What’s your best trick on reducing the number of consumable plastics your household goes through?

January 10 |

Hey Homies! What do you think about turning some of our advice posts into VIDEO advice posts? We'll still run text-only posts — so don't worry if you're camera-shy or don't have the tech — but I think it'll be fun for us to see members of the community once in a while. Here, let's try it!

My question is about plastics in the home: I've been trying to be more conscientious about the plastics we use in Rockethaus by buying more food in bulk and filling reusable containers, but I'm sure there are ways I can reduce the plastic I throw away in ways that I just haven't thought of.

I'd love to hear your ideas, and I hope you leave them in the comments. Thanks for the help!

You heard me! I want to see your thoughts in the comments below — and if you have a question for the Homies you'd like help with, get to submitting. Let me know if you're interested in doing it as a video, and we'll work it out!

  1. Great topic! Here are my plastic-reduction strategies:
    – Reusable shopping bags. Our city just passed a plastic bag ban, so that made it even easier!
    – Leftover food goes in tupperware, not ziploc bags.
    – We use powdered laundry detergent, which comes in a paper box, rather than liquid. Laundry detergent bottles are one of the most common items found in the North Pacific Gyre.
    – When we can find it, we use solid shampoo. Target used to carry the brand "One," which sold bar shampoo and conditioner in completely plastic-free, recyclable packaging. Unfortunately, I can't find it anymore.
    – Like the shampoo example, we use bar soap that comes in a cardboard package rather than liquid from a plastic bottle.

    I'm excited to hear what other folks have to say! Always looking for new plastic-reduction ideas.

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    • if there's a LUSH near you, their solid shampoo is some of the best I've ever used.

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      • Agreed! Lush solid shampoos are amazing, and you can get a metal tin to store them all in. They also have solid conditioners.

        If you don't have a Lush near you, just go LUSH.com

        When I use their solid shampoos, I use either Seanik or Karma Komba. I'm off solids for the time being though (using the Daddy-o shampoo). And I always use Veganese conditioner because their solid conditioners are too heavy for my hair. But their plastic containers (should you need a product that comes in plastic) is from 100% recycled materials, and is 100% recyclable/biodegradable.

        (Sorry for the Lush plug, but I LOOOOOVE Lush!)

        1 agrees
    • you can also find about 18 million solid shampoo/conditioner bars on etsy, or learn to make your own!

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  2. I use a bar shampoo (JR Ligetts) and a minimum number of beauty products (lotion, bar soap in a cardboard packaging, a huge bottle of styling gel that lasts like two years, and that's about it).
    I also use reusable bags at the grocery store, mall, etc.
    For bag lunches, I use a reusable cloth bag, tupperware containers instead of ziploc baggies, and a reusable sandwich box.

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  3. Toothbrushes, for one, are a good example: they're AMAZING for cleaning stuff around the house. I use them to polish GENTLY the handles and intricate details of silver stuff, to clean grout, to scrub really tricky spots on dishes… all sorts of stuff. So at least they can be reused! Wooden toothbrushes exist, as well, so that's a thing.

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    • Ew, wouldn't wooden toothbrushes get FILLED with bacteria in a heartbeat? More than the plastic ones, at least? (if not, hey, awesome!)

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      • I don't know. I'm intrigued. I also have wooden cooking utensils. A wooden cutting board. They are fine…

        BRB carving my own toothbrush

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      • A quick swish through hydrogen peroxide after brushing would take care of the bacteria issue!
        The wooden brushes I've seen had boar bristles so that might displease the "no animal products" set.

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    • For the toothbrush thing, they also have toothbrushes where you only replace the head/bristles section, rather than the whole toothbrush. I've seen composite/recycled handles and also wooden ones. It's a little plastic, but I've also seen corn starch products, which will biodegrade easily if cut up.

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  4. I hate plastic. We bought pyrex leftover containers, pyrex bakeware, etc. Plastic is reserved only to the necessary: saran wrap. Other than that, if it's plastic it'd better be a produce bag. I ship my sock monkeys in those and in the plastic newspaper sacks we get.

