10 Toughest Steps to Reduce Your Plastic Impact

By Liesl Clark

If you’ve followed our guides to zero waste, which are simple ideas to get you thinking about reducing unnecessary plastics in your home environment, you’re doing really well! But you’ll likely still have plastics in your trash can every day like I do. These are the toughest steps we take to get beyond our fear of being judged and push through the the next level of plastic-free(dom) and even closer to zero waste:

1) Figure out what your biggest plastic vice is and find a plastic-free alternative. My family’s weakness is Amy’s frozen organic burritos. My children love them and they’re easy to heat up for school lunches. But we also love to eat burritos and enchiladas for dinner that we make from scratch. Solution? Make an extra-large batch on burrito night and save them for school lunches. You can even freeze quite a few so you have your very own Amy’s-style yummies to keep the Earthlings happy at school.

Amy's Burrito Packaging Isn't Recyclable. So, We Try To Make Our Own. Photo © Liesl Clark

Amy’s Burrito Packaging Isn’t Recyclable. So, We Try To Make Our Own. Photo © Liesl Clark

If your vice is raw bars or granola bars and snack bars, find a baker near you who makes them and order them plastic-free. On Bainbridge Island, Rebecca makes Rawbecca Bars that are better than anything I’ve ever purchased in a store. She’ll make them for you in bulk, in many flavors, and totally plastic-free. We’ve ordered them in bulk to take on expedition in the Himalayas because they last over a month.

We love crackers but can’t find our favorite varieties without plastic packaging. And our homemade ones are better than any bought in a store. So, once in a while, we’ll make our own to help reduce our impact. And we’ll make enough for 2-3 days. They go fast.

Homemade Seed Crackers, Recipe at Slim-Shoppin. Photo © Liesl Clark

Homemade Seed Crackers, Recipe at Slim-Shoppin. Photo © Liesl Clark

2) Just say “no” to plastic clamshells. Clamshells? These are the polystyrene boxes that hold fresh berries and cherry tomatoes. Yes, it might mean you’ll have to say goodbye to these delicious food items until they’re in season and you can get them at your local farmer’s market. Refusing them sends a message to your grocer that you just won’t buy produce in that packaging. Better yet, take a letter to your grocery store’s customer service department and let them know that you, and a whole lot of other people in our community, are refusing to buy fresh produce in clamshells.

Clamshell Polystyrene Packaging Can't Be Recycled Where We Live. Photo © Liesl Clark

Clamshell Polystyrene Packaging Can’t Be Recycled Where We Live. Photo © Liesl Clark

3) Say “no” to plastic mesh produce baskets (see above.) And use our letter to your grocer to do some good.

Plastic Mesh Produce Basket

Plastic Mesh Produce Basket

4) Stop buying plastic containers and come to love glass. I love glass containers of all sizes and can’t find anything that I can’t store in them.

Peek in my fridge and you'll find jars of all shapes and sizes: Patron bottle for flax seed oil, homemade yogurt in a large mason jar, homemade salad dressing in a jam jar and bulk yeast for our bread in another mason jar. Photo © Liesl Clark

Peek in my fridge and you’ll find jars of all shapes and sizes: Patron bottle for flax seed oil, homemade yogurt in a large mason jar, homemade salad dressing in a jam jar and bulk yeast for our bread in another mason jar. Photo © Liesl Clark

5) Buy your cheese plastic-free. This might take some hutzpa on your part, but if you talk sweetly to your deli counter people, they’ll likely let you buy their bulk (often gourmet) cheese without any of their packaging. Just bring your own container and act confidently when you ask if they can just put their cheese it it. Smile, say “cheese.” Then, at home, store it in a beautiful glass cheese container. It stays fresher longer and looks delicious in there.

A large glass cheese box, French-style, for keeping our cheeses fresh. Photo © Liesl Clark

A large glass cheese box, French-style, for keeping our cheeses fresh. Photo © Liesl Clark

6) Same goes for meat and fish. Buy it fresh, bring your own container, and store in glass.

7) Flowers don’t need to be wrapped in plastic for the journey home. First let your florist know you’ll carry them home sans plastic in your bag or basket, or your own two hands like you do at the farmer’s market or from your garden to your table.

