Seven Ways to Reduce Household Plastic

"Plastic texture 400x magnification" in shades of blue/gray,cropped, by hypermodern, openclipart.org.
"Plastic texture 400x magnification" in shades of blue/gray,cropped, by hypermodern, openclipart.org.

I put off writing this post for the longest time; I wanted to wait until I could boast a longer list. But I feel it's important to help one another along and for me to be transparent. I'm certainly not perfect, but these are tips that helped our family reduce household plastic. Rest assured, it didn't happen overnight.

Last updated September 15, 2016

Why do we need to reduce household plastic?

Just to side step for a moment - why would you want to reduce household plastic? If you haven't read my post on Plastic Pollution - a Bird's-Eye View, that's a good place to start, especially for a glimpse into the relationship between plastic and our oceans.

Also, most household plastics, including shampoo bottles and water bottles, don't get recycled into more plastic bottles; almost all of the plastic we use everyday is from virgin plastic, which is a petroleum product. Most plastic that is recyclable ends up as lumber or park benches.

Plastic that isn't recyclable, and much of it isn't, despite the symbols imprinted on the bottom of containers, ends up in landfills - leaching toxic chemicals into groundwater as it breaks down.

It's beyond the scope of this post to explore the hazards of plastic any further, but for now, I hope this gives you some ideas on ways to reduce household plastic in your home.

And just to clarify, I didn't include single-use plastic shopping bags, water bottles, straws, and cups in this post. For more information about shopping bags, including a free no-sew option, see here. For more information on alternatives to other single-use plastic, check out this post on Plastic Free July.

Seven ways our family reduced household plastic

We Switched to shampoo bars

soap bar - coloured, by frankes, openclipart.org.
soap bar - coloured, by frankes, openclipart.org.

The ones I purchase arrive naked or wrapped in paper. I'll be writing a post soon about how I use shampoo bars, but until then, Aquarian BathChagrin Valley Soap, and the Dr. Bronner's website have helpful tips and information. More options are listed below. I continue to use shampoo bars from all of these companies.

No more plastic conditioner bottles

Making the change can be an adjustment, but Aquarian Bath and Chagrin Valley Soap offer excellent alternatives. Even some skin care products can be used as conditioners and pomades.

Skin Care

I've replaced all of my cleansers and moisturizers that are packaged in plastic with products packaged in metal and glass. I love these - both for their effectiveness and simplicity of ingredients. I've listed some options below.

Toothpaste

I use baking soda with a sprinkling of sea salt and essential oil of peppermint. This eliminates all of those plastic tubes. I wrote a blog post about DIY tooth powder and will post an additional recipe soon, but truthfully, baking soda alone is fine.

You might also want to take a look at my post on microbeads in toothpaste. Although I haven't tried this particular product, Aquarian Bath also sells tooth powder.

Deodorant

I haven't converted all of my family members, but I only use deodorant packaged in cardboard tubes or metal tins. Check out Chagrin Valley Soap and Aquarian Bath.

Scullery door sign, by Moini, openclipart.org
Scullery door sign, by Moini, openclipart.org

Dish washing

We don't have a dishwasher. Oh, what am I thinking? I am thedishwasher! Mostly, I use Dr. Bronner's Pure-Castile Bar Soap and a sponge. I keep a metal shaker full of baking soda nearby for scouring and to help cut grease.

Occasionally, we run out of the bar soap. When this happens, I simply grab Dr. Bronner's Pure-Castile Liquid Soap from the shower, which is quite concentrated, so a little bit goes a long way. Yes, it's packaged in plastic; I'm not perfect, and my son would have a fit if I stopped buying the liquid version. Purchasing in bulk or refilling at selected stores helps reduce household plastic.

Laundry room door sign, by Moini, openclipart.org.
Laundry room door sign, by Moini, openclipart.org.

Laundry detergent

I've been using Eco nuts Natural Laundry Soap (liquid), but I also purchased the actual nuts, which I haven't tried. Does this sound silly? I know it seems strange and not even possible that nuts could clean your laundry, but I've been pleased with the liquid version, although it does have a plastic sticker on the recyclable metal bottle. I've also used Seventh Generation Natural Powdered Laundry Detergent, which is packaged in recycled cardboard and available at many grocery stores.

Sources

Healthy Planet Resources Page- I've included additional resources here for all of the categories listed above.

Aquarian Bath - Shampoo bars, conditioner (hair serum), skin care, tooth powder, deodorant, and more.

Chagrin Valley Soap - Shampoo bars, conditioners and serums, skin care, deodorant, and more.

Vitacost.com - Dr. Bronner's Pure-Castile Bar Soap and Liquid Soap, J. R. Liggett Bar Shampoo, Eco nuts Organic Laundry Soap, both the liquid version and the actual nuts.

Life Without Plastic - Eco nuts Organic Laundry Soap Nuts. They also carry deodorant and shampoo bars, which I haven't tried. This website is an excellent source for many other non-plastic household items.

Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, and other specialty grocery stores - Many stores carry Dr. Bronner's and J. R. Liggett Bar Shampoo. I've even heard of some larger stores (depending on where you live) carrying artisan products made by companies like the ones listed above. Check out the store locator on each manufacturer's website.

So I did some tricky math and calculated that by switching to products packaged in plastic alternatives, we were able to reduce household plastic by about 80 containers.

Wow! I was in the dark about the actual number until I wrote this post. And I'm not even perfect - at least not yet! I'm joking about the perfect part.

My hope is to inspire others to make small changes; think of the herd effect. Collectively, we have the potential to drive the economy in a different direction, and I don't believe that it's necessary to be perfect to achieve this.

My personal goals for the Near Future

Replace my tinted moisturizer with one packaged in glass. I have a source in mind, but I don't feel comfortable sharing until I've tried their products.

Find another source for lipstick/lip balm. I don't wear much makeup anymore, but I do enjoy a splash of color on my lips. Most companies package lipsticks in plastic tubes, which don't appear to be recyclable.

Stop purchasing plastic bags for cheese and other foods. I've actually stopped; I just haven't bought the replacements for them, yet. We sort of have a backlog of food grade plastic bags. I plan on purchasing replacements here .

A note about online ordering

Some observations regarding online ordering: The small independent companies listed above take great care to ship without any plastic, or they use bubble wrap obtained from friends and family members, which would otherwise have been discarded. Please check individual websites for details.

Avoiding plastic packaging is more challenging when ordering from larger companies. Some have begun wrapping glass and other breakables in paper wrap that cushions like bubble wrap. It's really pretty cool. But the caveat is that they package loose items, such as packaged dry foods and soap, in plastic baggies.

I understand that companies can't assume financial risk for ruined products due to customers refusing plastic shipping materials. I'm working on this; I'll be contacting these companies, as best I can, before I place future orders to see if they can simply omit the plastic bags, especially for items like bar soap.

Many of these products aren't available locally, and we save a good bit of money by ordering online - freeing up more money for high quality locally sourced food. So it feels like a conundrum. I'll keep you updated on my progress.

Now, I would like to hear from you. What household plastic items have you replaced in your home? What are your goals for the future, and do you have any suggestions for me?

Laura