Start Your Plastic Free Journey Here

Updated 06/26/21

Want to break up with plastic but don’t know where to start?

Start Here

Top 3 Ways to Break Up With Plastic

  • Eat more home-cooked food. Ultra-processed convenience food and to-go food almost always come in plastic wrappers and containers. Food you or someone else cooks at home does not.
  • Refuse single-use plastic. Say no to plastic shopping bags; plastic straws and stir sticks; plastic utensils, plates and cups; and other disposable plastic items.
  • Ban the bottle. Stop buying water, soda, energy drinks, juice and other beverages packaged in plastic bottles.

50 Ways to Get There

How to Shop

1. Bring your own cloth shopping bags. Opt for natural fibers when you choose bags. Synthetic materials shed tiny plastic fibers in the washing machine. This plastic ends up in our rivers, lakes and oceans. You can buy cloth shopping bags pretty much everywhere today. You can also buy them online from stores such as Ecobags and Life Without Plastic.

2. Bring your own cloth produce bags. You won’t want to stuff your reusable shopping bags with plastic produce and bulk bags. I sew very simple bags. They last for years. If you don’t want to make your own bags, you can often find them at health food stores and food co-ops. You can also buy them online at Ecobags, Tiny Yellow Bungalow and Life Without Plastic. Again, opt for natural fibers.

3. Bring your own glass jars and bottles. Get the weight on these before you fill them up at the bulk bins. At some stores, customer service will weigh them for you and mark the tare (i.e., weight) on them. Other stores set out scales and you weigh the jars yourself. The cashier will deduct the weight of the jar from the total weight of your food when checking you out so you pay for the food only.

4. Bring your own metal containers. Use these lightweight containers for the deli, meat, cheese and ready-cooked food at the grocery store. I have several LunchBots.

5. Make a shopping list and stick to it. With a shopping list in hand, you will not only avoid all those plastic-wrapped impulse buys at the front of the checkout, you’ll also know just how many bags, jars and containers you’ll need to take with you shopping. A little bit of planning will help you eliminate a great deal of your waste.

6. Shop more frequently for less food. If you can do this, you’ll waste less food because you’ll have less perishable food on hand to go bad before you can eat it. If less of the food you buy goes to waste, you’ll buy less food overall. Because so much of the food at stores is packaged in plastic, the less food you buy, the less packaging you’ll likely bring home.

Where to Shop

7. Fill up at the bulk bins. Search for bulk stores worldwide at Users can also submit stores not yet listed on this web-based app. Fill your reusable cloth bags, glass jars and other containers with staples like beans, rice, flour, oats, nuts, seeds, dried fruit and so on. Some bulk stores have an extensive selection that includes cleaning and personal care products and pet food.

8. Hit the farmers’ market. At many farmers’ markets you’ll find fresh, seasonal, local, organic produce that has not been wrapped in plastic and instead, sits loose in bins. Use your reusable produce bags to fill up. Find your local farmer’s market in the US through Local Harvest.

9. Shop at thrift stores and yard sales. Opt for second-hand kitchen wares (and other wares too) rather than new. New items require energy and raw materials to produce and they almost always feature at least some plastic packaging.

What to Buy

10. Choose fresh, seasonal fruit and vegetables. The best food for you—seasonal vegetables and fruit—is also best for the environment and economy when you buy it locally. It travels fewer miles. You can find much of it unpackaged. More of your money stays in your local community.

11. Opt for foods lower on the food chain. Where I live, cheese almost always comes wrapped in plastic. Meat is often either wrapped in plastic or portioned out on foam trays wrapped in plastic. When you eat lower on the food chain you waste less packaging materials (beans are often easy to find in bulk) and you reduce the amount of resources that go into producing food higher on the food chain. Meat requires much more water than vegetables, for example.

12. Buy milk in returnable glass bottles. I can buy milk from a few dairies that sell their milk in glass: Claravale, which is raw, Straus and St. Benoit. St. Benoit also sells yogurt in glass jars, which are recyclable but not returnable. Depending on where you live, your local dairy may deliver milk in glass bottles that it later picks up—just like the old days.

13. Buy loose bread in your own cloth bag. Many grocery stores and bakeries stock their loaves, rolls, bagels, pastries and so on, loose in a bin or display case. Put it in a cloth produce bag or hand your bag to the clerk to do that for you.

