8 Easy Ways to Reduce Your Plastic Use

Plastic is a terrible item for the planet. Not only is it made from fossil fuels, but it gets into our waterways and oceans and never decomposes.

office20binInterestingly, when I was training to become a Master Composter Recycler last year, we toured the recycling facility in Edmonton. They told us that everyone’s number one concern was always plastic, but the most numerous item they get at the recycling facility is actually paper. We — humans — use an insane amount of paper. We use more paper than plastic. And we don’t always recycle our paper.

So, there are really two lessons here…




  1. If you don’t need to use paper, don’t. And when you do need to use it, always remember to recycle it or reuse it.
    • Make a commitment to never put paper in the recycling unless it’s completely covered, front and back, in writing.
    • And note that in Edmonton, you cannot put shredded paper into your home blue bin, but you can take it to a Recycling Depot.
    • If you’re someplace like the U of A campus, your used napkins and similar paper products can be put in the COMPOST bins on campus.
  2. When buying paper (like printer paper), look for paper made from recycled paper and sustainable forests.
  3. Put a note on your mailbox saying you do not want unaddressed mail. This should stop the endless flyers that are delivered from being put in your mailbox, which can easily be read online instead.
  4. Save return envelopes from junk mail and use them yourself, instead of immediately putting them in the recycle bin. Simply put labels over of anything already written on the envelope, or use the envelope for something else.
  5. Recycling newspapers and other papers may be easy to remember, but don’t forget other paper items that can be recycled:
    • paper bags (including those from fast food restaurants and pharmacies)
    • takeout cup sleeves (even if you can’t recycle the cup, recycle the sleeve and lid)
    • magazines
    • phone books
    • greeting cards and postcards
    • toilet and paper towel rolls
    • kleenex boxes
    • egg cartons
    • packing paper from shipping boxes
    • some wrapping paper (not the kind with metallic designs or foil) and wrapping paper rolls
    • pages of notebooks, even if the cover can’t be recycled
    • cardboard coasters
    • tissue paper
    • file folders
    • receipts
    • sticky notes


