What to do With Plastic Once You’ve Started Zero Waste

There’s this assumption that once you commit to going zero waste you must purge all plastic items from your house and immediately purchase the sustainable, nonplastic-y counterparts. Well, I’m here to say that is NOT true. If we purged all of the perfectly useful items from our lives to buy new, that would completely negate the reasoning behind zero waste in the first place.  We need to add value back into the items we already have rather than dispose of items we no longer find “attractive.”

Waste is a product of over-consumption, so it’ important we refuse what we don’t need and put that plastic stash to good use.

So, what do you do with your plastic stash?

Use it!

In fact, use it until it wears out – as long as it does not compromise your health, of course. Wouldn’t it be just as wasteful to throw out perfectly good items and purchase new things only because it was plastic? Aside from cooking in your plastic containers – please, stop doing that – use up and wear out those containers, toothbrushes, hairbrushes, razors, whatever. Once they are worn out, then replace them with the more eco-friendly options.

I, myself, still use several plastic items around my house – items that I have had for years.
 For instance…

 

  • I still use plastic containers to store pet supplies, toiletries and organize nuts and bolts and more.
  • I still use a plastic toothbrush for cleaning grout.
  • I still use a plastic hairbrush – I’ve lost a few teeth but that bad boy is still operable.
  • I still use a few freezer bags from before I went zero waste that I just wash out and reuse.
  • I still use a plastic mopping bucket.
  • I use reusable plastic plates, cups, and utensils for camping 

I could go on and on. My point is. We all have several plastic items in our households that are perfectly usable. Living “zero waste” doesn’t mean throw-all-plastic-away immediately. It means making better, more sustainable choices going forward and utilizing what we already have. It’s not about buying more – but buying less. Buying non-plastic items once the plastic ones wear out will result in longer product lives and ensure that they can be sustainably recycled/composted once it’s no longer usable. If you still feel that a few of your plastic items need to leave your life, then I highly suggest you donate it or recycle it if you can.

The great thing about using what we already have means that you don’t have to invest in a small fortune of reusable products to start eliminating waste. Social media continually paints this picture that zero waste is something only rich people can achieve and I hope I have done my part to prove that false.

For more on what you can do with your plastic, read 30 Useful Ideas for Plastic Storage Containers.

What plastic items are you still using?

what to do with plastic once you've started zero waste

 

41 thoughts on “What to do With Plastic Once You’ve Started Zero Waste

  1. We've repurposed old plastic jars/containers as plant pots and are still working our way through a large pack of toothbrushes we got ages ago. Definitely in no hurry to buy what we don't need!

    • Life is a journey. Glass isn’t always the safest or most practical solution. Keep using what works for you. Donate what doesn’t to a thrift shop, recycle what you can. Buy used items when possible. Enjoy the journey.

  2. Megean,

    I love this post. My family has been going (closer to) Zero Waste for a couple years about it, including a series on my own blog, and I'm surprised how often people are shocked when they see any items that are plastic in our home. I even had a friend admit that she wasn't inviting us over because *gasp* her daughter has plastic toys. 🙂 Thank you for your voice of sanity, and the regular inspiration.

  3. Thank you so much, Myrrh! I'm so happy you enjoyed the post. Isn't it amazing how others react to plastic-free living? When I told my family that our baby was to have no plastic items they all looked at me like I was insane. ha!

    Looking forward to reading your blog!

  4. This is wonderful, thanks for posting this! Reminds me how important baby steps are. We have been doing the same thing. Still working through plastic razor heads, have some plants in plastic pots, use plastic containers for hardware storage, storage in our basement, plastic bottles for cleaning supplies, and also the grout toothbrush! 🙂

  5. After reading the KonMari book, I use a lot for organising….i had a big stash that is now used like you for nuts and bolts but also organising the “junk drawer” with birthday cake candles, batteries, elastic bands from veg etc. The bigger ones I used to use for taking lunches to work now organise socks and underwear in my kids drawers and any new stuff I buy (I'm afraid our shopping options for loose fruit/veg here is ridiculously limited) I always consider the packaging. For example if I'm buying mushrooms and am not fussy on type, I'll buy the ones in the most usable shaped box – maybe slightly obscure way to shop by if I can put it to use rather than just recycle I'm happy to do that!

  6. What about an electric toothbrush – mine still works perfectly but it needs a new head every once in a while. I feel like it's a dirty little secret I have right now that I keep replacing the heads. I wish there were bamboo heads for it 😛

    • Yes! I am not alone! I think we could replace quite a bit of our plastic waste by fabricating stuff from some sort of bamboo laminate. It has crossed my mind for toothbrushes, disposable razors, and parts storage containers. Some places here in America, bamboo is considered a weed. My attitude is, if you can’t beat ‘um, find a way to exploit ‘um. Instead of making our cheap products from oil that has fostered many a war, why not make it from a weed that grows right here in America on land that cannot be farmed. I believe bamboo is one of those plants that is also great at sequestering carbon, and has many other uses we Americans don’t appreciate.

  7. How much are the replacement heads costing you each time? Is it worth keeping the toothbrush and replacing the head? And what do you do with the head that needs replacing? Amazon has a ridiculous amount of options for biodegradable bamboo toothbrushes in packs of 3 to packs of 10, all at around $12. If you can't beat that, I'd totally ditch the electric brush and opt for one a little more eco friendly.

  8. Thank you so much for this post! My husband and I are wanting to start doing zero waste, but having just moved and being able to see everything we own, I feel like we have so much plastic. I plan to be sustainable from here on out and just use what I have until I can no longer use it. Thanks for the post!

