The Lifehacker’s Guide to Living with Less Plastic (The Ultimate Cheat Sheet to a Plastic-Free Life)
Plastic has become one of the most harmful materials to our environment.
From polluting oceans and harming wildlife, to filling up landfills for decades without decomposing, this material is having devastating short term and long term effects on our planet.
The main culprits are the companies producing these products. Plastic is cheap, economical, and easy to mold, so it’s no wonder its use is so rampant.
Our society has become increasingly dependent on plastic products, so making the shift to living with less plastic (and, eventually, living plastic-free) can be a challenge.
To help point those who want to make the shift to a plastic-free lifestyle in the right direction, we decided to put together this guide to reducing your plastic use. Think of it as a “cheat sheet” to living plastic-free.
This guide will give you information on what it’s like to live plastic-free, how to fit a plastic-free lifestyle into your budget, how to minimize plastic in the most important areas of your life, and much more.
Feel free to use the links below to navigate to each section, or scroll down to start from the beginning.
- Inspiration From Other People Living Plastic-Free Lives
- The Hardest Parts About Living Plastic-Free
- The Best Parts About Living Plastic-Free
- 3 Most Common Myths About Plastic-Free Living Debunked
- How to Make Sure a Plastic-Free Life Fits Into Your Budget
- 4 Resources to Find Plastic-Free and Eco-friendly Products
- The First 10 Steps Anyone Can Take Towards Living a Plastic-Free Life
- How to Minimize Plastic in the Most Important Areas of Your Life
- What It Means To Live Entirely Plastic-Free, And Is It Right For You?
- 5 Tips For Spreading the Plastic-Free Mantra
- Get Involved
- Plastic-Free Fundraising
Inspiration From Other People Living Plastic-Free Lives
When undertaking the plastic-free journey, you are never alone. There are many people who are on their way to living with less plastic and helping to reduce its effect on the environment.
However, the transition to living plastic-free isn’t necessarily an easy one. To give you some inspiration, here are a few case studies of other people living plastic-free lives:
The Rogue Ginger
Erin Rhoads (otherwise known as “The Rogue Ginger“) has been living without buying plastic since July 2013. She has found plastic-free alternatives to shopping, cooking, makeup, fashion, cleaning and travel items without creating any excess waste.
Her foray into the plastic-free lifestyle started with Plastic Free July, a global initiative that encourages people to live without single-use plastic each July. Through this experience, she learned about the harmful effects plastic pollution is having on our planet and some of the other issues surrounding our waste.
This inspired her to make the full transition, and she has been helping other people do the same ever since.
In June 2007, Beth Terry read an article while recovering from surgery. In it, she saw the photo that would change her life — a carcass of a dead bird with its belly filled with plastic bottle caps, cigarette lighters, a toothbrush, and more plastic waste.
This alarming photo caused Beth to re-evaluate her own consumption habits. That week, she committed to stop buying new plastic.
She now runs one of the most popular blogs on plastic-free living, My Plastic-Free Life, where she shares her research on plastic-free alternatives and what it’s like to live this lifestyle. She has also written a book and personally contacted companies to encourage them to run their businesses more sustainably.
Treading Her Own Path
Like Erin Rhoads, Lindsay Miles also began her plastic-free journey with Plastic Free July. But her real mindset shift happened after watching the documentary, Bag It!. She took action and “became the change she wanted to see.”
She started looking into how other people were living plastic-free lifestyles and what she could do as well. She began connecting with people and sharing what she learned in the process. This took her from plastic-free to zero waste, minimalism, and more.
Lindsay shows that by starting off small, you can end up somewhere big.
The Hardest Parts About Living Plastic-Free
If living with less plastic was easy, everyone would be doing it. We all know on an intellectual level that plastic is harming the environment, but it’s so prolific in our lives that replacing it can be tough.
While we want everyone reading this to make the shift to living with less plastic, we also want to be as honest as possible about what living this lifestyle is like.
Living plastic-free can be a tough transition, but everyone who is doing it will tell you that it’s also extremely rewarding, both for yourself and for what you’re doing for our planet.
1. Finding alternative products
One of the hardest parts about living plastic-free is finding replacements for all of the products you buy that contain plastic. This includes products that are made out of plastic and products that come in plastic containers.