  1. Stop using plastic cutlery.
    • This is and isn’t easy to do.
    • The easiest situation to avoid plastic cutlery is when you know you might need to use it. For example, if you know you’re getting takeout, or going on a picnic, you can purposely pack reusable cutlery instead. Or, you can keep reusable cutlery in your desk at work or locker at school, or anyplace where you regularly might buy takeout.
    • Another option, which only works if you carry a bag of some sort on a regular basis, is to buy a set of reusable cutlery that you put in that bag. That way you always have cutlery with you.
    • Probably one of the hardest places to stop using plastic cutlery is if you’re attending a conference or some sort of event where you wouldn’t be carrying anything with you or you weren’t expecting plastic cutlery. It would be kind of weird to be carrying reusable cutlery to someone’s garden party — what would you do with it? where would you carry it, especially if you’re a guy?
    • In these harder situations, the better option might be to educate your hosts on the benefits of providing reusable cutlery at future events. For example, if it’s a work meeting or event, talk to the event planners and ask if it’s possible for them to provide reusable cutlery in the future. I would expect a lot of non-fast food type caterers would have such options available. And it’s not unusual for organizations to own a set of reusable dishes and utensils for office events. Or, buy everyone in the office a set of reusable cutlery for Christmas to get them in the habit.
  2. Stop using single-use plastic straws.
    • This is extremely easy to do at home. Instead of buying plastic straws from the grocery store, either don’t buy/use straws at home, or buy/use reusable straws made from plastic, glass, or metal. If you buy a set of metal straws, they usually come with a small brush to clean them with.
    • If you carry a bag around on a regular basis, and know there’s a good chance you’ll buy soda fountain drinks, smoothies, or something else that requires a straw, you can carry a reusable straw with you. If you use it for pop, you can probably just rinse it and use it again. If you use it for a smoothie, you’ll probably need to take it home and wash it before you can reuse it again.
    • Note 1 – I do put my reusable metal and plastic straws in the dishwasher.
    • Note 2 – Plastic reusable straws aren’t so bad, because they’re reusable. These might be the sort of straw that comes with a reusable cold cup. I have two glass cold cups from Starbucks that came with plastic lids and straws.
  3. Stop drinking bottled water.
    • Of all the plastic options, this is the easiest one to implement. Simply don’t buy bottled water. Buy a reusable bottle and fill it whenever necessary.
    • Now, one issue might be like the one my parents have. They live in a house where the water comes from a well system and needs to go through a water softener system before it can be used. Salt is used to soften the water, and it makes the drinking water really high in salt. In my Mom’s case, as she has high blood pressure, she cannot drink her own tap water, even the tap water that goes through the fridge filter.
    • Or, another situation is when I use to work at the University of Alberta Press. Their offices are located in a Ring House on campus, which are over a 100 years old. The houses have extremely old plumbing that really needs to be completely replaced. The plumbing makes the tap water unsafe to drink.
    • In both of the above situations, humans are unable to drink the tap water and need to purchase bottled water to drink. However, even when you have no choice but to buy bottled water, you can choose the best bottled water options. Buy LARGE bottles of water, the largest you can, like the kind for a water cooler is possible. Those are returnable and reusable, and are the best alternative option. Avoid buying cases of individual bottles of water, as that creates way more waste.
    • For those of us with drinkable tap water, there’s no need to buy bottled water. I simply fill reusable bottles with water and keep them in the fridge at all times. If I’m going out, I can just grab a cold, reusable bottle. And it’s easy to refill those bottles when you’re out — I’ve even asked waiters and bartenders to fill my water bottle for me if necessary.
    • Note 1 – Insulated metal water bottles are excellent at keeping water (or other drinks) cold for extended periods of time, which is even better than a one-time-use plastic bottle.
    • Note 2 – I personally find that drinking water out of glass bottles tastes better, they just don’t stay cold as long outside of the fridge. They are heavier to carry around, but in general are well protected from breakage.
  4. Stop using take-away coffee cups.
    • Take-away coffee cups are not recyclable. And, even if an establishment claims to send their cups for recycling, a CBC investigation showed that isn’t always the case.
    • However, the plastic LIDS for take-away coffee cups are recyclable — put those in the recycling bin.
    • I’ve talked to people who have told me of situations where coffee shops have refused to use their reusable cup, and insisted upon providing the drink in a single-use cup.
    • I’ve seen situations where an employee will measure the drink in a single-use cup, pour the drink into the reusable cup, and then throw out the single-use cup — completely negating the benefits of a reusable cup!
    • Another problem with this option is that it’s not always easy to carry around a reusable cup/mug with you. As with cutlery, if you always have a bag on you, or you can store the mug in your desk or locker, it’s a lot easier to follow this step.
    • I recently purchased a Kickstarter reusable cup that I’m looking forward to trying. It’s the same shape and size as a take-away cup, but it’s made of silicon and rubber. And it can be collapsed into a very small size for transport — it sort of collapses like an accordion. They designed it this way specifically because they knew it was hard to carry a full-sized mug around with you at all times.
  5. Stop using plastic toothbrushes.
    • This one is interesting. Recyclable or compostable toothbrushes are readily available, but I haven’t compared prices. Just from simply looking at them, the recyclable versions don’t have the same high-quality bristles.
    • Alternatively, you can use a rechargeable electric toothbrush, where the replaceable brush head is a lot smaller than an entire replaceable toothbrush.
    • Make sure to use your replaceable toothbrush as long as possible. Dentists recommend replacing your toothbrush every 3 months, but that’s assuming you use the toothbrush regularly, twice a day. If you’re on vacation and using a different toothbrush, or (god forbid) you don’t brush your teeth that often, it’ll probably last longer.
  6. Stop using plastic single-use shopping bags.
    • This one should be a no brainer. With all the free reusable bags out there now-a-days, there’s no excuse not to have some. But, don’t beat yourself up if you forget your reusable bags and need to use a plastic bag. Using them once in a while isn’t the end of the world.
    • If you do get a plastic bag, reuse it somehow at home. You can use plastic grocery bags for: garbage bags, poop bags, extra protection for items being stored in the freezer, laundry bags, storing wet items (e.g. shoes), and more.
    • Once you’re done with your plastic bag, remember to recycle it (assuming it wasn’t used for garbage). If your area doesn’t accept grocery bags for recycling, sometimes the grocery stores themselves will take them back.
    • Use the heavier, thicker, nicer plastic bags from clothing and other stores for more important things, like: storing off-season clothing, carrying your lunch, donating items to charity, collecting bottles to return for a refund, etc.
  7. Stop using takeout containers.
    • I think this is the hardest one on the whole list. If you’re at a restaurant, or getting takeout, it’s really hard to know in advance to bring your own containers and how many to bring. Who carries a selection of reusable food containers around with them?
    • If you were aware in advance that you needed a container, and how big a container you needed, it might be possible to bring your own. But there might be situations where the restaurant may not allow you to use your own container. For leftovers, I doubt they mind if you use your own containers. But for fresh portions, they might be concerned about the quality and safety of your container.
    • I think the best thing most people can do for this one is to make sure to always recycle their takeout containers, when they’re recyclable. Or, even better, wash and reuse the containers at home — even for non-food purposes.
  8. Stop buying toilet paper wrapped in plastic.
    • I find this one ‘nice to do’ but almost impossible. Most grocery stores may have only one non-plastic toilet paper option, and that option might really suck. Environmentally-friendly toilet paper really sucks. This is an example of a technology that needs to be seriously improved before a lot of people are going to follow this advice.
    • My advice would be this:
      • Try NOT to buy toilet paper where each role is individually wrapped. That is a waste.
      • Whether your toilet paper is wrapped in plastic or paper, make sure to recycle that plastic or paper. (The plastic should be considered the same as a plastic grocery bag, which is recyclable in most areas.)
      • Don’t use more toilet paper than you need.
      • Don’t always flush #1, wait until there are multiple #1s or a #2 in there as well. This may seem gross, but really isn’t that bad, especially if you live alone like me. If I get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, I don’t flush every time.

My Other Plastic Tips:

  • Use glass or metal bowls for your pet’s food and water. Plastic bowls can build-up bacteria that can give your pets acne.


  • Don’t automatically assume that because something is made of plastic that it can be recycled. A lot of harder plastics (e.g. Rubbermaid tubs and containers) cannot be recycled.


  • If you have the ability to return plastic bottles in your area, definitely take advantage of this. If YOU don’t want to go to the trouble, put them in the recycling bin and the city will return them for you (but they’ll keep the refund).


  • If you buy bottles that include the 6-pack plastic rings, cut up those rings before you put them in the garbage.


  • Don’t use personal care products that have plastic micro-beads in them. Please, please, please don’t buy these products. There are a lot of other options that use natural items instead of plastic beads (e.g. seeds, crushed shells, etc.).




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