  9. Thank you so much !! I feel like alot of zero waste posts and bloggers are flush with cash to burn on products ! I am slowly fazing out my plastic but cant afford to just toss my husbands plastic bento boxes out because glass or stainless steel ones are expensive!!. we have glass jars and stuff for our small bulk but they just dont make large long term storage sized bins out of non plastic either. im waiting for my long term storage such as bottles of shampoo and cleaners to be used up and slowly make the switch to a couple of eco friendly alternatives that happen to be healthier in the long run- soapnuts ,vinegar and baking soda. now one is really zero waste just responsible waste is the way i see it 😉

    • For really big glass jars (to store flours, pastas, cereals, etc) I talked to our grocer’s deli dept and asked them to put aside the large jars that olives come in. They repackage the olives into small plastic containers and then toss out the jar. They were free to me plus it saved them disposal fees. Win win!

  10. I am so glad to read your article. It confirms what I have already believed. I don't think it is wise to throw away all plastc stuff we have once we decide to zero waste and buy non platic stuff which is often very expensive. It is ironic. We claim to want to reduce plastic waste, but we throw lots of waste right in the beginning.

  11. Thank you for this post. I often question zero waste YouTube bloggers who seem to have every glass or stainless steel item. I like to look within my home first and come up with ways to be less wasteful versus donating what I have that is working and buying plastic free items. One thing I recently started doing is bringing a reusable zip lock Velcro bag I had for a few years with a reusable fork and spoon from my silverware set and a plastic straw from my camelbak water bottle I no longer own. This is to replace single use plastic ware when I am eating out. Other I have seen have purchased a bamboo travel set. I say why? I have items I can use already.

    • I do the exact same and I love it! Just a fork and spoon from my set wrapped in a cloth napkin, and the same old camelbak straw!!

  12. My husband and I both have one. I seems ridiculously wasteful to just throw them out while they still work, and I doubt anyone wants a second hand toothbrush! Since it is a sealed unit, once the battery completely dies and won't charge anymore, I will have to dispose of it and then I will use bamboo. But I am not rough on my toothbrush heads and only replace them every 6-8 months. The little head is still less plastic waste than a plastic manual toothbrush.

  13. Kia ora! I have hospitality owners in NZ that have huge amounts of plastic straw and takeaway cutlery stock. They want to go zero waste or transfer to bamboo/biodegradeable cutlery. I believe too that we shouldn't chuck them out, and I'm sure they don't want to lose that stock equity, do you have any suggestions of what they should do? I could try going back to the company and selling them back but I'm not sure that would be successful or productive…

  14. Yes, you could try selling them back. If that doesn't work you could donate them to a school or nursing home. Sadly, the items have already been manufactured so there's no making them disappear. The best thing is to ensure they get functionally used. 🙂

  15. Thank you for giving me the permission to keep the plastic that I have and for reducing my guilt to still having these items in my house.
    I find that a lot of the zero-waste guru’s out there appear to live in these beautiful, minimalist , magazine worthy homes. I strive to live in such a home one day, however for now, while I’m slowly transitioning to life without plastic and reducing my waste my house is far from looking like that and I still have a lot of items lying around that contain plastics.
    I find your approach to zero waste very relatable and doable. Thank you for all the great ideas!

    Thank you for having such a great blog!

  16. We have a goal of zero waste but know we won’t get there all the way. We buy or raise our meat then have it butchered in bulk so it gets vacuum sealed. We tried paper wrapping but lost so many pounds of meat that is was not economically wise. So we stay with vacuum sealing and eat organic pasture raised beef and chicken at a great savings…. but we then have to deal with the plastic from the package. I wish they made a bag that was more recyclable or that would break down in compost(made of a vegetable material)… I guess if I am doing everything I can every where else I just need to settle for that. Everything else is in glass, purchase in bulk, make toiletries, make cleaning products, use cloth napkins, glass storage, and stainless steel for lunch containers. Refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle….

  17. I’m just starting out on my zero waste journey, and my mantra is “use what you have and do what you can”. I used to sell Tupperware so I have an entire kitchen full of the stuff. It’s all in really good condition, so why on earth would I put it out into the waste stream?
    Sure, if I need to buy something in the future, I’ll avoid plastic, but we shouldn’t be afraid of having plastic in the house if it’s helping us reduce waste.

  18. Thank you! Every single time I read something about zero waste I always imagine people thinking that they have to throw away what they already have and replace them immediately with eco-friendly items. That defeats the purpose altogether! The idea is to not have plastic in landfills (or in the oceans) so it makes no sense to throw out perfectly good usable plastic items just to replace for non plastic items. Once again, thank you!

    • I went to a Mardi Gras party last night with Plastic containers to take food home which would of been tossed. I keep a bag of containers in the car with me so when I go into a restaurant I’m prepared for To-Go items. I’m gonna try at Drive Through’s to avoid the plastic bags they give me. I suppose I might have good luck if I actually go inside the Fast Food places if I ask them to put the food in my own containers. We’ll see, baby steps.

  19. Your approach is realistic and sensible. Discarding all at once every plastic measuring cup, mixing bowl, storage container, bucket, storage bin, etc. ,would be very hard on the services that accept these things. The only way to avoid the problem is to never buy this “stuff” in the first place. Advocates should talk with high school and college students about environmentally responsible consumerism. I will use my plastic until it all wears out and try to be mindful of things made in China and other countries that don’t use eco-friendly practices. Hard to do, I know, but it might make a difference in the long run.

  20. Can you recommend any eco toothbrushes? I had an ‘environmental’ brand bamboo one the handle was super short so it was awkward to use, it made my gums bleed and half the bristles fell out in my mouth while brushing which put me off rather

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