Plastic-free flowers have less impact. Photo © Liesl Clark

Plastic-free flowers have less impact. Photo © Liesl Clark

8) Try a bamboo toothbrush. You’ll love it — we buy 4 at a time and they can be used as kindling when done.

Toothbrushes Made Entirely of Bamboo are an Excellent Plastic-Free Alternative

Toothbrushes Made Entirely of Bamboo are an Excellent Plastic-Free Alternative

9) Switch to homemade powder toothpaste. I’m still perfecting our recipe, but it’s basically baking soda, a few drops of stevia and a few drops of organic peppermint extract. The kids like it and we’ve reduced our toothpaste tube waste significantly.

DIY Zero Waste Toothpaste and Miswak Toothbrush Sticks, photo by Rebecca Rockefeller

DIY Zero Waste Toothpaste and Miswak Toothbrush Sticks, photo by Rebecca Rockefeller

10) Exert your buying power by choosing products that are entirely plastic-free. You’ll thank yourself later when your wood/metal/rubber/glass item is still functioning years later. I can attest to this for useful household items I’ve bought like pencil sharpeners, colanders, cheese graters (ones with plastic handles break), rakes, rubber spatulas (that’s why they call them rubber and the wooden handles are nicer to hold), soup ladles, straws (glass ones have a lifetime guarantee). My list could go on and on. I’ve never regretted purchasing a sometimes more expensive plastic-free item.

What are the toughest steps that you’ve taken to reduce the persistent plastics that you can’t seem to eradicate from your bin? Please let us know in the comments below so we can all try to come up with solutions together to help you reduce them.

If you’re still looking for inspiration, please visit our Trash Backwards app page where you can browse kitchen reduce and reuse ideas that might get your plastic-free juices going:

Click Through For Kitchen and Dining Reduce/Reuse Ideas at Trash Backwards

Click Through For Kitchen and Dining Reduce/Reuse Ideas at Trash Backwards

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Categories: Plastic-Free Living, Reduce Your Use, Think About It, Trash Pile - All Our Stuff

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5 Comments on “10 Toughest Steps to Reduce Your Plastic Impact”

  1. March 1, 2013 at 4:39 am #

    Hi Liesl and Trash Backwards,

    First and foremost, I love your site, philosophy and the great tips you’ve shared! Second, I’d like to share my dilemma as a small business owner and see if you have any tips in your arsenal of knowledge to help businesses like myself become more plastic-free.

    Personally, I despise plastic clamshells but, against my personal feelings, I do use them because of the following:
    1. Packaging cost. I explored more earth-friendly packaging and they were more expensive to purchase.
    2. Printing cost. It’s more expensive to design the package’s outside (where product/consumer information is) for a specific packaging shape than it is for a straight forward packaging insert.
    3. Product display. My product is new to the consumer and they need to see it, touch it and feel it. During my research, I didn’t find a solid solution that addresses this.

    Separately, my product is a cover for orthopedic products and made of fabric. Many people use it for only 4-6 wks on average, while healing from an injury, and then the product is of no use to them. I can’t take it back because of hygiene reasons. I imagine that there has to be other companies or organizations that could repurpose this material, but I don’t know of any. It makes me sick to think of all the good fabric that is simply thrown out when someone could probably make a garment to clothe someone in need.

    I’m not looking for free consultation or for you to tackle this beast of an issue, especially knowing how full your plates are already. I’m writing only to see if your community has looked into how businesses can become more earth-friendly with a constrained budget. I met with a “Sustainability Consultant” to get a quote for assistance and I couldn’t even afford his rates, let alone the solutions he proposed. I want to be able to “walk the talk”, but I, and many other small business owners I talk to, feel trapped.

    Sorry for such a long post…Any and all thoughts, suggestions, re-direction are welcomed. Liesl, you’re an inspiration and you’ve gotten a lot of us Hamilton-ians on board the Trash Backwards train!!

