Four Ways to Step Up Your Waste-Free Game

When you see the sheer amount of plastic waste that was recently found in the stomach of a dead whale in Indonesia, it’s hard to keep your thoughts from wandering to the worst case scenario. In zero to 60, I was imagining a mountain of plastic suddenly collapsing and swallowing me whole in a giant wave of plastic forks and bubble wrap — maybe this was a nightmare, but I’m not far off. Have you read about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch?

Sorry to be a Debbie Downer, but to make matters worse, microplastics have even been found in human feces. The vicious cycle of human uses plastic / plastic gets eaten by animals / human eats animals and, in turn, eats plastic is undeniable and frightening. It was inevitable, and yet neither the current administration nor local and state government entities have done much to curb this outcome. Sure, we don’t have enough information as to how having these particles inside of us will affect our health and bodies, but do you really want to wait around to find out? I mean, they say you are what you eat — so are we now all walking plastic bags and packing peanuts?

The question is, how can we actually make steps towards improvement and reversal without a revolution? It’s all well and good and a great start to say you’ll get a reusable water bottle or a tote bag for your groceries, but it’s simply not enough to significantly shift the direction in which we are headed. Are we willing to lose the convenience of some of our favorite products? What about those K-cups you love so much? Tea bags? Straws? Tampons?

Before you slip into a state of panic at the thought of abandoning all the aforementioned items, take a deep breath.

Take a calmer, clearer look at what you can do to make a difference; you’ll find that there are indeed approachable ways to have an impact — you just need a bit of motivation and inspiration to improve in order to reverse what damage has been done.

And don’t feel like you’re flying solo on some impossible mission towards cutting back, either. The Waste Free Movement has brought on a level of awareness that has grown in leaps and bounds in the past couple of years as people forgo their shiny plastic necessities for more eco-friendly and biodegradable options. The resources are out there, you just have to know where to look and how to start.

So if you don’t want the Starbucks lid you threw out a week ago to end up in your intestines, read on to find out how you can make adjustments without feeling like you are missing out on living your best life.

1 | In the bathroom —

Plastic is ubiquitous, which is why it’s so hard to stay away from… especially in your bathroom. Your medicine cabinet is probably chock full of face lotions in plastic tubes, serums in glass bottles (but with plastic pumps and pieces), and a plastic toothbrush inside an equally plastic toothbrush holder. I may or may not be thinking of my own as I write this, but surely I’m not alone. Swap your toothbrush for a bamboo version that is biodegradable and eco-conscious, and swig with mouthwash tablets in a glass or metal case rather than your usual Listerine. Ditch the shampoo bottle for a shampoo bar. And, for the women of the world, don’t underestimate the power of the menstrual cup which can replace about five years worth of tampons and pads. See? Not so bad. Baby steps.  

2 | Makeup and skincare —

Sure, you’re not ready to let go of that new night cream you just bought, but rather than chuck it in the trash once it’s empty, consider using it as a pill case for when you need to take your meds on the go. Tend to use a thousand cotton balls that come in a plastic bag to remove your makeup? Go for reusable facial rounds instead that can easily be tossed in the laundry. Oils are a staple in most regimens, but why not make your own version in a bottle with a dropper that you can use over and over again? If you’re less mad scientist and more shopaholic, try making a conscious effort to opt for products in glass bottles or containers you think you could repurpose later.

3 | In the kitchen —

Here’s where things get a bit trickier. You can clean and recycle your kefir from Trader Joe’s in its plastic bottle, but what about the egg shells you just threw in the bin? Those can be used as a soil booster for your beloved plant babies! Set aside the toxic chemicals and all those plastic spray bottles in your cleaning supplies and make your own concoction like this one that you can put into an old spray bottle and refill every time you’re running low. Go even further with a stainless steel straw brush and a plant-based dish brush rather than a stanky, polyester-derived sponge. For food, invest in some organic cotton produce bags that you can stuff to the brim and wash if needed. Easy enough, right?

Pro tip: bulk is better. The more you aim for the bulk section, the less you will be stuck buying boxes of cereal with their plastic liners or plastic bags of nuts, seeds, and so on. And for the love of all the creatures in the sea, never use a plastic straw ever again, in your home or otherwise — the stainless steel alternatives are fantastic!

4 | In your closet —

When news broke that Burberry burned almost $40 million worth of clothing to protect its exclusivity and value, the industry was put on blast. The amount of waste brought on by fashion (especially fast fashion) is astounding, and the environmental impact is far worse than many originally thought. As you start to look at updating your wardrobe, look for brands that use materials that are recycled, sustainable, or even repurposed like vintage/used pieces. Shopping with the environment in mind has never been easier. Think Reformation, Stella McCartney, H&M’s Conscious Collection, Everlane, and more.

Waste-free, but make it fashion.

I’m eating yogurt out of a plastic container right now. Nobody is perfect and it will take time to adapt to your new waste-free lifestyle, but remember that with every small adjustment, you are more and more becoming a part of the solution.

Charlotte Farrell is a freelance writer and editor who loves nothing more than a piping hot matcha latte — with almond mylk, of course — and subjects like wellness, fashion, self-care, food, climate change, feminism, beauty, fitness, and travel. She graduated with honors in Communications and English Literature from the University of California, San Diego, and is now based in NYC where she enjoys reading, writing, exploring, and dreaming about gluten-free croissants.

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