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Life with Less Plastic: 10 Simple Steps

PlasticsThere is growing evidence that plastics and health don't mix. Plastic is the term used for a wide range of synthetic solids derived primarily from crude oil. Recent news stories have pointed to the hazards of bisphenol A (BPA), a hormone-disrupting chemical now banned from baby bottles and sippy cups. Phthalates, added to plastics to increase their flexibility, transparency, and durability, exhibit similar endocrine-disrupting properties.

In light of the questions surrounding these chemicals, it makes sense to reduce our consumption. But how do we do it? Remember, a life free of plastics may not be a reality, but we can use less of them. Take your time. Small steps lead to big change.

Here are ten simple steps to living life with less plastic.

  1. Educate yourself. As we've seen with the tobacco industry, it can take years for the government to change their position on the health effects of a given product. Thanks to the Internet and other sources, we can do our own research. If you are considering reducing your exposure to plastics, it helps to know why. The following resources offer excellent starting points.



    • The film ALBATROSS offers a powerful look at the environmental implications of plastics.


  2. Invest in a reusable grocery bag. This is one of the simplest things you can do to help reduce your intake of plastic. While plastic shopping bags are not as great a health concern, they do have staggering environmental implications. The Washington Post offers this excellent chart detailing the pros and cons of paper vs. plastic, concluding that the reusable shopping bag is the best option.
  3. Invest in a stainless steel water bottle. Sales of bottled water have tripled in the last 10 years, with enormous environmental implications. The health implications are nearly as great. The Environmental Working Group found 38 pollutants in 24 samples from 10 major brands in a study conducted in 2008. The National Resources Defense Council says bottled water regulations have some serious holes. According to an Arizona State University study, the longer a bottle of water sits, particularly in elevated temperatures, the more leaching can occur of a chemical contaminant called antimony. When shopping for a reusable water bottle, avoid those made with aluminum, as they may be lined with BPA.
  4. Eliminate plastic shower curtain liners. Vinyl shower curtains emit DEHP, a phthalate and suspected carcinogen. Phthalates have been linked to hormonal disruption in humans. EVA (ethylene vinyl acetate) is a chlorine- and phthalate-free shower curtain option. Washable fabric curtains are chemical-free and can be laundered weekly to prevent mold growth. Glass doors are another excellent option.
  5. Keep only necessary receipts. Many sales receipts are coated with a layer of BPA. An Environmental Working Group study found that BPA in cash register receipts can be up to 1,000 times higher than the amount found in the lining of canned food. If you don't need the receipt, let the cashier know. If you do need it, keep it in the bag (away from fresh foods) until you get home. Keep your essential receipts in a closed container such as a paper envelope. For more on the chemicals found on receipts, see this article from Safer Chemicals.
  6. Stock up on glass jars and other glass containers. It can be overwhelming to think of disposing of your plastic containers. A transition to glass can be gradual. Need a new measuring cup? Buy glass. Looking for fresh ways to store leftovers? Consider wide-mouth mason jars. See more glass alternatives in our Resources section below.
  7. Cut down on canned and frozen convenience foods. Transition to fresh food. Allow yourself time to experiment with new recipes and cooking methods. Try a local farmers market. Explore food sources in your area. Look for canned food alternatives packaged in glass or BPA-free liners (see our Resources section below).
  8. Pack snacks and other on-the-go foods in parchment paper or reusable containers. It's hard to pass up the convenience of disposable plastic storage bags. Thankfully there are companies such as If You Care offering a parchment paper option. These may be a bit more costly in the short run, but they offer a much safer option. If you must use plastic bags, consider lining them with parchment paper before storing your food.
  9. Heat food in glass containers. Heat is one of the most significant ways harmful chemicals leach into your food. Even if your food has been frozen in plastic, transfer to a glass container before heating. Transfer take-out food immediately to glass containers and store until heated.
  10. Choose healthy cookware. Most nonstick cookware is coated with polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), a type of thermal plastic linked to birth defects, liver toxicity, cancer, and more. According to an Environmental Working Group report, a nonstick pan heated to 464 degrees will release numerous toxic particles. Healthier cookware choices include glass, enameled cast iron, or cast iron that is well maintained. To learn more about the safety of various cookware options, see our article on Safe Cookware.


BPA-free lining in canned foods:

Glass containers:

Stainless steel water bottles:

Packaging alternatives:

Other resources:

Photo-Quote Plastic


"We were having a lot of health problems and had been to the doctor countless times... we had large circles of slimy greenish-black mold on the bathroom ceiling, where it had caved in a few months before."

– C.

"My daughter started having digestive problems... heart palpitations... coughing episodes... muscle/joint pain... asthma/allergies... Her doctor finally advised me to check for mold in our home."

– Anonymous

"My daughter has had many blood samples taken to test for everything imaginable and her doctor just seems puzzled. Everything comes back normal."

– Anonymous

"We all suffered from headaches, hormonal body temperature fluctuations, brain fog, fatigue, difficulty breathing, thrush, rashes, and yeast infections... we vacated our home two weeks ago."

– Anonymous

"The ERMI mold test as well as your helpful articles and Toxic Talk Tuesday programs have helped us avoid a terrible mistake in purchasing a new home."

– Angela

"I started finding myself sitting on the floor in rooms of my house and not remembering how I got there, what I was doing before, or how long I had been there."

– Brenda

"I have been sick for almost 6 months now and doctors were not able to figure out why. I finally put it all together after going away for vacation for a week and suddenly my symptoms were going away."

– Anonymous

"I had been struggling with headaches, head fog, breathing difficulties (unable to get a full breath), constant scalp tingling, migraines, nausea, feeling spacey/detached, and severe itchy skin."

– Anonymous

"I've been living in a mold-infested home for 13 months... I was going CRAZY! Finally figured it out... Just a few days of recovering in a mold-free home and I feel AMAZING!!!"

– Lauren

"Our family has been out of our home for 9 months due to mold... I am so scared and weak from all of this. We have lost friends; family members don't understand."

– Anonymous

"I knew it was mold, but doctors kept telling me I had anxiety. I was sitting in my office and could not remember who I was talking to, or what we were talking about."

– Brenda

"We had some water leaks in our home... we never thought we needed to clean out and remove the floor, the ceiling, or the drywall... my two small children and I have remained constantly sick for years in this home."

– Mia

" age 35 or 36 I started to become allergic to everything, and I got asthma at age 36... I went to doctor after doctor after doctor and was desperate for help, but nobody could help me."

– Mia

"I was skeptical at first that these (natural cleaning) products would work, but they work better than the stuff I buy at the store! We will soon be moving to the personal care products as well!"

– Jennifer

"In my moldy home if I left the wet clothes in the washer they would get musty very quickly and I'd have to re-wash... Sometimes I'd run a load, go to work, and they'd be musty when I returned that evening."

– Anonymous

"I'm new at this, but today I cleaned my bathroom with baking soda and vinegar. It's much better not having those strong chemical smells afterwards."

– Anonymous

"The entire time we lived in our (mold-infested) house the kitchen sponge would get musty smelling within 3-4 days. It was so strange. I had to buy a pack of sponges nearly every week."

– Anonymous

"My symptoms persisted and eventually turned into lethargy and depression. At the age of 26, I required a nap every evening after work."

– Jennifer

"Both of my sons went downhill quickly and coughed for months... They both lost their ability to read, had profound vision disturbances, and had phenomenal gastric issues."

– Lee

This site is dedicated to a true friend and mother — Barbara Dell Kessel (1929-2009)