14 Plastics to Cut from Your Life that You won’t Even Miss

We’re a society dependent on plastic. Yet the planet is depending on us to rid it of plastic waste. Still, completely avoiding all plastic is a lot easier said than done. It’s everywhere. But there are many plastic items that can be fairly painless to give up or replace with more eco-friendly alternatives. Here are 14 plastics to cut from your life that you probably won’t even miss.

1. Glitter

If you’ve ever done a project with glitter, you know you’ll end up finding it stuck to you for days, but it pollutes the environment for much longer.

“Glitter is made from plastic of such a small size it’s especially lethal to our oceans,” according to WWF. “This microplastic can eventually end up in our food chain as plankton and shellfish can ingest it.”

Alternative: If you must sparkle, go with one of the many biodegradable glitter brands. They’re plant-based products that safely biodegrade.

2. Balloons

Many balloons are made out of plastic, and when they float away (or we throw them away), they can do some serious damage to the environment.

“Some birds mistake them for food, and others mistake them (or their ribbons) for nesting material,” according to the National Audubon Society. Animals can get tangled in them, choke on them and more — all for a decoration whose novelty wears off pretty quickly.

Alternative: Use paper-based decorations that you can recycle. It’s not so difficult to cut balloon shapes out of paper if you really love the look they add to celebrations.

3. Produce Bags

You’ve heard time and again to bring your own reusable bags when you go shopping to replace plastic bags. A plastic bag people often let slide, though, is the one you fill with produce at the grocery store. For the minor inconvenience of having to bring your own reusable produce bag, you can save the planet hundreds of years of breaking down that plastic.

Alternative: Purchase or make your own reusable produce bag. Choose something that’s as lightweight as possible to cut costs when you weigh produce, and make sure the material is washable.

4. Plastic Bottles

Pile of crushed plastic bottles

Credit: Sami Sert/Getty Images

Many household products and foods come in plastic bottles, but you often can get the same exact product—or a similar alternative—in a more eco-friendly cardboard carton. Laundry detergent is a good example. You can find both in bottles and cartons. Even water comes in cartons if you forget your reusable bottle.

Alternative: Look for the cartons, not bottles, when you shop. You might have to spend a little more up front for a bulk size, but it’ll likely end up saving you—and the planet—some green in the long run. You also can skip the packaging altogether by making many household products yourself. Likewise, for foods that typically come in plastic bottles, such as juice, either go with the cartons or make your own at home (or just eat some fruit) for less processing and packaging waste.

5. Plastic Straws

Plastic straws have come to represent extraneous plastics in our lives. Yes, some people must use straws, and hopefully they can secure alternatives to plastic as often as possible. But the rest of us probably can handle not sucking up our drinks, so no more sea turtles become needlessly impaled.

Alternative: “There are straws made of bamboo and paper, stainless steel and titanium,” the Audubon Society says. “Heck, there are even straws made of straw!” Enough said.

6. Plastic Cutlery

According to the Plastic Pollution Coalition, Americans use more than 100 million plastic utensils every single day. These items can take up to a thousand years to decompose as they leach chemicals into the environment. Sometimes the utensils even come wrapped in plastic themselves.

Alternative: Just say no to plastic cutlery. Make a point to tell restaurants not to give you plastic utensils with your order before they throw them in your takeout bag. Keep a small set of reusable utensils in your work desk, and plan to carry some with you if you’re going to a restaurant that only offers plastic. Soon the habit will stick, and you won’t have to think twice about it anymore.

7. Disposable Dinnerware

If you’re one to turn to disposable dinnerware when hosting a party—or even in your everyday life—it’s time to kick that habit.

“Let’s be honest, no post-college party needs those red Solo cups, which may take 450 years to decompose,” the Audubon Society says. Cleanup might be a bit harder for you with real dinnerware, but at least it won’t take hundreds of years.

Alternative: Use reusable dinnerware. Ask friends to bring some, if you don’t have enough for a large party. “People tend to care more about food than whether or not the plates match,” the Audubon Society says. Or at the very least, choose the disposable varieties that are made of natural, biodegradable materials.

8. To-Go Containers

As restaurants are trying to cram plastic straws and utensils in with your meal, their food containers might be the worst offenders in the waste department. Food often comes in plastic or Styrofoam containers, which are serious pollutants for our planet.

Alternative: Get in the habit of bringing your own reusable food containers whenever possible. For instance, if you’re going for a sit-down meal, bring a container along in case you don’t finish your food. If you’re going to a coffee shop, bring a travel mug. Sometimes you even get a little money off your purchase if you provide your own container—a reward for being such a thoughtful eco-warrior.