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  5. You might check with local grocery and health food stores to see what services they offer that could help you with this. I know when I was growing up, my dad would take his empty shampoo bottle to the store he bought it from and just got it refilled instead of buying a new bottle. I don't know if this was a health food store or a beauty supply place like Sally, but you may check for that. You could make your own laundry detergent (which, if I remember right, you already do, so ignore if you've already taken this step) and keep it in some nice glass drink dispensers like the ones used at parties. No plastic, and kinda pretty to look at at the same time. At home, we put our large volume leftovers in glass. Things like soup, spaghetti and such go in a big glass Pyrex bowl and individual servings get scooped out and heated up in smaller glass containers. If you have to buy plastic, think of ways to reuse it. As an artist, I'm sure you could use shampoo bottles for paint, glue, or as a component of a larger piece. These are off the top of my head now, but I may think of more later. Thanks for making me think about what I can do at home to reduce plastics!

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  6. Not exactly plastic, but using a reusable menstrual cup (such as the Diva cup) eliminates using disposable tampons and pads.
    I use baking soda and vinegar to wash and rinse my hair. The baking soda comes in large cardboard boxes and vinegar in glass bottles or huge plastic ones that last at least a year.
    Use a safety razor rather than plastic razors for shaving. You buy one safety razor handle to use forever and replace the little metal blades periodically. No plastic!
    Buy electronic CDs, DVDs, etc. instead of physical copies that come in plastic cases.
    Use hand made soap bought from an independent vender, or use soap with paper packaging.
    I never buy plastic Ziploc bags or the like. I use tupperware and reuse packaging from foods I buy, such as the resealable bags that cheese or tortillas come in.

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      • Menstrual pads contain a LOT of plastic. As do tampons. And diapers and any other mainstream disposable thing.

        I love my divacup. Between that and a few additional flannel pads for heavy days, it actually eased my dismenorrea by a lot.

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        • I guess it's been so long since I've used pads that I forgot they do use plastic lining and such.

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        • The Diva Cup is plastic too… ;)

          But of course, it's reusable and that's what makes it better for the environment than pads.

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    • Or if you don't want to use the Diva Cup, cloth pads are AWESOME. I switched a year ago and will never go back to disposable.

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      • I've been debating cloth pads for a long time. I have a hormone problems so my cycle is anything but regular, but I figure once that gets sorted out I'm going to have to figure out how to take care of it.

        I'm a little squeamish about the idea of cloth pads, unless they're more absorbent then regular pads? Also, how do you clean them? Just throw them in the wash?

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        • Party in my Pants is a really good cloth pads company (family business, great product, ethical manufacturing practices as far as I can tell). The website answered all my questions about cloth pads really well. They're actually super easy. Just fold them up, put them in a box until you're ready to do laundry, unfold them, and wash them. I soak them for half an hour first, but you don't have to.

          I have had problems with the pads sliding backwards, but that's fixed easily enough with either wide-crotched underwear or clever use of velcro.

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  7. I personally have tried to reduce my plastic consumption by buying most of my beauty products from LUSH — which uses minimal packaging and reuses plastic tubs you bring back to them. I also reuse the ziploc bags I have in my lunch box multiple times and try to use tupperware instead.

    The major problem for me has been the plastic bags my roommates always bring into the house – I always try to use reusable bags instead, and I fucking hate having those plastic bags EVERYWHERE in the house. We use them as little trash bags but frankly, there are always about 100 more than we actually need in the house – but my roommates don't listen to me when I complain about it, sigh (plus I try not to be a huge bitch about it). I'm going to take them all out to the grocery store plastic bag recycling bin soon, but that itself bothers me because I know it's a really inefficient recycling process. I honestly wish my area would institute a plastic bag ban or start charging for them so people would be more aware of what they use and throw away all the time.
    /rant over/ Sorry- this is a big pet peeve of mine!

