As I write this article, I’m surrounded by plastic. On my desk alone, there’s a plastic bag from Target, a plastic container of plastic wall hooks, a plastic water bottle, my plastic mouse and keyboard—the list goes on.
It seems like plastic is everywhere you look these days, which is why the idea of living a plastic-free life is overwhelming, to say the least. However, that’s not stopping many businesses and individuals from doing their darndest to cut back on the plastic they use each day, making a low-plastic lifestyle a year-round event.
Plastic-Free July made several big strides this year. At the beginning of the month, Starbucks made headlines when it announced plans to eliminate plastic straws from its stores by 2020. It may seem like a small thing, but consider that 500 million plastic straws are used every day in America, according to the Earth Day Network, and the majority of them end up in the landfills or, sadly, the oceans.
Several other big-name retailers followed suit over the course of the month—the Walt Disney Company is phasing out plastic straws and stirrers at its theme parks and resorts, and McDonald's plans to do the same at its U.K. and Ireland locations.
Even municipalities are getting in on the action. Several states and communities across the U.S. have banned single-use plastic bags, and Seattle recently banned the use of plastic utensils at bars and restaurants, according to CBS.
While there’s been lots of buzz about plastic pollution in the past few months, many people have been waging war on the material for years. To see how, exactly, they achieved the daunting feat of living low-plastic lives, we asked two writers to share their experiences, including their motivations, strategies, and biggest challenges.
The following are six strategies Bridey Heing and Jenn Weede suggest for cutting plastic out of your life (or at least minimizing your use of it), one baby step at a time.
As with any big life change (or any small one, for that matter), it’s important to nail down why you’re doing it. Having a strong, defined sense of purpose will help you stay the course when things inevitably get tough and inconvenient.
Though their stories are rather different, one commonality was that both women were driven by a sense of responsibility to help both the environment and society.
“We started cutting out plastic in around 2016,” Bridey Heing, a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C., said of her and her husband. “It seemed like something fairly straightforward we could do on a personal level to help mitigate some of the impact on the environment, and I think it's important that those who can afford to invest in possibly higher-cost alternatives do so to create that incentive for the market at large.”
Our other interviewee made a more drastic change, going from the hustle and bustle of N.Y.C. to the mountains of Creston, Colorado.
“After an early career as a fashion editor in New York, I moved to Colorado to lead a more meaningful life,” said Jenn Weede, a self-described eco-freak. “We really committed to living a low-impact, sustainable life because we saw the environment being devastated, and we saw people suffering by being disconnected from what was real.”
In addition to cutting back on plastics, Weede and her husband live in a solar strawbale house (how cool is that?), hunt their own meat, and even make their own pottery mugs and dishes.
In a world where everything seems to be made of or packaged in plastic, how exactly do you stop using it? The task seems pretty daunting, and according to these low-plastic ladies, you first have to understand what’s truly feasible.
“I think the language of zero-waste can be really misleading, because it's not actually possible,” says Heing. Instead, she explains it’s a matter of reducing where you can and reusing the plastic you can’t avoid.
Perhaps the best place for people to start cutting out plastic is in their drinking habits. Two super easy steps you can take right now are:
As more restaurants shun plastic straws, this might also be a good opportunity to buy a few metal or glass ones to carry in your bag.
Once you’re solidly in the habit of carrying reusable cups around, the women suggest focusing on the other easy changes you can make—such as carrying your own shopping bags to the grocery store and cutting out things like plastic wrap.
“Don’t use the straw, buy the plastic toy, or take the plastic bag,” Weede suggests. “Avoid the worst contaminating plastics, like [polyethylene food wrap] and BPA plastics.”
You have to accept there are times when you simply can’t avoid plastic—such as at the grocery store. A lot of food comes in plastic containers, so both women households aim to buy in bulk and use containers again. “I try to make single-use plastic reusable,” says Heing. “Big yogurt containers are great for buying in bulk, for example, since they are so lightweight, or I use them to carry delicate things when I go to the farmer's market.”
You can frequently find innovative uses for plastic containers, but you have to take the time to think about it. “I scan my life and ask: How can I reuse this?” says Weede. “I do use plastic bags for buying green beans, for example, at the store, which don’t sit freely in my cart, but I reuse that bag again and again, and I skip bags for all produce that can be bought without one. I collect boxes and give them to people who are moving instead of throwing them away.”
At the end of the day, reducing your use of plastic is a huge task, and you’re not always going to get it right. Sometimes there simply aren’t no-plastic options, but that doesn’t mean you should throw in the towel! “I think the most challenging thing is reminding yourself that you're gonna mess up,” says Heing. “You're not going to be able to always pick a zero-plastic option, and that's okay. You're going to want to eat a candy bar sometimes, or get takeout, or whatever.”
Both writers agree that cutting out plastic takes diligence and is often inconvenient, but at the end of the day, it feels good to know you’re doing your part to help reduce plastic pollution and spur this eco-friendly movement forward.
Have you made steps to decrease your plastic usage? Let us know how in the comments below.