Cheat Code: Reducing Single-Use Plastic in the Home
I got the idea for this post a few weeks ago, and since Earth Day is Monday, April 22nd this seemed like the perfect time to write it up. The recycling program where we live recently faced some changes and had to revert back to an older, less efficient system. This has made the topic of recycling come up more than usual lately and it’s really been making me think about our impact on the environment. As the poor couple, when we first moved in together most of our focus was on getting what we needed at a price we could afford. As we’ve gotten more established in our home it’s given us a chance to make some changes in what we buy – though price is still almost always first priority! So let’s take a look at what changes we’ve made over the past couple of years to help reduce our use of plastic in our home and how you can do it too!
Reusable Grocery Bags
This technically wasn’t really a change for us since we’ve been using reusable grocery bags since before we even moved in together. But for those of you who haven’t jumped on board the tote bag train, it’s one of the easiest changes you can make. Of our massive hoard of bags I think we’ve paid for maybe 3 of them? Most of them we got for free as giveaways at various expos and events, or given to use by people who didn’t want them anymore. The ones we did pay for were mostly souvenirs like the ones from the aquarium and the Spongebob Musical.
If you haven’t already amassed a large collection of tote bags, most stores are now selling them for pretty cheap. If you buy one or two and tack it on to each grocery trip you’ll be stocked up in no time without adding a lot of extra cost. Or if you’re crafty you can easily make your own bags.
Reusable Produce Bags
One change we did make recently was to get reusable produce bags. A lot of the time we don’t even put produce in a bag if it’s big enough or just one thing. But sometimes you need something to contain your fruits and veggies. Besides reducing plastic and being able to get multiple uses out of them instead of just one, these bags are more breathable, and your produce won’t get wet and mushy from being in them. They list right on the tag how much they weigh so if you’re checking out at self-checkout you can put in the weight of the bag and get an accurate price for your produce. I bought ours as a bundle with the wax fabric (see below) for about $25 which seemed reasonable, but I’m sure with some searching you can find or make ones for cheaper if that better suits your budget.
Reusable Sandwich & Snack Bags
One of the first conscious changes I made was to switch out Ziploc bags (or the dollar store equivalent we usually buy) for reusable bags. I would always put my sandwiches in plastic bags, they would get dirty, and I would throw them out when I got home. I was going through so many bags. So I bought reusable insulated bags to use instead. They still get dirty but because they’re made to be reused they’re easy to clean and dry and use again.
While I was reusing my snack bags for more times than lunch bags, they would eventually get worn down and need to be thrown out too. So I upgraded to reusable fabric snack bags. I just toss them in the wash every so often if the inside starts getting a bit grungy and they’re good to go. Obviously you should try to get Mario ones if you can, but it’s not necessary. This switch has definitely saved us money in the long-run because we don’t have to buy bags as often as we used to. You can find reusable snack bags in a range of prices, and they’re something that you can slowly stock up on instead of making a huge investment.
Use Containers Over Plastic Bags
Before we got our second set of storage containers (we have both glass and plastic) I used to store cut pieces of produce (like half an onion, a quarter of a tomato, etc) in Ziploc bags and I would try to save the bags to reuse them but inevitably they ended up lost or thrown out or just too dirty to save and reuse. Now that we have more storage containers I’ve been putting basically everything in those instead. They’re easy to clean and reuse and again, and we’re going through plastic bags so much slower than we used to. If you already have a bunch of storage containers this switch will be basically free. If you need more containers buy them as you can. They don’t need to be fancy, they just need to seal your food in and keep air and mold spores and other ickies out.
Switch Waxed Fabric for Plastic Wrap
Okay this is the newest change we’ve made and so far have only used it once. I haven’t tried wrapping food with it yet, but I covered the bowl my hot cross buns dough was rising in with it overnight and it seemed to do a pretty good job. It didn’t super-cling like plastic wrap but got the job done. We’ll still use plastic wrap for some things (like wrapping raw meat for freezing) but for covering bowls and wrapping produce it should help us throw out way less plastic wrap. These waxed fabric sheets don’t last forever, and do need to be replaced from time to time, so in terms of saving money while saving the environment I wouldn’t make this change a priority. But if you can swing it I think it’s worth it. Personally I’m just happy to not have to worry about cutting myself on the plastic wrap serrated edge as much anymore.
Reuse or get Reusable Straws
Okay, we’re working on this one. We have reusable straws on our wedding registry so hopefully someone buys them for us! As it is I use my straws until I can’t use them anymore (usually once mold starts growing in the bend. Yuck!), so even my plastic straws are to me, reusable. Or just don’t use straws at all. But as someone who somehow always manages to dribble water on themselves, I’m a fan of having straws around.
Reuse Plastic Bags
Sometimes it’s hard to avoid getting plastic bags. We usually put packages of meat in a plastic bag to prevent our tote bags from getting raw meat juice in them. And unless you’re buying fresh bread from the bakery, bread usually comes in plastic bags. Don’t just throw these immediately away! Unless it’s filled with meat goo, hold on to that plastic bag to throw trimming and scraps into. This will help keep your garbage from stinking too fast. Yes, it’s still getting thrown out, but at least it’s getting a second use in the process. Bread bags that are in good condition and haven’t had mold in them can be reused when freezing bread or to store biscuit, muffin, or bagel leftovers. My mom has a can of bread bags that’s older than me (the can itself, not the bags inside…I think) and I’ve definitely inherited the bread bag hoarding gene. But they come in handy more often than you’d think, and you’re keeping them out of the garbage dump! Also, this is free since it’s reusing things that come with the stuff you’re buying, so this is definitely a change you can make no matter your budget.
Recycle Your Plastic Bags
The plastic bags you do acquire, make sure you save them up and bring them back to a plastic bag recycling bin. Most grocery stores have one or more of these. A lot of shipping envelopes and those air-filled package fillers can also be recycled with plastic bags too, so check before throwing away! It’s really important to keep plastic bags from ending up stuck in trees and blowing around in nature.
Reusable Water Bottles
I almost didn’t even think to add this to the list because we never buy single-use plastic water bottles. But I know there are so many people out there who buy cases upon cases of water bottles. C’mon guys…reusable water bottles just make more sense. They’re waaaaay more cost efficient and sooo much better for the environment. If your tap water isn’t good you can always invest in a filtering system of some sort, either under sink, faucet, pitcher, or a water cooler. Filters do add an extra cost, but in the long run it’s still cheaper than continually buying new water bottles.
Okay, this post ended up being way longer than I expected! If you’ve made it all the way to this point, thanks for sticking through it! We all really need to start taking better care of our environment if we want it to be able to take care of us. I’m not going to say plastic is the devil – there are definitely some good uses for plastic. But we also could probably all use a little less of it in our lives. It can seem daunting to reduce plastic use. And if you try to make all of these changes at once, it is going to be rather expensive, which is why sometimes going green feels like something for rich people, and not something you can do if you’re on the lower end of the income spectrum. But we can do it guys! In the long run many of these changes will end up saving you money, even if the initial outlay is a little more. Everyone can make at least a few small changes to reduce the amount of single-use plastics they use in the home.