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Plastic Waste washing up on beaches

Tips guaranteed to easily reduce plastic waste in your life

Changing a few products we use in our home will go a long way to reducing our plastic waste and saving our environment.

In 1975, the year I was born, most household products came in cardboard boxes, glass jars, or tin cans. Very few products were ever packaged in or wrapped in plastic. Toys were either made of wood or metal, and cars were built almost entirely of metal. It’s more common today to find products made with plastic.  This has much more to do with the economy rather than convenience. 

Plastic containers running amuck

A quick Google search of how many companies manufacture plastics reveals chilling results. US companies manufacture plastics for everything from cutlery, containers for liquids, baby products, toys, patio furniture, and a host of other products. The number of companies that manufacture plastics is staggeringly high, especially when considering how detrimental plastics are to the environment. In fact, the US plastics industry is the third largest industry in the States, employing one million people. This industry has a formidable lobbying arm in Washington, D.C., making it that much more difficult for our government to curb the manufacturing of new plastics. As consumers, we must take matters into our own hands.

 Plastic has had a devastating impact on wildlife, the food chain, and health and wellness, but I won’t get into that here because it’ll only make you curl up into the fetal position. Just knowing that plastic is literally here to stay—in our water supply, on our beaches—is bad enough. So instead of dwelling on the negative, I’m going to suggest some ways you can lessen your plastic waste. Until the government decides it’s time to press manufacturers for better solutions to the plastic problem, rest assured there are steps consumers can and should take that will reduce plastic consumption.

Plastic-free laundry

When I was a kid, we used powdered laundry detergent. I’m not sure how liquid soap snuck so pervasively into the American home, but now it’s like kudzu—chances are that the only laundry detergent your local grocery store sells is the liquid kind that’s stored in large, plastic jugs. I spread my grocery shopping to three different stores: Publix, Aldi, and Whole Foods. The surprising fact is that not even Whole Foods sells a plastic-free laundry detergent. Publix, however, sells only one brand of laundry detergent sheet; I suppose that’s better than nothing.

Laundry sheets

The algorithm gods at Instagram have detected that I’m interested in what happens to the planet, which is how I came across my first dissolving laundry detergent sheet. A quick Google or Amazon search will bring up dozens of brands. So far, I’ve tried earth breeze’s sheets and Ecos Plant Powered Laundry Detergent Squares

earth breeze

The advantage to laundry sheets is, of course, that a pack takes up little to no space. Since they’re sheets, a 60-load pack of earth breeze is smaller than your typical photo paper package. This makes doing laundry while traveling amazingly easy because all you need to do is fill up the hotel sink with water, tear off an adequate-size piece from a sheet, and slip it into the water, where it dissolves instantly. This is great if you only want to wash a few items by hand. This brand also indicates how large a load of laundry one sheet will cover. Best of all, earth breeze donated sheets to cover ten loads of laundry to women’s shelters (they didn’t specify which ones, though).

Ecos Plant Powered Laundry Detergent

Ecos laundry squares comes in a box, so it’s not flat. It takes up more shelf space in your laundry room, when compared to earth breeze. When it comes to getting your laundry clean, these and earth breeze brand are the same. They both do a good job. On the flip side, I’ve only seen Ecos brand squares being sold on Amazon. The bad thing about this is that when you order a two box pack, the boxes are wrapped in plastic to keep them together. Another negative about this product is the packing. When you order something from Amazon, you don’t know who’s selling the product. So, in essence you have no control over product packing as you would if you purchase directly from the manufacturer. My two pack came in an Amazon box with plastic air packaging instead of brown paper to hold things in place.

Boxed laundry powder

Ingredients Matter is an eco-conscious laundry company that offers a few more products than earth breeze. What intrigued me about them is that to them, ingredients, well, matter. Their laundry cleaner product is a soap, not a detergent. This is important because detergents are primarily made with materials that are derived from petroleum, and I don’t want my consumer dollars to go toward plastic products. Ingredients Matter uses coconut soap flakes, natural salts, and essential oils to break down all that unsightly stuff in your laundry and give it a whiff of freshness as it thoroughly cleans. 

