12 ways to reduce plastic in your life

Some of you may have seen this story about plastic pollution on Catalyst a few weeks ago. It opens with footage of a dead shearwater, a bird native to Lord Howe Island, being sliced open to reveal a stomach full of plastic – 175 pieces of plastic, in fact, ranging from bottle tops to balloon ties to a doll’s arm. As someone who considers nature a temple, this story cut me up more than words can describe.

via oliveonblonde

Recently, European researchers discovered that the Antarctic, previously considered one part of the planet to be free of the devastating corollary of our plastic addiction, is far from a plastic-free sanctuary. These researchers found up to 40,000 fragments of plastic waste in every square kilometre of the sea.

That shearwater population on Lord Howe Island? It’s in rapid population decline. And the toxins found in the sea of plastic in the Antarctic are entering our food chain as they’re being absorbed by fish.

Wondering how all this plastic got there? Consider how inescapable plastic is in our society today – we eat and drink out of it, we drive in it, we wear it, we sit on it... even ocean nets are no longer made of natural fibres like hemp and cotton. We use it, then dispose of it, and any bit of it that escapes the waste management system (if there is one) traverses the globe via ocean currents.

Oh and to really get my point across, these here are a couple of photos I took whilst on Phu Quoc Island, Vietnam, a few years ago. It’s of the ‘locals’ part of the beach’, away from the tourist areas. They speak for themselves:

It’s clear something has to be done to put a halt to further plastic pollution. And the power is in our hot little hands. We can make a difference. This stuff does make a difference:

1. Stop buying bottled drinks
Bottled water is a fad that began in the 90’s and was enthusiastically taken up by people pretending to be healthy. In fact we know toxins in the plastic, such as BPA, is doing the exact opposite. Not to mention the senseless waste.

2. Use cloth shopping bags
I keep two in my handbag at all times. I’m anal about it.

3Kick the chewy habit
Few people know that chewing gum is actually plastic. When I told one guy in my office building, he asked whether he should recycle it. If you just can’t stand the thought of not chewing after a meal, try mastic, a Greek chewing gum that’s actually just the chewy sap of the mastic tree. Great for your teeth and breathe. You can buy it from most Greek/European delis.

4. Don’t buy food wrapped in plastic
It’s tricky but possible. Buying staples like flour, nuts and beans etc from a bulk-goods store means you can take your own bags to fill. And buying your fruit and veg from a farmers’ market generally means you can avoid silly things like green beans arranged on a plastic tray wrapped in plastic.

5. Recycle right
Some councils accept plastic bottle tops, others don’t. Make sure you’re doing it right by reading your council’s guidelines here.

6. Take 3 at the beach, the park, wherever
Read my interview with Tim Silverwood, founder of Take 3 organisation, about the devastating effects of plastic pollution and how we can make a difference by picking up rubbish off the street. Yes, even if it’s not your own.

7. Choose food and other products in glass or paper rather than plastic containers
Sadly even cardboard milk cartons are lined with plastic. Cans too. You can buy milk and yoghurt in glass bottles from organic produce stores. Elgaar, one of my favourite dairy farmers (they have excellent animal welfare practices), even gives you a refund for returning the bottle to the store when you’re done. Choose detergents in carton boxes rather than bottles (liquid detergents contain more chemicals anyhow). Buy bars of soap in boxes rather than liquid soaps.

8. Make your own cleaning products
Mixing your own spray’n’wipe out of water and some vinegar or lemon juice means you don’t have to keep buying cleaners in plastic bottles. I haven’t bought a bottle of shampoo or conditioner in a year because I mix my own out of bicarb soda and apple cider vinegar (which come in a paper box and glass bottle respectively).

9. Buy (recycled) toilet paper that’s wrapped in paper, not plastic
Planet Ark’s Safe brand is a good choice and is available in supermarkets.

10. Just say no to those little plastic soy sauce fish things
For the sushi fans out there, use the in-store soy sauce bottles hey.

11. Bring your own take away container
My office has recently started doing this. Cafe owners are most obliging. They’re probably happy to save a few bobs here and there.

12. Say no to plastic bags in shops
The sales assistant will insist, as if you can’t possibly manage to carry that new spring knit out of the store and to your car without one, but you must persist. You must.

Got any nifty ways you reduce the use of plastic in your life? Care to share?


  1. hi. Thanks for sharing such an interesting post. the post is really an eye opener.

    Collapsible Bulk Containers

  2. I have found doing what you suggested above is really easy... it's just a matter of doing things differently, rather than taking much effort, thanks for another great post.

  3. Hi Maria,
    I've been trying to reduce the amount of plastic I use in my life for approx 12 months now.
    I use Onya Weigh Bags for Fruit, Veg, Nuts, Dried fruits and grains.
    I made my own bread bags that I take to the bakery .
    I've made homemade Deodorant and toothpaste.
    I'm still summoning up the courage to bring my own container to the Butcher/Deli.
    It's all a work in progress but worthwhile when I see the images of those sea birds.

    Some great places to find out more info on how to live plastic free are,
    My plastic free life blog
    A plastic free year blog
    Plastic Manners blog
    Also the movie "Bag It" explores some of the health and environmental reasons why we should
    lesson our dependence on plastics, it's informative and funny.

  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  5. Yes, yes, yes! This has been on my mind for the last 3-4 months in particular, just analysing my own life and looking at all of the things we use on a disposal basis and on a more...long term basis that is made from plastic. Trying to think of ways to reduce my own waste, even if it IS recyclable (there are even better ways than using that excuse for some items).



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