Go Plastic-Free in 2018 (or Close to It)

If you’ve arrived at this blog, you’re probably aware of the plastic pollution problem so I won’t spend time discussing it. You can read recent news on that here, here and here.

Instead, I’ll discuss changes we can make in our own lives. Individual choices may not seem like much in the face of this disaster but with more and more of us making these changes, industry will also have to adapt.

If you still haven’t settled on a new year’s resolution, may I suggest one?

Cut your plastic consumption in 2018

For the average American, just thinking back on how much plastic you’ve consumed so far today, you may wonder, how can I possibly do this? I present a roadmap of six steps in this post. Some steps may take you a few days to a week to tackle and others you may work on for two weeks, a month or longer. We needed at least two months to adjust to our new routine and it continues to evolve today, over six years later.

My IG best of nine 2017: a crazy jar lady’s version of Michael Pollan’s advice, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

Step 1: Conduct an Audit

You don’t know if you have a problem if you don’t measure it. Think of dieting. You would likely stand on a scale or try on your favorite pair of jeans to determine if you’ve gained a great deal of weight. (“I weigh what?!”) Here, you’ll measure your plastic diet. (“I threw out how many to-go coffee cups?!”)

You may want to conduct your audit for a day, a few days or a week. Track the plastic trash you generate—those to-go coffee cups (lined with plastic) and lids; the plastic lining of a box of cereal; plastic produce bags; soda bottles; straws; disposable razors. Some may be recyclable, you say. Recycling delays plastic’s transit to landfill. It does not prevent it. Plastic, unlike metal or glass, can be recycled a limited number of times only, as the process degrades the material and results in lower quality plastic, which eventually goes to the dump.

You can jot down what you generated or save the stuff up for the week and take a picture. This audit will give you an idea of both how much plastic you consume and what kinds of products you’ll need to avoid or replace. When we first went plastic-free, my daughter participated in Beth Terry’s plastic-free challenge and it helped us realize what kind of plastic we had been consuming. (You can read MK’s entries here.) The vast majority of it consisted of food packaging. I’m willing to bet you will discover the same thing (hence the food-centric blog).

Step 2: Say No

To eliminate your plastic, you have to learn to say no often (a useful life skill in and of itself but that’s another post). No to that bottle of water someone hands you automatically at a conference. No to all the swag at that same conference. “No straw” to servers before they can put one in your drink (some will put one in your drink…keep trying). No to the plastic bag the grocery store cashier puts your package-free soap into before putting that into your cloth shopping bag (jars and containers and soap can mix in there and you will not die). No to anything in a red Solo cup. No to bags of potato chips. No to candy bars.

Many women—the majority of my blog readers—find saying no difficult. As you continue on your quest, this step will become easier. And don’t worry, going plastic-free is not an exercise in self-denial. I eat much more delicious food now than I used to. (Read more on at that here.)

Step 3: Build Up Your Reusable Arsenal

You’ll more easily say no to plastic if you equip yourself with some basic gear. You could spend a fortune on reusable items but you don’t have to and besides, we can’t shop our way out of climate change. Some of the items you’ll need on your quest are:

Reusable cloth shopping bags. Opt for natural fibers, not synthetic (read: plastic), which shed plastic microfibers into the ocean when you wash them

Reusable cloth produce bags. I sew very basic bags the same size as the rectangular ones at the grocery store. Here is the “pattern” I use. If you don’t like to/want to sew these, buy them.

Glass jars. I use these for everything. Ask your neighbor’s for their castoffs. You’ll save them a trip to the recycling bin.

Something to drink out of when you’re away from home. You could spring for an expensive Klean Kanteen water bottle or you could just bring a mug from home to the office or café. I lost an expensive stainless steel water bottle this fall but I have a gazillion glass flip-top bottles I can use instead. A few of these are old kombucha bottles from the days before I started brewing the stuff.

