11 Easy Ways to Reduce Your Plastic Waste Today

simple ways to reduce plastic waste illo

Treehugger / Hilary Allison

Although recycling can help reduce the amount of garbage that ends up in landfills, waterways and ecosystems, only a few types of plastics can be recycled by most municipal governments. The fraction that does get recycled still requires a lot of energy and water which just isn’t a good proposition when it comes to single-use items. Plastic garbage that ends up in landfills and oceans take hundreds of years to degrade, and there’s increasing concern about the toxins they release into the environment.

But in our modern lives, plastic surrounds us and cutting it out can seem daunting. Below are some super easy ways to get started.

1. Bring your own shopping bag

hands unpack muslin brown reusable grocery bag with food

Treehugger / Lesly Junieth

The usefulness of these thin and easily ripped bags is extremely limited, yet according to the Environmental Protection Agency, up to one trillion plastic bags are used each year around the world. Although free to shoppers, these bags have a high environmental cost and are one of the most ubiquitous forms of garbage. Bringing your own environmental bag is common but good environmental advice, such good advice that some governments implemented policies to encourage people to do it. Disposable shopping bags have been banned in a number of places, including states such as Hawaii and California.

In addition to bigger carryall bags, you can further reduce waste by bringing your own reusable produce bags or skipping them entirely.

2. Stop buying bottled water

tattooed hand refills water from canister into reusable metal cup

Unless there’s some kind of contamination crisis, plastic water bottles are an easy target for reducing waste. Instead, keep a refillable bottle handy.

3. Bring your own thermos to the coffee shop

alt person opening apartment door with red reusable thermos coffee container in hand

Treehugger / Lesly Junieth

Speaking of refillable, bringing your own thermos for to-go coffee is another way to reduce your plastic footprint. Disposable coffee cups might look like paper but they’re usually lined with polyethylene, a type of plastic resin. In theory these materials can be recycled, but most places lack the infrastructure to do so. Then there are lids, stirrers, and coffee vendors that still use polystyrene foam cups—which can all be avoided with your own mug.

4. Choose cardboard over plastic bottles and bags

hand pours cardboard box of pasta into boiling pot of water

Treehugger / Lesly Junieth

Generally speaking, it’s easier to recycle cardboard than plastic, plus paper products tend to biodegrade more easily without adding a lot of weight to the product the way glass or aluminum can. So, when you have the choice, pick pasta in the box instead of pasta in a bag, or detergent in the box instead of the bottle. Even better would be to check for companies that source their cardboard sustainably or have a strong stance on deforestation.

5. Say no to straws

 person with glasses peers at hot cup of coffee in reusable cup

Treehugger / Lesly Junieth

Whether for home use or when you’re ordering a drink at a bar or restaurant, plastic straws are often a single-use item that's just not necessary.

6. Get the plastic off your face

woman applies homemade DIY natural scrub to face

Treehugger / Lesly Junieth

Much of the plastic that’s polluting the oceans is microplastics, tiny chunks that are next to impossible to filter out. These plastics can come from bigger items breaking down, but they are also commonly added to consumer products like face wash and toothpaste. These little beads are intended to be exfoliators, but many wastewater treatment facilities aren’t able to stop them. There are many biodegradable alternatives, so avoid items with “polypropylene” or “polyethylene” on the ingredients list or consider making your own.

7. Skip the disposable razor

Zero waste products on a bathroom counter including bamboo combs, a metal razor, bamboo toothbrush, bar of soap, and more

Photographer / Getty Images 

Instead of tossing a plastic razor in the trash every month, consider switching to a razor that lets your replace just the blade or even a straight razor.

8. Switch from disposable diapers to cloth

Stack of disposable diapers vs a stack of cloth diapers

dimarik / Getty Images

If you’ve got a young baby, you know how many diapers can end up in the trash each day. TreeHugger writers are pretty big fans of the the reusable cloth option.

9. Make your period waste-free

hands hold a reusable menstrual cup plastic free period

Treehugger / Lesly Junieth

There are a number of non-disposable options out there to cut down on period waste, from the Diva Cup, to the Ruby Cup to DIY-with-pride reusable pads. All these choices reduce the incredible amount of packaging that most pads and tampons are encased in. If you’re not in a situation where giving up tampons is an option, consider skipping brands with plastic applicators.

10. Re-think your food storage

Overnight oats in a mason jar and topped with blueberries

bhofack2 / Getty Images 

Plastic baggies, plastic wrap, and plastic storage containers are worth re-evaluating. Instead of sandwich baggies, why not pack a bento box or Mason jar for lunch? Instead of throwing away plastic zipper bags or wrapping things in Saran wrap, why not use jars or glass containers in the fridge? When it comes to carryout, these types of containers be used instead of disposable ones—although it can definitely take a bit of courage and some explaining to help your local restaurants to understand.

11. Shop in bulk

glass bowl of bulk tea on wooden table

Treehugger / Lesly Junieth

For many households, the majority of plastic waste is generated in the kitchen. So one of the best ways to reduce the packaging waste madness is to bring your own bags and containers and stock up on bulk foods. Shopping with jars is a great option, and keep your eye out for brands with refilling stations, like Ariston oils and Common Good cleaners.

View Article Sources
  1. Anderson, Marcia. “Confronting Plastic Pollution One Bag at a Time.” Environmental Protection Agency.

  2. Haupt, Melanie, et al. Life Cycle Inventories of Waste Management Processes. Data Brief, vol. 19, 2018, pp. 1441-1457.,  doi:10.1016/j.dib.2018.05.067

  3. Making Sense of the Mix: Analysis and Implications of the Changing Curbside Recycling Stream.” American Chemistry Council.

  4. The Search for Microplastics: From Face Scrubs to the Sea.” National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. U.S. Department of Commerce.

  5. Chang, Michelle. “Reducing Microplastics from Facial Exfoliating Cleansers in Wastewater through Treatment Versus Consumer Product Decisions.” Mar Pollut Bull., vol. 101, issue 1, 2015, pp. 330-333., doi:10.1016/j.marpolbul.2015.10.074