    Edit- I did forget though, there's an etsy store owner who lives in my town who makes fantastic baskets out of plastic bags – she even does custom orders. You can find her on etsy at bagsagain.

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    • Can you crochet or knit? I make plarn out of plastic bags, then crochet them into pot scrubs and liners for the cat's bed. You may also be able to find a local store who wants to reuse them for their stores.

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      • I make plarn out of plastic grocery bags too! Then I crochet them into reusable grocery totes.

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  8. When I asked a friend if she had a bag I could take a wet cloth diaper home in, I was so surprised at the bags she was saving that I never thought to. The bag that bread comes in. The bag that deli cuts come in. (Washed, of course.) Etc, etc, etc. Also, we use takeout containers, food containers (like the ones that come with sour cream or yogurt) to organize our kids' millions of tiny items like matchbox cars. It's not plastic-free, but it reduces the amount of new plastic needing to be made and we recycle them when they get too banged up.

    Also, one of the biggest contributors of plastic that sneaks into ecosystems are the tiny bits, like the plastic pull-out tab in milk cartons, etc. I use ziploc bags (salvaged from packaging and other sources) to gather stuff like that and seal them before putting them in the recycling bin to make sure they don't fall out somewhere between the collection and eventually getting recycled.

    One of the easiest ways to reduce the amount of plastic that follows you home from the grocery store is to eat a more paleo diet. If you think of your big bottled and container-ed foods, they are more likely to be dairy, prepared foods, etc. You can take your last round of produce bags back to the store with you for bulk nuts, fruit and veggies and bring home practically no new plastic.

    Making your own laundry detergent from boxed ingredients saves a few large bottles, too. I buy all cosmetics that are bottled in glass and take them to a recycling center which uses them to make tumbled glass for landscaping.

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    • I don't know they are doing it world wide but LUSH UK are collecting plastic bottle tops to recycle in with their black pots (the return 5 empty pots get a free face mask kind) if your local recycling place won't take small items

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  9. We use pyrex containers for lunches and leftovers.
    I regularly read the Zero Waste blog, she's a GURU of this kind of thing. I don't always feel I can implement all of her suggestions, but I do really like reading her ideas. She's got tons.

    Obviously things like re-usable grocery bags, etc. Buying in bulk.

    1 agrees
  10. You could always keep the plastic in a separate trash bin and take it to your local recycling center. Some states will even pay you a nickle for each thing you recycle. Not much, but nice change and at least it's getting re-used.

    Recently, we switched to using a water filter rather than buying the water jug thingies from the store. It's a little more expensive in the end ($6 for a new filter vs .98 cents for a gallon of water), but it cuts down a lot on plastic water bottles.

    Also, we started drinking more iced tea & flavored water (crystal light, it's basically an adult version of sugar free kool-aid). Those can be made and stored within a re-usable 2 quart pitcher (so, it cuts down on the plastic waste from soda bottles). Also, it's helping us lose weight in the end (less sugar and calories ftw!).

    1 agrees
    • The water thing was going to be my suggestion too. For me, I've found using a filter to be less expensive than buying bottled water, because the filter lasts about three months according to the little timer on my pitcher. It may need to be changed more often if it is getting used a lot, but it is usually just me at my apartment.

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  11. I use mesh laundry bags for washing lingerie & stuff, but sometimes the zippers break, so they're perfect for putting produce in at the store or farmer's market. I just take a few in my reusable shopping bags.

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  12. My husband and I use reusable grocery bags, and any bags that our bread or other products come in we save and end up finding some odd use for them. We use mostly pyrex containers to store food (although we do have some zip-loc bags. I wash and reuse them over and over and over again. My husband doesn't understand that I dont' want to use them anymore, but he keeps buying new boxes every once in awhile). We use Preserve toothbrushes that can be sent back to the manufacturer for recycling, I use Preserve razors. We refill our laundry detergent, dish washing detergent, shampoo, conditioner, and hand soap containers at our local co-op. I re-use glass and plastic containers that our food comes in as vases (i like decorating glass jars and placing flowers from my garden in them to give away http://indiefixx.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/Yarn-Wrapped-Bottle.jpg), to keep bulk spices, to store food in the fridge, etc etc etc. And we never leave home without our nalgene bottles. Even though we do all of these things, it's amazing how much recycling we still have!

