how to reduce your plastic waste

How To Reduce Your Plastic Waste (The Guide For Absolute Beginners)

Want to reduce your plastic waste but don’t know where to start?

Well, don’t worry you have come to the right place. I have created a beginner guide especially for you.

So to make sure that you get off to the best possible start I have divided this guide into two parts. Part one will ease you in with a list of 11 things that you should be doing at the start of your journey.

Incredibly, if you are currently doing nothing then these 11 things could reduce your plastic waste by a staggering 75%!

Part two of this guide lists 23 things that you can do to maintain and possibly increase that 75% reduction.

However, some of these tips may only make a small reduction for you but will aid the environment immensely.

So here it is, My helpful guide for getting you through the first steps and on your way to a better life by reducing your dependence on that horrible plastic stuff!

Step 1

Find Your Reason Why

Before you do anything do this one crucial thing. Ask yourself why you want to reduce your plastic waste. Find the one thing, the one crucial thing that is the overwhelming driving force behind that decision.

Got it? Good now write it down and store it away somewhere. This is important because when you get miserable, unmotivated, and make mistakes this is the one thing that can pick you back up again. That one desire that brought you to this point.

Everyone needs a motive, and believe me, this one action will serve you more over time than any guru or webmaster could ever do.

This is your inspiration, it belongs to you and it will serve you well.

Reducing your plastic waste is a righteous cause and your sacrificing convenience for the good of future generations, never forget that.

Step 2

Don’t Throw Everything Away

37 ways to reduce trash in your home

The biggest mistake that people make when they start the journey to reducing their plastic waste is to be overambitious in the early days. It’s very tempting to see your plastic items and immediately want to change them for non-plastic ones.

This entails buying a new product and reassigning the older plastic item to a landfill site, thrift store, or semi-permanent garage space. However, all you will have done is to significantly increase your plastic waste rather than significantly decrease it.

So resist the desire to throw away what you already have and just be consciously aware of this plastic. It’s not important and you can replace it with non-plastic alternatives when the time is right.

Plastic reduction is a steady lifetime journey, It is not an in the moment sprint.

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Step 3

Perform A Plastics Audit

To reduce your plastic waste, you must first understand where your waste is coming from. To do this you will need to complete a trash audit. In all fairness, it’s not as bad as it sounds and funnily enough, it can actually be a lot of fun.

To do this simply collect any plastic waste over a two to four week period and then list what you have. The next step is to take your list and write down the non-plastic alternatives alongside them.

These alternatives should now make up the majority of your shopping list and are your first big win. I do this exercise at least once a year and it is surprising how quickly plastic can creep back in, even in my household.

A waste audit may reduce your plastic waste by up to 75% plus in the first six months.

Step 4

Talk To Others About Plastic Reduction

We are at our happiest, most efficient, and best when we are open, honest, and giving of ourselves to others. So knowing this, if you really want to reduce your plastic waste; tell others about it.

Share your dreams and aspirations. Tell them why you are doing it and involve them in your journey. This is simply the best way to engage their support and become aware of new tricks and ideas that you may never even have thought of.

Then you can tell me!

You will not believe how many great and rewarding conversations have started because of my plastic-free lifestyle. Or how many people have been converted just because of an inquisitive, Why?

Going plastic-free, (or significantly reduced), has been great for my social life and my sanity. Take my advice, share your journey and all the bumps in the road will eventually become smooth.

Who knew that reducing your plastic waste could be so good for your mental health.

Step 5

Join The Community

how to reduce your plastic waste oicking up waste

Whilst I encourage you to talk to others around you about your journey there is more that you can do. There is a whole community of like-hearted people around the globe who are also working to reduce their plastic waste.

This community is free to join and you will be able to vent frustrations, share your experiences, and learn new tips. You can do this via local groups, internet resources, online chat groups, or even on community projects.

One such project in my area involves a group of us picking up waste from around the town and chatting to the locals. I get out into the fresh air, meet new people and become a good citizen, what could be better!

