5 Key Strategies for a Plastic-Free Life

Here's a list of plastic-free best practices that anyone can follow.

By Emily Main

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plastic containers leach harmful chemicals into your foodWe've reduced, reused, and fretted over Ziploc bags for an entire month, and now it's time to turn all those lessons learned during Plastic-Free February into words we can live by. After soliciting suggestions from some of the bloggers who followed along in our challenge, the editors of Rodale.com came up with this list of plastic-free life lessons that we all will continue to follow in the days and months ahead. The results may surprise you: "It wasn't so tough after all to live without plastics," one of our Facebook followers, Darcy Ludeman said.

Here are the 5 key strategies we learned, which can help anyone live with less plastic:

#1: Expect failure!!
As the team of bloggers over at Growing a Greener World put it, this is one challenge in which failure is almost certain—and that's OK. As we said from the beginning, completely eliminating all plastic from your life is impossible. Even the stuff you try to avoid will sometimes creep past your defenses, so rather than stress about a mistake or moment of weakness, just accept it and keep trying.

#2: Prioritize.
Deciding to go (mostly) plastic-free can easily leave you feeling overwhelmed. Each of us experienced that sensation, and many of you wrote or commented about that too. So it's a good idea to start by IDing some of the bigger plastic inputs in your life, and work on those. Once you've established a plastic-free habit, you can move on to the next one on your list. Here are some good starting points:

  • Focus on food. Following the lead of Beth Terry's blog MyPlasticFreeLife.com, we each surveyed a week's worth of trash to see how we generated most of our plastic garbage. If you're anything like us, you'll find that food packaging is your number one source of plastic waste. Along with sheer volume, there are other reasons that food-related plastic is a good place to focus your efforts. Chemicals from plastic packaging and containers leach into the stuff we eat and drink, and therefore have the biggest potential impact on our immediate health. In addition to avoiding overpackaged foods at the supermarket, swap out plastic food-storage containers and cooking utensils and replace them with glass, ceramic, wood, or other materials. And never heating up food in any kind of plastic is a pretty easy rule to follow.
  • Ban those bags. If you forget your reusable bags at the grocery store, carry your items out by hand. After doing that a few times, you’ll probably NEVER forget your bags again! If you do find yourself with more items than you can carry, why not use a cart to get them to the car without bags? At the very least, use as few shopping bags as possible (and don't bag items that already come in bags, like those oranges or potatoes). Bring the plastic bags to back to the supermarket for recycling (along with any other stray plastic bags that find their way into your hands). Make it easier on yourself to remember your reusable bags for your next trip by stashing them with your shopper's club cards, or in your car's trunk or glove compartment.
  • Stop using stupid plastic. Some plastic is just pointless. A straw? Would it kill you to let your lip touch the glass? A plastic bag just to hold the greeting card you bought? Carry it in your hand! Plastic fork? It'll probably break! Wash your hands and eat with your fingers. Plastic Halloween decorations? Use real bones!

 

#3: Reuse, recycle, recreate.
Have a backup plan for the plastic that gets into your life. Find other uses for it if you can, or find out how to recycle it when you're done. Take plastic bags to the supermarket, know what your curbside program will accept, and know how to recycle your electronics when it's time to get rid of them. If all else fails, call up a local nonprofit and see if it can be donated. When you're shopping, buy products packaged in recycled plastic if there isn't a nonplastic alternative, or even look for used versions of whatever it is you need.

Or, next time you find yourself reaching for something that comes in plastic, think, "Could I make this?" You'd be surprised at how easy it is to whip up hair-care products, body lotions, cleaning products, and pretty much every plastic-packaged food at the store. Or just go without. As Dani, one of the bloggers who followed our challenge on her site News from Nowhere, told us, "I would rather get in the habit of having and using less (of plastics and everything else), than be disgruntled about it when the situation is forced upon me."

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