Zero waste lifestyle is a hot topic for a few years now.
We see more and more news encouraging us to ditch single use plastic and to be more mindful with our waste.
I’ve always had something for environmental causes, and of course, the plastic swaps manifesto got me too.
There are endless resources about the effects of plastic on the environment and our lives. Some documentaries I personally recommend are A Plastic Ocean and History 101. They’re both on Netflix.
Here are some things I realised during my plastic swapping process and plastic swaps decisions I regret making.
Hating on Plastic
With all the research, videos and articles blaming plastic for all the evil that’s in this world, I became really anxious about it.
I was literally running away from it. I was terrified when I couldn’t find an alternative to some things as ordinary as chicken (comes in plastic trey).
Later, I became very obsessed with it. I was even considering avoiding buying kitchen appliences, because they also have lots of plastic in them.
Then it hit me: plastic is everywhere.
Furthermore, plastic is a huge and important part of our lives. Yes, it is everywhere but some of the “everywhere” is actually good.
Let’s take medicine or constructions as examples. There’s tons of plastic in these industries for sure. But plastic turned out vital for building safer, larger buildings or performant medical equipment.
So, not all plastic is that bad. And usually when it comes to such large scale as medical equipment, there’s a good chance that most of it is recycled. Hospitals produce around 4% of world’s emissions and going full zero-waste is literally not possible for these institutions.
In the end I learnt to accept and even embrace plastic. Especially when it comes to areas where it actually makes more good than harm.
Let’s Talk About STRAWS
… shall we?
Let me ask you a very serious question:
Do you really need any type of straws?
Bamboo, metal or paper – you name it; I think these non-plastic alternatives are the symbol of zero waste movement.
When we started to realise how much plastic waste we produce, the plastic straws were the most common single use items found.
So when zero waste shops started to pop-up, one of their main marketing move was to sell metal or bamboo reusable straws – because plastic straws are so bad, and everyone needs straws in their live.
So, please let me stress this again: you. do. not. need. any. type. of. straws.
Do I have metal straws? Of course I do! I got lured in this whole “make a change” situation and I got some. Then I realised I don’t really need or use them as much, and I gave them another purpose: photography props (they do look good in photos, especially the matte ones).
Why would you actually use straws? Like my nutritionist said: unless you don’t have teeth or are strictly on a liquid diet, there’s literally no reason for using one. Children might need straws when taught to drink from a mug, but that’s also not necessary.
It’s Not Just About Plastic
While I do believe it’s important to limit our plastic waste, I think the bigger discussion is not just about plastic anymore.
As you already saw, I’m really against using straws – you really don’t need them.
So, when I’m out and I ask for a drink I kindly ask them to serve it without a straw. And even if they say it’s made out of metal or paper, I will still kindly refuse. A paper straw will still be waste and a metal one, another thing to wash.
At the beginning I was careful only with plastic waste – and plastic in general – but then I realised it’s not just about plastic waste. It’s about living a more waste-less life.
From my point of view it’s still a small action that can save some resources. So be more mindful with everything you use or throw away.
Throwing Away Perfectly Good Plastic Containers
In my whole “plastic is the devil” mission, I threw away some of the plastic containers we used to store food.
Later on, I came to regret my really, really stupid decision.
Here’s the deal: if you fear for your food safety, then ditch the plastic food container but DON’T THROW THEM AWAY.
They are still perfectly good containers that can be used to store cables, craft supplies, make up items and many more.
One big part of being more mindful about plastic swaps and waste is to repurpose things as well.
I think this is the one of the plastic swaps decisions I regret the most. I could have re-purposed those containers or donate them.
It’s Not You, It’s Them
There are countless videos on Youtube with people living “zero waste” lifestyles, and produce only a jar of garbage in years.
I first thought that was so amazing, until I saw a girl who was so proud of herself because she wasn’t buying any toilet paper anymore.
Later I realised that living such a restrictive lifestyle, it’s not who I am. I want to play my part in protecting the environment and I don’t think people should sacrifice their wellbeing for it.
I’ve read articles of people making their own skincare and refusing to take medicine because they come packed in plastic. That’s non-sense! There’s one thing to be more aware of your waste and taking action to reduce it, and a total different thing to put you health at stake.
So my point here is – I guess – don’t let yourself influenced my other people’s lifestyle choices and attitudes. Just being more aware of the harm single-use plastic can bring to the environment, and taking action to reduce it – in your way – is still helping.