Ingredients Matter sells a variety of other laundry products such as wool dryer balls, stain sticks, and canvas laundry bags. They offer castile soap, both dishwasher and dish soap, window cleaner, and an all-purpose cleaner—but all these items are unfortunately packaged in plastic bottles. So, for the purposes of this blog post, they’re not the best choices. 

Other powdered detergent

Powdered soap or detergents aren’t packaged in plastic containers, regardless of their eco-friendliness. If you don’t care much for what ingredients you’re using in your laundry or if you think you can’t afford eco-brands, many leading brands such as Tide, All, and Gain sell powdered versions of their products in Publix, Costco and on Amazon.  I say “think” because I did do a bit of math, and most of these leading brands are comparable in price per load to lesser known, more eco-friendly brands. That said, Ingredients Matter, for instance, only offers 32-ounce boxes, which works out to 72 loads of laundry. Some of the leading brands available in Costco or on Amazon offer more loads per box, which ultimately cuts the amount of fossil fuels used to transport the detergent to you. If you’re in Publix, you’ll have to look for these products on the bottom shelf.

Liquid soap 

Grocery store shelves full of plastic jugs of liquid laundry detergent
Grocery store shelves full of plastic jugs of liquid laundry detergent. Only 10% of these jugs will get recycled. Notice the one box of Gain on the bottom shelf.

Cleancult offers a glass bottle and a refills system with a variety of eco-friendly cleaning liquids. Their refills are delivered in paper-based milk cartons and not plastic jugs. Ingenious! This is a great alternative, especially if you have a liquid soap plastic bottle left in your laundry area. You can purchase the refills—which by the way, comes in a pack of three cartons and yields up to 192 loads—and fill your leftover plastic jugs. If you didn’t keep your last jug, just buy the glass bottle they offer to store the liquid refills.

Also, for the laundry, Amazon has a variety of small shops that cater to eco-friendly laundry products, including wool dryer balls.

Plastic-free dish soap and dishwasher detergent

Grocery store shelves full of plastic containers of dish and dishwasher soap
Grocery store shelves are often full of plastic containers. These are dish and dishwasher soaps and detergent. My grocery store only offers a few boxes of loose Cascade powder (see bottom shelf). Only 10% of these containers will get recycled but none of the ones packed plastic bags.

You don’t have to settle for brands such as Cascade, Finish, or even Seventh Generation for dishwasher detergent. These products line the grocery shelves packaged in plastic buckets. Other than laundry sheets, earth breeze also offers plastic-free dishwasher tablets that work as well as the leading brand. The wife, who’s a staunch Cascade user, didn’t even notice. As with other product manufacturers that are conscious about the environment, plastic-free dishwasher detergent can easily be found on the internet. 

Within the Cleancult system of refillable glass bottle cleaners, dish and hand soaps are also available. You can search on their website for other great products, or you can check out their store on Amazon.

Plastic-free shower rituals

The shower is probably where we waste the most resources. Water, soap, shampoo, and other bath paraphernalia are used and simply dumped down the drain without as much as a shrug. We don’t even notice how much water a relatively quick 10-minute shower can waste. I suppose the upside is that water is a renewable resource; unless, of course, there’s a drought in your area. In general, it behooves us all to be conscious of water consumption because it might not always be a renewable resource. 

Plastic waste is also the byproduct of baths and showers. Think of all those soaps and liquids you’ve used in the shower throughout the course of your life. Shampoo, conditioner, and body wash containers; that’s a lot of plastic. And of course, if you do use liquid body soap, many use a plastic loofah to lather up and scrub their bodies. 

Soap products

Don’t worry, I have a great new product that reduces your dependence on plastic by 100 percent in the shower: bar soap. Okay, fine, it’s not a new invention by any means, but for some reason, bar soap had been left behind. A search on the internet reveals that their popularity might just be coming back. I have a friend who actually makes her own castile and lye soap bars.

If you don’t want the hassle and mess of making your own, the Earthling Co. makes soap bars and lathering alternatives that make bath time truly guilt free. They smell delicious. And they even have pet bar soap for my crazy bitch! 

