In this post: In this post, we'll explore alternatives to single-use plastic that are common in our homes and why reducing our use of plastic is so important
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Recently, an NPR story on microplastics stopped me in my tracks. I’ve heard the facts about how little of our single-use plastic actually gets recycled and how long it takes for plastic to break down in landfills (which, it turns out, we actually don’t want to happen).
This story focused on how plastic breaks down into tiny little pieces called microplastics that are now found everywhere including the waterways all around me. Even more startling – get this – because of the pervasiveness of microplastics, some people could be eating as much as the equivalent of credit card each week. Ew.
Beyond waterways, microplastics are now showing up in remote parts of the world, our food supply, and our bodies.
The full long-term impact of digesting all of this plastic is not yet known but I’m going to venture a guess that it’s not great. I know if I saw my child eating a credit card, I would definitely discourage this behavior. So it makes sense to me that in my quest to consider conscious commerce with my purchases, finding alternatives to single-use plastic would top my list of ways that I want to design my every day to be less negatively impactful.
A quest to find alternatives to single-use plastic in the home
I’ve been making some of these switches since I heard the story so I can share what I’ve already managed to work into my daily routine. In addition, I’m going to use this post as an opportunity to reinvigorate my commitment to reducing the plastic that goes through my house. I’ll continue to update you on what I find as I make my way through this list and in the meantime have included some options that I plan on trying, in case you're ready to give it a try yourself.
I’ve tried to break things into categories and include the alternatives to single-use plastic I’ve found so far in case you want to try them out before I get a chance. I’m also including personal estimates of the impact on the quantity of plastic I put in my trash or recycling bin, and how hard the switch was for me.
Your results may vary based on your routine but my thought is that if something was hard for me, maybe you’ll have a tip to share. And if it was easy for me, maybe you’ll try it and see if the same is true for you.
Because they're not safe to heat food in, I had already phased out plastic containers in my kitchen. These are three that I use in my kitchen that cover most of my needs. The pink ones (they come in other colors if you're not a huge pink fan) are stainless steel and work a little better for lunches on the go since they are light. For me, this switch was relatively easy and one I would definitely recommend to others, especially if you are frequently using disposable plastic bags or cling wrap.
Generally, I’ve found the switch away from single-use liquid soap containers to be easy and it’s been something I’ve done for awhile. I do occasionally get seduced by those limited edition Method soaps but then I do reuse them, so that helps, right?
A few months back we tried out Tirtyl and love it! The scents are really great and my daughter loves “making” the soap (kind of like a little science experiment). Anything that makes her eager to wash her hands so she can refill the bottle again is good in my book!
Household cleaners: concentrated and plastic-free
More sustainable options:
My most recent favorite:
Impact : Medium
This topic will definitely require a full post onto itself. In the meantime, we’ve really loved using Grove concentrated cleaning products that have a lower carbon footprint (win) and come in glass bottles (win)!
Whew, I was starting to get really depressed with my track record but here I can report a win. You have to get your system down but once you do, reusable k cups are great (and I think brew a better cup of coffee). But if you just can’t deal with refillable first thing in the morning, I’d suggest trying more biodegradable options.
I recently tried all three of of these and they all did great in the cleaning department. I did miss scent with the Blueland one – if you like unscented detergent than that one would be great for you. Both of the dry ones had the advantage of being so much less messy and the two Grove options both smelled great. I'll definitely use all three of these again.
This is how we know I'm a total nerd: this was an exciting category for me. My general knowledge of landfills is that they are bad news and just all around not an ideal solution. So I just figured the goal is to put as little into the landfill as possible and that's the best we can do. My new understanding is that using plant-based or compostable bags means is an additional step to take. By using these, when the garbage in landfills finally breaks down, at least the bag won't break down into microplastic.
I found these two options online that I'm going to try and will update this section. The second and third images above are actually the same bags, I just had to include the third image because it totally cracked me up. (I'm just imagining that couple lugging that trash bag with them on their hike – they are committed!)
Alternatives to single-use plastic in the home: overall conclusions
The number one thing I’ve found so far in my quest to find alternatives to single-use plastic is that we live in a very plastic world. It is everywhere. In some cases, finding any alternative to plastic has been very difficult while in other categories, easy switches are readily available.
As someone who used to work in the consumer packaged goods industry, I know that we can do better. I’ve worked with packaging design experts and I know how awesome their capabilities are, and that there are likely alternatives to single-use plastic available in the market today. This is a solvable problem if we have the will to make a change.
Big corporations spend a lot of money understanding what consumers want and responding to that demand. I want to be a part of that demand and I hope you’ll join me.