Plastic-free living: easy changes for home and work

Mariko has spent the last 10 years writing about travel, outdoor adventures and humanitarianism. When she's not travelling, you can find her on a local hiking trail, exploring the Canadian Rockies, or researching her next exotic destination.

Reducing plastic use is a key concern for Kathmandu. In 2019, we recycled 9.3 million plastic bottles into our materials, with an average of 16 plastic bottles going into the construction of just one of our backpacks.

You can learn more about how we recycle polyster here. Because polyster is our number one fibre in terms of use, incorporating recycled polyester in the form of REPREVE® materials is just one of our initiatives for improving upon the environmental impact of our apparel and gear. 

At Home

Invest in some reusable shopping bags

Supermarkets across the world are dropping plastic bags, so a reusable shopping bag will come as no surprise. While many of us have good intentions, you’re not the only one that’s forgotten their canvas bag at the checkout.

A good strategy is to keep a shopping bag in your personal bag, at work, and in your car. If you don’t like the thought of carrying a bulky canvas bag, look for a durable option that can pack down small.

Cotton mesh produce bags are a popular option for finicky items like salad leaves and green beans. They’re machine washable, long-lasting and lightweight. Buy a set large enough for your needs and keep them in your reusable shopping bags or car.

Buy pantry essentials from bulk bins

Food packaging can be hard to avoid entirely, but you can minimise the amount you use by buying in bulk at specialist food stores.

Organic/wholefoods stores typically have a wide variety of unpackaged pantry essentials like lentils, rice, chickpeas, tea leaves, spices and peanut butter, just to name a few. Bring a few containers from home (glass is best for long-term storage) and help yourself.

Grow your own herbs

If you love to cook, herbs will be a staple in your kitchen. Unfortunately, many herbs have delicate leaves and are easily damaged during transportation from farm to supermarket. As a result, herbs usually come in single-use plastic.

To avoid these, consider growing your own herb garden. Hardy herbs like rosemary, thyme, and parsley are easy to grow and a good place to start. As an added benefit, you’ll use only what you need and save money in the long run.

If you don’t have a green thumb, local grocers or food markets (rather than supermarkets) often still stock their herbs without plastic. 

Switch your snaplock bags to reusable snack packs

Individual snaplock bags are as handy as they are wasteful, but luckily there are more sustainable solutions. Instead of single-use plastic bags, stock up on eco-friendly, reusable sandwich bags for lunchboxes, office snacks and travelling.

They should be certified food-safe, feature a zip or button closure (to keep food fresh) and be easy to clean (some can even go in the dishwasher). Find them online or in specialty stores.

Avoid packaged bread

Many supermarkets now feature a fresh bakery section where you can purchase bread sans plastic. If it’s a viable option, consider switching to unpackaged, whole loaves. Better yet, support your local bakery and buy bread that is made from a sourdough starter (great for your gut!).

Why not try baking yourself? It’s more labour intensive, but you’ll end up saving money and putting less plastic in the bin. 

Get rid of your sponge

Most kitchen sponges are made of plastic and sponges need regular replacing to avoid the accumulation of harmful bacteria. Make the change to a long-lasting washcloth that you can put in the washing machine or choose a scrubber made from biodegradable plant fibre, like coconut or bamboo.

Ditch the cling wrap

Silicone food huggers keep food fresher for longer and, unlike cling wrap, features an airtight seal. Available in a plethora of shapes and sizes, you can seal a can, bowl or even an avocado.

Beeswax wraps are another eco-friendly option and are great for cheese, leftovers and just about anything that you’d put clingwrap on. Washable and reusable, they last for 6-12 months. 

Buy solid toiletries

Unlike their liquid alternatives, solid toiletries like shampoo and conditioner bars, soaps, deodorant, and perfumes don’t need plastic packaging. You can buy them as they are or wrapped in recyclable paper.

They are also a fantastic choice for travellers – they won’t explode in your bag and they can last for months at a time. You can find them at your local organic/wholefood retailers or specialist beauty stores.

Experiment with plastic-free DIY solutions.

To help live plastic-free in the future, you can learn how to make a few household essentials at home. You might decide to make our own soap, natural skin care products, kitchen cleaning supplies, washing powder or even toothpaste. Experiment with recipes and see what works for you.

At work

Change your work lunch habits

A takeaway lunch can come with a huge amount of plastic, including containers, cutlery and plastic bags.

A 2017 study estimated that fast-food apps in China were responsible for 1.6 million tons of packaging waste in 2017, which was nine times higher than two years earlier. The influence of these apps in the West on our plastic consumption is still relatively unknown.

To reduce your plastic usage when eating lunch, start meal prepping on the weekends or bring your leftovers into work. Over time you’ll save money, eat healthier, and divert a lot of unnecessary plastic from landfill.

If you prefer buying your lunch during the workweek, choose to dine-in or bring a reusable Tupperware container for a takeaway option. You’ll find most restaurants are happy to accommodate you as they’ll save on the cost of packaging.

Invest in a reusable water bottle

In 2017, Forbes reported that humans use one million plastic bottles a minute. For countries with access to clean tap water, there’s really no reason to buy individual water bottles. Instead, opt for reusable water bottles made from glass, stainless steel or BPA-free plastic.

If you do need a drink on the move, opt for glass bottles.

Buy a reusable coffee cup

If you drink two takeaway coffees every day at work, that’s approximately 480 cups a year that you send to landfill. It’s a whopping number, and a great reason to make the change to a reusable coffee cup.

Get to work only to discover you’ve left it at home? Grab a mug from your office. Most baristas are happy to accommodate the request.

Ditch the straws

These tiny bits of plastic often find their way into our oceans and waterways and their sharp edges can often injure the local marine life.

For the most part, it’s as easy as not using one. But for those of us who can’t live without them, invest in a reusable steel straw instead. To keep them clean, pop them into your dishwasher or rinse with hot water and detergent.

There’s no doubt that living plastic-free can be a challenge. But by slowly adopting these changes, you’ll take the first steps towards living a plastic-free life.

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