10 Toughest Steps to Reduce Your Plastic Footprint

If you’ve followed our guides to zero waste, which are simple ideas to get you thinking about reducing unnecessary plastics in your home environment, you’re doing really well! But you’ll likely still have plastics in your trash can every day, like I do. These are the toughest steps we take to get beyond our fear of being judged and push through the next level of plastic-free(dom) and even closer to zero waste:

1) Figure out what your biggest plastic vice is and find a plastic-free alternative. One of my family’s weaknesses is Amy’s frozen organic burritos. My children love them and they’re easy to heat up for school lunches. But we also love to eat burritos and enchiladas for dinner from delicious dried black beans that we slow cook and then assemble the burritos and enchiladas from scratch. Solution? Make an extra-large batch of burritos on burrito night and save them for school lunches. You can even freeze quite a few so you have your very own Amy’s-style yummies to keep the earthlings happy at school.

Amy's Burrito Packaging Isn't Recyclable. So, We Try To Make Our Own. Photo © Liesl Clark

If your vice is raw bars or granola bars and snack bars, find a baker near you who makes them and order them plastic-free. On Bainbridge Island, Rebecca makes Rawbecca Bars that are better than anything I’ve ever purchased in a store. She’ll make them for you in bulk, in many flavors, and totally plastic-free. We’ve ordered them in bulk to take on our expeditions in the Himalayas because they last over a month. Our local bakery also makes some unbelievably tasty peanut butter raw bars that I can order up waste-free.

We love crackers but can’t find our favorite varieties without plastic packaging. And our homemade crackers are better than any bought in a store. So, once in a while, we’ll make our own to help reduce our impact. And we’ll make enough for 2-3 days. They go fast.

Homemade Seed Crackers, Recipe at Slim-Shoppin. Photo © Liesl Clark


2) Stop buying plastic containers and come to love glass. I love glass containers of all sizes and can’t find anything that I can’t store in them.

Peek in my fridge and you'll find jars of all shapes and sizes: Patron bottle for flax seed oil, homemade yogurt in a large mason jar, homemade salad dressing in a jam jar and bulk yeast for our bread in another mason jar. Photo © Liesl Clark

3) Buy your cheese plastic-free. This might take some hutzpa on your part, but if you talk sweetly to your deli counter people, they’ll likely let you buy their bulk (often gourmet) cheese without any of their packaging. Just bring your own container and act confidently when you ask if they can just put their cheese it it. Smile, say “cheese.” Then, at home, store it in a beautiful glass cheese container. It stays fresher longer and looks delicious in there.

IMG_3147 Photo © Liesl Clark

We store our cheese in a large glass container, like our friends in France do. © Liesl Clark

4) Same goes for meat and fish. Buy it fresh, bring your own container, and store in glass.

5) Just say “no” to plastic clamshells. Clamshells? These are the polystyrene boxes that hold fresh berries and cherry tomatoes. Yes, it might mean you’ll have to say goodbye to these delicious food items until they’re in season and you can get them at your local farmer’s market. Refusing them sends a message to your grocer that you just won’t buy produce in that packaging. Better yet, take a letter to your grocery store’s customer service department and let them know that you, and a whole lot of other people in our community, are refusing to buy fresh produce in clamshells.

Clamshell Polystyrene Packaging Can't Be Recycled Where We Live. Photo © Liesl Clark

6) Say “no” to plastic mesh produce baskets (see above.) And use our letter to your grocer to do some good.

Plastic Mesh Produce Basket

7) Flowers don’t need to be wrapped in plastic for the journey home. First let your florist know you’ll carry them home sans plastic in your bag or basket, or your own two hands like you do at the farmer’s market or from your garden to your table.

Plastic-free flowers have less impact. Photo © Liesl Clark

8) Try a less plastic toothbrush. It’ll make you feel good. Some are so plastic-free they can be used as kindling when you’re done with them.

Toothbrushes Made Entirely of Bamboo are an Excellent Plastic-Free Alternative

9) Switch to homemade powder toothpaste. I’m still perfecting our recipe, but it’s basically baking soda, a few drops of stevia and a few drops of organic peppermint extract. The kids like it and we’ve reduced our toothpaste tube waste significantly.

DIY Zero Waste Toothpaste and Miswak Toothbrush Sticks, photo by Rebecca Rockefeller

10) Exert your buying power by choosing products that are entirely plastic-free. You’ll thank yourself later when your wood/metal/rubber/glass item is still functioning years later. I can attest to this for useful household items I’ve bought like pencil sharpeners, colanders, cheese graters (ones with plastic handles break), rakes, rubber spatulas (that’s why they call them rubber and the wooden handles are nicer to hold), soup ladles, straws (glass ones have a lifetime guarantee). My list could go on and on. I’ve never regretted purchasing a sometimes more expensive plastic-free item.

What are the toughest steps that you’ve taken to reduce the persistent plastics that you can’t seem to eradicate from your bin? Please let us know in the comments below so we can all try to come up with solutions together to help you reduce them.

DIY Tooth Powder (Plastic-Free Toothpaste)

When you’re trying to go plastic-free, toothpaste is a crux issue for most people. But crux no more! We have a plastic-free toothpaste/tooth powder recipe that’ll keep you happy and make you wonder why we all strayed from this basic recipe years ago in the first place.

Plastic-Free Tooth Powder is Easy to Make. Photo © Liesl Clark

I remember the days of tooth powder. It came in a family-size metal bottle with a top on it that you could shake over your toothbrush and the powder would come out. Pretty basic. But this stuff was great and I wonder why we’ve replaced it with paste in a plastic tube?

My family has used variations of this recipe for the past 4 years, on-again and off-again, and we’re always happy when we get back to using it. The baking soda cleans my teeth better than any other toothpaste out there.

And it takes less than 3 minutes to put it together:

2 tablespoons Baking Soda

2 pipette stoppers-ful of liquid stevia (liquid stevia comes in glass jars with stoppers)

1/4 teaspoon organic peppermint flavor (It’s a combination of sunflower oil and peppermint oil)

1/8 teaspoon organic mint extract

Mix your ingredients together in a small bowl or small mason jar.

The next step is perhaps the toughest: Finding the right container to hold and apply your tooth powder with. I found a pretty vanilla extract bottle with a small lid that works perfectly. We just shake it over our toothbrushes over the sink and if any powder falls into the sink it’s an added bonus for cleaning the sink! Baking soda has many uses. Cleaning your teeth AND your sink are just 2 of them.

My vanilla jar with a pretty paper label. The kids love it and our sink stays extra clean! Photo © Liesl Clark

So, why not give it a try? You’ll love the clean feel of this toothpaste/powder. It’s truly somewhere half-way in between a paste and a powder and feels great!

And to the question of toothbrushes:

A Bamboo Toothbrush With Plastic-Free Toothpaste is How We Roll at Chez Trash Backwards. Photo © Liesl Clark

Toothbrushes wash up on our beaches much too often, presumably because of the sewage that oft seeps into Puget Sound and the Pacific. Imagine that, some people flush their old toothbrushes down the toilet.

Going plastic-free in the bathroom is a great way to reduce our overall impact. Our post on toothbrushes can help you find ones that have less plastic and we’ve also found some helpful reuses for your old brushes so they can be utilized for special jobs around the house.