14. Drink loose-leaf tea. Fabric and mesh tea bags are often made of synthetic material (i.e., plastic). Landfill aside, you don’t want to eat or drink something after it has come into contact with hot plastic. When you heat food—or tea leaves—in plastic, nasty chemicals can leach into what you’re about to consume. Even paper tea bags may contain small amounts of plastic. And most tea bags—synthetic or paper—are individually wrapped, then stuffed into a box that is often wrapped in yet more plastic.

What not to Buy

15. Cut out the processed food. Shop the perimeter of the grocery store, where you’ll find produce, dairy and the fish and meat counters. In the middle section—the aisles—you’ll find only processed food and products wrapped in plastic packaging (think snacks and sodas, cereal and energy bars, canned vegetables and shelf-stable pickles). Cut the processed food and you’ve cut most of the plastic coming into—and out of—your kitchen.

16. Ban bottled water. According to The Story of Stuff website, Americans alone “buy more than half a million bottles of water per week. That enough to circle the globe more than 5 times.” This is madness.

17. Skip the bottled beverages. If you drink more water, you’ll drink less soda, energy drinks and juice. Bottled beverages almost always come in plastic bottles and even when they are packaged in glass, they most always have big plastics lid that can’t go in the recycling bin. Not that recycling is the answer. It’s not. Reduction is.

18. Kick the K-cup. In 2014, Keurig alone sold nearly 10 billion coffee pod packs, and that number includes multi-packs, so the actual number of single pods is larger. Use a French press and ground coffee beans. Buy the beans in bulk and either have them ground at the store or grind them at home.

Out and About

19. Keep a zero-waste kit packed and ready to go. Into a small bag, pack your travel mug or thermos, a metal container or jar for leftovers, a napkin and real utensils. When you’re out, if you want a cup of tea or coffee, a snack or a meal, you’ll be prepared to both enjoy them waste-free and bring home whatever food you couldn’t finish. Learn how to pull together a zero-waste kit for zero dollars in this post.

20. Tell your server up front. When you order in a restaurant, tell your server you don’t want a straw, you’d like your coffee in a ceramic cup, you brought your own cutlery, you brought your own container for leftovers and so on. Let them know in advance so they don’t bring unnecessary plastic to the table. Putting a straw in a drink is an automatic response for them.

21. Refuse stuff. Hand back packaging you don’t want to cashiers, vendors, waiters and so on. For example, at my farmer’s market, vendors often bunch vegetables like carrots, green onions and asparagus together with rubber bands. I pull these off and give them back. The vendors always seem happy to have them to reuse.

In the Kitchen

22. Cook. If you cut the processed food, you’ll cook more. Not only will you reduce your packaging waste, you’ll also reduce your food waste because as you become more adept in the kitchen, you’ll learn what to do with the food you already have on hand. That means you’ll buy less food, eat a healthier diet and avoid chemicals in plastic packaging that may leach into your food.

23. Learn to preserve food. Extend the season by fermenting food. A head of cabbage left at room temperature will rot within a couple of weeks. Preserve it through fermentation—make sauerkraut or kimchi—and it will keep for months, even a year or longer. Read more about fermentation here. Freezing also preserves food. Roast and freeze tomatoes when they are in season and during winter, you can forgo tomatoes in cans (which are lined with plastic).

24. Make non-dairy milk. Nut milks and rice milk almost always come in wasteful Tetra Paks, made of several layers of materials, including plastic. If you have a blender, you can make these milks yourself at home. Here’s a recipe for almond milk. Here’s one for rice milk.

25. Make more staples yourself. Yogurt, vanilla extract and chocolate syrup—foods usually packaged in plastic—are easy to make. Other easy-to-make staples that usually come in either plastic or plastic-lined cans include scrap vinegar, beans (either in a pressure cooker or slow cooker), bean sproutspumpkin purée… For more ideas, take a look at my recipe index here.

26. Compost. After you’ve finished preparing your meal, staples or fermented food, throw any unusable food scraps onto the compost pile. Some municipal compost bins require you to dispose of your compost in supposedly compostable plastic bags. You can however compost your food scraps at home with minimal effort. Here’s how I compost the lazy way.

27. Opt for glass food storage rather than plastic. Plastic food storage containers can range in color from opaque to foggy clear plastic. When you store food in glass containers, you can see what’s in the refrigerator or pantry at a glance and you’re more likely to actually eat it rather than let it go to waste. Plus plastic won’t come into contact with your food.

28. Hoard glass jars. When you go plastic-free and zero-waste, you’ll need jars. You can use them to fill up with staples in the bulk aisles, store food, freeze food, ferment food, sprout beans, pack lunches, transport lunch scraps home for compost, drink from, eat from. Find free or cheap jars by asking your neighbors for theirs, searching through recycling bins and hunting for them at thrift shops and yard sales. You can easily remove labels and eliminate odors from the lids of used jars.

