How to go plastic free?

Topics Discussed

Some research suggests that it can take between 500-1000 years for one single-use plastic item to decompose.

However, as a result of many conflicting environmental factors that contribute to the rate at which plastic decomposes, many studies contradict each other due to inconsistent variables and difficult testing conditions.

Despite this, plastic is categorised together with many other waste-types as that takes a very long time, if ever, to break down.

What to use instead of plastic?

Some of the worst (and most common) plastic items in terms of plastic pollution are:

  • Plastic straws
  • Plastic cutlery
  • Plastic cups and bottles
  • Plastic grocery bags
  • Plastic cotton buds
  • Plastic containers
  • Plastic toothbrushes

So, for each of these, what alternatives do we have?

– Plastic Straws

Each year, around 35 million tons of plastic pollution is produced – around a quarter of which ends up in the water.  Straws make up for around 4% of this plastic waste.

There are a number of eco ‘friendlier’ alternatives to plastic straws, including:

– Reusable bamboo straws
– Reusable stainless steel straws
– Reusable silicone straws
– Compostable plant-based straws

plastic straws

– Plastic Cutlery

More than 100 million plastic utensils are used every day in the US. France is the first nation to announce a ban (from 2020) against the use of plastic utensils / cookware.

There are a number of eco ‘friendlier’ alternatives to plastic cutlery, including:

Reusable bamboo utensils
– Compostable plant-based utensils- Recycled cutlery
– Cutlery made from sugarcane (decomposes within three months)

plastic cutlery

Plastic Cups & Bottles

Scientists estimate that it takes up to 1,000 years for one single plastic bottle to decompose. 80% of the plastic water bottles we buy end up in landfills.

There are a number of eco ‘friendlier’ alternatives to plastic cups and bottles, including:

– Reusable glass bottles
– Reusable stainless steel bottles
– Plant-based plastic bottles

plastic cup

Plastic Grocery Bags

It is estimated that around 100,000 marine animals are killed each year as a result of plastic bag pollution. More than 100 billion plastic bags are used annually in the US – more than 300 bags per person.
There are a number of eco ‘friendlier’ alternatives to plastic grocery bags, including:

– Reusable silicone bags
Reusable mesh produce bags
– Reusable cloth bags
– Or simply bring a reusable cardboard box

plastic bags

Plastic Cotton Buds

Cotton is one of the world’s most water-draining, polluting crops. Cotton buds harm the environment in multiple ways, including the clogging of sewers as well as waste-water treatment facilities.

According to Consult Defra, just one single cotton bud can take around 300 years before it decomposes.

There are a number of eco ‘friendlier’ alternatives (brands) to plastic cotton buds, including: 

  • Last Swab: Reusable nylon and bio-plastic buds
  • MyKitCo: Miniature buds with wooden stems
  • Organyc: Buds made from organic cotton wool and paper stems
ear buds cotton

Plastic Containers / Tupperware

According to SAS, “Every day approximately 8 million pieces of plastic pollution find their way into our oceans. There may now be around 5.25 trillion macro and microplastic pieces floating in the open ocean”. With this in mind, a plastic container is a big no!

There are a number of eco ‘friendlier’ alternatives to plastic / tupperware containers, including:

– Beeswax wraps 
Muslin produce Bags
– Glass jars
– Compostable cling wrap


Plastic toothbrushes

It is estimated that around one billion plastic toothbrushes are thrown away each year in the US, amounting to around 50 million pounds of new plastic waste entering the oceans each year.

There are a number of eco ‘friendlier’ alternatives to plastic toothbrushes, including: 

Reusable bamboo toothbrushes (you can compost the handles of bamboo toothbrushes if you first remove the nylon bristles)
– Bio-based plastic toothbrushes made from GMO-free sugar
– Standard wooden toothbrushes are also a better option than plastic toothbrushes

plastic toothbrush

Is BPA free plastic safe?

According to, “Bisphenol A is classified in the EU as a substance that has toxic effects on our ability to reproduce.” – I.e. a compound that disrupts the endocrine system.

BPA (Bisphenol A), is an industrial chemical or substance often included in the manufacturing of plastics and resins. Some studies have found that these chemicals have the ability to disrupt the normal flow of human and animal hormone functions, which may lead to adverse health effects. Other studies, on the other hand, have revealed that these dangers may not be so serious after all.

As a result of these potential dangers, in recent times, more and more research has been conducted around the theme of BPA use in plastic. Since many studies conflict with one another (in terms of the severity of these dangers), it is fair to say that the science community is still split about the reality of these dangers to both humans and animal wildlife. 

Since plastic is an environmentally detrimental material, it is best to avoid eating / drinking out of plastic containers / cups – also helping to eliminate any potential health risks that may arise from BPA. 

What are the seven types of plastic?

1 – Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET or PETE or Polyester) 

2 – Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) 

3 – High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE)

4 – Polystyrene (PS)

5 – Polypropylene (PP)

6 – Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE)

7 – Any other plastic type other than those mentioned above (such as Polycarbonate (PC)

You may also like:

– Sustainable product examples: eco-friendly alternatives

What is renewable energy?

How many trees are cut down each day / year?

Sustainability in business and the workplace

– How can grocery stores go zero waste?

Is acrylic paint toxic?

Five animal species facing extinction between 2050-2100

– 20 green, natural & raw material examples

– What is sustainable living? The easiest ways to live more sustainably

– Sustainable development: all you need to know

Can plastic decompose or biodegrade? How long does it take?

Why is recycling important and how does it benefit the environment?

What are the main causes of water pollution?