So when you are ready, join a community and take your waste reduction to the next level.

Step 6

Allow Yourself To Fail

For me, failure is our biggest contributor to success. When we fail we learn our weaknesses and how to overcome them. It makes us stronger, more aware, and easier to adapt to change.

So when you set yourself a target or a goal and you fail, don’t be too hard on yourself. We all fail sometimes.

If you are out and about and buy a plastic disposable item because it’s convenient, so what. It won’t be a new trend that you are setting and it’s not a new habit. Similarly, if you accept a plastic bag don’t worry, just offset it against all those that you haven’t bought and move on.

My point here is that it’s the larger picture that’s important and if you keep that as your goal then the smaller setbacks are insignificant. Keep to the less plastic, or plastic-free lifestyle and accept that the odd failure is just part of life.

It’s not the fall that’s important, It’s how we get back up and carry on.

Step 7

Create New Plastic-Free Habits

We have talked so far about the ways that you can reduce your plastic waste by a significant amount, however, we can go further. In order to achieve this, we need to get into the mindset of reduced plastic or plastic-free living.

By this, I don’t mean a life entirely without plastic, after all, we are not cavemen. No, I mean thinking in a way that promotes plastic as the least favorable option. This is why I use the term reduced plastic sometimes as it is easier for the mind to wrap around.

Thinking in a way that promotes plastic as the least favorable option prompts you to take a hemp bag for your shopping and not a plastic one. It makes you favor storing your goods in tins and jars rather than plastic containers. And it helps you to be mindful of bringing any new plastic into the home.

Once you start thinking in this way you will have created a new very influential positive habit. The habit of choosing to do the right thing simply because you can, and believe me your spirit will soar.

Effective plastic waste reduction means refusing it at the source.

Step 8

Look At Eliminating Single-Use Items First

man drinking from glass bottle zero waste college hydration

Single-use items are everywhere and most can be swapped out for reusable items very easily. At home, you can change your plastic toothbrush for a wooden or bamboo one.

When you are out, swap the plastic water bottle for an insulated metal one. Did you know that only one out of every six water bottles ends up in the recycling bin!

The rest is sent to landfills or contribute to devastating ocean pollution.

You could also ditch the plastic sandwich bags for a large cloth wrapped to the Furoshiki method. This is particularly good as a replacement for kiddies lunch boxes.

You could also wrap their lunch in natural beeswax coated cloths as this tighter and makes a great alternative to cling film.

The list is endless and I don’t want to overwhelm you with them here. So for the moment just know that there are many options and as you journey onward you will discover them.

The most familiar option is not always the best option of choice.

Step 9

Recycle, Repurpose

You don’t want to throw away the plastic that you already have to reduce your plastic waste. That’s just counterproductive. However, there are options if you are desperate for a fresh start or just want to make an opening impact.

For instance, it’s acceptable to part company from it if the product is in good condition and someone else will benefit from it.

In this way, you can gift good serviceable plastic items to thrift stores, relatives, or friends. You can also sell items online, at a flea market or garage sale. It is also possible that a charity may benefit from them. Maybe you could gift them to a local group who cannot afford to buy goods in a new condition.

So if the plastic is going to be rehomed, reused, or repurposed then it’s ok to part with it. Similarly, you can be creative and find your own alternative use for it. Plastic buckets can make excellent planters for instance so yes, it’s time to get your creative hat on.

creative mill how to reduce your plastic waste

Also, It’s a lot of fun for you and the kids, and believe me, it’s precious time well spent as you will never get it back. Go on make a water bottle happy today and repurpose its life for a kid.

So when you recycle, repair, or repurpose you free up the space for new plastic-free options. However, the real benefit is that you haven’t created any plastic waste while doing it and you’ve had some fun.

Only replace things when you need to, plastic-free or reduced plastic is a lifestyle, not a commandment.

Step 10

Repair

In today’s throwaway culture it’s all too easy to fall into this bad habit. We have been brainwashed into accepting poor quality items that break easily and that we can just toss aside in favor of a cheap replacement.

