Top tips for living without plastic

During my preparation for going on a first plastic-free food shopping foray I came across a number of top tip website that have helped towards my goal – so I thought I would share them with you.

1. Shop with reusable containers

Prevent waste from entering your home, and then you won’t have to deal with it. Refusing packaging also makes a public statement and educates people about zero waste. I shop with glass Mason jars, which are easy to fill, store, and clean. Read more about it here: Why I’m hooked on shopping with glass jars.

Take along reusable produce bags for small items that can’t be kept loose. I purchased some organic cotton mesh bags with a drawstring that can be easily laundered. Available online at Life without Plastic (the site has lots of other very cool things for going zero waste).

2. Buy groceries in bulk

This can be interpreted in two ways, both of which are important. “Bulk,” according to Johnson, means bought in reusable containers, since that’s what many alternative bulk stores do. For Williamson, it means literally buying large quantities of food in order to minimize the amount of overall packaging. He shops a few times a year for dry goods from the suppliers of bulk stores, picking up 50lb bags of rice and almond flour. It’s much cheaper that way, saves gas on trips to the store, and you rarely run out.

3. Set up a good backyard compost system

Composting is the best way to deal with organic household waste, since the waste doesn’t need to get shipped anywhere and gets converted to rich soil. In Williamson’s household, the composter diverts 74.7 percent of their waste. He uses a 2-part system, with an earthworm-filled box composter that receives the initial load of food scraps and a tumbler that finishes it off. Within a month of warm weather, he has a fresh load of soil – and that’s in Ontario, with its relatively short gardening season. Meat scraps go in the green box, which is the municipal composting program.

4. Make certain things from scratch to avoid packaging

Some might scoff at the idea of making the following foods from scratch on a regular basis, but I can tell you from experience that once it becomes part of a routine and you become comfortable with the recipes, it can be very quick, and even save time by not having to run out to the grocery store.

Yogurt: Make it in glass jars. It takes a few minutes to mix, then can be left for hours.

Bread: Most bread recipes require about 10 minutes of upfront work, then minimal attention sporadically throughout the day. Some, like no-knead slow-rise bread, can be left completely alone all day long.

Canned fruits and vegetables: These take a lot of work, but it all happens in the summer and fall, as produce reaches its peak. If you can afford to spend a few days canning, you’ll thank yourself months later – not only for saving money, but also for the fabulous fresh taste.

Cereal: Make large batches of granola and store in jars, instead of buying boxes of cereal with cardboard boxes and non-recyclable plastic bags.

5. Ditch the disposables

There’s no need to keep paper towels, paper napkins, garbage liners, aluminum foil, plastic wrap, and disposable plates or cups in the kitchen. Though it may seem strange at first, you will always find reusable alternatives when the need arises. I find it’s better just to get rid of those ‘tempting’ items and make do without. It makes for a lot less stuff in the trash can.

6. If you must buy a pre-packaged item, always choose recyclable packaging made of glass, metal, or paper over lower-grade plastic packaging.

Keep in mind that plastic is never truly recycled, but rather gets ‘downcycled’ into a lesser form of itself until eventually it ends up landfill; other materials, however, maintain their integrity through recycling. If you do end up using a plastic bag, rinse and reuse.

7. Be prepared to refuse items based on packaging.

This can be hard, especially if you’re craving whatever comes on a plastic-wrapped Styrofoam tray, but that whole packaging combo is a bad idea – and a whole lot of unnecessary trash in your house once that craving is satisfied.

8. All of this is made easier by shopping at stores that support zero waste practices,

i.e. bulk food stores that allow reusable containers. Usually smaller, privately owned, local companies are more flexible than chain stores.

9. Avoid the worst plastic offenders

If you check the bottom of any plastic container, you’ll see a number (1 through 7) inside a triangle made of arrows. The worst plastics are:

#3 – Polyvinyl Chloride, an extremely toxic plastic that contains dangerous additives such as lead and phthalates and is used in plastic wrap, some squeeze bottles, peanut butter jars, and children’s toys

#6 – Polystyrene, which contains styrene, a toxin for the brain and nervous system, and is used in Styrofoam, disposable dishes, take-out containers, plastic cutlery

#7 – Polycarbonate/Other category, which contains bisphenol A and is found in most metal food can liners, clear plastic sippy cups, sport drink bottles, juice and ketchup containers

10. Never drink bottled water

Buying bottled water in North America is absurd, especially when you consider that bottled water is less regulated than tap water; it’s usually just filtered tap water; it’s exorbitantly expensive; it’s a gross waste of resources to collect, bottle, and ship it; and it results in unnecessary plastic waste that’s usually not recycled.

11. Shop in bulk

The more items you can buy in bulk, the more you’ll save in packaging. While this mentality has been the norm for years at special bulk food stores, it’s fortunately becoming more common in supermarkets. You’ll save money in food costs and, if you drive, in the gas used for extra trips to the store.

Search for items such as large wheels of cheese, without any plastic packaging, and stock up on those whenever possible.

12. Make your own condiments

This could be a fun experiment in canning, and if you dedicate a whole day to it, you could have enough to last the whole year. Make cucumber or zucchini relish and ketchup when late-summer vegetables are at their peak. Items such as chocolate sauce, mustard, and mayonnaise are quick and simple to make once you get the hang of them. Everything can be kept in glass jars.

13. Let baking soda and vinegar become your new best friends

Baking soda, which comes for cheap in large cardboard boxes, and vinegar, which comes in large glass jars, can be used to clean, scour, and disinfect the house and wash dishes, replacing plastic cleaning bottles; soda can be turned into an effective homemade deodorant; and both soda and vinegar (apple cider, specifically) can replace shampoo and conditioner bottles.

14. Use natural cloths instead of plastic scrubbers

If you need something with scrubbing power, go for copper instead of plastic. Use a cotton dishcloth or a coconut coir brush for dishes, instead of a plastic scrub brush. Use cotton facecloths instead of disposable wipes. Don’t underestimate the versatility of old rags!

15. Keep your laundry routine plastic-free

Use soap flakes, soap strips, or soap nuts instead of conventional laundry detergents that come in plastic-lined cardboard with plastic scoops or thick plastic jugs. They are truly awful for the planet.

If anyone else has any top tips – please comment and I will add them onto the list! 🙂


4 thoughts on “Top tips for living without plastic

  1. America’s fascination with bottled water is insane to me. I visited a family member who only keeps bottled water. It was a heat wave and the water reeked of plastic. I did not feel healthy drinking it at all.

    My next goal is to finally start implementing all the wonderful uses for vinegar and baking soda. Thanks for the great list!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Be patient! Shopping will take longer but will probably to take you to places you haven’t tried before, and out of larger establishments. Talk to shop owners and they may help out and provide solutions to problems. But, in general things will take longer to do – shopping, making foods from scratch, checking packaging for the least worst option and so on! In the end you’ll learn to appreciate the new things you are finding to replace the packaged items! (


  3. Great list; especially appreciate the shout out to compost (how did I ever go without it…), and the point “be ready to refuse what comes in plastic packaging”. This is something I do often, as well as email companies regarding their plastic obsession. As consumers we have a lot of power, so if we refuse items based on packaging, companies may change!


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