Non-Toxic Living

8 Substitutions for Plastic

Plastic is all around us. I recently read a book by Michael Sanclements called Plastic Purge. (It’s a terrific book. You should give it a read!) In one of the chapters, he goes through an average day in our modern world. It’s something like this… We wake up to the sounds of a plastic alarm clock, then we check the notifications on our plastic phone, then we head off to the shower where our water runs through plastic PVC pipes and out of our shower head (which is sometimes also plastic). As we step out of the shower, we brush our teeth with a plastic toothbrush. After getting dressed, we then head to the kitchen and often eat breakfast out of a plastic bowl, or we take bread from a plastic bag and put it in the toaster (which is often made of plastic as well.)

Plastic is a part of our lives.

I’m certainly not saying that we should replace ALL of the plastic. As Sanclements points out in his book, some plastic is good. Reusable plastic items make things more affordable for us (like our phones and our computers), but we can definitely afford to purge a bit.

I’ve identified some common plastic items that are fairly easy to substitute with something more natural.

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1. Plastic shopping bags

I had to start things off with this one. Some countries and cities in the world have actually banned plastic bags because of the incredible harm they cause to the environment.

The easy solution is to start using reusable shopping bags.

There were some reports circulating for a while that claimed reusable totes are actually more harmful to the environment. However, these studies didn’t take longevity into account. This article from Popular Science dives deep into the issues with the reports, but here’s the gist: plastic bags are permanent, and they take thousands of years to break down. Many tote bags (especially those made from cotton) are compostable.

Reusable cotton totes are sold at most stores these days, and you can even get them delivered through Amazon Prime.

If you don’t want to purchase them, however, reusable bags are given away at nearly every event I’ve gone to in recent years. I mean, they’re one of the easiest promo items to slap a logo onto. Seriously, hit up your local home expo, and walk out with enough reusable bags to fill your grocery cart.

(If you want to go the extra mile, you can also use reusable bags for your produce. These bags from Ikea are perfect.)

2. Your toothbrush

I recently found these toothbrushes. They’re made from bamboo, and they’re not even that much more expensive than a regular toothbrush.

They sell them in our grocery store, but you can also buy them on Amazon or through other online retailers, I’m sure.

I’ve also found a brand of bamboo toothbrushes that I absolutely love for my kids. The handles are brown, but they have colored tips and bristles (and the bristles are bpa-free). Check them out here.

3. Plastic cups

If you have kids, plastic cups are a household staple. However, I found these amazing silicone cups for my kids when we’re at home.

When we’re out and about, the Pura Kiki insulated stainless steel bottles are my go-to. They keep drinks cold for hours, and there isn’t a bit of plastic on them at all. It’s all stainless steel and food-grade silicone. The best part is, they grow with your child. The tops are interchangeable and you can go from a bottle nipple all the way up to a sport straw or flip cap.

4. Sandwich bags

A while back, I purchased a ton of sandwich bags because they were on sale. Recently, I told myself that when they ran out, I was never going to buy any more.

I bought my first Stasher bag from Thrive Market, and I fell in love with them! They’re definitely more expensive per-bag than disposables, but they are super high-quality, and I know they’re going to last forever. You can put them in the freezer, in a pot of boiling water, and they’re dishwasher-safe. Plus, my kids can easily zip them up and open them, and they’re the perfect size for a lunchbox.

Since that first purchase, I’ve bought 7 more sandwich bags from Stasher and a larger half-gallon sized bag, which I use to store small freezer meals.

5. Water bottles

When I was in high school, my family always bought a big pack of water bottles to drink throughout the week. They were nice to have because they were so easy to grab and bring with us wherever we were going. To be honest, I’d say they were pretty helpful in getting us to drink more water. Once I went to college, however, they got pricey, and I bought a reusable bottle, but it was still made out of plastic.

Now I carry a glass bottle (it has a silicone sleeve to prevent breaks), and I also have a Corkcicle tumbler. Both of these still have plastic components, so let me know if you know of better options!

6. Plastic storage containers

I’ve replaced all of my plastic storage containers with Pyrex glass storage, and I love them SO MUCH. Why? One, they’re not plastic, so they make me feel healthier. Two, they don’t get those gross looking food stains on them (you know the ones that show up when you put spaghetti in plastic containers). Three, catch them on sale, and they’re just as inexpensive as plastic (if not more so). Win-Win-Win.

7. Cookware & Cutlery

substitutions for plastic utensils

If you’re using plastic utensils to eat with, invest in a set of stainless steel silverware. I know using plastic is easier (especially when you’re hosting a party), but silverware is so easy to clean, it’s healthier, and it looks nicer. If you host a lot of parties, just store this super inexpensive set of silverware with your party supplies.

The one that’s harder for me to get rid of though is my plastic cooking utensils. I love the set I got for our wedding, but after using some of the pieces for a while, the plastic starts to melt and I can actually see bits of it coming off in our food (yuck!).

I recently got some silicone utensils that I’m obsessed with, and I also use quite a bit of wood and stainless steel when possible.

8. Drinking straws

Oh boy, is this a hot subject right now. Many U.S. cities have banned plastic straws (cities in California, Florida, Hawaii, New Jersey, New York, and Washington). Some even threaten businesses with jail time. Starbucks, Marriott, and American Airlines all plan to rid their businesses across the country of plastic straws too.

So what’s the alternative? Of course, you can just not use a straw at all, but if you’re anything like me, that wouldn’t go well . (I’m super clumsy. Half the time when I tip a cup up to drink out of it, it spills all over me. I’m basically a toddler in that sense.)

If you really want or need straws that are single-use (say you own a restaurant or cafe), you can buy disposable, biodegradable paper straws, which you can find pretty much anywhere that sells plastic straws.

At our house, we have a set of stainless straws and these silicone ones.

I hope this was helpful for you! Let me know what you else you regularly sub in for plastic. I’m always down to try some new things!

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