I believe there exist many toasters and printers in landfill sites around the world which lay a testament to that. However, many of these items could have been saved from the plastic pollution graveyard with a little tender loving care.

Many communities now have their own free or low-cost repair shops manned by willing volunteers. This is the secret army of the eco-conscious world. Or to put it another way, the repair savvy fathers and grandfathers of the old world. So don’t throw it, repair it!

Many people seek out older products because they are of better quality and design.

Step 11

Shop With A New Vision

the market how to reduce your plastic waste

When you go shopping look at things from a fresh perspective and with a new sense of vision. Consider new or different shopping opportunities such as buying in bulk or visiting local traders and craft stores.

Plus always remember to look for goods that are not wrapped in plastic. As a brief guideline, these could be the same type of products that feature on your alternatives list. In this way, you will always have plastic-free at the forefront of your mind. This new vision, or way of looking at things, will then help you to avoid bringing plastic into the home.

Also as you walk the aisles, take the time to notice the huge amount of plastic and notice the manufacturers who choose to be plastic-free. In this way, you can support them by buying their products and promoting them.

I think of my purchases as a vote for change.

Shopping in this way reinforces your mindset and helps to create good and long-lasting plastic-free habits that will endure.

If you want to reduce your plastic waste then shop with a new vision and create these good habits.

Whilst you are forming these habits and changing your mindset think of this quote to keep you incentivized…

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”

Tao Te Ching

23 Plastic Free Tips To Help You And The Environment

Plastic Free Shopping

Shop Local

Do your shopping at your local independent trader, farmers market, or traders village. These traders are usually extremely environmentally aware, produce a small carbon footprint, and use very little (if any) plastic packaging. As a bonus by shopping here, you will be putting money into the local economy and not into the pockets of the unaccountable corporations.

Buy From Thrift Stores

how to reduce your plastic waste buying from thrift store

This is a great way to avoid bringing more plastic into the world. Some of my friends only allow the addition of fresh plastic into their homes by buying pre-loved plastic items. A child is not bothered where the lego comes from so long as there is lego to play with.

In this way, they avoid the bringing of new plastics into this world and the associated resource costs that go with them. Personally, I am not quite there yet but I have dropped considerably in buying new plastic items.

Create A Shopping Kit

To avoid using or buying plastic at the store you will need to come prepared so just think of this as your shopping first aid kit.

To avoid using or buying plastic at the store you will need to come prepared so just think of this as your shopping first aid kit.

  • String or hemp bags to carry the shopping home in

  • Cloth bags to put your bread, fruit, veg and dried goods in

  • Sealable glass jars and /or resealable tins for wet goods such as butter, meat, cheese, and fish.
  • Bottles for liquids such as milk, juice or wine

Bulk and refill stores will be very used to these types of a container being used and will be expecting it.

spices in glass jars how to reduce your plastic waste

However, you may have to educate some traders but once you have gotten over the initial awkwardness they are usually only to happy to help. By shopping in this way you can cut out the plastic at the source and it will never find its way into your home.

Dads Tip: I have lined out the boot of my car with boxes and netting to make the trip home a little easier.

However, don’t try to do this all at once. You want to reduce your plastic waste at a sustainable rate. Remember that you have your whole life ahead of you in which to achieve your goal. So don’t try to run to early.

Make A Shopping List

This is a very important point in going plastic-free which is often overlooked. When you make a list it focuses on the mind and forces you to agree with yourself as to what is important. You can also use this valuable time to plan out the alternatives and any emergency options.

At this point, you can plan your trip with the plastic packaging already taken out of the equation. This is great because you have effectively reduced your plastic waste by choosing not to buy it at all.

Furthermore, you will only buy what you need which will reduce your food wastage and shopping costs. Plus, you will also know what you need to store the food and carry the shopping home.

Choose Reusable Produce Bags

At the store, I tend to put my produce directly into the trolley and cut out the bag altogether although some smaller items may warrant it. If you need a bag you can either make your own, buy a small purpose made bag or use a pillowcase.

