extra well!
Alternative Tip: If you just can't bring yourself to not put produce in a bag (or you want to buy a bunch of potatoes and don't want them rolling all over your shopping cart!), try a reusable cloth bag or at least reuse the plastic kind until they can't be used anymore.
And while we're on this topic, avoid buying the veggies on Styrofoam trays wrapped in plastic when possible. So much unnecessary waste!
7. Say no to disposable straws
Bring your own take away containers, cups and utensils with you so when you get coffee or food to-go, you won’t waste any packaging. Likely, the restaurant will thank you for saving them the cost of to-go containers.
And just like with reusable bags, store a set of to-go containers in your car so they're handy when you need them.
9. Try a bamboo toothbrush instead of plastic
Did you know plastic toothbrushes are a very common piece of trash to find in the ocean? Yeah, I know... we've been using them for years, so we're no saints.
But we recently made the switch to bamboo toothbrushes and we're happy with this much more environmentally friendly alternative.
Alternative Tip: If you love your plastic toothbrush and can't give it up, repurpose used ones by using them to clean around your house. This will extend its life!
10. DIY cleaning products
Cleaning products can be super simple to make yourself with common items like vinegar and essential oils. Do a little research and experimenting, and you'll find a solution that works for you. Making your own cleaning products means buying less plastic, plus, you'll eliminate harmful chemicals from your home.
11. Buy in bulk when possible
There are many package-free stores popping up in cities all over the world where you can buy things like pasta, quinoa, nuts, dried fruit, spices and lots more without the packaging.
Just bring a mason jar (or something similar) and fill ‘er up. And if there isn’t a package-free store near you, try lobbying for it. You never know what kind of changes you can see when you ask for them!
12. Use less plastic wrap
Using less plastic wrap is a super simple way to cut down your plastic usage (this goes for plastic zip baggies too).
While plastic wrap works well to store your leftovers, it's kind of a waste since you can’t reuse it easily. Instead, use glass or stainless steel containers, silicone lids, or try eco-friendly beeswax wrap.
DIY Tip: You can even make your own by following this DIY Beeswax Wrap project.
The next time you stay at a hotel and you see those mini toiletries, avoid the urge to stash them in your purse. I used to look at them and think, "Oh they're so cute!" but now I look at them and think, "What a waste of plastic!".
And if you do need to use them (we've all forgotten our shampoo), refill them over and over again so you can use them on future travels.
Bonus: When you stay in hotels with the big refillable containers, let them know you appreciate their efforts to reduce plastic waste!
14. Avoid products with "micro beads"
One of my favorite face washes in the past was from Neutrogena, and it was packed with these little "micro beads". I loved how they felt when I washed my face, and I bought that product over and over again. But you guessed it... those little beads are made from tiny pieces of plastic.
Micro beads get washed into the drain and are too small to be filtered out. They enter our waterways and wind up in lakes and streams and in the tummies of unsuspecting fish.
The great thing, is you can still get exfoliation without the plastic micro-beads. Try a natural option, like St. Ives Apricot Scrub. This is another old favorite, but since it comes in a plastic container, I would suggest making your own instead. Here are a few recipes I'm excited to try.
And when it comes to making body scrubs, a simple combination of coconut oil, essential oils and a natural exfoliant like coffee grounds, coarse salt or cane sugar does the trick quite well.
On a Positive Note: We are happy to see that the UK has taken steps to eliminate all products with micro beads. Hopefully some other countries will follow their lead.
15. Wash your synthetic fabrics in a special bag
Did you know synthetic clothing or fabrics breaks down each time you wash it and small pieces of plastic make it to our waterways. Pieces of micro-plastics have been found in even the most remote parts of the oceans. Fish consume them, and we consume the fish. So, essentially we're consuming tiny bits of plastic. Yum.
We all have clothing made from synthetic fabrics (polyester, acrylic, nylon, rayon, spandex, etc.). This covers most athletic clothes.
One option for reducing your impact on the environment is to stop purchasing these types of fabrics, but truthfully, athletic ware made from natural materials just aren't the same quality.
Stop those micro-plastics from reaching the waterways by washing all synthetic fabrics in a specialized bag (GuppyFriend) made to trap them. What a simple solution!
16. Swap out tampons for this waste-saving item
If you haven't tried a menstrual cup, now's the time to get on board! I don't know why I avoided it for so long, because it is seriously game-changing.
Not only will you never need to buy tampons again (which will save you SO MUCH money and all those plastic applicators) but you can leave it in much longer than a tampon, which is so convenient, especially when traveling.
Alternative Tip: If you just can't get on board with this idea, try swapping traditional tampons for one that doesn't have an applicator, like the OB brand.
17. Take a close look at your cotton swabs
Is the stick between the two cotton bits made of plastic? If so, here's a super simple swap: Just buy the kind with a paper stick next time!
18. Share your opinions
When a company or a small business is taking steps to reduce their plastic usage (or otherwise reduce their impact on the environment), commend them for it. Support them by buying their products, email them, tell your friends about them.
On the other hand, if a company has a product you love that comes wrapped in unnecessary plastic, contact them to see if there's a way to reduce this. (Tip: Being polite in situations like this goes a long way!)
As consumers, we have a lot of power, and over time, companies will hear our collective voice.
Our advice for giving up plastic
We hope you're able to find a few tips in this article that seem easy to add to your life. Instead of trying them all at once, take it one step at a time. Little by little, you'll start to reduce your plastic consumption and you'll find that these simple swaps can actually be quite satisfying. And before you know it, they'll just be a part of everyday life.
We say this time and time again, but we are FAR from perfect. And ya know what? We probably never will be. But it’s okay, because striving for perfection is exhausting and can cause you to give up eventually.
We try to do our part. We try to learn about more ways we can reduce our impact. And we try to be better than yesterday.
What you can do now!
We've shared in the tips above how we have been blind to our plastic consumption. I hope by sharing this we make it clear that we are not here to judge. We are here to encourage and support you in any way we can.
Why not hold yourself accountable and sign this pledge from Travelers Against Plastic (TAP).
And we also want to let you know this is just one part of the puzzle. There are other ways to reduce our impact on the environment that have nothing to do with plastic.
Try composting, be mindful about your meat consumption, reduce the amount of fossil fuels you use, pick up trash when you have the chance... We can each make a difference, and even the smallest acts count.