“Plastic pollution is a massive and at the same time intensely personal environmental problem…we touch and see plastic every day of our lives. With every trip to the grocery store we can readily see our waste footprint grow. On the bright side, all of us can do something immediate and measurable to reduce it.” David de Rothschild

Holistic minimalism means reducing all forms of clutter in your life, including the amount of clutter you produce through consumption of packaged goods. Maybe you’ve heard it all before at this point, but Americans generate more waste than any other nation in the world, with estimates between 4.4 pounds (2.0 kg) and 7.1 pounds per capita per day of municipal solid waste per person per day.[1] Other more general studies state that Americans dispose of 32 million tons of plastic waste per year.[2] There are a plethora of pretty simple ways you can radically reduce the clutter you put out into the world by painlessly changing a couple of your daily habits. Even if you don’t implement all of them right away, integrating one or two of these shifts into your lifestyle can make a big difference in the overall scheme of things.

18.1 Buy Bulk & Say Goodbye to Plastic-Wrapped Goods

Groceries in North America are the source of a whole lot of waste. On the one hand, according to Harvard Law School’s Food Law and Policy Clinic and the Natural Resources Defense Council, as much as 40% of food goes uneaten in the U.S. (think about it…this means Americans throw away around $165 billion in wasted food every year and about 160 billion pounds of food goes to landfills…!).[3] But beyond the wasting of actual food, there’s also all the packaging that food was in when you bought it to think about. Luckily there are more and more people waking up to the necessity of changing our consumption habits and saying “no” to unsustainable packaging. What’s great is that most of these waste reduction strategies won’t only save you from contributing to landfills, but will also save you a lot of money! Here are some ideas on how to kick packaging to the curb…

  1. Buy Bulk. This is really the most basic thing you’ve got to do to reduce your food-related waste. Zero food waste stores are popping up all over the place, but even if you don’t have one near you there’s likely a health food store or even a chain store where some of the food can be purchased in bulk. The only thing this changes for you is remembering to have containers handy when you go shopping and sussing out where you can buy the most stuff in bulk so you don’t have to go to 10 different stores for your weekly needs! More and more zero food waste and bulk stores also offer everything from hygiene products to meat, dairy products and cooking oils, so don’t think this is only a solution for dried goods!
  2. Start or join a buyers group. Maybe you don’t want to be buying a bunch of bulk food on your own cause it’s a hassle where you live. Buyers collectives are a great way to get around all that. Basically it just means a group of people getting together to order large amounts from bulk companies and having a regular drop off point and splitting the costs. What’s great is that with this option you can order whatever you want and not be limited by what’s in your local bulk store and you can get much better prices on organic foods while drastically reducing the amount of packaging used by everyone involved.
  3. Sign up for a CSA basket. CSA’s, or Community Supported Agriculture, are an awesome way to skip the whole plastic wrap problem for all your fruits and veggies. You’ll be helping a local business keep going (possibly several, because many CSA’s are set up to source from different farms so as to provide variety to customers) PLUS you’ll be getting way better quality thanks to eating locally sourced, organic food that hasn’t travelled in planes and trucks across million of miles (which means all sorts of techniques being used to keep things looking “fresh”).
  4. Refuse to buy plastic and styrofoam wrapped goods. A lot of people are choosing to make a point to their local grocery stores these days by unwrapping their food and leaving all the surplus packaging in the store for them to deal with. This is a pressure tactic attempt at making stores realize people want the option of plastic-free shopping.

18.2 Reusable bags: An Absolute Must!

“The environment is where we all meet; where all have a mutual interest; it is the one thing all of us share.” Lady Bird Johnson

San Francisco was the first U.S. city to completely ban plastic bags in 2007 with several cities following suite, at least to the degree of taxing the use of plastic bags. Countries as diverse as Kenya and Australia have nationwide plastic bag bans that have had a major impact.[4] Basically, if you’re not already on the reusable bag train, it’s time to get on board! There are plenty of thin little reusable bags available these days which are super easy to pack away in your backpack or purse for that last minute purchase you didn’t plan ahead for. If you have a car, just keep one in the trunk at all times. Same goes for your big saddle bags. If you tend to use your plastic grocery bags for other stuff once they’re in your home, like cleaning your cat litter or to put in your small garbage cans, just start buying compostable bags instead! At the very least the bag your garbage is in will biodegrade properly.

Lots of grocery stores also have cardboard boxes available for larger amounts of groceries. This can be another great option if you live nearby or have a vehicle as cardboard is way more recyclable and breaks down much faster if not recycled. For cyclists, you can also just bring your carrier bags in and put food directly in there!

18.3 Take Out Solutions…

“Think about it. Why would you make something that you’re going to use for a few minutes out of a material that’s basically going to last forever, and you’re just going to throw it away. What’s up with that?” Jeb Berrier

This is where tupperware, to-go mugs & metal water bottles become your new best friends! Same as reusable bags, these are must-haves when it comes to avoiding packaging waste. You just need to get in the habit of carrying a couple extra little things around with you when you’re out and about. And given the trend towards zero waste more and more companies are creating light, easy to carry models of just about everything! You can use the same container for hot drinks as for water if you get a thermos of some kind and rinse it out in between.