Here is a brilliant video showing just how easy it is to make your own bags. Plus by using these guidelines you can very easily make your own shopping bags, produce bags, bread bags, and lunch containers.

Buy In Bulk

Bulk stores are the best option here but other independents are always an option. Firstly. buying in bulk means less packaging which brings down the plastic consumption.

Secondly, buying your products package free is actually 15% cheaper than normal. This is because loose products are exempt from any packaging tax.

Thirdly, and most importantly, unhealthy processed foods and ready meals come heavily packaged in plastic wraps, bags, and trays.

So if you want to save money, improve your health, and reduce your plastic waste, buying in bulk wins every time.

Beware Of Frozen Foods

Frozen foods usually carry a lot of plastic packaging and the multipacks delivered to the stores are covered in the stuff. Plus, shop-bought frozen ready meals are often supplied on colored plastic trays which are largely unrecyclable.

So, If you choose to buy fresh and then freeze it yourself it will significantly reduce your plastic waste. You will also have access to nutritious homemade ready meals lovingly prepared by your own hand.

Did you know that colored plastic, especially black plastic is largely unrecyclable? These types of trays are extensively used by the frozen food industry and find their way onto many beaches of the world.

So by not buying these products, you are sending out a clear message to the industry to change its actions. Plus, you’re probably saving the lives of many marine animals in the process!

Bring Your Own Bag

It is estimated that up to a trillion plastic shopping bags are used around the world each year. A significant number of these bags will end up in landfill sites where it may take up to a thousand years for them to decompose.

This is why many governments have now implemented policies to actively discourage their use. This is why you should purchase a natural fiber shopping bag and always say no to a plastic one.

I find it best practice to keep a few lightweight reusable bags by my exit door, in my car boot, and coat pockets. In this way, I never find myself in the situation of having to purchase a plastic one.

Pick Your Own Fruits

There are few things as emotionally grounding as walking around a field on a warm summer’s day picking fruit with the family. However, you are quite often presented with a small plastic basket in which to store the fruit.

The best advice is to simply refuse this basket and use a container brought from home. If however there is a problem with this then simply use the container and then reuse it on your next visit.

Plastic Free Home

Use Reusable Cloths For Cleaning

We don’t need plastic microfibre cloths or toxic chemical coated wipes for cleaning. Grandma never did. We just need some good old fashioned natural cleaning recipes and a few cloths crafted from discarded clothing.

These natural fiber cloths are sturdier, can handle being washed many times, and won’t leak microplastics into the ocean. All in all a good cloth is worth its weight in gold and you can make one for free.

Choose Wooden And Natural Fibre Children’s Toys

A great way to reduce your plastic waste is to buy long-lasting quality products that can be passed down from generation to generation. Think of wooden cars, tractors, train sets, kitchens, and puzzles.

Boy or girl young or old we all love the feeling it gives us when we play with them. Similarly, the look, smell, and feel of natural fiber toys just cannot be emulated. So why on earth would we want that cheap breakable plastic junk?

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Keep Your Coffee Plastic Free

Avoid the plastic coffee pods which are now a high plastic pollutant and buy your coffee loose from a quality retailer or bulk store. You can then brew it in a soft brew, or french press and enjoy the environmental saving.

Avoid The Plastic Tea Bag

The plastic (polypropylene) is often used as a sealant to seal a paper bag shut. However, some tea bags are made from plastic, and these tea bags immediately start to breakdown and release plastic into the hot water.

A recent study conducted in 2019 showed that around 11.6 billion microplastics and 3.1 billion smaller nanoplastic particles were released from a single bag.

The findings were published in the Journal of Environmental Science & Technology.

Save yourself and the marine environment from plastic poisoning and buy it loose.

Reuse Your Christmas Gift Tins

Have you got a load of lego, toy accessories, game controllers, electronic chargers, and the like knocking about the house? Well, don’t store them in plastic containers when you have been gifted metal ones at Christmas.

