Beyond paper straws: More hacks for reducing plastic at home

To help the environment by cutting down on non-compostable plastics, many people have begun saying no to plastic straws and are bringing reusable bags to the grocery store instead of accepting new plastic ones. But many more small steps like those can be taken.

"There are so many simple changes you can make at home," says Melissa Ozawa, features and gardening editor at Martha Stewart Living magazine. "You can use a wooden comb, a bamboo toothbrush, silk dental floss and metal refillable safety razors."

And that's just a start.

"A good way to begin is with a waste audit, taking notes on what you throw away, whether it's a dryer sheet or an old toothbrush. You'd be surprised by how much trash you're generating, and it'll give you clues about what you can do differently," says Anna Maltby, deputy editor of Real Simple.

A handful of easy, no-plastic hacks for a greener home:


"When I did a waste audit, I realized we were using a lot of plastic wrap. So I switched to using containers we already had and invested in a set of silicon lids that fit onto bowls in an array of sizes," Maltby says.

Other substitutes for cling wrap include cloth coverings, like Bee's Wrap and Abeego, that seal tight. Paper sandwich bags and reusable zip-shut silicon baggies are also popular choices to replace traditional single-use plastic baggies.


Plenty of things like laundry detergent can be found in refillable containers , and beans and nuts can be found in bulk, so you can sidestep plastic or clamshell containers, Ozawa says. Carry purchases home in glass jars, paper bags or other containers you already have.

Farmer's markets are another great source of package-free foods, she adds.


Many dry cleaners now offer reusable bags for garments, including folded shirts. Just as the milkman used to bring milk in returnable bottles, dry cleaning can be delivered and dropped off in reusable bags.

"The industry has made great strides," says Jennie Nigrosh, founder and CEO of The Green Garmento, which sells reusable dry-cleaning garment bags, shirt box bags and other sustainable products.

"My husband and I started the company after we started freaking out because we couldn't find anything in our closet, it was so full of plastic-wrapped clothes. We were drowning in plastic," she says.

The idea seems to be catching on. And like a growing number of companies, The Green Garmento has a take-back program to recycle or up-cycle the worn-out bags.


"It's important to remember that some reusable items may be harder on the environment than the plastics you're trying to avoid, unless you use them a lot," points out Maltby, of Real Simple. "Switching to reusables is a good goal, but you have to be willing to commit long-term to ensure that shift is doing more good than harm."

For example, it could take as many as 1,000 uses of a travel mug to make it a total win for the environment, she says, citing an estimate by the International Reference Centre for the Life Cycle of Products, Processes and Services (CIRAIG), in Quebec.

"The message really is that when you buy a reusable product, use the heck out of it and don't keep buying new ones," says Maltby.


"Using reusable products you already own or that are handed down, that's a real win for the ecology," says Maltby. "You don't need to buy a new set of Mason jars, because chances are your sister or a thrift shop may have perfectly good Mason jars you can use."


"Think carefully about what you're buying. At the grocery store or mall, people are often on autopilot. Just make avoiding plastic a part of your mindset," says Ozawa.

"As a consumer, you have a lot of power, and you can use it to reward the companies that are doing a good job with their packaging."


Above and beyond small changes on the home front, "political action is the most important thing you can do for the environment. Contact your representative and ask them to make changes," Ozawa says.

Urge friends and family to join you in your efforts, post something on social media and write companies to request that they make environmentally friendly changes, says Ozawa.

"Make your voice heard," she says.