9 things i still buy in plastic

When you first discovered the zero waste movement, did you think that in order to participate, you could never produce a single bit of waste ever again? Or use a single piece of plastic again? Pretty overwhelming, right?! I’m here to tell you that is definitely not true! While absolutely zero waste is a nice goal, it’s generally unachievable in our modern society (not that we can’t try!). As a long-time “zero-waster” I still purchase things in plastic. Not because I want to, but because I have little to no choice. Read on to see nine items I still purchase in plastic (unapologetically) and ways I still make them LOWER waste!

So, obviously, going zero waste means that you must create zero trash and never ever purchase anything in plastic ever again, right?

Um, NO.

While it’s a noble goal, the “zero” in “zero waste” is NOT achievable.

Let me repeat that for the folks in the back. The “zero” in “zero waste” is NOT achievable.

At least not in today’s society for 99.9% of us. If you live off the grid, deep in the woods and do not own a single modern convenience item, then maybe you can achieve actual zero waste. But for the rest of us, let us do the best we can within our means and lifestyle.

So, can you still be zero waste if you still buy things in plastic and packaging?

Of course!


Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, I do want to say that my motto with zero waste is always to aim to make the least amount of trash that I reasonably can in my lifestyle without causing undue stress or harm to myself or my family.

I also aim to minimize consumption in general, even if the item will not necessarily become trash. By not consuming or purchasing things I don’t need, I am reducing the amount of resources needed to produce those items, which in turn reduces upstream waste.

Since I do not live off the grid or in a perfectly zero waste community, I aim for ZERO-ISH waste. Therefore, I do still need to purchase items in plastic sometimes.

My goal is that this is an occasional occurrence rather than a frequent occurrence. And I always try to find ways to make the purchases lower waste than they could be. But I don’t beat myself up about it (anymore). Trust me, I went through some MAJOR eco-anxiety when I first went zero waste. It almost burned me out and made me turn my back on the whole concept. That, my friends, is what we want to avoid.

Lots of us doing zero waste imperfectly is better than a few of us doing it perfectly.

So, without further ado, I thought it would be helpful to share some of the items that I regularly (and unapologetically) still buy in plastic packaging AND how I still try to make it lower waste. 

Let me know in the comments what items you still purchase in plastic or struggle to find package free!

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1. Specialty Flours

I LOVE to bake, so I go through a lot of flour in my house. However, we are also a gluten-free and low-grain family. This means that I use multiple types of gluten-free and grain-free flours that can be hard or impossible to find in bulk. Even when I can find them in bulk, they aren’t always the quality I prefer or they’re triple the price! So, I still order most of my flours online, and yes, they usually come in plastic bags.

How I made it lower waste: To keep these items a little lower waste, I order each flour in at least a 5 lb bag instead of a 2-3 lb bag to reduce the amount of packaging (and the cost!).

Tip: If you don’t go through flour quickly, but want to purchase in larger sizes, try storing it in the refrigerator or freezer! It will last about two times longer in the fridge and about four times longer in the freezer than in your cupboard (especially in warm, humid climates).

2. Toothpaste

The subject of natural toothpaste vs. fluoridated toothpaste is a hot topic in the “natural” and zero waste living circles. It is probably one of the topics I receive the most questions on. People want to know if it’s okay to give up fluoride so they can switch to a more natural toothpaste in a lower waste package or even make their own.

I get it. I had the same question when I first dove into a zero waste lifestyle. After I spoke to my dentist about it and did tons of research of my own, the conclusion I came to was that, even though I was likely getting plenty of fluoride in the tap water I drink, I was still not comfortable giving up fluoridated toothpaste altogether. After all, if you mess up your teeth, it’s not going to be a fun (or cheap) situation at the dentist’s office.

How I made it lower waste: I decided to cut back to using the fluoridated toothpaste that comes in a plastic tube for just one brushing per day. I also switched to a brand of fluoridated toothpaste that can be recycled through TerracycleFor the other brushing, I use a lower waste toothpaste like this one. I also incorporate an activated charcoal powder that I found in a glass jar 2-3 times per week as it helps keep my teeth whiter. (Note: I was told by my dentist not to use the charcoal every day as it can be a bit abrasive for your enamel.) 

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3. Chips & Crackers

Let’s be honest, chips and crackers (for the most part) just don’t work in a bulk section. Unless you like them stale and soggy…eww. And life without them, especially when you have three kids, is just not as simple or enjoyable.

How I made it lower waste: I started with simply reducing the amount of chips and crackers I was buying, which is healthier anyway! I try to only buy our favorites, like tortilla chips and basic, multi-functional crackers in the largest bag I can find (e.g. Costco size, if possible). We also banished ANY individual size chip or cracker bags from our house. If we need to take a snack size amount on-the-go, we just throw some into a small container or one of our handy silicone zip-top bags and we have our very own snack sizes! (Check out this post for more ideas on zero waste snacks!)

4. Cheese

I am married to a legit cheese-a-holic, so this one was non-negotiable. My husband has been extremely supportive of our family reducing our waste and makes even more of an effort than I would have guessed he would. But the man loves his cheese, and now my kids do, too. And I’m not going to take that away from them.

One of the common struggles with going zero waste, is getting the people you live with on board. Some are more cooperative than others, but you cannot force your choices and lifestyle on others. If your partner, parents, roommates, etc. are not keen to go super low waste with you, that’s okay. Meet them in the middle and continue to lead by example. You can only control your own choices and habits.