Something to eat with when you’re away from home. Keep a bag handy that you’ve packed with utensils, a cloth napkin and a container for leftovers.

Other reusables. This transition won’t happen overnight. As you reduce your plastic, you’ll find dilemmas that you’ll need to address:

  • How will I drink without a plastic straw? I vote for ditching the straws completely. If you prefer to drink your thick smoothies with a straw or have a medical condition like my older daughter does, for which a straw does make drinking easier, you can buy reusable metal or glass straws.
  • How do I brush my teeth? A bamboo toothbrush and homemade toothpaste.
  • How do I shave? A reusable safety razor.
  • How do I menstruate? (Well, you see, every month, your body releases an egg…) Use a cup, reusable cloth pads, natural sea sponges or a combination of these.
  • My prescription medication comes in a plastic bottle. Should I stop taking it? Ummm, get your meds…

Step 4: Go Shopping

No, I’m not advocating rampant consumerism here.

Our shopping routine changed dramatically after we cut the plastic packaging. We had to change how we shopped, where we shopped and what we bought, from bathroom tissue (loose rolls wrapped in paper) to bread (loose bread from a bakery or bulk flour for baking) to onions (loose from the farmers market in a cloth produce bag).

Now that you have reached Step 4, you have likely begun to realize that in order to cut your plastic, you will improve your diet as a side effect—that’s a bonus resolution you don’t even have to make—by eating more fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grains and less (none actually) packaged junk food.

Where can you buy food without all the packaging?

1. The farmers market. Hit the market for fresh fruit and vegetables with very little packaging, if any. I can even bring my own cartons for loose pastured eggs at one of my local farmers markets. Find your farmers market in the US through Local Harvest. In Canada, search through Farms.com.

2. Bulk bins. I fill up on staples at the bulk bins—flour, sugar, nuts, dried fruit, beans, rice, popcorn, oils, nut butters, baking soda, maple syrup, olives, spices, tea and so on. Yes, these foods came to the store in packaging but in large packaging. I help send that packaging to landfill but if I bought my own little package every time I needed something rather than filling up at the bulk bins, I would send much more packaging to landfill. Until I buy my farm and grow everything myself, I will contribute trash.

And yes, I live in temperate Northern California and have access to amazing farmers markets, several stores with decent bulk bins and one with amazing bulk bins. Even without access to these though, anyone can reduce their waste. I wrote about that here: “Good, Better, Best Zero-Waste Shopping.”

Step 5: Go Your First Day Without Eating Food Packaged in Plastic

You’re ready! You’ve figured out where the plastic has been coming from, you’ve learned to say no and refuse plastic, you’ve armed yourself with your reusables and you’ve found the stores and markets to shop in. Now it’s time to eat plastic-free for the entire day. Meal planning for your day will help prevent plastic snafus. I wrote a post on that here (it includes a meal planner).

What will you eat? All sorts of delicious food.

On this blog, I have tried to figure out replacements for the foods that the majority of us today buy processed and packaged. If you have been looking for a replacement for something, I may have already added it to my recipe index here. If not, please let me know what food you crave. If I haven’t already put it on my long to-blog list, I will (depending…I’m not a big fan of beef jerky, for example).

Step 6: Replace Personal Care Products

The Big Three plastic-free personal care hurdles:

  • Toothpaste. Let me first say that I am not a dentist. I ran out of homemade toothpaste and have no homemade tooth powder on hand so I’ve been using baking soda recently.
  • Deodorant. I have used my homemade deodorant for probably five years. I’ve lost track. I will never go back. This stuff works and you need only a little bit. It consists of baking soda and cornstarch, with coconut oil as a delivery agent.
  • Shampoo. Use a shampoo bar, followed by a vinegar rinse. Or wash with baking soda, followed by a vinegar rinse. If you really don’t like how those leave your hair, you may be able to buy shampoo and conditioner in bulk where you live.

