Top 10 Tips to Reduce Your Plastic Footprint

Why should we reduce our plastic footprint? Isn’t that what recycling is for? Actually, recycling is the last of the 3 R’s — Reduce, Reuse, Recycle – because it’s meant to be the last step, a way to deal with the plastic that we can’t avoid after reducing as much as possible.

Why? Well, unfortunately, plastic recycling is problematic. Often what we put in our recycle bins doesn’t even get recycled and what does is usually shipped to China. You can read a lot more on the truth about plastic recycling on my website.

So, in keeping with the first “R”, here are my top ten favorite ways to reduce my plastic footprint and plastic waste.

  1. Carry reusable shopping bags.
    For most of us, this one is obvious. With more and more localities banning plastic bags, bringing reusable ones is becoming pretty common. But remembering them can be a challenge. I like to carry lightweight bags that roll up or stuff into their own little sack so I always have one with me.
  2. Bring your own bottle.
    Carry a reusable stainless steel or glass travel mug and fill up at home before leaving the house. You can even skip plastic bottles of water while flying if you carry your empty bottle(s) through airport security and fill them at the water fountain inside the gate. Add some flavor and you can skip other kinds of bottled beverages as well.
  3. Shop your local farmers market
    Farmers markets are a great way to buy fresh, local produce without plastic, as long as you remember to bring your own bags. And when buying little things like berries and cherry tomatoes, you can bring your own container and hand the plastic basket back to the vendor to reuse.
  4. Buy from bulk bins as often as possible.
    If you have access to grocery stores that sell foods unpackaged in bulk bins (Natural food stores and coops are most likely to do this), bring your own reusable cloth bags, containers, or jars to the store to avoid taking new plastic bags. Have your containers weighed when you first arrive before filling them up so the cashier can deduct the weight of the container when you check out. You can even use your own containers for meats, cheeses, and prepared foods in many stores.
  5. Carry your own containers, utensils, and travel mug for take out food and leftovers.
    I even bring a reusable glass drinking straw wherever I go to avoid the plastic ones.
  6. Avoid single-serving sizes.
    Even when you can’t avoid plastic entirely, you can greatly reduce the amount you use by choosing larger sized containers and splitting them, rather than individual serving sizes. For example, buy a large container of yogurt and scoop it into individual bowls or to-go containers rather than single-size plastic yogurt cups.
  7. Compost food waste to avoid plastic garbage bags.
    Use your municipality’s compost bin (if available) for wet food waste or invest in your own backyard compost bin. If you get the wet stuff out of your garbage can and recycle whatever you can, you won’t need a bin liner for the little bit that’s left.
  8. Look for solid or powdered versions of the cleaning and personal care products that you use.
    You might be surprised how many products come in solid bar form instead of plastic bottles. Try shampoo, conditioner, and even lotion bars. Baking soda makes a fantastic cleaner, deodorizer, and even personal deodorant. Consider tooth powder instead of toothpaste. is a great resource for these kinds of products.
  9. When ordering products online, send a message to the seller requesting zero plastic packaging.
    Do this ahead of time so you don’t end up surprised by Styrofoam packing peanuts or plastic air pillows.
  10. Before buying new durable plastic products, try to borrow, rent, or buy secondhand first.
    Use Craigslist to find electronics. Check out DVDs from the library or subscribe to Netflix instead of buying them. Check to see if your community has a tool lending library before buying a tool you’ll only use a few times. Share stuff through Freecycle or barter exchange sites.

You’ll find many, many more ideas for going plastic-free and reducing your plastic footprint in my Plastic-Free Guide. What are your favorite solutions?

Published on: November 11, 2014
About the Author
Photo of Beth Terry
Beth Terry is the author the popular blog My Plastic-Free Life and book Plastic-Free: How I Kicked the Plastic Habit and How You Can Too. She is also a founding member of the Plastic Pollution Coalition.
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Recent Comments

Thanks! The advice is great! Really needed them! :)

Thanks for explaining some ways to reduce your plastic footprint. It’s good to know that you should try to rent before buying new durable plastic products. Maybe it could be good to see exactly what you can rent, especially if it can help you know the extent of what your options are.

A few more tips:

At restaurants, order only what you can eat. “Doggy-bags” often consist of styrofoam or plastic (lids) placed in a plastic bag.

To avoid using plastic trash bags, for those of you who are not ready to compost, use trashed packaging to contain your yucky trash. I get tortilla chips, and use those bags to often replace plastic trashbags. Use what you are already throwing away to help reduce.

Lastly, this veers off the scope of the list, but socially reducing your plastic waste compounds everyone’s footprint exponentially – we are in this together. A friend of mine influenced me to cut my (plastic) footprint. I simply witnessed his composting, purchases, lack of trash, and incorporated my own changes without him convincing or asking me. Now I am witnessing people make comments on my reusable water containers… These seemingly small changes are huge advertisements for a better future.

Good list! One thing I haven’t tried is asking for zero plastic packaging when shopping online. Have you found that many sellers are willing to do this?

I have! If you purchase from small sellers, it’s easier. Big companies like Amazon don’t usually give you a way to specify packaging preferences when ordering.

And with kids? Start noticing how many kids toys are made of plastic. Be on the lookout for quality wooden toys or toys made from good cloth, especially when it comes to toys for young kids that often end up in their mouths.

You address this one indirectly a couple of times but I think it deserves its own entry. Bring cloth bags, or reused plastic/nylon ones, to the market for produce. I have a Farmer’s Market bag where I keep the produce bags but it took longer to remember them for regular trips to the store too.