When you start digging into the products you buy, you will find that an alarming amount come in plastic containers or are either partially or fully made with plastic. Not only does this speak to just how big of a problem this is for our environment, but it also means that it will take some time for you to go fully plastic-free.
2. Making your own alternative products
Sometimes, you won’t be able to find ready-made alternatives to your plastic-containing products. This is where DIY (do-it-yourself) comes into play.
You may need to make your own lotions, grow your own fruits/veggies, and DIY other replacement products.
3. Building and maintaining the plastic-free habit
It’s easy to buy and use plastic products. It can be harder to find replacements for them.
So, naturally, it can be difficult to build and maintain the plastic-free habit, because falling back to your old ways seems easier.
But just like sticking to a healthy diet and exercise routine, the benefits of living plastic-free are so profound that it makes sticking to the habit more than worth it.
4. Keeping it up despite pressure from friends, family, etc
Most people who start living with less plastic don’t anticipate this happening, but it is a very real result of making the lifestyle change.
There can be pressure from people in your social circle to use or buy plastic products when you’re out with them. They may not fully understand why you’re trying to live with less plastic, so they’re not taking it as seriously as you are.
Because these people are close to you, this pressure can become uncomfortable. But as long as you remember why you’re making the shift to living plastic-free, and you stick to it, they will respect you for it.
5. Not worrying about offending other people with your lifestyle change
When people see others living a different lifestyle, they automatically compare it to their own. If they feel like you are trying to be “better” than them in some way, they may feel offended when you maintain your boundaries and refuse plastic-containing products.
Don’t allow this to hinder you from living the lifestyle you want to live. You’re doing nothing to offend them, so it’s their issue. Continue living the way you feel is right for you.
The Best Parts About Living Plastic-Free
1. You’re making a positive impact on our planet
By living with less plastic, you’re making a positive impact on our planet right now and you’re simultaneously making it better for future generations.
As more people start making the change, this impact will grow exponentially, helping to clean up our oceans, reduce the amount of waste in our landfills, and lessen the effects of global warming.
2. You’re setting an example for the people around you and the people who look up to you
Living plastic-free is a righteous cause. No matter where you live or your stance in life, the health of our environment affects us all equally, and you’re helping to make it a better planet for everyone who lives here.
This sets a great example for the people around you, especially for the people who look up to you. You’re sacrificing your own convenience for the greater good of humanity and for future generations.
3. You can inspire others to make the change as well
One person living with less plastic isn’t going to make a big impact. But if that one person can inspire another person, and that person inspires two more people, and those people go on to inspire other people to make the change, then we’ve suddenly started a domino effect that snowballs into something very impactful.
By choosing to live this lifestyle and openly share it with others, you will inspire people to start being more aware of their own environmental impact and the global issues surrounding plastic consumption.
4. You join a global community of supportive people who care about our planet’s future
The plastic-free community spans across the globe. It crosses cultures, age, sex, and religion.
By living plastic-free, you join a growing community of supportive individuals with the same goals and philosophy driving them.
5. You’ve achieved something to be proud of
The plastic-free lifestyle can be challenging, so achieving it is something to be proud of. You’ve made a change that most people aren’t willing or capable of doing just yet, and you’re one of the front-runners helping to spearhead massive change in how we affect our planet going forward.
6. Increased health and vitality
Many people forget that one of the best “side effects” in our opinion about living plastic-free is an increased health and vitality in your body. This is often attributed to the fact that living life with less plastic means you often eat fresher and are not eating processed or “junk” food. It is not uncommen to experience even some weight loss if you are carrying a few extra pounds, after you make the switch to a plastic-free life.
3 Most Common Myths About Plastic-Free Living Debunked
As with any lifestyle, certain assumptions are made by those who haven’t tried it yet. These myths can sometimes hinder people from taking the leap.
Here are three myths about living plastic-free that have no grounds in reality:
Myth #1 – You have to throw out all of your old plastic
This is one of the biggest reasons why people who want to live with less plastic don’t end up making the change. They look at all of the plastic good they use every day and wonder how they will be able to replace them.
Here’s the thing:
You don’t have to replace all of them immediately!
Just don’t buy new plastic products.
