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How Do You Reduce Your Plastic Usage?

A few facts about plastic bags by Topsy at Waygood on Flickr


Thank you all for your great comments the other day. I appreciate your honesty very much, and it was interesting to read your answers. I was thinking it’s time to tackle some of those difficult things to change. Let’s help one another find ways to change our habits!!

When I asked you, “On The Path Toward Sustainability, What Is The Most Difficult Thing To Change?”

The top answer was: to stop using plastics. Are you surprised?

Here are plastics specifically listed:

  • tupperware
  • plastic shopping bags
  • produce bags
  • Ziploc freezer bags
  • dog poop bags
  • kitty litter bags
  • yogurt containers
  • packing lunches
  • containers for sending others home with leftovers
  • garden supplies
  • food packaging

And here are some specific issues related to the subject:

  • Getting the family to use reusable bags
  • Buying packaged food vs. bulk
  • Remembering to bring reusable shopping bags

So Let’s Tackle This. How Do We Stop Using Plastic?

First of all, let me know if you need a little extra incentive, and I’ll compile some information, pictures, facts, figures… Say, a “Scared Straight” program for plastics? Let me know – that does work for some people. For now, let’s go to the straight solutions….

Here Are Some Solutions:

  1. Throwback at Trapper Creek suggests freezing food in canning jars.
  2. Rob suggests taking a poop scoop with you when you walk the dog, and just scoop the poop and empty it in the garbage; or use a Doggy Dooley (I used one of these once and loved it – it works well).
  3. On remembering to bring plastic bags, debra suggests putting the bags back in the car as soon as you’re done unpacking them.
  4. I suggest reusing plastic bags for as long as you can.
  5. I also suggest finding a good set of long-lasting, reusable, microwavable, bakeable, freezable glass containers whenever possible. With enough sizes, you shouldn’t need ziplocs. If you don’t microwave, you can find metal containers as well.
  6. And lastly, make your own shopping bags. It’s easy!

What Else Do You Do To Reduce Plastic Use?

Help your fellow comrades along this path!!

We’ll address several other topics in the coming days – stay tuned for more…

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23 comments to How Do You Reduce Your Plastic Usage?

  • We still use plastics (tupperware, baggies – we wash and reuse them). We just don’t put anything hot in them anymore. But then we also aren’t buying any new plastics either. I didn’t want to toss what we had, but as it is needing replaced, we are going towards glass (mostly my hubby’s old mayo and peanut butter jars).

  • I try(not always succesfull) to always remember my shopping bags

    I just bought tiffins thanks to Fake Plastic Fish for 40% off! She has a link on her blog for To Go Ware that if you take a Survey they give you 40% off their line of Tiffins and Bamboo cutlery. That solves the tupperware/ziplock problem. Well that and my love of 1/2 pint Mason Jars!

    And yes I walk my dog, Romeo around with my pooper scooper- it makes more sense than a new plastic bag everytime he has a constitutional!

  • Katrina

    My colleague, Julie, uses one of these Wrap-n-mat things for her sandwiches, and it looks great:
    She seems to really like it, and while it does have a bit of plastic in it (am I totally ignoring the purpose of your post?), it’s almost like fabric-backed waxed paper that you can use over and over and over again. Certainly lasts longer than old bread bags or Ziploc bags that you wash and re-use. I just hardly ever take sandwiches for lunch, so I’m not sure it’d really be a worthwhile purchase for me.

  • becky

    about freezing items in mason jars- be sure to use the jars with wide mouths rather than those that taper to a smaller opening. those versions freeze better without cracking. the tapered neck of the other jars are not as strong.

    also, this sounds odd but it’s another answer to the doggie poop issue without plastic or “compostable” poop bags. i carry a small hand shovel with me as we walk thru our suburban neighborhood. there is almost always a nearby landscaping hedge or bush. i just dig a little hole and plant the poop. this is not a good solution for edible front gardens but so far none of my neighbors have jumped on that trend. sadly, so few of our neighbors are ever even outside i can’t ever remember being watched or questioned while performing this ritual.

  • I have trouble remembering my shopping bags too. I keep them in the car, but then I always seem to leave them there when I go shopping!

