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How to use less plastic without fully going 'zero waste'

These tips will get you started without disrupting your life.

Sarah Mitroff Managing Editor
Sarah Mitroff is a Managing Editor for CNET, overseeing our health, fitness and wellness section. Throughout her career, she's written about mobile tech, consumer tech, business and startups for Wired, MacWorld, PCWorld, and VentureBeat.
Expertise Tech | Health | Lifestyle
Sarah Mitroff
4 min read

Could you fit all of the garbage you created last month into a Mason jar? Yeah, me either. But more and more people are striving to do just that.

jar with bits of trash

Many zero waste followers can fit a month's or year's worth of trash in a small jar.

Zeroing In/Instagram

The goal of this "zero waste" movement is to eliminate or significantly reduce the amount of trash we send to landfills. The garbage (especially plastic waste) we create is increasingly becoming pollution in the world's oceans, causing problems for wild animals and our food chain. Zero waste devotees are trying to change that.

The good news is that you don't have to take drastic measures to make an impact. Just a few simple swaps can cut down on your waste.

1. Ditch the plastic straws

It's an unconscious habit of mine to grab a plastic straw whenever I buy an iced coffee or soft drink. But those single-use straws add up quickly, and often end up as pollution.

Your first line of defense is to politely refuse or not take a straw when you get a beverage. But if you cannot bear to give up sipping your drink from a straw (I hear you!), get a reusable one. These glass straws are pretty and durable, these metal straws have that classic bend, and these extra-large ones are perfect for smoothies. All of them come with a cleaning brush so they are easy to keep clean.

2. No more plastic water bottles

I am embarrassed to admit that the majority of trash in my car at any given time is plastic water bottles. I know I can be better at bringing a reusable bottle with me, and so can everyone else. The key here is to find the perfect water bottle for you. Glass bottles are easy to clean and don't carry any funky odors. Double-wall insulated stainless steel bottles keep cold drinks cold and hot drinks hot for hours. Finally, BPA-free plastic bottles are durable and inexpensive.

Whichever you choose, fill it and take it with you when you leave the house so you don't have a reason to buy a disposable bottle.

High Angle View Of Athlete Holding Metal Bottle

Get yourself a reusable water bottle and take it with you.

Carlo Van Stek / EyeEm / Getty Images

3. BYOC (Bring your own cutlery)

Plastic forks, knives and spoons are ubiquitous when you eat out, order delivery, and in your office's break room. The best way to resist using them is to bring your own cutlery with you -- or at the very least keep a set of them at your desk for lunch.

This titanium spork does double duty for soups, salads, yogurt and more, or opt for this full bamboo set with a fork, knife and spoon.

Watch this: This speedy composter turns food one day into fertilizer the next

4. Zero waste shopping

By now you're probably familiar with reusable shopping bags, but what about reusable options while you're shopping? Instead of those flimsy plastic produce bags, pick up a set of reusable mesh produce bags for your fruits and veggies.

Also consider shopping in bulk bins for flour, baking supplies, nuts, dried fruit, rice, pasta and beans. Whole Foods, Sprouts, WinCo, Publix, your local co-op and even many Safeway/Vons supermarkets all have bulk bins. Many of these markets allow you to bring your own containers (Mason jars are a good option) to fill up rather than using the plastic bags they provide. Just check with your market on their policy and procedures before you shop.

5. Cloth > paper


Unpaper Towels

Dot and Army

Cloth napkins are no longer just for fancy dinners. You can find them in every style, or if you're crafty they are incredibly easy to sew yourself.

Paper towels are convenient for cleaning up a spill, but they're wasteful and expensive in the long run. Pick up some reusable cleaning cloths instead.

Bar mop towels are inexpensive and absorbent, microfiber towels are fantastic for cleaning, and these linen and cotton Unpaper Towels are too pretty to pass up.

6. Disposable plastic alternatives

For many followers of the zero waste lifestyle, plastic is enemy no. 1. That's because it can take centuries for plastic to break down.

If you want to take your zero waste commitment to the next level, look into the plethora of reusable and plastic-free options for common household products.

Here are a just a few to get you started:

If you're ready to dive down the rabbit hole of the zero waste movement, there are plenty of spirit guides. Check out the Instagram accounts of @going.zero.waste, @_wastelandrebel_, @zerowastechef, @golitterless and @zerowastenerd to get started.

What a dump! An artist's view from the junk pile

See all photos

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