9. Plastic Lighters

A bunch of disposable plastic lighters

Credit: peregrina/Getty Images

Plastic lighters typically cannot be recycled. So once they’re empty, we throw them in the trash, where they release harmful chemicals into the environment for decades. As long as you’re buying new lighters, the cycle will continue.

Alternative: Opt for matches or a refillable metal lighter. Look for match companies that get their wood from sustainable sources and use recycled cardboard. After all, fire’s fire. Whether you get it from a more eco-friendly source probably won’t matter much to you, but it will matter to the planet.

10. Disposable Razors

Disposable razors have a relatively short lifespan in your bathroom compared to how long they spend in landfills. Not to mention razors usually come in bulky plastic packaging and even have a plastic piece covering each cartridge. Some of that is recyclable, though most municipalities don’t take razors in regular recycling.

Alternative: Try using a safety razor, or go back to the even more vintage (and virtually waste-free) straight-razor shave. The up-front costs are higher, but they’ll end up paying for themselves fairly quickly. Or at the very least, find a place that accepts razors for recycling — such as TerraCycle‘s program, which turns razors into products, including picnic tables and park benches.

11. Plastic Wrap

Plastic wrap is convenient for keeping food covered and fresh, especially when it’s difficult to fit in reusable containers. But after it has served its purpose, the plastic wrap goes in the trash—where it will take years to decompose. Fortunately, there are several alternatives that are more eco-friendly and just as useful.

Alternative: An easy swap is trading plastic wrap for foil. “Unlike cling film that cannot be recycled, foil is recyclable,” WWF says. “So if you are using foil, make sure you put it in the recycling bin after use.” There also are several alternatives on the market now that are made from natural materials — some of which can even be washed and reused.

12. Dry Cleaning Bags

When you get items dry-cleaned, you’re usually sent home with a giant plastic bag covering your clothing. Obviously it’s important to keep your clean clothes protected, but it doesn’t have to be at the expense of adding more plastic to the planet.

Alternative: “Invest in a zippered fabric bag and request that your cleaned items be returned in it instead of sheathed in plastic,” the Natural Resources Defense Council says. “(And while you’re at it, make sure you’re frequenting a dry cleaner that skips the perc, a toxic chemical found in some cleaning solvents.)”Those fabric bags are nicer to store in your closet anyway.

13. Smaller Food Packages

Food and food-related packaging make up about 45 percent of all landfill waste in the U.S., according to the EPA. That waste problem becomes worse when you buy smaller food packages more frequently—e.g., purchasing three small containers of peanut butter versus one bulk jar.

Alternative: “Single-serving yogurts, travel-size toiletries, tiny packages of nuts — consider the product-to-packaging ratio of items you tend to buy often and select the bigger container instead of buying several smaller ones over time,” the NRDC says. Bulk buys usually save you money in the long run, as long as you’re able to eat the food before it expires, and you’ll be contributing considerably less landfill waste.

14. Rush deliveries

package at front door

Credit: TriggerPhoto/Getty Images

Nowadays, many companies are throwing in expedited shipping as an incentive to order from them. While that can make purchasing online goods especially convenient, it also might mean more damage to the environment in the form of extra packaging materials (plastic and otherwise), fuel and more. In fact, an MIT study found online shopping typically had a lower carbon footprint than in-store shopping—but not when people chose the rush delivery option.

Alternative: As often as possible, go with standard delivery, and seek to consolidate your shipment (rather than having individual items sent as they’re available) to cut down on packaging materials. Plus, aim to recycle as much shipping waste as you can. Even if your normal recycling won’t accept it, often local shipping stores will take packaging materials to reuse, such as bubble wrap and packing peanuts.

Main image credit: tolgart/Getty Images

111 comments

Alexandra Richards

Thank you.

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Lara A
Lara A9 days ago

Thanks for sharing

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Peggy B
Peggy B9 days ago

Noted

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Thomas M
Thomas M13 days ago

thanks very much

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William T
William T14 days ago

thank you

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Leo C
Leo Custer15 days ago

Thank you for posting!

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Leo C
Leo Custer17 days ago

Thank you for sharing!

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Emma L
Emma L18 days ago

Thanks for posting

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Doris F
Doris F19 days ago

@C2...what happens with C2 ?????
All actions are break down ! hmmmpfff :-(

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Richard B
Richard B19 days ago

thanks

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