100 Ways to Eliminate Single Use Plastics (Buds of Spring special!)

My bud, Matt, runs a month-long event every year called Buds Of Spring, which is, perhaps, best described as a social rally to spend the month of April making healthy habit shifts in the run-up to Summer.

This thing has been getting a little bit bigger and better with each year: when I ran into Matt at the neighborhood coffee shop last week, he told me that this year, he was rallying folks to avoid #SingleUsePlastic for the month of April along with any personal habits we might wish to shift at the same time (you’re invited to join us: sign up!).

As we got to talking about it, he invited me to put together a list of strategies for cutting out single use plastics, and I said ‘sure!’ And then, it became almost-April and I realized I’d better get cracking…

I had thought I’d come up with 30 ideas, one for each day in April, but then the creative idea generation process got all fun and I decided to keep going, so you’ll find 100 ideas, big & small, for avoiding single use plastics.

For those of you doing your first #SingleUsePlastic effort starting on Monday, I’m going to give you a freebie! While the objective of this friendly self-bet is to avoid acquiring new plastic, plastic is downright ubiquitous, and you may find your perfect streak threatened. Should this happen, the easiest way to turn this around for yourself is to find a creative way to turn that #SingleUsePlastic into #SecondUsePlastic.

This is a creative problem solving practice that’ll make the competition (and mistakes) more fun, and will also help you think differently about the potential of the things that make their way into our lives for other reasons: “what could this thing be or do for me?”  A few ideas: tuck it away to use as lunch wrap tomorrow, wash that plastic utensil & reuse it, you get the picture…

Plastics are made using fossil fuels, which means that their production & use generate revenue for #BigOil and climate denial (manufacturers purchase these materials and roll their costs into the price of That Thing Wrapped In Reconstituted Dinosaur Goop).

So: our shared goal during a #SingleUsePlastic boycott (we can call it that, right?) is to avoid acquiring things that were deliberately manufactured for immediate disposal (and corporate profits), and specifically, to avoid those that were made using fossil fuel derivatives.

And so, within this framework, here we go!

  1. Pay attention when making purchases: most single use plastics come into our lives when we buy stuff.

 

  1. Second guess your shopping impulses: what are you trying to solve with that purchase? Can you solve the problem without buying something new?

 

  1. If you must make purchases, shop secondhand first, where most products don’t come wrapped in plastic.

 

  1. Sign up for an app to gamify your efforts. Example: https://mylittleplasticfootprint.org/

 

  1. When you shop online, stick with small businesses, and ask them to send your purchase in secondhand packaging instead of inheriting a bunch of made-for-you heat-sealed air bubbles from Amazon. eBay and Etsy are just two of many easy-to-find places to support small sellers online. There are many.

 

  1. If you can’t avoid acquiring plastic, make a point to consider how you could reuse the plastic at least one more time before you buy the product encased within it. Example: food sold in resealable bags = resealable bag that can be used over and over again.

 

  1. Replace saran wrap with beeswrap (or, cover the bowl with a plate. Or, put your food in a covered container. Or, put it in a bag that might otherwise have been thrown away). Many ways to solve this challenge.

 

  1. If your condiments come in plastic jars, seek options in glass or metal, instead (and then, reuse those).

 

  1. Say ‘no’ to straws. Yes, people with maxillofacial complications are obviously encouraged to use them, and we are all encouraged not to judge each other for using them (because who’s to know?).

 

  1. When buying flowers, ask the florist to avoid putting them in a sleeve.

 

  1. Bulk purchase is your friend – but bring your own containers (and, this is actually a double opportunity: save and use plastic peanut butter jars, etc. so you can avoid picking up new plastic bags). Write their tare weight on them using a sharpie so you can use them over and over again. Pop them in an easy-to-reach tote between uses.

 

  1. Send a pleasant request to your Instacart shopper: “I know it’s instacart policy to plastic bag all produce, but I’m trying to avoid plastic (insert reason), and I’d really appreciate if you’d skip that step for my order. Thanks!”). Tipping well will help ensure they’re willing to do it again (for you or someone else).

 

  1. Have you found an ongoing use for a specific previously single-use container? Reach out on Next Door or FB to ask others to collect them for you. #SecondUsePlastics for the win!

 

  1. Buy bread from bakeries or bulk – bring your own bag

 

  1. Do you use a food vacuum sealer? Test single use plastics to see if they can be reused instead of buying new rolls.

 

  1. Ditch the zip locks: or, if you must, use them over and over until they break.

 

  1. Make your popcorn from scratch.

 

  1. Don’t buy new stuff wrapped in plastic just to avoid buying other things wrapped in plastic. Source those zero-waste solutions secondhand!

 

  1. Don’t buy products or systems that require you to continue buying parts and materials that are – or are wrapped in – plastic.

 

  1. Make your own condiments! Ketchup, BBQ sauce, jellies are all yummier made from scratch. Pick recipes where you can freeze or can the extra yums.

