zero-waste food storage

Declaring your home “plastic-free” can seem like a huge undertaking, but the process is quite simple if you abide by a few key rules. The first is that anything plastic you already have in your home gets grandfathered in — meaning that you don’t have to run around throwing everything out! Work with what you have, and as things break or wear out, replace them with plastic-free alternatives. But until then, if  you have it, use it!

The next rule is to stop buying plastic whenever possible. But be realistic about your goal. You probably won’t be attain 100 percent plastic-free status unless you devote every waking hour to the cause, so I find that aiming for 80 percent plastic-free is a good goal. The benefit is that stopping (or at least drastically reducing) the flow of plastic into your home means you will have far less to figure out how to reuse, recycle, or throw out. And that’s good for everyone involved.

So, without further ado, here are five easy tips you can follow to start stemming the plastic tide.

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zero-waste home pantry
Glass, metal, and ceramic storage containers aren’t just better for you and more durable; they can make an attractive display on your shelves. Photo: Bea Johnson

1. Be a Mindful Grocery Shopper

A huge amount of plastic comes home with you in your shopping bags — sometimes even the bags themselves! Be aware of packaging as you shop — bring reusable produce bags or avoid them entirely, choose plastic-free packaging wherever possible. (Buy the brick of cream cheese packaged in cardboard  instead of the one in the plastic tub, the tortilla chips in the paper bag rather than the plastic one.) And — you knew this was coming — remember your reusable bags!

DIY tip: Make your own reusable produce bags with instructions from Wellness Mama.

2.  Search Out Plastic Alternatives

Virtually every plastic item you bring into your home has a counterpart made of wood, metal, or another natural material. Plastic step stools can be passed up in favor of step stools made of wood — or bamboo! Use metalwooden, or bamboo cooking utensils instead of plastic ones. Whenever you reach for plastic, pause and take a few moments to search for something natural instead. Not only will this drastically reduce the amount of plastic in your home, but it may benefit your mood and your cognitive functioning, too!

DIY tip: The Spruce offers 11 free step stool plans to guide you through making your own wooden step stool.

3.  Stay Organized

A plastic-free home can still be a meticulously organized one, even without individually-labelled plastic totes and plastic bins. (Bonus! Avoiding those trendy, plastic-filled home organization stores will save you money, too!) Use jars in the pantry, natural wicker or rattan baskets instead of plastic bins in the hall closet and the playroom, and cardboard file boxes for storage.

4. Clean Up — Naturally!

Making your own cleaning products means you can avoid buying and throwing out so many plastic bottles of cleaning solutions. Just keep a few of your old bottles to for your natural, home-made cleaners. Use natural-bristle brooms and brushes and washable cloths instead of plastic brooms and scrubbers.

5. Take It Slowly

There are so many ways to go plastic-free and so many tiny things in your power to change that it’s hard for me to stop this list! Reusable zippered pouches instead of ziptop plastic bags, reusable beeswax wrap instead of plastic wrap, even toothbrushes made from bamboo!

Once you get going, it can be really exciting to discover all of the innovative, eco-friendly, and aesthetically pleasing plastic-free alternatives out there. But be careful not to let your excitement drive you to a spending frenzy! Take it slowly, only purchase what you need, and take one step at a time.

This is where many (myself included) tend to trip up. We take on too much, too soon, and get overwhelmed, making the switch to plastic-free seem complicated and unsustainable. But remember that you’ve had your whole life to get used to buying plastic, and it may take some time to re-train your brain to avoid it!  By slowly phasing plastic out of your life instead of expecting to be plastic-free overnight, you’ll greatly increase your chances of sticking to these changes.

Feature image by Filmbetrachter from Pixabay 

Editor’s note: Originally published on October 6, 2015, this article was updated in March 2019.

By Madeleine Somerville

Madeleine Somerville is the author of All You Need Is Less: An Eco-Friendly Guide to Guilt-Free Green Living and Stress-Free Simplicity. She is a writer, wannabe hippie and lover of soft cheeses. She lives in Edmonton, Canada, with her daughter. You can also find Madeleine at her blog, Sweet Madeleine.