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  13. We stopped buying plastic zip-lock bags a while back, and have been washing and reusing them and drying them (on a handmade version of this: http://www.gaiam.com/product/countertop+bag+dryer.do). We wash them as many times as they hang together, and eventually when they run out we will use cloth baggies and glass containers as much as possible.
    The plastic usage problem only really has become clear to me in the past few months, and some habits are hard to break… but we're working on reducing as much as is feasible.

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  14. I often forget my reusable bags because I'm just starting on my "hippie" path. I have million plastic bags, but starting as soon as finish the baby blanket I'm working on, I'm going to start cutting the bags in strips and start crocheting reusable bags out of them.

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      • I'm sorry. I didn't mean to offend. I used the term because a friend that is helping me on the path jokingly calls herself a hippie and I know that I'm going to be called a hippie by my FIL for choosing to be Eco Conscious. So I am choosing to embrace the term instead of fighting with him, because I will never win.

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  15. I am a huge fan of a blog called thezerowstehome.com. She deals with all kinds of waste reduction techniques.

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  16. my problem is…ordering take out/delivery. I don't do this very often, as hey, it's expensive and i'm broke…and when i do, i reuse the plastic containers they come in to store stuff. also, if i am planning to go to a restaurant, i bring a plastic container with me (if i remember!) in case i have left overs.

    i know i know, the obvious solution would be: don't order take out….but sometimes when i'm totally exhausted or just returned from a long trip and there's only a half eaten jar of olives in the fridge…

    anyone have any ideas to assuage my consience on this one?

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    • I think taking-your-own take-out container sounds great! That's brilliant.

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    • If you're okay spending a little more time, you could go to the restaurant to place your order and bring big plastic containers with you. It can't hurt to try.

      I'm in no place to judge you for getting takeout, but if it's primarily a time/energy issue, freezer meals are great. I like to keep soups and sauce in the freezer – put them on the stove for ten minutes, make pasta, and dinner! They last a long time too, which has saved me after week-long trips out of town.

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    • Depending on the quality of your containers you might be able to use them for dry food storage.

      I saw an article recently saying not to buy rice/lentils/peas etc in bulk because they'll go off or get weevils, but if you transfer say 10kg of rice into separate sealed containers its totally fine for months. That way you reduce on initial packaging and journeys to the store.

      The packaging we get from the takeaway is good and air tight for about 8 washes before it cracks, after which we use them as starter trays for seedlings. They last another year or so in that role. The good thing about those trays is that they are designed to be space saving so stock piling them doesn't waste space.

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  17. Mason jars have taken over our home – we don't ever use tupperware or plastic bags anymore, everything just goes in jars. It's easier to see leftovers so they won't go bad, too, and you don't have to worry about leaching plastic if you heat up food in the jar.

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    • You don't have to worry about leaching plastic if you don't own a microwave, either. It's super easy to just heat most things on the stove. Slightly off topic, I know, but less appliances in the house in the first place is also better for the environment. :)

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      • word to not using a microwave. we have one, as it was a hand-me-down from my boyfriend's brother. (it's actually a warm-n'-toasty, which is supposed to be a toaster too, but only toasts on one side and then you have to flip it and toast the other side….hello inefficiency lol)

        but then i read a study a while back (and i'm sorry i don't have a link to it!) in which two identical sets of plants were given equal amounts of tap water, except one set was given microwaved tap water….and those plants died. !!!!! so the only thing the microwave heats up these days is my heating pad!

