The grocery store is an obvious source of single-use plastic in our everyday lives, but it certainly isn’t the only retail environment where we might find excess packaging or unsustainable products. Beyond buying less—which is probably the most impactful step we can take as consumers—what can we do to reduce our plastic waste when we’re out shopping for clothes, electronics, and home goods?
Bring your cloth bag whenever you shop. Cloth bags are not just for grocery stores! But my grocery / farmers’ market bags do occasionally get icky, so I keep one set of cloth bags for grocery shopping and one for trips to other stores, like Target or Unique.
Choose natural fibers. Synthetic fibers, like polyester, acrylic, spandex, and nylon, are plastic fibers. When washed, they release microfiber pollution that can find its way from the washing machine to our rivers and oceans. And it’s pretty much impossible to remove this plastic pollution from waterways once it gets there. Avoid the problem altogether by choosing clothes made from cotton, hemp, wool, and other natural fibers. Bonus points for choosing organic cotton and ethically raised wool.
Shop locally. It’s much easier to refuse plastic packaging in person than it is online or over the phone with a customer service rep. At your local store, you can see that an item is overpackaged and choose to buy something else. You can leave plastic hangers and other nonessential packaging behind for reuse. You can have a conversation with a store manager or owner about stocking more sustainable products.
Shop secondhand. At thrift stores and garage sales, items are typically sold unpackaged, meaning you can find that slow cooker, blender, or even laptop without all the Styrofoam, single-use plastic, and cardboard waste. Plus, you’re giving new use to an item that would otherwise end up in the landfill. Win win. If you’re not having luck finding what you need at local thrift stores and garage sales, don’t forget to check the community-based online forums Craigslist and Freecycle, plus the various Buy Nothing and yard sale groups on Facebook.
Try Plastic Free online shops. If you’re having no luck at consignment shops or other local stores, you might find the item you’re looking for in an online shop focused on sustainable products and packaging. These types of shops are popping up all the time. Here are a few we like:
- The Renewal Workshop takes defective and unsellable garments and turns them into “renewed” apparel, upcycled material, or recycling feedstock. The company works with clothing brands to close the loop on waste coming out of their factories. So that jacket with a broken zipper isn’t immediately thrown out because it can’t be sold; instead it’s refurbished or remade into something new. Also, Renewal pledges to keep the packaging it uses for shipping “minimal, responsible, and recyclable.”
- Package Free Shop sells all manner of waste-free products from eco-friendly hand creams and soaps to reusable cleaning wipes and safety razors to biodegradable smartphone cases and hemp dog toys. And the store has a strict waste-free shipping policy: “We ship everything 100% plastic free in an upcycled or 100% post-consumer box with paper wrapping and paper tape. All of our shipping materials are 100% recyclable and compostable.”
- The Refill Revolution sells cleaning supplies, bath products, and raw materials for making your own soaps and creams in bulk. The company ships bulk products in spouted pouches that you empty into your container at home and then return for reuse. And they’ve taken “extra measures” to ensure their packaging is “eco-friendly, biodegradable, and plastic-free whenever and wherever possible.”