by guest bloggers Leah Zerbe, online editor for Rodale Wellness, and Julia Westbrook, assistant online editor for Rodale Wellness
Plastic is everywhere. Look around you right now and count the number of things that you know contain plastic. Convenient and cheap, yes. But there are some major pitfalls to living in a plastic world. Plastics can harbor some nasty ingredients, such as phthalates and BPA. And in addition to polluting your body, all that plastic is polluting the planet.
The aim of our 28-Day Plastic Purge is not to completely banish plastic, but to help you ID the most toxic and unnecessary sources, such as vinyl and single-use plastics, respectively.
For instance, Susan Freinkel, author of Plastic: A Toxic Love Story, points out that we got along fine before plastic produce bags were invented about 10 years ago. “The point is really using plastic thoughtfully. If you try to totally eradicate it, you’ll make yourself crazy because it’s in every facet of our lives, some of it beneficially,” she says. “You want to use it wisely.”
The best way to do that is to avoid single-use plastics as much as possible—things like plastic grocery bags, takeout containers, and single-serving plastic bottles.
We’ve broken it down into an easy-to-manage, 28-day process in our tips below. Be sure to join us on Facebook, too, to share the things you’ve put in place so you can live a more plastic-free life.
Week 1 Details: Focus on Food Storage
Day 1: Recycle worn, scratched, or mismatched and unused food and drink storage containers—worn plastics are more likely to leach chemicals into your food.
Day 2: Use less plastic cling wrap. Try some fun new products, such as reusable wrap made of beeswax. Reusable glass containers with lids and unbleached waxed paper are also great greener alternatives for storing food. Beware of aluminum foil, though. While you can use and recycle it, it should not come in direct contact with hot foods. A soft metal, aluminum can leach into the food and cross the blood-brain barrier, and it has been linked to neurotoxicity, hormone disruption, and Alzheimer’s disease.
Day 3: Choose your plastic-free water bottle. Look for one made of food-grade steel (18/8, 18/10, aka 304 grade) and avoid ones with plastic liners. Glass bottles with silicone sleeves are also great options.
Day 4: Purchase the proper water filter if your water contains contaminants. Then promise to ditch bottled water for good.
Day 5: Be done with baggies. Turn to beeswax wraps or even compostable, unbleached paper sandwich and snack bags to kick your plastic sandwich bag habit.
Day 6: Vow to use safer, reusable food-storage containers. For a complete list, check out these plastic-free storage solutions.
Day 7: Educate yourself (and your friends and family) on the importance of avoiding “BPA-free” plastics. Many contain chemicals that are in the same class as toxic BPA and could actually be worse for you.
Week 2 Details: Rethink Your Garbage
Day 8: Get in the right mind frame. A mindfulness practice will help root you in the moment and ease your urge to buy so much plastic “stuff.” The less plastic stuff you buy, the less you’ll have to throw out later.
Day 9: Take your own reusable containers for takeout. That way, you’ll never have to feel guilty about all of that #6 plastic (Styrofoam) again.
Day 10: Reuse any grocery or shopping bags you already have on hand. They make great liners for smaller wastebaskets (and dog poop picker-uppers)
Day 11: Empty smaller wastebaskets into a larger trash can so that you don’t have to throw away the bag used to line the smaller basket.
Day 12: Become a human trash compactor: Break down bulky cartons by pressing or stomping on them so you can fit more into each trash bag. That way, you use fewer plastic trash bags over time. You could even invest in a trash compactor.
Day 13: Start making a conscious effort when making a purchase to look for products with the least amount of packaging.
Day 14: Keep yard and garden waste and compostable food waste out of your trash cans so you use drastically fewer big plastic garbage bags over the span of a year. Compost that waste instead!
Week 3 Details: Clean Up Your Hygeine
Day 15: Swear off microbeads. Check the labels of exfoliating products like face scrubs and your current toothpaste and make sure they don’t list ingredients like polyethylene and polypropylene.
