I didn’t use plastic for an entire week—here’s what happened
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In this day and age, many of us are hoping to adopt a minimalist lifestyle by owning less and, therefore, producing less waste. For many, the single biggest waste category is single-use plastic products. Although some are safe to use, a number of plastic products are actually extremely harmful to the environment—and ultimately, to our health when they break down into microplastic particles.
At first, I was anxious about the thought of going plastic-free—as someone who keeps her schedule tight, I didn’t have the confidence that I could always remember to bring a reusable cup or a glass straw with me at all times. But with some creativity and reliable products, making the switch was easier than I thought. Here’s what I used.
I have to admit I’ve long used a ton of cling wrap because of its convenience. But when I came to the realization that those cling wraps are terrible for the environment, I felt guilty. Thankfully, I found these reusable silicone stretch lids that can seal my cans and jars air-tight. To reuse, just rinse them under water. There are six sizes to choose from, which covers almost all typical household needs, from proofing bread dough overnight to keeping leftovers separated from other foods in the fridge.
Our favorite reusable straws, the Hummingbird glass straws are great alternatives to the single-serve plastic straws that are typically offered at restaurants. Although eco-conscious coffee shops are replacing plastic straws with paper ones, they still have an impact on the environment and they easily break in half. The Hummingbird straw is lightweight and easy-to-wash, which means I can carry it anywhere.
A classic PB&J sandwich sitting in one of those single-use Ziploc bags just seems sadder than one wrapped in our favorite reusable sandwich bags. The Lunchskins have different patterns to choose from and they’re all absolutely adorable. This bag is the perfect size for packing sandwiches without the need to squish anything—no matter how thick your sandwich is. They’re dishwasher safe but also extremely easy to clean if you prefer hand-washing them.
Packing lunch doesn’t have to mean a sad salad. Featuring a two-tiered design, this Monbento lunch box lets you bring a number of cold and hot dishes to work or school, making lunch more enjoyable. Plus, there are options to add a stackable cutlery set, sauce cups that fit in the boxes without taking up too much space, and cute lunch bags that make them easy to carry around. All materials in the Monbento boxes are biodegradable plastic or silicone.
One of the biggest challenges to living plastic-free is dodging all the “plastic traps” at grocery stores. Meat-packaging, single-use produce bags, and all sorts of pantry items made me feel like achieving my plastic-free week would be mission-impossible. However, I found an easy solution when I started to bring my own containers instead of picking up pre-packaged cuts. The butcher will subtract the container tare to get to the gross weight of the meat, which is done on an electronic scale.
In our testing of the best food storage containers, we fell in love with these glassware containers that are perfect for keeping food safe and fresh. They’re not only a great alternative to the grocery store plastic packaging, but also perfect for meal-prepping.
Although an increasing number of stores have been switching to biodegradable plastic produce bags, I’ve found they’re way too flimsy to hold anything substantial. One time I put an ear of corn into a store-provided bag and the cob immediately fell through it. This organic cotton mesh bag can hold up to three pounds of fruits and vegetables, and its stretchy material makes sure that it can fit large items.
While it’s easy to fit a butternut squash or three large tomatoes in a mesh bag, small vegetables, such as Brussels sprouts and green beans, can’t be securely held in cotton mesh bags. These reusable produce bags are lightweight, featuring tiny breathable mesh that allows some necessary airflow to prolong the lifespan of fresh produce.
If you’re hoping to break the bottled water habit, the Hydro Flask can help. Our favorite water bottle,the Hydro Flask scored high marks in a range of tests: It’s portable, versatile, durable, and well-designed. It’s the top performer in our temperature tests, too, keeping ice largely unmelted well past the 24-hour mark. Its patented double-wall vacuum enables the bottle to keep water cold, keep hot beverages hot, and prevents condensation from forming on the outside, keeping it slip-free, and safe to store in bags alongside papers and laptops.
Before I pledged to go plastic-free, I had been a loyal fan of our favorite travel mug, the Zojirushi stainless steel mug, because of its impeccable insulation and lightweight design. Whether I was on a long commute or I brought it on a hiking trip, this inexpensive mug kept my drinks at the desired temperature at all times. The trim build also allows it to seamlessly slip into cup holders and bags.
Mason jars are a durable and reliable alternative to using Ziploc bags for storing dry pantry goods. Additionally, they’re so versatile that you can use them for canning, storing jam, and making desserts. Bring these mason jars on grocery shopping trips, and you’ll find the store employees happily helping you fill the jars with nuts and cereal.
I sometimes fail to notice how much plastic waste I produce outside of my kitchen. In fact, I never thought about the environmental impact I had caused by using bottled shampoo and conditioner. Using all organic, natural herbs, Aspen Kay Naturals is able to provide something more eco-friendly than the liquid version of haircare. Unlike the more common brands we’ve seen in stores, this shampoo is 100% soap-free, which means its gentle on the hair and scalp as no harsh cleaners, detergent, or silicone is included in the formula.
To stop using plastic wraps for half-cut lemons, onions, and other produce, I started putting these hand-crafted beeswax wraps to the test. Even after multiple uses, the beeswax wraps excellently retained the freshness of the foods I wrapped in them. They’re also odor-free, which is better than their plastic counterparts.
Much of the produce we toss away each year ends up in landfills, which produce a large amount of the greenhouse gas methane. To reduce the use of trash bags, I started composting the daily food scraps, finger nails, hair, and tissue paper, which are otherwise destined to non-recyclable waste. With a little research, I was able to properly compost my waste without creating an unpleasant smell or attracting small animals. Plus, if done right, I can use the compost to enrich my soil for growing fruits and vegetables in a few months.
I started researching what to do with the plastic packaging I’ve just swapped out. TerraCycle, a free plastic recycling platform, offers instructions for every type of recycling work. The site lists a growing number of participating businesses that allows me to send the cleaned, recyclable packaging back, free of charge.
For example, if I accumulate a good amount of Barilla pasta packaging, I can sign up the Barilla program and get a free shipping label to return the emptied bags and boxes. Once they receive the packaging, I’ll get reward points that can be used toward donating to non-profit organizations or schools of my choice. If you don’t want to separate the packaging, TerraCycle offers Zero Waste Box (purchase required) to recycle almost any type of waste.
Admittedly, there were still areas that I could use some improvements while attempting to achieve a plastic-free life: I brushed my teeth with plastic toothbrush heads and used makeup remover wipes wrapped in plastic packaging. These instances serve as a reminder of how ubiquitous plastic products are in our daily lives, and how challenging it can be to cut them out completely. To live completely plastic-free may still be a long shot for me, but it’s no longer some far-fetched, unachievable idea.
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