As for straws, if you’re really attached to drinking with them you can get yourself a reusable bamboo one online or in eco-friendly stores. Otherwise, you just have to mention you don’t want one whenever you’re ordering a drink! The same goes for the plastic cutlery often included in any takeout order. Simply say you don’t need it and either carry your own with you or keep some at your workplace if that’s where you usually eat lunch. If, on the other hand, you tend to pack your own lunches, then make a point of cutting out all the ziploc bag and plastic tupperware from your life as these will eventually get too grotty or cracked to continue using, and will end up in a landfill. Go for glass or metal containers!

Of course another option is to simply stop getting things to go…which could actually be a great choice for those of you wishing you could slow things down in your life! Choosing to no longer get food and drinks to go forces you to actually take time to eat or enjoy a coffee without being at work or on the way to somewhere else.

18.4 Whatever You Can Make, Do…

“It takes half your life before you discover life is a do-it-yourself project.” Napoleon Hill

As mentioned above, lots of bulk and zero food waste stores have a whole range of products available on top of your everyday groceries. This is great, because it means you can relatively easily shift from buying yet another plastic bottle of shampoo or an obviously not recyclable tube of toothpaste whenever you run out. Instead, you can just bring your container back to the store and refill it time and time again! Another option however, if getting to and from somewhere to refill on hygiene and household cleaning products is a hassle, is to just make your own!

Everything from sunscreen to deodorant to laundry detergent can actually be made at home with just a few easy to find ingredients like baking soda and apple cider vinegar and a couple essential oils! If you have kids, these are the types of projects that can be both super fun and educational. You can find recipes on several websites online for just about anything.

The same applies for a lot of food products you otherwise might buy in plastic containers, such as nut butters and milks and most jams and sauces like pesto, salsa or tomato sauce. All of these are very easy to make at home from scratch if you’ve got the time and motivation! Nut butters and milks basically just involve soaking the nuts overnight and blending them up, so the time involved is actually pretty limited (you probably want to look up step-by-step instructions for your first try though!). Making stuff at home not only insures that you know what’s going into each product, thus avoiding any toxins, additives, preservatives or plastic byproducts that a lot of companies sneak into their ingredients, but again, allows you to bypass a whole lot of totally unnecessary plastic waste.

18.5 For The Parents & Parents-to-be Out There…

Yep! You guessed it! Diapers are also big contributor to plastic waste that you can also get around by choosing the reusable option. Sure it’s not everyone’s idea of a good time to deal with washing reusable diapers…it depends how dedicated you are to the whole waste reduction thing and how squeamish you are about…well, human waste! In the good news, there are companies out there that actually offer reusable diaper washing services, such as Toronto, Ontario’s “Comfy Cotton” company. According to their website, disposable diapers make up a whopping 50% of household waste with 250,000 trees being destroyed and over 3.5 billion gallons of oil used to make disposables per year in North America. Parents who choose reusable diapers save between 1,000-2,000$ over the course of a child’s potty training.[5] Needless to say, it’s worth considering switching to reusables!

There are also now some companies making compostable diapers, though you obviously can’t just send them to your local composting center due to the content! Cities like San Francisco and Calgary, Alberta have professional composting services specifically for diapers. Check out what’s available in your area! You may be surprised.

Action Point Summary – Here’s What You Need to Do Now!

Ready to say goodbye to plastic waste and hello to guilt-free grocery shopping? Here’s what you’ve got to do…

  1. Start buying in bulk. Whether you choose to do this solo or as part of a buyers collective, long term zero waste and personal savings on food costs starts here!
  2. Sign up for a CSA basket to support local agriculture and eat better quality, in season food!
  3. Refuse plastic all around! Bring your own reusable bags, mugs and tupperware with you whenever you go out, just in case. Say no to plastic cutlery, straws and takeout containers. Choose cardboard boxes over bags if you’re stuck. Leave styrofoam and plastic packaging at the store to encourage owners to cut down on their plastic wrapping or simply don’t buy things that are over-packaged.
  4. Make some things yourself! Look up a recipe for any old household cleaning or hygiene product and make a mini-project out of making your own. It’s fun, simple and inexpensive!
  5. Switch to reusable or compostable diapers. Yes, you can! There are lots of services out there to support parents wanting to make the environmentally friendly choice and save some money by going green in the diaper department.
  1. Waste in the United States, wikipedia.org
  2. 7 Ways To Get Rid Of Plastic Once And For All… And Why You Should,” thealternativedaily.com
  3. Food for thought this Thanksgiving: 40% of groceries are thrown out every year,” Quentin Fottrell, marketwatch.com, 2016
  4. 10 Cities and Countries Confronting Plastic Bag Pollution Head-On,” Brynna Strand and Charlie Ann Kerr, earthday.org, 2018
  5. Cloth Diapering is a Powerful Choice You Can Make,” comfycotton.ca

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