Guide: How To Reduce Your Use of Plastic

Reducing your plastic footprint by 50% or more is easier than you think and the benefits might also surprise you. In my own journey of reducing my environmental footprint I’ve surprised myself with how it improved my health and saved me money. 

This is not your standard “ways to eliminate plastic” blog post that you’ll find all over the web with “10 tips to cut out plastics”. This is the culmination of years of trial and error, plus hours of reading research papers, and many late nights running the numbers to compare various use-case scenarios. I’ve also incorporated answer to common questions I get from friends and family I have advised on reducing their reliance on plastic.

Here is a short summary of the main benefits you can experience by adopting even just a handful of the recommendations in this guide:

Top Environmental Benefits of Reducing Plastic Use

These are the biggest reasons to take your plastic footprint seriously and make a concerted effort to reduce it: 

  • Global warming impact
  • Plastic pollution
  • Natural resource extraction
  • Divesting from irresponsible companies

Learn More: Plastics & Our Environment

Health Benefits of Decreasing Plastic Exposure

The evidence for plastic’s negative health implications is mounting. Key concerns for how plastic can negatively impact our health are mainly around these two areas: 

  • Chemicals in plastics
  • Negative associations – single-use packaging is tied to sugar, additives, etc. 

Learn More: Plastics & Our Health

Economic Benefits of Divesting in Plastics

In running the numbers to understand how much it costs to replace single-use plastics with reusable alternatives, I’ve found that in most categories this is a money saving activity. For example, it doesn’t take long for a home water filter to become more cost effective than buying bottled water. But it’s not always the case… sometimes it costs more money to make the more sustainable choice. 

Other Considerations

  • Health Costs – how much money will you save on medical expenses by reducing your exposure to chemicals in plastics and living healthier in general by reducing intake of products like soda that come in single-use bottles?  

Tactics That Increase Success

Keeping these general rules in mind helped make my reduction of plastic use way less uncomfortable than it could have been. In fact, it can be easy and rewarding when done the right way.

I did not invent these tactics. They are a common thread across a breadth of expert advice derived from listening to experts in their respective fields and reading books like Atomic Habits, The 4 Hour Body, and The Compound Effect. 

Make it easy 

  • Slow and steady is more successful than making dramatic changes that are unsustainable
  • Start with changes that are easy to implement and maintain 
  • Make changes that improve your quality of life. You’re more likely to stick with them. 

Follow the 80/20 rule 

  • Find the 20% of adjustments you can make that reduce 80% of plastic in your life
  • I’ve tried to prioritize the following guide with this in mind

Remember perfection is the goal, not the standard

  • It’s not a bad idea to aim for a perfect, plastic-free life, if that’s what you want, but don’t let great be the enemy of good
  • If you aim to reduce your plastic by 99% but end up reducing your plastic use by 50%, that’s still a dramatic reduction and cause for celebration

Guide To Reducing Plastic Use

Here are the biggest plastic offenders and recommendations for how to replace them.  

Water & Beverages

Why start here? We’re in contact with more plastic packaging through what we drink than through any other medium. A small habit adjustment here can translate into a big reduction in plastic use. 

Plastic OffenderReplace WithResources
Bottled Water (At Home)Home Water FilterGuide To Home Water Filters
Bottled Water (On The Go)Reusable Water Bottle Best Reusable Water Bottles
CoffeeReusable CupBest Reusable Cups
Sports DrinksMixes (liquid IV, hydralyte, gatorade)How To: Reduce Plastic Waste from Sports Drinks
Soft DrinksReuse, Reduce, and ReplaceHow To: Divest from Soft Drink Bottles


Coffee Cups – How many times do you need to use a reusable coffee cup before it becomes more environmentally friendly than disposable cups?

It can take between 20 and 127 uses depending on what type of reusable cup your using and what type of single-use cups you’re displacing.

Full Explanation: Single Use vs Reusable Coffee Cups

Water Bottles – How many times do you need to use a reusable water bottle before it becomes more environmentally friendly?

It can take between 2-90 uses for a reusable water bottle to have a lower global warming potential than a single-use water bottle. The variation depends on what type of water bottle you’re using.

Full Explanation: Reusable vs Single-Use Water Bottles

Soda – How much soda do I need to make at home before it’s more environmentally friendly than buying single-use bottles or cans?

A home soda machine can be more sustainable than buying bottled soft drinks, but it may take longer than you expect. You’ll have to make between 44 and 174 servings of your own soda before the soda machine becomes more eco friendly than single-use bottles. Where you fall on this range depends on the type of bottle your displacing (glass, plastic, or aluminum).

Full Explanation: Home Soda Machine vs Bottled Soft Drinks


Food is the next biggest category where shifting away from plastics can result in a massive reduction in our plastic footprint over time.

Plastic OffenderReplace WithResources
Food Storage Bags (ziploc) Silicone and Other AlternativesBest Reusable Silicone Bags
Best Ziploc Bag Alternatives
Plastic Food ContainersNon-Plastic AlternativesTop Alternatives to Plastic
Packaged FoodFresh FoodIdeas: A Fresh Perspective
Plastic CutleryReusableTravel Cutlery Sets


Plastic OffenderReplace WithResources
Shopping BagsReusable BagBest Reusable Bags: SyntheticNatural Fiber
Produce BagsReusable Produce BagBest Reusable Produce Bags


What type of reusable shopping bags are the most sustainable?

The sustainability of a shopping bag depends on the material it is made from and how it is used. While paper bags have the lowest environmental impact, they can’t be reused very many times. Cotton bags on the other hand have a relatively high environmental impact but can be used for years.

Full Explanation: Reusable Grocery Bags: Good or Bad for The Environment?

Are biodegradable bags a good alternative to plastic?

Although not as recommended, for a single-use alternative it can still be better than plastic, especially if your main focus is to reduce your plastic footprint.

Resources: Best Biodegradable Alternatives to Plastic Bags

Around The House

Plastic OffenderReplace WithResources
Detergent & Dish SoapPlastic Free AlternativesPlastic Free Home Cleaning Products