Really, my beauty routine consists of yoga early in the morning but I guess you could call the following a beauty routine (or anti-routine):

  • Facial wash. I wash my face with water. Years ago, I bought face cleanser. I don’t notice a difference.
  • Moisturizer. Dab on a bit of good olive oil around your eyes or anywhere else you need some moisture. I rub olive oil or coconut oil into my hands if, when I’m cooking, a bit gets on me.
  • Hair dye. I don’t. That’s just me.

Bonus Step 7: Reward Yourself

Neither skip this step nor beat yourself up if you fall short. You will fall short. Reward yourself for your efforts. Have a cookie at the local café where you now take your own mug. Or sit down to a movie you’ve wanted to watch, and enjoy it along with a giant bowl of stove-top popcorn (we eat a lot of this…and I’m making a batch as soon as I finish this post).

Happy new year!

20 Comment

  1. Great layout – I’ll definitely be passing this on to a few folks who have expressed interest. And YES to rewarding yourself! So important and I think too many people forget that, which leads to them equating zero waste with deprivation. So not true!

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      Thanks Polly. I agree. Many people think this is a life of self-denial when the opposite is true. Happy new year! ~ Anne Marie

  2. I started to cut my plastic consumption just over a year ago and I am still working on it. Wish we had a bulk food store here – it would help reduce the plastic wraps of the food items we buy. I buy clothes from thrift and resale shops and I am buy only 100% natural fabrics to avoid further polluting the waters. One thing I am struggling with- finding underwear/panties that have no synthetic fabrics. Are drawstrings my only option??

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      I find it’s a constant process. Underwear is a hard one. Sometimes I think it would be easier to join a nudist colony. Plus no laundry to wash. (Just kidding…mostly…) Did you look at Cottonique?
      https://www.cottonique.com/ I like the looks of the drawstring underwear (very $$$ though). I saw briefs also but you’d have to read the fine print. I don’t know how they can stay on without elastic.

      1. I’ll check out Cottonique. Thanks. I can always go ‘commando’

      2. The Zero-Waste Chef says:


  3. Jessica Gonzalez says: Reply

    This post is just what I needed today! Plastic-free is my largest goal for 2018. I plan to forgive myself along the way but hope is to have this thing mastered by the end of the year. I am so overwhelmingly aware of my footprint at this point that I actually find it really fun to get as closer and closer to plastic-free, it’s not a chore at all. Seems my biggest challenge is in grabbing take-out… but reducing how often/how I do this can only help the other eternal weight-loss resolution, so win win! 😉

    Your posts are always inspiring, clear, and you make things feel very achievable. Thank you for being a beacon for so many of us! Happy New Year!

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      Hi Jessica. Thanks for the kind words about my blog 🙂 I agree, this is a fun challenge. I had no idea when I started out with this that I would enjoy it so much. And this resolution does help with all the other big ones: lose weight, save money, eat better. Thanks for reading and happy new year! ~ Anne Marie

  4. Love, love, LOVE this! So many great tips. And in general I love what you do and what you stand for, so thank you for continually sharing that with us all and for raising awareness. This post makes me realise that quitting plastic is achievable and even easy. I would say I’m part-way through my journey to getting rid of the plastic in my life. I’ve made a lot of progress when it comes to our food packaging (well, now, the lack thereof!) and in 2018 my mission is to audit our bathroom and make some major changes there.

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      Thank you Lisa. When we started out, I didn’t know where to begin but after a while, realized it’s a lot easier than I thought. It takes some planning but not that much. Decent bulk bins and a good farmer’s market are a huge help. Enjoy your quest 🙂 ~ Anne Marie

  5. Thank you for this post! I’ve been working on the same plastic free diet for about a year now and I feel good seeing your suggestions, most of which I’m doing too :). I struggle most with cheese, flour tortillas, chips and sandwich bread. I have 2 kids & a husband to make lunches for every day. Not everyone in my house is plastic free, but I try hard to stick to it for myself & the food I serve. I’ve tried making my own cheese, but the expense and leftover whey is a bit too overwhelming, so any suggestions there would be helpful. I also just ordered my first Bokashi pet waste bucket to treat our cat litter at home. I’m excited to try it out. I’m glad I found your blog & look forward to reading more!