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        • I hate to get all "sciency" but I doubt that study was scientifically rigorous. As a physicist I can tell you without a doubt that microwaves do not add anything to your food. If you're interested in learning more about how a microwave works, check out Wikipedia's article on it. A quote from the article: "The lower temperature of cooking [because the microwave cooks food by heating up the water inside the food and not heating the solid parts directly] is a significant safety benefit compared to baking in the oven or frying, because it eliminates the formation of tars and char, which are carcinogenic. Microwave radiation also penetrates deeper than direct heat, so that the food is heated by its own internal water content. In contrast, direct heat can fry the surface while the inside is still cold."

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  18. We saved quart and 12oz gatoraid bottles and last summer we refilled them with homemade hydration drink instead of buying new or getting sodas. I use them whenever we need to take a drink along to the kids' sports or school events. I am currently re-using old milk jugs for our fresh goat milk because I haven't found a good glass gallon container as an alternative. If anyone has any ideas I'd love to hear them, we usually have 4 to 6 gallons in the fridge at a time depending on how many does I'm milking and how often I make cheese. Half-gallon mason jars take up too much space in there. I'm addicted to ziplok bags for our frozen garden produce, goat meat,chickens, and homemade stock. I just can't make myself trust freezer paper alone when we have butchered our own, and I've had rubbermaid, tupperware, and ziplok containers get brittle and shatter after freezing. To me, throwing something out because of freezer burn is too disrespectful to the animals who gave their all for us.

    1 agrees
    • For our freezer, we use vacuum ziplock bags, then wash them and reuse them again and again. It makes less space in the freezer for our meats.

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  19. As much as I love the Offbeat Empire this is hands down my favorite article. I'm so glad you're prompted discussion about this!

    Incidentally most of my 'techniques' have been suggested. I suppose the only thing I can add is that I store a cheap dining set (metal and ceramic) at work instead of using the plastic tupperware.

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  20. We wash and re-use ziploc bags, which takes a few seconds and is much less intrusive than it seems. We also use plastic produce bags to wrap up sandwiches, or to cover small bowls in the fridge instead I'd cling wrap.

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    • Woops – sorry about posting this twice. The first time round it said it didn't work.

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  21. We wash and re-use ziploc bags, which takes a few seconds and is much less intrusive than it seems. We also use plastic produce bags to wrap up sandwiches, or to cover small bowls in the fridge instead of cling wrap.

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  22. Eating mostly whole foods, ideally bought in bulk with your own containers, cuts out a LOT of plastic. It's so easy to bring a bag or jar and measure a pound of rice or almonds into that instead of buying a plastic bag filled with the same amount, and may cost less depending on where you shop. (I realize not everyone lives near a store with bulk bins, but you may also be able to buy in bulk from local wholesalers – I had an eccentric uncle who bought rice, beans, and peas in 50-pound bags from area farmers. Food packaging used to account for about 80% of my household trash, so it made a big dent for me!)

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    • Any suggestions for how I can buy foods in my own containers? I'd love to take a mason jar to my grocery store to fill up with flour or nuts, but then I'm paying for the weight of the jar as well as the flour.

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      • The organic section of my Hy-Vee sells a lot of stuff in bulk. It provides bags, and you weigh them yourself then print a sticker with the price. I'd bet you can zero out a scale like that with your own container.

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        • I've never seen a digital grocery scale without a tare button

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  23. Buying in bulk is not big here in Germany. I use cloth grocery bags (and reuse them until they fall apart) as often as I remember, and I use a glass water bottle at the office and try to buy stuff wrapped up as little as possible.

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  24. I love the Zero Waste Home blog (http://zerowastehome.blogspot.com/), which I think I first heard about on this site. She has a ton of compostable/reusable/plastic-free items listed for around the house. I think my favorite alternative is using mesh laundry bags instead of plastic produce bags at the store (I purchased a 4-pack for $1 at Dollar Tree). I hated getting home and having 5-10 little stupid bags that were too flimsy to reuse. I still have to keep a few plastic shopping bags around the house for emptying the kitty litter box though. I'd love to hear any alternatives for that if someone has some!

    1 agrees

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