First off, the plastic you throw out ends up in a landfill or harming the environment. So if it’s in your home and it’s being put to good use (and it’s a safe plastic product) then it’s better off staying there.
The key is to not purchase any new plastic products. These are the items you will need to find replacements for if they are absolutely necessary for you to use.
Myth #2 – You have to go 100% plastic-free immediately
Plastic has become an integral part of many people’s daily lives, so living plastic-free is a big change.
In order to make the change, you need to build a habit of living with less plastic. Habits allow you to continue a behavior for an extended period of time. They can become almost automatic (like your habit of living with plastic right now).
But as anyone who has ever had a New Years Resolution will tell you, if you dive in head first and can’t keep it up, that habit will never form and you will go back to your old behaviors.
So you don’t have to go 100% plastic-free immediately. The best thing for most people to do is to take it slowly, one step at a time.
Start with the easiest items to find substitutes for. Then build up from there.
This will help you build a plastic-free habit and mindset, and you won’t feel so overwhelmed.
Myth #3 – All plastic products are off-limits
Namely, if a plastic product is required for your health and well-being, you need to make the decision that’s best for your health. Don’t put your health in jeopardy because the medicine you need comes in a plastic bottle.
At this point, exceptions may need to be made.
But it’s up to you to decide what those exceptions are. Don’t worry about what other people might think of you. It’s your health and your life. You need to make the decisions that are best for you.
How to Make Sure a Plastic-Free Life Fits Into Your Budget
One worry many people have before going plastic-free is how it will fit into their budget. Are alternative products going to be more expensive? What if it doesn’t fit into my budget, how will I go plastic-free?
Thankfully, living with less plastic can be quite affordable. Here are a few tips to make sure this lifestyle fits into your budget:
First off, when finding replacement products, compare the costs of the alternatives with what you usually buy. If you’re on a budget, choose the replacement product that’s closest in price to the plastic-containing one.
Also, look online for coupons and discounts on plastic-free products. You can do a Google search for “coupon” + the product or browse forums looking for deals.
Growing or making your own products can sometimes be cheaper than buying the ready-made alternatives. For instance, vegetable seeds cost much less than the vegetables themselves, and they can be healthier if you don’t use pesticides and growth aids.
If living plastic-free is putting a strain on your finances, try to find other areas in your life to cut down spending:
- Subscriptions you’re not using or don’t use very often (like magazines and online services).
- Identify unhealthy buying habits you can kick.
- Ride your bike or use another mode of transportation to reduce your petrol usage.
- Use less gas, electricity, and water to lower your utilities bill.
4 Resources to Find Plastic-Free and Eco-friendly Products
One of the hardest parts about living with less plastic is sourcing plastic-free and environmentally friendly products.
Many products that come in plastic containers need to be continually replenished, like lotions and food items. Finding plastic-free alternatives to these can be a hassle.
To help you find these alternatives, here are five resources to help you find retailers that sell packaging-free, plastic-free, and eco friendly products:
This page is continually updated with plenty of suppliers that offer bulk and plastic-free products. It’s a great starting point.
We put together a list of 48 products that are all eco-friendly. This list includes clothing, coffee cups, drink bottles, home items, camping/travel, jewelry, shopping items, and more.
Life Without Plastic has put together a great store that’s chock full of plastic-free items.
This list has a ton of alternatives to our everyday plastic-containing products. If you can’t access the store in your area, you will at least get some ideas on how to replace some of the products you use.
The First 10 Steps Anyone Can Take Towards Living a Plastic-Free Life
Getting started with a new habit is sometimes the hardest part. After that, it tends to snowball on its own as you get more involved.
To help you get started ASAP, here are the first 10 steps anyone can take towards living a plastic-free life:
1. Use reusable bags whenever you go shopping
This is one of the easiest things you can do. Simply take 3-4 reusable bags with you whenever you go shopping. This will immediately cut out all of your plastic shopping bag waste.
2. Identify which products you buy containing plastic
Make a list of the products you purchase that contain plastic. This is the first step towards finding plastic-free alternatives.
3. Choose the three easiest products to replace
Then choose the three easiest products for you to replace and make a plan to buy alternatives.
4. Write down why you’re making the change to a plastic-free life
This will make it feel more real to you. Then place it somewhere you will see it often to act as a reminder.