 

  1. Hire a diaper service and go for reusable baby wipes (you can even make some out of an old flannel shirt, mmm!)

 

  1. Ditch single use latex gloves if you don’t have a medical/hygienic reason that requires their use.

 

  1. Use gauze or let your wound breathe instead of using band-aids.

 

  1. Make your own baby food…puree, freeze in ice cube trays, and pop ‘em in a Tupperware container.

 

  1. Keep plenty of storage containers on hand at home.

 

  1. Hang onto chip & bread bags to use as right-sized waste bags so you don’t need to buy rolls of plastic waste bags.

 

  1. Compost your own food waste (those bio bags are still plastic)

 

  1. Bite the ‘easier’ bullet and choose to systemically eliminate plastic utensils, plastic bags, and plastic containers from your small business. You might need a dishwasher. Be strategic about how to participate in the solution instead of the problem.

 

  1. When wrapping gifts, use ribbon or cord instead of tape!

 

  1. Carry a water bottle so you can refill it as needed.

 

  1. Thirsty while out? Forgot the water bottle? Choose to purchase a drink that comes in a glass or metal container. Better still if it’s reusable.

 

  1. Potty training the pooch? Find a solution where you can use newspaper instead of plastic pee-pads.

 

  1. If you’re a tampon user, choose the ones w/ paper wrapping & cardboard tubes.

 

  1. Instead of pads w/ plastic backing, invest in a different solution: Thinx-style underwear or washable cotton/flannel pads are both great options.

 

  1. Makeup: avoid products sold in plastic dispensers, period. Question why you’re wearing it in the first place. Does it serve you?

 

  1. Keep a spare set of utensils in your purse or backpack

 

  1. Ditch your Blue Apron subscription (or any other meal delivery service where portions show up in sealed plastic).

 

  1. Buy seedlings/plants in biodegradable (peat, etc.) containers.

 

  1. Open bubble mailers and other plastic envelopes carefully at one end so you can use them again.

 

  1. Leave any unavoidable plastic food packaging at the grocery before you go home (come prepared with containers, etc.). Ask if you can pop ‘em in the grocery trash or recycling receptacle. This creates awareness while pushing the waste costs closer to where they belong.

 

  1. If you’re hooked on products that are only available in plastic wrap, contact the manufacturers – let them know you want plastic-free options.

 

  1. Shop at and support companies that make a point to sell products that aren’t packaged in trash. Again: secondhand is a great way to avoid not only plastic, but the upstream emissions & resource use attributable to new manufacturing.

 

  1. Call your representatives about packaging/plastic-related legislation (if there isn’t any specific legislation, ask them for it). Find others interested in the same. Organize!

 

  1. If you’re a casual artist, opt for watercolors or colored pencils over acrylic paint.

 

  1. When running your small business, choose NOT to package your items in newly manufactured plastic bags: your commercial decisions add up much more quickly than any of your customers’ personal ones.

 

  1. Instead of stick deodorant, try using a lemon slice. Wipe it on, let it dry, off you go!

 

  1. Bring mason jars to the co-op for bulk detergents, syrups, vinegars & oils. You can put them in mittens or wrap them in tea towels to keep them from clanking into each other in your backpack.

 

  1. Leave your produce naked in the shopping cart: every plastic bag is money for #BigOil

 

  1. Hang onto extra plastics and use them as packing materials.

 

  1. Buy pet food and supplies in paper bags/cartons or in bulk.

 

  1. Make it a game! Avoiding plastics is a creative problemsolving opportunity.

 

  1. When you go for walks, make it active: bring along a plastic bag or other receptacle and pick up others’ plastic waste as you go (it might be yours, anyway, if it flew off the back of a garbage truck).

 

  1. Get involved in pollution mitigation organizations: volunteer your time for policy, activism, clean-up.

 

  1. Celebrate each better choice: it feels good to make more ethical decisions!

 

  1. Make a point to understand the system we live in: plastic production enriches the same companies that have been misleading us about climate change for longer than many of us have been alive.

 

  1. Decide – choose – to hold yourself accountable for the full lifecycle of the things you allow into your life.

 

  1. Every single time you reuse something plastic that already exists instead of buying a new copy (this goes for single use and everything else plastic), you withhold funding from the fossil fuel industry. Small choices add up (spread the word!).

 

  1. Portion your own ‘100 calorie’ snacks. Put them in small mason jars to avoid a bunch of tiny plastic-foil garbages. Fastest way to knock off the single use snack packs, make your own fruit snacks.

 

  1. Recognize your immense privilege: if you have the head space and time and energy to focus on reducing your personal plastic use, you’ve got more brain space available for this sort of thing than many others do.

 

  1. Talk with friends and neighbors about what you’re working on. Share your challenges (transparency instead of perfection!) on social media. Help make it easier for others to get on board!

 

  1. How can you expand your impact beyond your own household? Consider your resources and opportunities. Get creative!

 

  1. Find organizations that can legitimately use plastic items that are unavoidable or that you may not need. You can find some Twin Cities options here: https://shopjunket.com/resources/for-donors/

 

  1. Pill bottles are great for storage and organizing of small things. Label the bottles colorfully so they’re easy to distinguish from each other on sight.

