The Struggle To Reduce Plastic Use

A friend of mine posted on FB the other day about her struggles to use zero plastics. She was not totally successful, but made a great dent in it. I’ve been trying to reduce my plastic use for a number of years; my efforts ebb and flow, sometimes trying harder than others. This is no easy task in the world of today, and one only has so much energy to focus on one thing.

I have given up plastic bottles and rarely buy drinks in plastic. Occasionally I will buy a bottle of water if I’m out and forgot to bring my water bottle. Mostly this is because I was unprepared, but I buy less than 6 bottles a year. I no longer use plastic straws and take opportunities where I can to ask restaurants not to use them. I almost always remember to bring my reusable shopping bags to the grocery store; my store has banned single use plastic bags (more about this later.)

Seeing my friend post inspired me to focus on my efforts once again. As I did my weekly grocery shopping I focused on what was in plastic and what my options were.  Sadly this was very disheartening. All the meat is in plastic, every choice for dishwashing soap was in plastic, all the cheese was in plastic, potatoes and small oranges come in plastic mesh, other fruits in plastic bags, spreading butter in plastic tubs, yogurt again in plastic tubs with one brand in small glass jars but they don’t offer plain yogurt.

There are changes that can be made and I’m going to work towards them, a number of options require a bit more effort and time than is ideal but I’m going to try.  Below I will focus on specific items and what can be done, maybe this will help some of you too. Many of the options will require a shift in shopping,  with a trip to the local food coop added to the trip to the conventional grocery store… and will cost more.