5. Start using a reusable coffee cup
Instead of using single-use coffee cups from the coffee machine or shop, start using a reusable coffee cup each time.
6. Start using a reusable drink bottle
Use reusable drink bottles (preferably made out of stainless steel) or glass, instead of plastic.
7. Cut out frozen meals
Many frozen meals come in containers that have plastic in them. Cut these out and you will drastically reduce your plastic consumption and you will be eating healthier.
8. Take a trip to the farmer’s market
Take a trip to the farmer’s market to see what kinds of produce are being offered and their prices – Often farmers markets prices are the same or better than the supermarkets, and the produce stays fresher far longer as it has usually only just be picked.
9. Use bar soap
This is another easy alternative. Use bar soap instead of liquid hand washing liquid.
10. Join a community of like-minded individuals
How to Minimize Plastic in the Most Important Areas of Your Life
This is what it all comes down to:
Minimizing plastic in as many areas of your life as possible.
This sounds like a daunting task, but thankfully there are many ways to do this. Here are a number of ways to minimize plastic in some of the most important areas of your life:
1. Shop with reusable shopping and produce bags
This will immediately eliminate your use of single use shopping and produce bags.
2. Buy non-perishable goods in bulk
Buying in bulk reduces the need to go to the shops as often, and it reduces the amount of plastic used in production per item purchased.
3. Buy fresh bread from local bakeries (in a reusable bread bag, paper or no packaging)
This eliminates plastic wrapping waste from store-bought bread and you help support local businesses.
4. Buy milk in glass bottles you can return
Many boutique dairys are now offering thier milk and other products in glass containers that are returnable for deposit. Usually found in more independant supermarkets rather that the large chain stores
5. Shop at the farmer’s market
Farmer’s markets are treasure troves of fresh, healthy produce. If you do end up needing to buying produce in a plastic container, return it to the farmer’s market when you’re done or reuse it every time you visit.
6. Buy beer and spirits in glass bottles and/or use refillable containers
Saving old beer bottles and brewing your own beverages such as beer or Kombucha is a great way to reduce the waste that is produced by just using a beer bottle once and recycling it.
7. Grow your own produce and/or have it shipped to your house in plastic-free packaging
Growing your own produce can become a great healthier alternative to store-bought produce. There are also companies that will ship fresh, organic produce to your home in plastic-free packaging.
8. Buy wine in glass bottles with natural corks
By accessing websites like Corkwatch on your smartphone you can very quickly find out if the wine you are thinking of purchasing has a natural cork or not.
9. Bring your own container when buying deli meat & cheeses
The shop attendant will simply deduct the weight (called a tare) of the container for you at the time of purchase.
1. Carry reusable utensils and containers to work
You don’t want to be caught in a surprise office lunch situation and with only plastic utensils that will be thrown away immediately afterwards.
2. Carry lunch and other meals in a reusable container
This eliminates the need to throw away your container after use.
3. Carry sandwiches and snacks in reusable lunch wraps
A reusable lunch wrap is a great alternative to plastic, and it’s lighter than glass or stainless steel for easier transportation.
4. Use your own reusable container for takeout and leftovers
Companies like Onyx Containers have some beautiful reusable stainless steel containers
5. Use reusable coffee cups and drink bottles
6. Cut out frozen meals
Most frozen meals contain plastic in the packaging. Cut these out and replace them with freshly-made meals.
7. Use a reusable bread bag
Say goodbye to paper and plastic bread bags, toggles, and ties with a reusable bread bag. Perfect to reduce plastic waste while ensuring maximum freshness, and for use as storage for the home baker.
8. Cut out all beverages in plastic bottles (juice, soda, etc)
You can make your own natural replacements, choose beverages in glass with aluminum lids or even cut these out of your diet completely.
9. Use a reusable straw
This comes in handy when you find yourself out and about with only plastic straws available.
1. Compost your food waste
This eliminates the need for trash bags. There are some wonderful products out there that make this a lot easier such as Bokashi Bin. Most people find that once they start composting thier wet waste, the need to use a normal rubbish bin is eliminated as most other products placed in a bin can then be recycled.
2. Use clove oil to clean the bathroom (mold killer)
3. Clean surfaces with water and vinegar
This is a fantastic alternative to chemical based cleaners that come in plastic bottles.