    So now, I make myself buy new fabric bags every time I forget. I’ve got tons of fabric bags now, but I’m getting better at remembering! At least the bags are useful for lots of other things. :-)

  • I have started making my own yogurt to save on plastic containers (post on this in my blog). I have also tried to buy refill containers for things like hand soap instead of buying a whole new bottle. I want one for dish soap as well but haven’t found it yet.

  • LHT Rider

    We’ve been making yogurt at home in order to avoid the containers we can’t recycle here. Before we refrigerate each batch, we’ll reserve some of the yogurt & store it in the freezer so we can use it as starter for the next batch. We’ve also been making home made bread & granola. We’ve found that we generally need to make these items only about once /week for 2 adults. The best part is we get to eat really yummy food!

  • N.

    We make our own hand soap, dish soap, laundry soap and shampoo to avoid new containers. We are going to try our hand at making our own mayo, mustard, and ketchup since most of the plastic in our fridge is from condiments. If we forget our bags when we go to the grocery store I just carry it out without a bag, after doing that once it’s a lot easier to remember your bags.

  • Great topic!

    I’m with Willo — I find that the #1 way I use less plastic is not bringing it into the house in the first place. I still buy yogurt, but I am going to start making my own using a filmjolk culture (Swedish yogurt culture) available from GEM Cultures. This is the best yogurt I have ever tasted.

    I do have to buy my milk and cream in plastic — but I won’t buy it any other way because I insist upon real raw milk from grass-fed cows. Everything is a trade-off I guess. Yes, I’m buying (and recycling) plastic containers but I know that these cows are eating grass on pasture all year long — not genetically modified corn and soybeans in a factory. I’ll trade a little plastic for helping to reduce the number of GMO crops and factory farms!

    I am also cooking most everything from scratch these days… so that helps tremendously to reduce our waste. I compost everything I can and recycle any and all plastic — but I don’t bring much in to begin with. I make my own soft drinks (kefir soda pop and kombucha) and store in reusable glass bottles. I make my own salsa and mayonnaise and ketchup in mason jars (I add whey so it keeps in the fridge for several weeks or even months). I even make my own laundry detergent from Borax, washing soda and a bar of soap. Works great!

    And of course, I am using cloth diapers at night and on weekends. Unfortunately the daycare will not allow cloth and insist upon disposables but I’m going to talk to them about maybe trying some all-in-ones that they can just roll up and throw in a dry bag… we shall see…

    Re: Ziploc bags. I hate Ziplocs (expensive, wasteful, PLASTIC) but end up using them b/c I freeze so many leftovers since I tend to cook in bulk (really saves time and effort). I do not feel comfortable freezing in glass. Heard too many horror stories of wasted food.

    However, I am looking into two options for freezing food:

    1. Stainless steel. Look at how affordable the stuff is on this site:

    2. Good ol’ butcher paper and masking tape. Biodegradable!

  • I have made a real effort to keep plastic away from our food. I wrote about lunch on my blog, but mostly it just using real things instead of plastic, disposable stuff. I do still use plastic, but I’m trying to bring in glass as the plastic wears out.

    I have successfully made the switch using only reusable shopping bags. I have three acme bags I purchased from that I keep in my purse for the occasional, unplanned shopping trip and the larger, hemp bags plus a few of the evil freebies that I bring with me for big trips. It took a few months, but after about 3 years of reusable bags, I don’t have enough plastic bags in my house to fill the plastic bag holder my mom made me!

  • Cheeseslave, let me know where you can find butcher paper that doesn’t have a plastic coating? I would be interested in purchasing some.

    As for freezing in glass, the Ball Blue Book of Preserving gives headspace recommendations for freezing in their tapered jars, and it works fine if you follow the recommendations. Usually too much food in the jar causes breakage. Before my cow dries up, I freeze enough milk to last us through her rest period, and I have never had any jars break, unless I filled them too full.

  • We’re recycling all “day to day” plastic now. I’m thinking the toughie on this subject is finding containers for lunch foods…wax paper’s fine for sandwiches, not so fine for snacks. It really comes down to significant change in the end (taking an apple instead of applesauce, making your own granola instead of buying bars, etc.)…I have a lot to learn. Heck, it’s hard enough reminding the husband that we shouldn’t be microwaving the plastic containers. I know the extra effort is so worth it, but it is a gradual process and the trick is remembering while not simultaneously berating yourself when you slip.

