These Items Are the Plastic-Fighting Heroes of My Household

It may look like an incongruous list, but everything has its role.

reusable container and bag

Getty Images/Dougal Waters

There's nothing like spending a year cooped up at home to create feelings of intimacy with one's own belongings. Over the past 12 months, I feel as though I've gotten to know my house and everything in it on a level I never did before. Recently, this led me to ponder which items are most effective at reducing plastic waste, and a list resulted that I thought might be of interest to readers. These are the top things I'd recommend others to buy if they were on a zero-waste or plastic-reduction journey of their own.

1. Food Storage Containers

lunch box

Getty Images/Westend61

If you have a well-stocked drawer of reusable containers, you'll never need disposable zipper bags or plastic wrap. Packing lunches for kids and putting away dinner leftovers becomes far easier and less time-consuming when you have a wide selection of containers to use. Invest in glass and metal containers and jars with interchangeable lids (so you're not always hunting for that missing one). These can seem expensive upfront, but they last forever and show almost no signs of wear and tear; nor do you have to worry about chemicals leaching into acidic foods. Also check out Abeego beeswax wraps; they're a fabulous substitute for plastic wrap.

Read more: 6 Best Reusable Beeswax Wraps

2. Reusable Mugs and Bottles

short stack coffee mug
©. K Martinko

If you invest in a truly great water bottle, you'll want to take it everywhere with you and the urge to buy drinks on the go will subside. Reusable water bottles matter more than ever now, with water fountains closed in many public schools due to COVID; sending water with your child spares plastic waste and saves the school from having to spend money on bottled water for students who come without it.

The same goes for hot drinks. I love both my Stanley short-stack cup and my Klean Kanteen insulated coffee mug so much that I look for reasons to take them places and rarely leave home without them. Need I add that I make coffee in a zero-waste French press? Please skip the single-use plastic pods! They are – and always have been – a most terrible idea. And if you don't have a coffee mug handy, you can always use a mason jar.

3. Menstrual Cup

Nixit menstrual cup
Nixit menstrual cup.

Nixit (used with permission)

Regular readers will know I love my menstrual cup, but it's one of those things that, until you've tried it and become comfortable with it, is hard to grasp what a game-changer it is. It's estimated that the average menstruator throws away 250 pounds of waste over a lifetime and spends hundreds of dollars per year on disposable pads and tampons. A simple switch to a reusable cup spares all of that – and actually makes your life more comfortable and convenient in the process.

4. Beauty Bars

Unwrapped Life shampoo bars
©. Unwrapped Life

I'm not talking about Dove's famous soap, but rather all the many skin, hair, and cosmetic bars that can be purchased package-free, in solid form. This doesn't compromise their effectiveness in any way; a shampoo bar washes hair just as well as a plastic bottle of liquid shampoo, and a solid lotion bar moisturizes dry skin just as thoroughly (actually better, in my opinion) than a container of lotion. You can get solid deodorant, conditioner, tooth tabs, eyeshadow, facial cleanser and moisturizer, exfoliant, shaving cream, and more. Don't forget the humble bar of soap, which does just as good a job at cleaning hands as liquid soap does, with a fraction of the environmental impact.

Read more: The 9 Best Shampoo Bars

5. Stand Mixer

pizza dough

Getty Images

This may seem an odd thing to list, but owning a stand mixer means that I make many things from scratch that would otherwise come packaged in plastic that's hard to recycle. My mixer allows me to make bread, bagels, cookies, cakes, muffins, energy bars, and more that I put in my children's lunches (in reusable containers, of course!) and serve at home. It spares me so much of the hard work that I hardly think twice about making these things from scratch. Mixers are expensive, but they do go on sale occasionally, and, if well-made, can last decades.

6. Electric Cargo Bike

riding cargo bike
Delivering Christmas cookies and soup to neighbors on the RadWagon e-bike.

K Martinko

This may seem like another strange one, but hear me out. Cars are a leading cause of microplastic pollution, thanks to tires wearing down from miles of driving. Lloyd Alter wrote for Treehugger in 2020, "The average emissions are about .81 kg (1.78 pounds) per capita, for a total of 6.1 million tonnes; brake wear adds another half of a million tonnes." This is a serious issue that electric cars cannot resolve and, arguably, make worse with the added weight of their batteries. Lloyd added, "So why is it we spend so much time and energy worrying about plastics from our clothing and even our cosmetics, which are barely a rounding error, and don't get me started on drinking straws, while we continue ignoring cars?"

That article made an impression on me, and helped me realize the importance of driving smaller, lighter vehicles to reduce microplastic pollution. It added to my already-intense enthusiasm for my new electric cargo bike, which is a surprisingly effective replacement for the family car. Now when I ride it, not only am I saving fuel and getting exercise, but I'm also cutting down on plastic pollution.

7. Grocery Bags and Bins

grocery bin
© K Martinko -- My green box after a trip to the grocery store. K Martinko -- My green box after a trip to the grocery store

My set of grocery bins and washable cloth bags has been in use for the better part of a decade. I love the bins because I can load them up heavily and take fewer trips between the car and house to unload the week's grocery shop. I put the bins in my grocery cart and fill them with loose produce, eliminating the need for any plastic bags. Bags are useful too, as they pack small and can fit into a purse for unplanned shops. They're perfect for wedging into my e-bike cargo baskets.

This list is far from comprehensive, but it's a good start. I'd be interested to hear what other people see as their most effective plastic-reduction tools at home, so feel free to share in the comments below.