 

  1. When buying products in glass bottles or metal cans, check that the labels aren’t made out of plastic. Thinking you’ve done the right thing and then realizing you’ve bought plastic, anyway, is a buzzkill.

 

  1. The bags inside of cereal bags are easy to reuse for other snacks – just use a chip clip or a clothes pin to keep ‘em closed.

 

  1. Dog poo bags: if you can, use them for more than one round. And, of course, fenced yards are a nice alternative to daily bag use.

 

  1. Ask your service providers about their plastic practices: hair stylists, dog groomers, cleaners, yard work: not only can you use this as a selection criterion to support businesses that are paying attention to the same things you value, but you’ll also let them know that this is important to you (and if they hear it often enough, perhaps they’ll make a shift…).

 

  1. Going out for ice cream? Buy it in a cone. Or, bring your own bowl & spoon and something for containing your dirty dishes afterward.

 

  1. Takeout: ask about takeout containers before you order. If necessary, ask if you can bring your own containers. If not, choose a different restaurant or make dinner at home.

 

  1. Question whether gifts are as great as we’ve been led to think they are: if you’re gifted something encased in single use plastic, is that really a good gift for someone who cares about things like these? We need to rethink the relationship between ‘gifts’ and perceived virtue, and this is one way to wrap our heads around it.

 

  1. Send it back: did you buy something that came wrapped in an obscene amount of packaging? Send it back with a letter. Ship it in one of those bubble wrap packets you’ve been saving from a previous order. Send it via ground shipping, of course.

 

  1. Use paper sealing tape instead of plastic when shipping packages

 

  1. If you’re hooked on Q-Tips, use the biodegradable ones with a paper stick. Or, use a warm cloth or reusable tool designed for this purpose.

 

  1. Use dental floss from a roll (none of those little plastic pick thingies).

 

  1. Invest in a metal razor w/ replaceable blades. Or, choose not to shave (hey- it’s for the planet!)

 

  1. Replace paper products and household consumables (that are invariably packaged in single use plastics) with reusable versions (paper towels, tissues, cotton balls, etc.).

 

  1. BYO Bag (yeah, you’re already on it, go you!).

 

  1. If you buy soda or beer, get your cans in cardboard instead of plastic-strapped 6-pack

 

  1. Smoke? Get a refillable metal lighter – even better if it’s vintage!

 

  1. Stop crafting in new plastic. Update any product offerings to eliminate plastic.

 

  1. Avoid buying melting plastic crafty things (shrinky dinks, fuse beads, Makit & Bakit, etc.) in particular!

 

  1. Skip the kids meals w/ toys & plastic-wrapped fruit.

 

  1. Avoid replacing your old single use plastic habits with new silicone products.

 

  1. Don’t want a whole bottle of wine tonight? Go for a smaller can instead of opting for a 4-6 week box w/ a plastic bladder.

 

  1. Don’t buy new clothing with poly/nylon/lycra (sure, it may be multi-use, but the first time you wash it, you’ll be sending micro-plastics into the water system).

 

  1. Go paperless billing to avoid getting a bunch of envelopes with plastic windows…

 

  1. Frequent restaurants that don’t pre-plastic-package their condiments. If your favorite restaurant does it, ask them to change their practice.

 

  1. Avoid plastic office products & labels. Skip plastic-wrapped paper clips.

 

  1. Post-it notes are sticky because of a polymer-based (plastic) adhesive. Rediscover magnets, paper clips, and string tied around fingers…

 

  1. Duct tape’s frequently made using a polyethylene (plastic) coating. Choose differently.

 

  1. Buy gums, mints, and candies in recyclable paper, reusable metal containers, or in bulk.

 

  1. Consider your habits: which of them involve plastic that we haven’t listed here? Could you shift them?

 

  1. Use chip bags and bread bags for garbage (compete with yourself to see how long you can use a single bag before you need to take out the trash).

 

  1. Share your enthusiasm for cleaner living with anyone who’ll listen: Lyft drivers, Tinder dates…be authentic, share your values, it’s contagious!

 

  1. Speaking of dates: be strategic about that first date (just in case): make sure it’s somewhere with a social presence you’ll feel good about supporting if that place just happens to be The Place You Met (until the end of time).

 

  1. Involve your kiddos in the plastic-free effort. Make plastic-free part of their chores or allowance (bonus: they’ll keep you in check, too).

 

  1. Build in rewards for yourself! If you make it a week without plastic, what will you do to celebrate? Make sure it’s motivating. Increase your targets as you get better at this.

 

  1. Make your own energy bites or bars or gel (small reusable flasks for the win)

 

  1. DIY popsicles

 

  1. Remember that this isn’t a purity test or a way to protect your body (we’ve passed that point with microplastics & BPA in cord blood). Instead, this is about the greater good: do your best, learn from the process, and take time to understand how we got to this place so you can participate more effectively in the undoing of our planet’s plastic predicament.
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