The Earthling Co. offers plastic-free options for the bathroom as well as the kitchen. I tried a variety of their products and love most of them. They also offer convenient starter kits and collections at a lower price than buying the items individually. These collections make for fantastic gifts as well. You can sneakily get your friends conscious about the environment as well. My favorite shampoo and conditioner bars are the Cool Breeze and Sweet Sandalwood scents.

On their website, the company insists that all their shampoos are suitable for all hair types. Now, to be fair, Amazon also sells a variety of bar soap shampoos and conditioners. Those, however are made in China, which is terrible for your carbon footprint.

Other plastic-free products and tips to consider

Most of the brands I’ve mentioned above offer plastic-free cleaning products. Also, don’t neglect the plastic-free old faithful cleaning agents such as Ajax, Comet, baking soda, and borax for your kitchens and bathrooms that are packaged in cardboard. I even found a wood-handle toilet bowl brush you can buy when your plastic one dies.

I haven’t yet found a good replacement for wood cleaners, though. But most of the ones I’ve used in my adult life come in aluminum bottles. It’s not the best, but at least it’s not plastic.

Water

Switch to insulated water bottles made of stainless steel to keep your filtered water cool if you have access to clean water. If not, another option is to invest in a filtration system that will give you clean water. Take your own bottle with you when eating out at restaurants that serve beverages in plastic cups. Most of the time, they won’t mind filling your water bottle with their cold tap water.

Plastic-free pantry

Forgo the single-use plastic, and bag your groceries in your own canvas or other reusable grocery bags. And as an alternative to using a plastic grocery bag to dispose of your kitty’s waste, try using brown paper bags, plant-based bags, or compostable doggie poop bags.

Instead of purchasing condiments in plastic containers, opt for their glass jar alternative. Mayo, mustard, and tomato ketchup are all available in glass jars and bottles. Consider investing in reusable metal or wood straws rather than single-use plastic ones. S’well offers bendy stainless steel straws that makes it easy to drink a beverage from any position. They even offer a set of four with a cleaning brush. 

Why buy plastic packs of herbs at the grocery store when you can start an herb garden? Quit throwing your money away on herbs that perish in the refrigerator. If you don’t have space in your yard for a proper herb box or fenced area, try individual planter pots (non-plastic, of course) and plant a variety of herbs for your kitchen windowsill.

Herb gardens are easy to start
Herb gardens are easy to start

Check out your local farmers markets for fresh fruits and vegetables instead of buying them at the grocery store, where they’re wrapped or packaged in plastic containers.

Office supplies

Buy a durable fountain or ballpoint pen that can be refilled with bottled ink as opposed to tossing out your plastic disposable pens when the ink has dried. Refillable pens are forged in a variety of materials: wood, resin, metal, and acrylic to name a few. I have many fountain pens, and I use bottle ink as an alternative to single-use plastic ink cartridges when my ink runs out. The only draw back to this is that pen companies include an ink cartridge with each pen. Regardless, think of the pen as an heirloom that can be passed down for generations.

Deliveries

One thing to consider, however, when ordering your plastic-free products from Amazon is that they might be packed together using plastic bubble wrap to prevent damage. Chances are, if you buy directly from eco companies, you’ll likely avoid the plastic.

Thoughtful plastic-free planning

The goal of making these switches is to reduce plastic waste wherever possible. Find a suitable replacement. I’m confident that they exist for most products. When our products are plastic-free, we’re one step closer to eliminating our dependency on plastics. Take a serious look at your household for products that can be swapped for more sustainably packaged versions.

Every bit counts, and as we decrease our plastic waste, we’re making investments in our families as well as the environment. But please don’t go around your home throwing away half empty plastic containers of cleaners and other products to start using plastic-free choices. Only about 10 percent of the plastic waste you put in your bin gets recycled, so replace your items as they run out. And try to reuse the containers you already have before dumping them in the recycle bin.

Another way you can reduce your plastic waste, as well as your carbon footprint is to go vegan. I went vegan in 2013 and haven’t looked back. While it wasn’t necessarily easy, it’s not the nightmare most carnivores portray it to be. Read about how I made the whole-food, plant-based switch here.

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