4. Use a dish brush with a wooden handle and compostable bristles
5. Buy dishwashing liquid and laundry detergent in bulk
Bring your own container to fill up.
6. Use a mop with a metal handle and bucket
1. Replace plastic ice trays with stainless steel
There’s no need to replace your plastic ice trays immediately. But if they break and become unusable, replace them with stainless steel ones.
2. Use a blender made of glass
If you find yourself needing to purchase a new blender in the future, try and go for a glass alternative if possible.
3. Buy glass and/or stainless steel containers for food storage
Glass works great for freezer storage as well.
1. Buy clothing second-hand
Buying clothes second hand not only saves you money but ensures that the second hand clothes you purchase have an extra long lease on life. Once clothes are the end of thier useful life as clothes, they can be torn up and made into rags and cleaning cloths that can be rewashed and used for many years more.
2. Find plastic-free shoes
There are a number of brands out there that sell plastic-free, eco-friendly shoes.
3. Buy clothing made of biodegradable and natural fibers
Cloth such as hemp is a fantastic natural fibre and is both environmentally friendly to produce as well as being highly durable
1. Use bar soap to wash hands and body (packaging free)
This eliminates the need to buy body wash, hand soap, and other soaps that come in plastic packaging.
2. Use a wooden hair brush with natural bristles
3. Use hankies or compostable toilet paper to wipe your nose
This eliminates the need for tissues, which come in packaging containing plastic. Many single use tissues themselves are also composed partially from plastic fibres and are not plastic-free like many people think.
4. Use bar soap, rye flour, or bicarb as shampoo
If you don’t have the time or inclination to make your own soap or shampoo, innovative companies such as Ethique are a great place to start.
5. Buy plastic-free toilet paper
Who Gives a Crap is a great company that prides themselves on providing ethically sourced and produced toilet paper and you can even have it delivered to your door!
6. Use bar soap instead of shaving cream
Bar soap works just as well for most people. Simply lather it in your hands before applying.
7. Buy plastic-free sunblock or make your own
Companies such as Avasol make fantastic eco plastic and toxin free sunscreen products
8. Buy plastic-free toothpaste, or make your own tooth powder or homemade toothpaste
9. Use a bamboo toothbrush or a toothbrush with recyclable heads
10. Use eco-friendly dental floss
Try to find dental floss that doesn’t come in plastic packaging. Brands like Vomel and Le Negri are some great options.
11. Find lotions in plastic-free containers
12. Moisturize with almond oil
13. Use a razor with removable blades when they get dull
Disposable razors and razor blades are two of the biggest contributors to plastic waste. Although you need to take the time to master them, using either a safety razor with replaceable blades or even a cut throat razor, ensure you will never use disposable plastic razors again.
14. Use a baking soda or bicarb-based deodorant
15. Try reusable pads, panty liners or menstrual cups
There are a good number of companies now producing high quality reusable pads and menstrual cups. Having a look at brands such as Glad Rags is a good starting point
1. Don’t buy new CDs and DVDs
Stream music, shows, and movies online, or download music, shows, movies, and games. You can also borrow them from the library or people you know.
2. Buy electronics second-hand whenever possible
3. If buying new, buy plastic-free electronics whenever possible
1. Buy second-hand plastic-free furniture whenever you can
Craigslist in the USA or Gumtree in Australia is a great option for this. You can often find free or fantastic value furniture in good condition.
1. Pick up waste using old newspaper
This eliminates the need for plastic doggy bags. However if you can’t use newspaper, for instance when you are walking your pet, our 100% compostable dog waste bags are a great option.
2. Use glass or stainless steel food/water bowls
3. Choose pet toys and furniture made from natural material
4. Buy your pet food in bulk from a stock feed store
5. Use a natural cat/pet litter
A number of companies these days produce pet litter from natural sources such as recycled wood chips
6. Compost your pet waste in your own garden
The team at Ensopet have developed a fantastic at home composting system for your pets, and these types of systems are often available at good quality hardware stores too.
1. Put a “No Junk Mail” sticker on your mailbox
This will reduce a lot of the letters that enter your mailbox, many of which contain plastic packaging. It will also reduce your paper waste.