Day 16: Make your own skin-care products. Forget microbeads. For very little money, you can whip up your own homemade nontoxic cleansers and exfoliators.
Day 17: Phase out phthalates. These plasticizing chemicals are used to make scents, beauty products, and personal care products stick to you longer. They’re also toxic. Avoid anything that lists “fragrance” or “parfum” on the label.
Day 18: Look for more sustainable toothbrushes that allow you to replace only the head. That way, you won’t have to throw away the entire plastic toothbrush when the head is worn out.
Day 19: There are SO many plastic bottles in the bathroom. To help cut back, learn how to make your own homemade hair products.
Day 20: Invest in a safer, reusable shower curtain. Replace vinyl ones with organic cotton or even hemp versions. Bonus: Hemp is naturally antimicrobial, so it won’t get mildew-y like other fabric shower curtains.
Day 21: Not into making your own soap? That’s OK. To avoid plastic, choose nontoxic bar soaps instead of bottled liquid soaps and body washes. Dr. Bronner’s bar soaps even come in biodegradable paper!
Week 4 Details: Conquer the Kitchen
Day 22: BYOB—Bring your own (grocery) bags. Any tote bag you already own will work. If you need to buy some new ones, look for bags that are cotton or hemp. Better yet, make one yourself! And don’t just stop at grocery bags. Produce bags can be easily made of old T-shirts, cheesecloth, or any leftover fabric remnants. Just remember to throw them in the wash between shopping trips to keep your food clean.
Day 23: Avoid soda bottles by making your own carbonated drinks. There are plenty of carbonators available (some even come with glass carafes so you don’t just limit your plastic, but really eliminate it). Add your favorite flavors and juices into the carbonated water, and…voilà. Return your used carbon dioxide cartridges to a participating store that sells them.
Day 24: Make your own, rather than buy, “packaged” foods like yogurt. So many foods come in plastic containers that seem unavoidable. The solution: DIY! Here’s a recipe for yogurt to get you started.
Day 25: Only use wooden or metal utensils to cook your food. Just as you don’t want to microwave plastic, holding a plastic spatula against a hot frying pan will leach plastic chemicals into your food.
Day 26: Get your java jolt from a French press. Coffee machines have a lot of plastic parts, such as the water reservoir and the filter cup. Most French presses, by contrast, have glass carafes and metal filters. We like this one from Rodale’s.
Day 27: Great job making those reusable grocery bags at the beginning of the week! But the real test: Have you been using them? Be honest. Make this pledge today: The next time you’re at the store and forget your bags, you will resist the temptation to use plastic ones. Doing the “walk of shame” to your car with armloads of food might be tough, but you’ll never make that mistake again, says Beth Terry, author of Plastic-Free: How I Kicked the Plastic Habit and How You Can Too.
Day 28: Treat yourself for completing the plastic purge! Go out for ice cream and order a cone. You’ll get an extra treat and avoid the Styrofoam cup and plastic spoon.
Adapted from a story originally published on Rodale Wellness.
Leah Zerbe is online editor for RodaleWellness.com. Prior to working at Rodale, she was the senior online editor at NBCPhiladelphia.com, where she headed up the station’s online “Going Green” initiative, wrote about center-city crime and traffic jams, and blogged about her beloved Philadelphia Phillies. She and her husband run a sustainable organic farm in Schuylkill County, where they grow vegetables, strawberries, herbs, and flowers and raise heritage-breed chickens.
Julia Westbrook is the assistant editor for RodaleWellness.com. Having spent some of her best childhood summers around campsites (and then working as a camp counselor because she loved it so much), she is psyched to contribute to a website that values living a healthy life in harmony with nature. She started her career at Rodale as an editorial assistant for Men’s Health and Women’s Health‘s books, broadening her knowledge of all things health ranging from cutting edge telomere science to the simple perfection of a burpee.