29. Store produce without plastic. Use cloth produce bags, glass jars and glass containers. Some produce, such as cauliflower, carrots, and cabbage don’t need any special treatment. It can just roll around in your crisper drawer. Greens keep well in cloth produce bags. Store produce properly and you’ll also reduce food waste. For more information, read this post.

30. Freeze food without plastic. Use glass jars, cloth bags and metal containers. Take a few precautions, and you can safely freeze food in glass jars. Always leave headspace when freezing liquids. Be careful about how you stack jars in your freezer so they don’t fall out when you open the door. To thaw, transfer your jar or container to the refrigerator the night before you need it. For more information, read this post.

31. If you choose to filter your water, try naked charcoal. Unlike Brita filters, these hunks of charcoal have no packaging around them. Simply plop the charcoal into a pitcher or jug and fill with tap water. The charcoal will absorb chlorine, lead, mercury, cadmium and copper from the water water, while imparting calcium, potassium, magnesium and phosphates. Life Without Plastic carries these.

32. Ditch the plastic wrap. Want to cover a bowl of leftovers? Put a plate over it or cover it with a beeswax wrap, rather than a sheet of plastic wrap. You can make beeswax wraps or buy them. I have some Abeego Wraps I really like. When they finally wear out (they last a long time), you can compost them.

33. Ditch the plastic baggies. You have several alternatives, such as metal LunchBots and metal tiffins. One of these days I hope to sew some cloth sandwich bags, or better yet, make some out of kombucha SCOBY leather.

34. Ditch the paper towels. These not only waste paper but the plastic they are always wrapped in. Use rags instead, wash and reuse them. Or make unpaper towels.

35. If you wash dishes with sponges, opt for natural sponges. When plastic sponges begin to fall apart, little bits of them go down the drain. I use cellulose sponges that I buy loose at Rainbow Grocery in San Francisco, or I wash my dishes with cloths I knit using natural fibers. Both options can go into the compost after they deteriorate. Natural loofahs are wonderful and compostable.

36. Wash dishes with homemade dish soap. It doesn’t lather up like the commercial stuff in plastic bottles does but it works. Here’s the recipe. Or buy blocks of dish soap, such as No Tox Life’s.

In the Bathroom

37. Clean with vinegar and baking soda. These work well and you can make your own vinegar out of fruit peels or by letting kombucha ferment to the point of vinegar. If you can’t find bulk baking soda, buy the largest box of it you can find to reduce the overall packaging waste (one large box versus many small boxes). After you ditch the plastic, you’ll use it for all sorts of things around the home, from washing greasy pots to washing your hair.

38. Buy loose bathroom tissue rolls wrapped in paper. I pay a bit extra for these so I either buy the most inexpensive brand or stock up when these go on sale. I usually buy Caboo brand or Seventh Generation. These single rolls are quite large and so last a while.

39. Line the trash can with the paper. If you have reached zero-waste, you won’t have a trash can in the bathroom but most people do. Line it with newspapers or the paper wrapped around your plastic-free toilet paper in #38.

Personal Care

40. Raid the pantry to make personal care products. If my hair is frizzy, I rub a very tiny dab of coconut oil between my palms and smooth that over my hair. When I cook with olive oil, I rub any excess into my hands to soften my skin. Dab small amounts of olive oil on your face also to moisturize it. You can make your own deodorant (#44) and toothpaste or toothpowder (#45).

41. Take back the bar. Liquid soap wastes so much plastic—the bottle and the pump. Use naked bars of soap. Whole Foods carries these. You can also buy them online from from Aquarian Bath, a plastic-free bath and body products shop and Etsy shops.

42. Buy bulk shampoo or a shampoo bar or wash your hair the “no-poo” way. Some bulk stores carry shampoo in large vats. I have trouble finding shampoo bars locally. You can buy them online from Aquarian Bath. You can also wash your hair with baking soda, followed by a vinegar rinse. Get more information here.

43. Shave with a safety razor. Replacement cartridges, such as those from Gillette, both contain excessive amounts of plastic and are packaged in excessive amounts of plastic. Safety razors, on the other hand, shave with actual metal razor blades. When the blade becomes dull, you replace only the thin, inexpensive blade. Life Without Plastic carries these razors.

44. Brush with a bamboo toothbrush. The bristles may not biodegradable completely but the handle does. I use Brush With Bamboo. I can buy these at my Whole Foods and a local health food store. You can find them online at Life Without Plastic and Tiny Yellow Bungalow.

