Plastic-Free Living is Easier than You Think

I used a lot of plastic. It made me feel, in some odd way, assured that whatever I was getting clean, sorted, arranged, prepared for me. Then, I moved onto a sailboat and lived full-time on the ocean and bays, and I witnessed plastic clogging our earth’s arteries, filling our world’s animals, choking nature of its ability to breathe, heal and thrive. 

And now, I’m angry. 

The world produces 400 million tons of plastics every year (Geyer, Jambeck and Law, 2017). And we have no idea what that really means or how often it touches our lives. We also feel powerless to change it, but this is where you’re wrong! 

For me, the most immediate way to start to channel some of this anger toward our massive plastic problem was change my lifestyle by being more selective about what I am purchasing. The more research I did, the more I realized how easy and inexpensive it is to make a resounding difference.

First, you have to recognize and accept that we have a plastic problem. Do you know what made this excruciatingly clear to me? Single-use plastics, like those oval stickers that they place on apples in the grocery store. For what reason does each individual apple need a single sticker that we immediately remove and throw away in order to consume the apple? 

Single-use plastics (meaning they’re used once and then thrown away) include the following. Some of these you may not have realized even have plastics within them: 

  • The bags you grab at the grocery store to put your vegetables in
  • Styrofoam (containers that your take-home food travels in)
  • Food packaging film
  • Milk bottles
  • Freezer bags
  • Shampoo, Conditioner and Soap bottles
  • Bottles of water / sports drinks / juices
  • Bottles of cleaning fluids
  • Cutlery
  • Hot drinking cups
  • Protective packaging for fragile items
  • Ice cream tubs
  • Potato chip bags
  • Bottle caps
  • Toothpaste tubes
  • Shopping bags
  • Plastic trays in frozen meals

North East Asia (26%) and North America (21%) are the largest distributors of single-use plastics (ICIS Supply and Demand Database, 2014). Of that plastic being produced, 79% of it sits in landfills or floats in our oceans, while only 12% is being incinerated and 9% is being recycled. By 2050, 99% of seabirds will have ingested plastic (UN environment, 2015). Can you hear me crying yet?

So, what could I do? Little Sheena on a sailboat. What, really, can I do to stop the tidal wave of 400 million tons of plastic? 

Here is what I did (and what I’m still working on doing). 

Photo by: @ourzerowastefamily. Notice there is NO PLASTIC. Reusable, non-plastic vegetable and fruit bags by Onya!

Photo by: @ourzerowastefamily. Notice there is NO PLASTIC. Reusable, non-plastic vegetable and fruit bags by Onya!

Took an inventory of our single-use plastic problem. We came out of that pretty guilty. 

So we… 

  • Started bringing our own canvas bags instead of using the plastic bags offered at the grocery store. 
  • There are Onya bags available to put your vegetables and fruits in.
  • Switched our trash bags to bags that biodegrade in 180 days v. normal trash bags which take 1,000 years. 
  • Use bamboo cutlery, hair brush, and tooth brushes.
  • Purchase fruits and vegetables from farmers’ markets who do not put single-use plastic stickers on their produce.
  • Purchase meat from local butchers who do not wrap their goods in plastic film. 
  • Purchase milk that comes in paper boxes instead of plastic jugs. 
  • Use re-fillable water containers. Give up bottled water! Give it up! 
  • Cut out sodas, juices and all plastic-bottled beverages.
  • Bring your own containers for leftovers at restaurants. Stainless steel containers are great! (Life Without Plastic, Eco Lunchbox)
  • Buy fresh bread that comes in paper packaging or bring your own towel to wrap the bread in for its voyage home.
  • Started purchasing more glass-based, paper-based packed foods. 
  • Purchase wheels of cheese instead of plastic-wrapped cheese.
  • Purchase bottles of wine with natural cork stoppers.
  • Let go of frozen meals. They all come in plastic trays. 
  • Buy from bulk bins as often as possible (for beans, rice, herbs). 
  • Clean your home with vinegar and water (that come in glass bottles). 
  • Buy dishwashing detergent that comes in a cardboard box.
  • Don’t purchase cleaning sponges that come in plastic. 
  • Use bar soap wrapped in paper instead of liquid soap held in plastic.
  • Give up shampoos that come in plastic bottles (Aquarian Bath Shampoo Bars, J.R. Liggett’s Old Fashioned Shampoo Bar).
  • Switch out deodorant in plastic containers to baking soda and tea tree oil. 
  • Make your own lotions with coconut oil from a glass jar instead of lotions in plastic containers.
  • Buy toilet paper that is not wrapped in plastic.
  • Use plastic-free feminine hygiene products.
  • Use beeswax coated cloth wraps instead of plastic cling wraps.
  • Don’t buy individually-wrapped products (like cookies). Buy in bulk.

Attempted to turn single-use plastics into multiple-use plastics by… 

We store water in old wine bottles. Glass > Plastic!

We store water in old wine bottles. Glass > Plastic!

  • Returning plastic packages for berries to farmers’ markets for reuse. 
  • Re-purposing the plastics on the boat.
  • Making sure we absolutely re-use it in same way or form.

We pick up plastic that is lying on the ground or floating in the water whenever we see it.

  • Simply take the time to pick it up and find a way to recycle / dispose of it. This way, an innocent animal won’t stumble upon it and ingest it - or choke.

We woke up. 

  • We were recently with friends in a coffee shop and the barista refused to give him his coffee without a plastic lid. He said he “wasn’t allowed.” I ran up and offered that he re-use the plastic lid from my coffee cup. He “wasn’t allowed.” Our friend turned down the coffee. 
  • We are far more aware of what we purchase and what message we are sending to the stores and plastic producers. 
  • We are finishing off the lotions, sunscreens, detergents that come in plastic containers and making more-informed choices next time.

Do we still have plastic on the boat? Yes. 

Do we sometimes get store-pressured into purchasing something with plastic wrap? Yes, since stores provide you no other options, sometimes. 

Do we still occasionally need a bottled water when we’re dying of thirst? Yes, of course. 

But the goal is to be more conscious of plastic purchasing. We are hoping we can make a small difference by the choices we will continuously make. 

You can too.