How To Live Without Plastics — Part 3: Product Alternatives And Practical Advice

How To Live Without Plastics — Part 3: Product Alternatives And Practical Advice

  • Editor’s Note: This article is Part 3 of a three-part series written by Kane County Board member Jarett Sanchez, who serves on the County Board Energy and Environmental Committee. The mission of Kane County’s Division of Environmental and Water Resources is to develop, evaluate, and implement programs to protect the health, safety and welfare of our residents and the environment.

We wanted to add some practical how-to advice to this series on developing a plastics-free lifestyle.

So we put some questions to the expert, Sustainability Fellow Leslie Hernandez.

Q: What are the most difficult plastic items to do without, and what alternatives have you found?

A: I’d say the hardest thing when I started was food products.

I was used to just buying all my foods in prepackaged bags or containers. The easier and more convenient, the better, was my mentality.

Transitioning away from that was difficult.

With sauces and ingredients, my partner and I usually buy in the bulk section of the grocery, buy in bulk at Costco, or buy in glass jars (like tahini and sugar free ketchup). It’s easier for me now, because I’ve been on the lookout for these kinds of products so long.

Here are two more quick tips:

Try a Farmer’s Market

One thing I can’t shake the plastic from when it comes to groceries is lettuce and spring mixes. But there are options around.

Shopping through a farmers market or buying fresh romaine or butter lettuce can be found without the packaging.

BYO Expresso

As for my current biggest problem: It’s definitely the espresso. Oat lattes are my weakness, and I am really fantastic at losing or damaging my reusable mug.

To combat this and help my wallet out, I recently went in search of my own espresso machine. I’m not a master barista, but I make fresh oat milk every other morning.

Q: What do you do at restaurants?

Examples of compostable food containers.

A: We don’t go out to eat too often, but when we do, we have containers and reusable bags ready in the car.

Some restaurants use compostable packaging, which is nice. Be sure to ask the restaurant up front whether the to-go packaging is compostable so that you can make your decision on what to bring home.

Best Alternative: Cook More Often at Home

Cooking at home and meal prepping is a huge waste reducer. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Make your own sauces, sides and staples, freeze what you won’t eat that week, and you’ll cut down the amount of packaging and waste that is created. You’ll also know all the ingredients that went into your meals, which is even better!

Q: In what containers do you buy soda pop, bleach, soft soap, or the 1,001 other products with plastic?

Some of the products you can use for cleaning in place of industrial chemicals come in plastic containers, but you often can find the same products in glass or cardboard — and you can also cut down on plastics by buying in bulk.

A: For cleaning: I don’t use industrial chemicals.

I actually owned a cleaning business for a short time and learned how to clean properly with vinegar, baking soda, lemon juice, olive oil, and isopropyl alcohol. You can make all the cleaning solutions you need by combining some of these.

If these products don’t come in glass or cardboard, I also buy them in bulk.

A few more tips:

Try Making Your Own Shampoo!

For shampoo, I’ve tried so many homemade recipes, and there’s plenty of ZW options on the market!

I’m currently styling a pixie style cut, so I manage to save a lot more shampoo than I used to.

Detergent Options

I also do buy my detergent, but there are a number of businesses that specialize in ingredient-transparent, zero waste cleaning products (including HE detergent).

For those looking for a more cost-effective way of washing, making your own detergent is quite easy! Pinterest is a great resource and where I find a lot of great housekeeping recipes.

Bathroom Products

Looking at my bathroom routine, I first switched away from plastic toothbrushes and adopted bamboo, then moved away from liquid soap for bar soaps, and to reduce toilet paper usage, I invested in a portable bidet, yet I still have plenty to work on.

For years, I had negative association to shaving because I was using plastic razors and the razor bumps were awful. A few months ago, finally made the switch to a reusable metal safety razor. It requires some education and practice, but I love it and have no more razor bumps.

Q: What do you do for garbage bags and liners?

A: I personally use paper bags, and we don’t produce a lot of trash, so it all fits.

There are such things as reusable trash bags, as well.

For many people, there is no avoiding garbage liners. As we’ve said in previous articles, the most important lifestyle change to is be aware and to do all you can to reduce the plastics you use.

Q: How can you go plastics-free when recycling bins are made of plastic?

A: There are certain areas you just have to accept can’t be eradicated completely.

Recycling is a good thing, and reusable, plastic recycling bins are presently the best that waste-haulers can provide. A bright side is that that’s how some of the best inventions are created.

The next zero waste innovator could be reading this very article!

Q: Got any final thoughts to wrap up this series?

A: It is extremely difficult, if not nearly impossible to completely rid yourself of plastic. I am not totally plastic free, but am on my journey toward reducing my waste output, and most importantly, trying to stay mindful of what I consume.

My personal lifestyle has taken a lot of developing over the years, and along the way, I’ve learned to focus on different areas of my routine, assessing what consumes the most waste and what I can do to change that.

You can, too.

Feature Photo Caption

Set of zero waste toiletries from Chicago based company, Zefiro.

Read The Plastics-Free Series!