  • P.S. that Tickle Trunk website is a good start! Thanks, Cheeseslave!

  • Throwback — I did a search for “biodegradable butcher paper” and found this:

    Melanie — Look at that Tickle Trunk link I posted above. They have some neat ideas for lunch containers. I have been sending my daughter to daycare with stainless steel thermos containers. I put scrambled eggs or oatmeal in one and dinner leftovers (beans & rice, risotto, sloppy joes) in the other. I warm the food on the stove in the morning and they stay hot until they are opened.

    Re: the microwave:

    We don’t use it anymore. I unplugged it and use it as a warm place to store my ferments (salsa, kefir, sprouts, soaking nuts, etc.)

  • A tip for those who forget to take their reusable shopping bags:

    If you are at a store that collects plastic shopping bags for recycling, grab a few out of the bin and reuse them. Next time you are at the store return them and use your own reusable bags, if you remembered to bring them. That way you are not consuming new bags and reusing old ones before they get recycled.

  • I thought I was doing good when switching from ziploc bags to butcher paper for the freezer, until I actually read the box: plastic coated. Plus, unless you are using paper tape that you wet to adhere, you are consuming more plastic. Now I use rubber bands or string to secure my freezer paper. Once the paper is gone I am going to give glass a try. I already use it for freezer jam. Why not everything else?

  • Mel

    I love mason jars for storage, I found some gallon and quart sized ones at Goodwill for 50 cents a piece. Love it! I also use mason jars to freeze, no problems so far.
    I keep canvas bags in the trunk of the car and make a note on shopping list: Don’t forget to take the bags!
    I refill all of our soap dispensers with Dr. Bronners or Ivory soap.
    Dishwashing Soap: refill the same bottle or get a glass oil/vinegar bottle with a dispenser top, “green” and looks good.
    I make my own cleaners and just keep refilling the spray bottles, same goes for laundry detergent.
    I still buy yogurt, but I buy a large container (use that one for craft storage) and just spoon out the amount we need/eat.

  • My goal has been to get the plastic produce bags out of the routine and I’m nearly 100% there using cloth produce bags. The kicker was gettting greens and things to stay crisp without the plastic. I’ve worked it out by putting the produce in cloth bags into the fridge crisper drawers and covering them with a very damp cloth. There’s no difference than when they were in plastic. Except of course – there’s no plastic!

    My next item to tackle however is the plastic bag the paper is delivered in. I don’t want to give up my morning paper I read on the bus.


    We use Fuzzi Bunz cloth diapers our daycare has happily cooperated with them after I initially showed them how to do it (with cloth wipes and a wet bag) and you can find great deals on them second hand-which saves even more resources!

  • Oooh, I don’t think burying dog waste in a neighbor’s yard is OK. I would be angry if I saw someone doing that in our yard … and we have so many dogs in the neighborhood, the yard could soon look like moles had attacked. (I have two dogs myself. Currently we scoop and toss — using the plastic bags the newspaper insists on coming in. We are looking into a doggie dooley, although I’m worried about the volume.)

    As for remembering bags, a few ideas:

    - Keep them where you keep your car keys.
    - Keep them where you keep your grocery list. Write BAGS!!! on the top of your grocery list when you start a new one.
    - Ladies, put them in the car, on top of your purse, so you can’t get your purse out without touching them.
    - Obtain some reusable folding bags (like Chico bags) that you can keep in your purse, backpack or coat pocket so you have one handy at Target or the mall.

    I’m lucky enough to walk to the grocery store, so I need bags to carry things home, and if I forget my reusables I feel like I’m branded with a scarlet (plastic?) B for bag.

  • [...] we continue the FABULOUS discussion about how to reduce plastics, I just wanted to give a few links and answer a few questions I’ve [...]

  • Just wanted to add my vote for freezing in glass. I’ve been doing it for a couple years and it works great.

    One way that I’ve cut down on bags for dog/cat waste is to line a garbage can that is just for waste with a plastic bag and then fill the bag with the waste. When I have a bag half full with other garbage I toss the bag with pet waste in that. This way it’s double bagged for the garbage people (it’s required), but I haven’t used a lot of little bags. I do use the compost bags for walks. It’s not perfect but I really don’t have a great place to compost pet waste in my garden.

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