45. Make your own deodorant. Combine 1/4 cup baking soda, 1/4 cup cornstarch and 2 tablespoons coconut oil in a glass jar. With your finger, apply a pea-sized amount under each arm. Works like magic. Read more information here.

46. Make your own toothpaste. Here is a recipe for toothpaste and here is one for tooth powder.

47. Use aloe for lube. Aloe works so well. Grow an aloe plant indoors near a window, break off leaves as needed, squeeze out the juice and apply. Aloe juice also helps soothe cuts and sunburns.

48. Choose cloth diapers. Use a diaper service or buy cloth diapers and launder them yourself. Many disposable diapers are filled with chemicals and they waste paper and plastic.

49. Remove makeup with reusable cloth pads. I sewed some of these years ago—back when I still wore makeup. They are circles of flannel, stitched together.

50. Invest in a menstrual cup or reusable cloth menstrual pads. I use both. I sewed the pads out of old flannel receiving blankets I had made long ago when I was pregnant with my younger daughter. Here are some patterns for pads. You can buy cloth pads from LunaPads and Glad Rags. I also have a Diva Cup. You can buy these at many drug stores and some grocery stores. Just look in the aisle with menstrual products. Both cloth pads and menstrual cups cost quite a bit upfront but eventually they pay for themselves many times over.

46 Replies to “Start Your Plastic Free Journey Here”

  1. Kate Mundie says: Reply

    Could you use loofah instead of cellulose sponges?

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      Absolutely you could! You can even grow gourds and harvest the loofah yourself (I’ve never tried but would love to):

  2. This is a great post! I’ve done some the stuff listed here already, but searching for zero waste lyfestyle tips is SO hard bc most blogs/youtubes/websites are messy and stuff. My dream scenario is having a bookmarked pdf with all that information in had, categorized like you put here. You don’t happen to have written a book with this or prepared a pdf file, have you?

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      Hi there Iana, I love this idea. I have created several PDFs and eventually hope to add a new “Downloads” page to my blog and store them all there. I’ve added this one to this post. You can access it here: Thanks for the suggestion. ~ Anne Marie

  3. Some very useful ideas, thanks!

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      Thank you 🙂

  4. I’m really glad to have discovered your blog. The problems caused by plastic have been more and more at the forefront of my mind recently and I really need to cut it out of my life as much as possible. It’s great to have a site where people can go and share their experiences, led by your brilliant posts. Looking forward to following from now on. I attempted a fruit and veg plastic boycott earlier in the year, but must admit that I still fall foul of getting plastic wrapped stuff. We all really need to make a conscious effort to stamp it out of our lives, but it’s not easy. We need to be strong together.

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      Hi Ben. The plastic pollution problem is horrifying. More and more people seem to be aware of it today than even five years ago. It’s easy to run afoul when you’re on a boycott because the stuff is just everywhere. Business needs to do its part and not leave it up to us, the consumers, to clean up the mess. But I think just about everyone can make different choices and at least reduce their plastic consumption. Thanks for following 🙂 ~ Anne Marie

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      I just checked out your post. That pic of the plastic trash with the forest in the background 🙁 I agree that your individual actions will make a difference. Other people will see what you do and it will create ripples.

  5. You’re spot on! Love your ideas and I use many, myself. Being frugal often aligns with zero waste!

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      Thank you! I totally agree that frugality and zero waste go together. It’s a win-win!

  6. Love these ideas! Definitely will put these to practice!

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      Great, Andrea. Thanks! ~ Anne Marie

  7. Re produce bags – our organic store provides compostable bags for produce – also, think paper bags for bulk grains, beans, etc. What’s your take?

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      Can you take your own cloth produce bags? I don’t put a lot of faith in those compostable claims. They are compostable in certain facilities and even if they did break down into soil (which they don’t), it’s still a waste of resources since they are only used once. You can reuse them until they wear out (same with paper). That’s better than using them once and then tossing them. Reusable cloth produce and bulk bags are ideal. But just do your best 🙂

  8. Great suggestions! Also, great idea of putting a “start here” section! That helped a lot lol!

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      I’m glad that helped, Ariana. I hoped it would give people a starting point. I remember the difficulty of transitioning at first. Happy new year! ~ Anne Marie

  9. I am so “STOKED” I was told about youi from my good friend Avis Richards. Wow, I love what you do and would love to share with you what I do in regards to Sustainability.