Don’t put your health at risk. I am aware that there are a lot of things to be done to swap single use plastic with more sustainable alternatives. But some things aren’t possible, unless authorities get involved and restrict the use of single-use plastic.
I want people to be aware that they’re not alone in this, and that they don’t have to feel ashamed because they can’t find a non-plastic alternative for one of their favourite foods. You don’t have to feel like this.
Don’t give up on things that bring you real comfort and improve the quality of your life. Just reduce them, if possible.
And the reason you can’t find affordable, non-plastic alternatives is because producers and governments don’t put enough effort into it.
So other things you can do to play your part is to:
- sign petitions that ask authorities and brands to take action
- help NGOs make their voice heard and get involved in their activities
- gift friends and family non-plastic items that they can adopt using, thus swapping the unnecessary single-use plastic
- talk to your friends and family about swapping single-use plastic and why it’s important
- share your experience of different plastic swaps actions, so others can learn from it
From my point of view, this still counts are playing your part.
So stop blaming yourself for not being able to do more; lay some of the responsibility to the authorities as well, but also to those who shame people for not producing only a jar of waste every year.
Plastic Swaps Decisions I Do Love
Because I feel like there’s a lot of regrets in this article, I also wanted to leave you with a list of things I love.
I’m currently working on a series of articles about my less-waste journey, so as I publish them, I’ll link them here as well.
Without further ado, here are probably the best plastic swaps I made so far:
- metal reusable bottle water – is literally the only thing that helped me drink enough water
- menstrual cups
- fabric grocery bags – I have a weak spot for them
- natural deodorants in glass jars
- water filtering mug – although it’s made from plastic, I no longer buy bottled water and the filters are collected by some manufacturers and recycled
- recycled toiled paper
Over to You
This is definitely an on-going topic and this article will get many updates as I go further down the line with my less waste journey.
Now I want to learn more from your experience: are you reducing your plastic waste, what you’ve learnt so far?
Please let me know in the comments!
I am always trying to cut down on waste, but in practical ways. I agree that plastic is everywhere, and that it’s certainly not a problem just for existing. I make an effort to reuse plastic items, like food/takeout containers and bags. I do have a set of silicone straws, because I just cannot drink anything with ice without one. My biggest struggle right now is figuring out solutions for paper towels. I feel like we go through so many!
Silicone straws?! That’s new!
As for the paper towels, we simply stopped buying them. We already have a lot of tea towels and use them instead. It’s definitely weird to not have them around when needed. For spills we use either an absorbent mop or a sponge. It’s more about adjusting, honestly. I don’t miss the paper towels anymore now.
I totally agree with reducing as much plastic use without being obsessed with it. There’s so much we can do to reduce waste without throwing out all the plastic we own and therefore increasing plastic waste.
This was such a great post to read. I’ve felt really torn about some of the plastic swaps, for sure. So it’s nice to hear I’m not alone. I 100% agree on the straws. The only time I’m glad I have a reusable straw with me is when I’m at a cafe and they hand me a super icy beverage that’s challenging to drink straight from the lid. Definitely a refreshing perspective.
Thank you, Stephanie! Glad to find people who share the same ideas!
I recently had a friend try to reduce waste by grouping out half of her kitchen! It made no sense to me, and you articulated wonderfully the issues with that mindset. Love this post!
We may have to have a brawl about the straws! I love straws, I honestly think it is just habit, but I always need a straw so I have my trusty metal one!!!
You said it: you like it, so it makes perfect sense for you to use them. Things don’t always have to be a necessity for us to enjoy using them – quite the opposite.
But I’m glad you actually enjoy using metal straws.
Okay, LOVE this post! I thought I was the only one feeling this way, because yes, I do want to waste less plastic, but just like you, I noticed that it’s everywhere. Just recently I started keeping all those plastic food containers because I was looking for some small bathroom storage bins anyway, I just used one of the trays that originally held my deli meat! It’s so much more than ‘using less’. Like you said, I think we need to do more to reuse the plastic we do get, because it is everywhere!
We also did buy some reusable straws, only because my husband LOVES straws, I don’t use them much but he’s a fan so it was easy to make that swap for him.
Got the straws for the same reason. He’s not using them…
And yes, I think we should have bigger conversations about waste in general and how to be more mindful about it.