2. Switch to paperless billing
Most companies are more than happy for you to switch to paperless billing, because it reduces their costs as well.
What It Means To Live Entirely Plastic-Free, And Is It Right For You?
Living 100% plastic-free means that you aren’t buying any new products that are made of plastic, have plastic in them, or are held in plastic.
Here’s a quick outline of what this looks like when translated into your lifestyle:
- You buy ready-made products to replace as many of your plastic containing ones as you can
- For products you can’t find replacements for, you’ve either stopped using them, you make your own DIY alternative, or you grow them
- You buy packaging-free items
- You use reusable shopping bags and other reusable items
- You buy in bulk whenever you can
- You don’t use plastic products when you go out
- If you do buy plastic products, you buy them second-hand and don’t throw them away
Is this right for you? Meaning, can you sustain this over a long period of time and make it a permanent lifestyle switch?
You will get into the habit of living plastic-free, and even though a part of you will still sometimes get the urge to take the easy route and buy a plastic product, you will feel too good about what you’re doing for the environment and for the plastic-free movement to turn back now.
5 Tips For Spreading the Plastic-Free Mantra
- Tell your friends and family about your lifestyle change.
- Join a local community and participate in outreach events.
- Share articles like this one on social media.
- Start your own local or online group.
- Stay well-informed on environmental issues.
By now, you should be all geared up to start living with less plastic. At this point, many people find it valuable to get involved in local, national, or global communities helping to minimize our dependence on plastic products.
Thankfully, there are many ways to get involved at each level. Here are some resources to check out:
1. Take 3 for the Sea (Australia) — Take 3 is a not-for-profit organization based out of Sydney, Australia. It was started in 2009 to help encourage people to remove trash they find on beaches (or anywhere they visit). The goal is to get people to take at least three pieces of rubbish with them when they leave the beach or waterway. It’s a simple and easy way to do your part to help the environment (much of beach/water pollution is caused by plastic) and to encourage others to do the same.
2. Two Hands Project (Australia) — Two Hands Project is a movement to get people to dedicate 30 minutes and their two hands to removing plastic and other types of pollution from our beaches, parks, and local areas. Their goal is to take huge national and international cleanup days to the micro level.
3. Clean Up Australia — Clean Up Australia has been around since 1989. They run some great campaigns, like Clean Up Australia Day, the Great Northern Clean Up, and Clean Up the World, to help reduce the harmful effects of pollution on our environment.
4. Save Our Shores Plastic Pollution Initiative (United States) — The Plastic Pollution Initiative from Save Our Shores has the goal of reducing “the amount of trash and debris, particularly plastic pollution, reaching the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary and the ocean.” They give the community opportunities to participate in helping clean up the ocean and teach people about the harmful effects of some of our lifestyle choices.
6. Beach Cleanups from Ocean Conservancy (Global) — This page from Ocean Conservancy provides an index of beach cleans people can take part in around the globe.
7. The #2MinuteBeachClean Campaign (Global) — Originating in the UK, the 2 Minute Beach Clean Campaign inspires people from around the world to spend just 2 minutes cleaning up their local beaches. They encourage you to post about your cleanup using the #2minutebeachclean hashtag to spread awareness.
8. Plastic Free July (Global) — Plastic Free July is an amazing global initiative that encourages people to live without single-use plastic each July. This movement has helped many people take the first steps to living their daily lives with less plastic.
If you don’t have the time to join in beach cleans and other types of plastic pollution cleanups, or you simply want to help the cause even further, there are a ton of not-for-profit organizations, school and community groups crying out for funds. And they would love to be able to raise the money they need sustainably.
The organizations below would love your help:
- Plastic Pollution Coalition
- Ocean Conservancy
- Clean Oceans International
- Waves Not Plastic (donate)
- 5 Gyres (donate)
- Surfrider Foundation
- Washed Ashore
You can also do a Google search to find organizations in your local area. And if you’re doing your own fundraising, we offer fundraising options and ideas through Onya here.
Please Share This Information
We hope this guide has given you the information you need to start living with less plastic and get involved in the plastic-free movement.
If you found this guide useful, the chances are someone else you know will too. Please share this article on social media to help spread awareness of living plastic-free and help point our environment back in the right direction.