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      Thank you so much Michael. If you’d like to send me an email to tell me more, you can go to my about page and fill out the contact form. ~ Anne Marie

  10. So helpful. While I do most of these when talking with friends and family there wasn’t one article I could refer them to with lots of helpful ideas…this is it. Thanks.

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      Great! Thank you! ~ Anne Marie

  11. Great suggestions! Thank you very much!

  12. […] The Zero Waste Chef. Great recipes and practical advice on reducing plastic use and rubbish. […]

  13. Hi. I nominated you for a Blogger Recognition Award. I only found you recently, but so far I’m loving your content and the way you write! I’m new to consciously living ZW, but I’m pleased that I do a lot of these things already.

  14. I love many of your solutions, but did you know you can make a disposable razor last over a year? All you have to do is soak your razor head in soap after every time you use it and immediately rub the razor part the opposite direction on a piece of jean material 20-30 times and it is good as new every time! I shave my legs every week and mine on average last a year and a half. Pack of 3 razors = 5 years, not bad!

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      Thank you for this info Debbie! That’s amazing!
      ~ Anne Marie

  15. Want to hear of how to make a tooth stick to further go plastic free now? All you have to do is cut a five or six inch long birch branch, shape into a wedge, sew a snug sleeve to fit over top from textured microfibre cloth, and brush with either homemade toothpaste or salted water using Himalayan sea salt while using the wedged and covered end. You then stand it up to dry between uses and all you replace is the cover when necessary. So hobbit house!

  16. the most ecological thing i have done recently is to forego toilet paper by purchasing – i use my hand to swish it around – as probably half the world does – then dry off with washable t-shirt pieces.

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      Thanks for the recommendation Sharon 🙂
      ~ Anne Marie

    2. Sharon could you share which product you got from them? My in laws have been looking for one and we’re not sure which model they have works best, thanks

  17. I can no longer use my own cloth bag for bulk foods at Whole Foods. They ask that you only use bags/containers provided by THEM. Are you or any of your readers having this issue?

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      Ugh. Yes, people have told me the same thing. It seems to depend on where you live. I hope it doesn’t spread to everywhere. I can still do it here in Northern California.

      ~ Anne Marie

  18. […] – reduce – re-use – recycle (and rot volgens The Zero Waste chef. In that order, zegt ze er nog eens streng bij) Nu vind ik ‘rot’ ofwel composteren ook […]

  19. […] Anne Marie Bonneau focuses on zero waste in the kitchen. She insists that you don’t need to buy things to go zero waste; using your creativity instead will take you far. Anne Marie hosts produce bag sewing meetups to make bags out of donated fabric and runs workshops on fermented foods. She doesn’t shy away from the issues of the day and recognizes that zero waste exists within a larger environmental and social imperative. To get started, take her 14- day zero food waste challenge and review her 50 tips for going waste free. […]

  20. Thanks you for the helpful tips.

  21. Thank you very much for all the good advice, they are very easy to apply on top of that.
    I will add nevertheless for Self Care to use bamboo instead of cotton stems and also a part about internet pollution which is not negligible.

  22. Thank you so much for the information!!!

    1. Great tips! Also refuse the single use samples from places like Costco and Trader Joe’s.

  23. […] de llegir que el 40% del menjar que es produeix als Estats Units no es menjarà mai, (també aquí ), us deixo alguns […]

  24. Cloth menstrual pads don’t have to be expensive! I made my own from: scrap patchwork cotton (an old shirt would be just as good and yield loads of fabric); tea towels which were too raggy to use on the dishes anymore; press studs salvaged from old laundry bags; sewing cotton left over from other projects. Experiment with how many layers of tea towel inner you need to last a few hours comfortably. For extra protection overnight if I’m not sure how icky it will be, I shove an old (clean!) sock between pants and pad. I never actually needed it, but the peace of mind made sleep easier.

    It is a completely free, 100% recyclable solution, far, FAR more comfortable than using plastic, doesn’t smell anywhere near as much, and doesn’t trigger thrush (yeah, those plastic pads really do warp your private ecosystem…). No more guessing when menstruation will start and how many pads I’ll need, the supplies are always on hand regardless of finances or inclination to wander near a shop. I only wish I made the change years ago.

    Admittedly, folk with a really heavy flow will probably need to look at a plastic-backed liner or a menstrual cup, but those are still awesome compared to the only option I was told existed as a teenager!

  25. I made reusable pee cloths out of the seam allowances from linen pants. My gf made hers out of underwear that had outlived its life. She lives alone and buys 12 rolls of toilet paper every two years.

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