How I made it lower waste: Again, the key here is larger sizes to reduce the amount of packaging. We buy most of our cheese at Costco where the bricks of cheese are—you guessed it—HUGE! If the brick is too large, we cut it in half and store half of it in the freezer in a silicone zip top bag. And I never buy pre-shredded cheese. Not only is it way more expensive than shredding your own, it comes with significantly more packaging. 

You may also be able to find cheese at a local deli or cheese shop completely package-free! Explore your community and see what you can find!

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5. Health Supplements

I will sacrifice a lot to reduce my carbon footprint on this planet. But I draw the line at compromising my health or the health of my family. I try to get as many of my vitamins and nutrients from real food, which is always the best option. However, sometimes I fall short, and to control my chronic illnesses, I do better if I take a handful of supplements in addition to a healthy diet. 

I also use protein shakes for health reasons and for quick meals/snacks on the go so I don’t fall into the trap of individually wrapped, unhealthy foods. Unfortunately, although these health supplements are friendly to your body, they usually come in some of the least eco-friendly packaging.

How I made it lower waste: I have luckily been able to find some of my vitamins in glass bottles, but not all of them. I even was able to find a few protein powders in eco-friendly, mostly compostable or recyclable containers. Unfortunately, my body didn’t tolerate the brands I tried, but I love that they’re out there, and hopefully eventually one will work for me! I now try to buy my supplements (that I can’t find in glass) in non-black plastics that can be recycled easily in my community.

The More You Know: Black plastics typically will not get recycled in single-sort facilities since the laser used to sort the plastic cannot detect the color black.

6. Medicine

This is probably an obvious one, and I’m guessing most people wouldn’t compromise on medical care either. If my family or I need medicine or medical care, I will take the waste in order to prioritize our health and safety. And I fully suggest you do the same. But there are some ways you can reduce waste in certain medical situations!

How I made it lower waste: I try to get creative where I can. Sometimes I can’t eliminate or even reduce the waste, but sometimes it’s surprisingly easy. I can’t address every medical situation, but I’ll give you a few examples of where I have been able to reduce medical waste.

  • 1) Healthy eating: By eating a healthy diet and utilizing immune boosters such as homemade elderberry syrup, I have been able to reduce the frequency of illness for myself and my family. I have even reduced my allergies and headaches that previously required over the counter pills by eliminating inflammatory and triggering foods.
  • 2) Learn from past and plan ahead: When I had my third child, I had begun a zero waste lifestyle and knew from the previous two that the hospital would send me home after the birth with a gigantic bag of disposable pads, underwear, and other toiletries. Since I had begun using reusables and knew how to soothe after-birth pain without single-use items, I simply declined the bag of disposables and used my own reusable items.
  • 3) Simple swaps: For general first aid, I try to use items with all natural, compostable materials such as cotton gauze pads. I have also discovered these amazing biodegradable bandages that work super well and don’t irritate my kids’ skin like traditional adhesive bandages do! I also purchase things like pain relievers and ointments in the largest containers I can find. And I purchase them at local stores instead of having them shipped to me, where they will most likely come with extra, unnecessary packaging material.

7. Toys

We have reduced our possessions and we purchase as many things as we can secondhand. However, there are still are some toys and equipment that we purchase for our kids that we cannot find secondhand or avoid it coming in plastic. This is an area where we need larger corporations, specifically the ones that market items to children, to change their ways and find more eco-friendly ways to make and deliver their products.

How I made it lower waste: I try to purchase secondhand items as much as possible–we have found some of our favorite toys used! I also choose to purchase as many things locally as I can to avoid the shipping waste and look for items made from natural or recycled material. 

However, one of the best tactics we’ve found for reducing long-term waste when purchasing new toys is to really focus on whether we need it and it’s quality/durability. The cheaply made toys just don’t last and become trash way sooner than they should. By not purchasing the items we don’t need and choosing quality over quantity, our toys last longer and can usually be passed on to someone else when we are done instead of being thrown away.

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8. Meat

I am not vegan, nor do I aspire to be. My body does not feel well on a vegan diet, and I am insulin resistant which requires a low carb diet. So, I still eat meat. While cutting out meat can definitely help reduce your carbon footprint, I don’t believe that you must be vegan to live a zero waste lifestyle.

How I made it lower waste: My family has reduced the QUANTITY of meat that we eat by quite a lot. We try to incorporate more vegetables and legumes to reduce the amount of meat we might normally consume. We also try to only purchase local, free-range or grass-fed meat that is raised in a humane and eco-friendly manner. I rarely, if ever, purchase meat produced from large factory farms, which are the primary source of the detrimental carbon emissions from meat production.

9. School Supplies

My kids go to public school and the school supply lists are VERY specific. Literally down to the brand of watercolor paint they suggest. I will always buy my kids what they need to function in school, but it doesn’t mean we can’t get creative!

How I made it lower waste: I do the best I can to find unwrapped, or eco-friendly school supplies. For instance, this year we found notebooks and folders made from 100% recycled materials! We also grabbed as many things as we could that came in paper, recyclable, or minimal packaging. And by taking inventory of the supplies we already had from previous years, we did not need to purchase new items if we already had it.

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