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      Hi Heather, Thanks for checking out the post. Cheese is a big challenge where I live. Long ago, I could buy it at a farmer’s market in big slabs and just ask for as much as I wanted. But not now. However, I did go to a zero-waste meetup on Sunday at my favorite grocery store and a group of us approached the cheese counter together and asked for hunks of cheese in our containers that the guy behind the counter was cutting just then (it was very delicious) and he said sure. We all felt emboldened after that. I make ricotta and that does produce a shockingly huge amount of whey. I use it in pizza or pretzel dough in place of water. Or I’ll add a bit to soup for some tang. It freezes well too so I usually toss it in the freezer and use it up later. What kind of cat litter can go in the Bokashi bucket? Another reader on here asked me about cat litter recently. That’s a hard one! I’m glad you found my blog too 🙂 ~ Anne Marie

  6. Love the article. Just wanted to suggest organic sunflower oil as a moisturiser and make up remover instead of olive oil. For those prone to spots and acne, olive oil can clog the pores whereas sunflower oil doesn’t and is lighter and less greasy. I also add a vanilla pod to mine (because I love the scent) and a couple of drops of tea tree oil for its antibacterial properties 😀

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      Hi Marie, Thanks so much for these additions. That’s a nice idea to add the vanilla pod and tea tree oil. ~ Anne Marie

  7. My sister and I decided to be accountability buddies for some 2018 goals this year. We are young seniors who are trying to do right by the world and keep our footprints. My first thought of course was that I should finally lose that 10lbs so I look better on my 65th birthday this Spring, but the more I thought about it the more it made me realize that I didn’t care that much about my weight but about how to get my garbage even smaller than it is and when China announced that they didn’t want our plastics anymore I got my answer. I have been reading everything I can on how to reduce my plastic consumption (my daughter is very good at it so I will have some help), but the first thing I found was an unwrapped bar of shampoo/conditioner in the bulk food store. I put it in the shower and my husband loves it too so I am on my way! I just ordered some wax wraps and mesh bags for storage and shopping and am excited about my goal for a change. I don’t feel that society as a whole is working on this problem at all as people rush to embrace every new product that arrives on the market to make their lives easier (Keurig being a big one) when actually, fresh ground beans and French Press coffee tastes so much better. (I drink tea but my husband likes his coffee). Thank you for your informative blog and I will be following along to try to get better at this zero-waste project together. You are awesome!!

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      Hi Nancy, Thank you for the kind words. You’re right about the China thing. We may have a rude awakening when we no longer can ship all our trash elsewhere! I find shampoo/conditioner to be challenging so if you have that down, you’re well on your way. The wraps and mesh bags make a big difference too. Don’t get me started on Keurigs…arghhh… I am like you, I guzzle tea but my bf drinks coffee brewed in a French press. It’s such a nice ritual. Enjoy your journey! It’s a lot of fun 🙂 ~ Anne Marie

  8. Thank you for this. I tried (and failed quickly) at plastic free July – we have made small changes along the way, bar soap in the bathroom, carrying my own utensils, no bottled water, resuseable grocery bags or asking for paper if we forget. But I am going to get serious again this year!

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      Hi Kate, Those are all great changes. If only everyone did what you’re doing! Good luck on your quest 🙂 ~ Anne Marie

  9. […] The Zero-Waste Chef publiserte 31.12.2017, innlegget: Go Plastic-Free in 2018 (or Close to It). Her presenteres det 6 steg til en verden med mindre […]

  10. […] be purchased in reusable and/or recyclable glass or metal containers. The Zero-Waste Chef’s post on going plastic-free in 2018 has really inspired me to take action on […]

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