  • Yogurt – At the health food store local yogurt comes in returnable glass bottles. The other option is to make my own. I’m going to try making my own in my instant pot. I get raw organic milk every week from a local farmer so I’m going to try using this. I’ll report back.
  • Cheese – All the cheese in the grocery store is wrapped in plastic. There is a local cheese shop that wraps in paper but is much more expensive. I can make some cheeses like farmers cheese or mozzarella. So my options are to make my own limited cheeses or to buy less and spend more at the specialty shop. Cheese may become more of  a treat and less of a staple, which is awful because cheese is my favorite food. Not sure I can achieve this.
  • Butter – I buy butter from a Maine based producer, but the spreading butter comes in plastic tubs. The stick butter is in a sort of aluminum foil/ wax lined paper. I guess it’s no more spreading butter for me.
  • Fruit & Veggies – I bought some cloth bags for these and will have to redouble my effort to bring them to the store with me. I guess I can’t buy those new potatoes anymore because they only come in the mesh bag. Only the lost fruits and veggies are unpackaged.
  • Salad greens – yes veggies I know but this only comes in big plastic containers or plastic bags in the grocery store. In the summer this isn’t an issue as I buy it at the farmers market or grow it myself. In the winter however, I’m a prisoner. I’m going to see about buying it at the food coop.
  • Salad dressing – the only choice is to make your own. I’ve started doing this and it’s pretty easy and tasty. It doesn’t last long, but only takes a few minutes to make.
  • Dish soap – I believe the coop has castile soap in bulk that I’m going to try for dishes. I’ll bring my own container.
  • Laundry soap – I make my own using Fels Naptha bar soap (comes in paper), Borax and Washing Soda (which both come in cardboard boxes.) I make this about 4 times a year in a 5 gallon bucket. I scent it with lemongrass essential oil.
  • Meat – I believe the butcher in the grocery store will wrap it in paper, but then I think there will be fewer choices as I’m not sure they will have / or pack every choice that’s in the big cases. I’ll report back.
  • Fish – The fish section of the grocery store will wrap your selections in paper. I generally buy frozen shrimp from the gulf in the US. This comes in a plastic bag. I don’t think there are any choices here as the loose shrimp in the case comes from some awful place with filthy conditions and child labor…. So it’s either in a plastic bag, or not at all.
  • Nuts and Grains– Will have to be bought in bulk at the food coop or grocery store.
  • Rice – We eat a lot of rice. We generally purchase it at the Asian grocery stores in Portland, ME or in Boston, MA. We buy it in 50 or 25 lb bags which are a mesh type woven plastic. I’m going to continue buying this because I reuse these bags as a sort of mulch in between my raised garden beds. I put them down and then put woodchips or straw over them to prevent weeds along my pathways.
  • Eggs – I have my own chickens but in the winter they rest and don’t produce many. I will only buy them in cardboard containers, which is unfortunate because all the organic brands pack theirs in plastic. I’ve asked them about this and they insist that the plastic ones are just as sustainable as the cardboard. As far as the carbon footprint to create goes maybe this is true, but cardboard composts, plastic lasts forever.
  • Dry cat food, bird seed & chicken feed – all come in large plastic bags the size of the 50lb rice bag. I’m going to continue buy this too because there aren’t really many options and I reuse these bags as I do for rice.
  • Condiments – some come in glass, some in plastic. I try to buy all the misc things I can in glass, and will change brand to do so. Some items have no choice at all unless I want to make my own. These include things like ketchup, yellow mustard (specialty mustards can be found in glass) etc…
  • Chips, snacks etc.. – all come in some sort of plastic. The only choice is to make your own. This will not be possible.
  • Bread – Most forms of commercial bread come in plastic. I don’t eat regular bread but I do occasionally eat things like pita, wraps, tortillas, and buns. I’ve started to make my own bread but to make it for all forms needed would really be unreasonable for a normally busy person. I’m going to try to make pita as this is probably the bread I eat 2nd
  • Plastic cutlery – mostly from takeout and fast food. I carry a set of bamboo utensils and a stainless steel straw.
  • Take out packaging – I’m gonna have to start carrying around my own set of containers.
  • Shampoo and conditioner – always in plastic bottles. I’ve tried a shampoo bar and it’s ok, but I haven’t found a conditioner bar. I’m going to see what they have in the food coop in bulk today.
  • Bath soap – I buy individual bars that come wrapped in paper.
  • Toothpaste – I’ve been using a powder but it comes in a small plastic bottle. The bottle lasts a long time but is still plastic. I’ve tried making my own and may go back to that.
  • Deodorant – Sigh. 99% – 100% of it comes in plastic. I need this or I stink (seriously.) I’ve tried making this with some success and will have to revisit it. I’ve tried the rock / crystal thing….  I hate that thing.
  • Razor – I haven’t dealt with this yet and I use plastic ones. I’ll have to look into buying one that’s metal and can be refilled like in the good ole days.
  • Toothbrush – I’ve tried a bamboo one. It had plastic bristles. I wasn’t convinced it was as good for my teeth and gums as the plastic one.
  • Zip locks – OMG, I’ve tried so many times to stop using zip locks and failed every time. I just ordered a set of silicone reusable type zip lock things that can be used in oven, dishwasher, microwave and sous vide. I’m hoping they will solve this problem. I do use zip locks to store veggie scraps to use in stock that I keep in the freezer till I have enough, I’ll have to either use these reusable ones or mason jars.
  • Plastic wrap – I don’t use much of this. I just ordered a set of silicone things called huggers that are used to put around the ends of cut produce like tomatoes, lemons etc.. which will replace plastic wrap. I’ve tried beeswax cloth but was not thrilled with it.
  • Aluminium Foil – I don’t use this much either as I bought some silicone baking sheets that I use to line my baking pans now. I know it’s not plastic, but it’s still wasteful.
  • I’ll continue to add to this list as I shop and learn new things….
  • Reusable grocery bags –  Most of these are still plastic. Yes they are used more than once, but they get dirty pretty quickly and are a pain to wash out. These are better than the thin plastic ones that are now being banned, but not by much as thousands of these will wind up in the landfill soon enough.  I have some cloth ones that are good. They don’t hold as much as the plastic reusable ones, and they aren’t square so are not as efficient to pack, but you can wash them and they are stronger.
  • Printer Ink – No way around this one. The cartridges are plastic and they are wrapped in plastic. The only solution is to print less and recycle the cartridges.

One of the issues in reducing is that everyone in your household needs to get onboard. In some cases this will be impossible as not all family members will want to change their eating / drinking habits. This is the case in my household but I will do the best I can.  Some of these changes would also be very difficult for some families due to time and budget issues. It is more time consuming and/or more expensive to make some of these changes. However, we can all do better. Pick one thing and change it, little by little add others. If you can only do ONE thing, stop buying bottled water… that servers 2 purposes, protecting our precious water resources from predatory corporations AND protecting the environment from oceans of plastic bottles.

~Good Luck!






One thought on “The Struggle To Reduce Plastic Use

  1. So almost 50 years ago I spent a semester in Edinburgh Scotland. It was a wonderful period of my life. I remember that I had these string bags I would bring with me when I went to pick up a few groceries. Went to a bakery and would get a few rolls, a few cookies in waxed paper bags. At a greengrocer I’d get some apples and put them in my bag. At a supermarket, I’d buy a chunk of cheddar, wrapped in butcher paper, a tube of crackers in a cardboard carton. I walked everywhere to do these tasks. Life has become more complicated for many of us over the past decades. And there’ more packaging by far. Hard to escape this modern life. Will think more about your suggestions and how I can implement.


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