    Kelly

    • March 1, 2013 at 7:47 am #

      Hi Kelly:
      So great to hear from you. First, I want to say how surprised I am to hear that someone who works as a consultant in sustainability would be beyond a small company’s budget. I’d love to work with you to solve your questions about affordable alternatives to clamshell packaging and end-of-life options for your product. You know so much more than I about the materials you use, so bear with me, but these are the quick thoughts off the top of my head. But let’s definitely connect further about this! (You can email me at clark liesl at mac dot com)

      Spandex
      Can you start a takeback program where your customers could mail their re:covers back to you and you donate them to an organization that could use them (Make a Wish Foundation? Or another organization I believe I can find for you) or you send them to a recycler? Or, dare I say, you clean them up and resell a new line of 2nd-time-around re-covers with some of the proceeds going to kids in the developing world who need boots or casts to stabilize healing broken bones? I could hook you up with a few hospitals in Nepal that could likely use the recovers. But a reuse that’s more long-term might be a better scenario, like turning them into a sort of dry bag for beach-going or boating, etc. Our designer, Molly, was just talking about how she has to use plastic trash bags for her son’s clothing when he’s out sailing. Maybe a neoprene bag for storing the wet clothes would make a cool bag? Or they could be turned into beer cozies?!

      What I’ve learned about recycling spandex is that it’s a highly toxic endeavor, as is making Spandex in the first place. I wonder if Victor Innovatex the Canadian company that launched Eco-Intelligent Polyester makes spandex? Anyway, what’s clear is that reuse always trumps recycling. Starting a donation program would be a great way of giving back as it could help others.

      I found a company, Sportek, that makes recycled spandex, but don’t know if their product actually comes from spandex or how toxic it is. You might check them out: http://sportek.com/cgi-bin/index.cgi?cart_id=1362136938.16639&pid=346&back=0&category=Eco_Friendly_Recycled_Spandex

      In our app, (http://trashbackwards.com/#item/672) you’ll see there are 3 companies that recycle wet suits (neoprene?): Resurf, Rerip, and Green Guru. I’d think Green Guru Gear might be a good place to start asking questions.

      Clamshell
      Natralock (http://www.meadwestvaco.com/ConsumerElectronics/index.htm) apparently uses less plastic and more paperboard. But (pardon me for asking), if your product is essentially a soft cover, why the need for a hard shell package? Could it be packaged in a polyethylene bag that can be recycled? Or a box with a small plastic window on the top that people can see it in? I’ve noticed some beautiful spandex lunch sacks at our grocery store that have zero packaging around them. They’re really accessible, you literally want to pick one up and unzip it to check it out! Why not let them be free of any packaging and you just have a hang-tag to hang them on a display bar, if your product is sold in stores.

      Drypro
      I don’t know much about drypro but would be happy to look into it. Can you take this back and offer the material to an Etsy artist that makes covers for outdoor chairs?

      Offsetting Your Impact
      Perhaps taking in-house steps to reduce your company’s impact overall is a way to offset unavoidable ways you’re impacting the environment. I’d welcome walking you through a waste audit and simple steps to reduce, if you’re interested!

      Do get in touch offline if any of these ideas are of use (or not, I’d be interested to learn more from you).

      Kindest regards!
      Liesl at Trash Backwards

      • March 1, 2013 at 3:18 pm #

        Wow, I’m beyond impressed and I’ll follow up at the email you provided. Thank you!

  2. James
    March 4, 2013 at 9:22 am #

    Where did you get the french-style glass cheese box? We eat a lot of cheese and would love to reduce our plastic consumption around that cheese. I looked online but couldn’t find anything. This is a great idea!

    James

    • March 4, 2013 at 9:49 am #

      Hi James:
      I found the glass container in my local supermarket. Looks as though a company called Anchor Hocking makes them. I just checked the bottom and it says the following:
      “1932, Anchor Hocking, Vintage Design”
      Online, I was able to find their 12 cup “bake-n-store” container which is the one I have:
      http://www.anchorhocking.com/prod_300_bake_n_store.html
      I got each of the square containers they have on this page and have loved them! Never need to store in plastic again.
      Thanks for asking. Maybe there’s a store near you that carries this product.
      Good luck,
      Liesl

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