These tins are usually large and are perfect for the job so why buy new when you can repurpose the old?

Say No To Junk Mail

A lot of junk mail is coated in a plastic layer or has envelopes with plastic windows. Just by the very act of accepting this mail, you are effectively voting for more of it to be produced. Make a positive stand today and put up a sign saying NO to junk mail.

Make Your Own Clothes

Not for me although I can darn the odd-sock or two! However, on a serious note, this does cut out a lot of plastic packaging. You might think you are being good for not asking for a plastic bag at the counter, but it will have been wrapped in a lot of plastic for transportation.

Try making your own, my sister does this for me and I am very grateful for it. She loves the process and we get some great clothes individually styled for a fraction of the cost. Don’t get me wrong, I am not against buying new clothes, I am just giving you options.

Make Your Own Decorations

Events such as Halloween and Christmas can be a minefield of plastic decorations and collectibles. Far better to ban this type of plastic pollutant and make your own.

There are many environmentally savvy craft shops online for you to source your materials, and the family bonding encouraged by this creativity is priceless. Do yourself a favor and make your own today. Who knows maybe you could even sell it at a profit!

Coat Hangers

These plastic products are like rats and seem to be everywhere on the planet even though there are plenty of alternatives. Ditch the plastic and go for wood, steel bamboo, or a mixture of metal and material instead.

Pegs

This is a very easy swop. Choose the wood, bamboo, or even stainless steel pegs over the plastic ones with no loss to efficiency at all. Personally, I prefer wooden pegs as they not only look and feel great but they remind me of my mum as well.

Buy A Refillable Pen

It is estimated that Americans discard more than 1.6 billion disposable pens every year. Add to this the unknown figure for the rest of the world and that’s a hell of a lot of plastic.

It may seem like a small thing but now is the time to change to a refillable pen or a new eco-friendly pen made with sustainability in mind. Remember that the biggest changes can arise from the smallest of actions.

All hail the defeat of the plastic straw! Plastic pens we are coming for you!

Plastic Free Personal Grooming

Plastics Hidden In Your Toothpaste

We all know about the microplastics that are polluting the world’s oceans and poisoning the food chain. However, did you know that some of these microplastics are deliberately added to our grooming products!

These little beads are added as an exfoliant to products like toothpaste and face creams and are washed down into our drainage systems. From there they can enter our oceans and contaminate the wildlife.

Put a stop to this practice and refuse to buy products with polypropylene or polyethylene on the ingredients list. In this way, you can reduce your plastic waste and reduce the amount of plastic that is eaten by wildlife.

Ditch The Disposable Razor

Want to do your bit for the planet?

If you do then stop buying disposable razors as it is estimated that 2 billion razors are discarded each year. So instead of adding to this humongous pile consider switching to a reusable razor.

Plastic Brushes

From toothbrush to shoe brush our homes are full of plastic brushes. There is absolutely no need for this obsession as their wooden or bamboo counterparts often perform better and for longer. Once again the manufacturers have successfully brainwashed us into accepting this cheap plastic tat.

Consider replacing these inferior products with new higher quality natural fiber brushes when the time is right. Not only will they last longer and do a better job but they also look darn good!

In Summary

So there you have it, The knowledge of how to reduce your plastic waste as an absolute beginner. Take from it what you will and use it as a reference document. In this way, you can and return to it every once in a while for inspiration and creative ideas.

Using these tips I know that you can significantly reduce your plastic intake and by doing so, reduce your waste considerably. I also know that some of the tips may seem small and insignificant. However, they are more about acting as a responsible community of eco-friendly people to bring about change.

So this means that in some areas you might not notice a big reduction but just like the plastic straw…

Every little helps.

sustainability dad

Mark Aspland is a proud father of two boys, would be amateur actor and green living enthusiast. He has been sharing hints, tips and sustainable living content on his website Sustainability Dad since august 2019. 

sustainability dad recycle earth.png

He now has an army of followers who are like hearted individuals passionate about the environment and how to affect positive change through peaceful action.

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