How to break up with plastic – A straightforward guide to a plastic-free life 1

Plastic is everywhere.

In the ocean

Most of our plastic waste ends up in our oceans: killing our favorite marine animals and our dreams of visiting our favorite beach holiday destinations. After we throw our plastic trash in our waters, it floats towards the middle of the oceans, following the circulating movement of ocean currents. Right now, there are rapidly growing garbage patches in the centers of our oceans: the biggest one called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch which covers a surface almost three times the size of France.

Scientists predict that by 2050, there will be more plastic in our oceans than fish.

In forests

The issue with plastic is that it doesn’t biodegrade. That doesn’t mean however that it patiently waits under a tree to be picked up by a nice guy. It breaks down into smaller pieces of plastic: so called microplastics. Once these microplastics manage to sneak into our soils and the bodies of wild animals, they have successfully entered our food chain.

On the streets

Plastic garbage isn’t just something that looks ugly on the corner of the street. The problem is, it’s dirty too. Plastic can carry bacteria and viruses on its surface, and therefore qualifies as a perfect carrier of diseases.

In the air

Air pollution is closer to home than we think. Did you know that your car interior is made of plastic? When we get in a heated car and we can see condensation on the windows, we can rest assured that we are inhaling a huge amount of toxic off-gas. This chemical off-gas is released from the plastic dashboard and the plastic seats.

In our homes

How much plastic do you have at home?

In his documentary ‘Plastic Planet’, Werner Boote asked families to collect all the plastic items they own and place them in front of their houses. And the results were shocking. Meanwhile, Sarah Dudas tells us in her TED Talk how she challenged her students to take a photo every time they touched plastic – from the moment they woke up, until the moment they went to sleep. Again, the results were shocking.

Will you accept the challenge and count all the plastic items you own?

In our food

With the amount of plastic we use in our supermarkets and our kitchens, it is no surprise that our foods and drinks contain plastic too. According to a new research, the average person eats a credit card’s worth of plastic a week. How? Through water, shellfish, beer, salt and more. And since when are we consuming plastic? We may ask the manufacturers of plastic baby bottles

In our bodies

In her TED Talk, Emily Penn tells us about an experiment she conducted with the UN: in order to find out the chemical implications of our plastic problem. They selected 35 chemicals known to be toxic to humans and did a blood test with her. They were all shocked to find out that among these 35 chemicals, there were 29 in her body.

And what the plastic in our bodies does to us? It can supress testosterone levels and reduce sperm production in men, cause infertility in women, stimulate body weight increase and change all kinds of aspects of our physiology.


“So what can I do?” – is the right question to ask.

The following guideline will offer ideas, how to boycott plastic and create the health, the environment and the future we want.

  1. Educate yourself – Most people care and want to contribute to positive change. But let’s be honest: not everyone has time to research solutions to the plastic epidemic. That is why we need clear guidelines about how to mitigate plastic pollution. Climate activist Greta Thunberg said in her interview at The Daily Show that the most important thing for people to do is to inform themselves. The easiest way to educate ourselves without allocating extra time for research is to follow Facebook pages and Instagram accounts related to plastic pollution. Let’s get our daily dose of green and fill our feeds with educational contents about our planet. Some keywords to look for are #plasticfree #zeroplastic #zerowaste #climateaction #sustainablefuture #savetheplanet #worldeconomicforum.
  2. Recycling is NOT a sustainable solution – We have heard the famous motto ‘Reduce Reuse Recycle’, but the hard truth of the matter is, that only less than 10% of the plastic produced worldwide can actually be recycled. This is why we need to add three more ‘R’-s to the equation: Refuse, Rethink and Redesign. Let’s refuse to buy plastic and find alternatives.
  3. Green shopping is the dream shopping – Most of our plastic garbage comes from overpackaged foods in grocery stores. A good way to combat our waste production is by shopping at bulk stores – let’s refill our containers and reduce the plastic packaging we bring into our homes. Find a bulk store near you by putting in your address at In Vienna we are fortunate enough to have several bulk stores for package-free shopping: Naschmarkt, Lunzers Maß-Greißlerei, Lieber Ohne and so on.
  4. Say NO to plastic bags – Refuse single use plastic whenever you can, wherever you go. Buy a textile bag and fold it together so you can carry it with you all the time. You never know when it is going to save you from accepting a plastic bag.
  5. Say NO to plastic bottles – Yes, this includes sodas and juices, not only water bottles. Carry a glass or stainless-steel bottle with you, that you can refill every day. In Vienna we are fortunate enough to be able to drink tap water: let’s take advantage of this privilege! In restaurants too, let’s choose beverages which come in recycled glass or from the barrel. If they offer fresh juices, even better.
  6. Say NO to plastic cups – The hectic urban life creates an ‘on-the-go’ culture, where everything needs to be consumed in a rush. But let’s challenge this habit and ask ourselves on our next visit to our favourite coffee shop: “Do I really have so little time that I can not afford 5 minutes to enjoy my coffee from a beautiful mug instead of a plastic cup?”
  7. Say NO to plastic straws – Let’s be honest, straws are the most unnecessary invention for a spoilt generation. But if you really can’t drink your cocktail without a straw, consider bamboo, paper or metal alternatives. Creativity has no limits: in Italy, for example, they are using straws made of pasta.
  8. Pick up the trash – and be the hero – We all hate to see trash around our home (hopefully). And since this planet is our only option to live on: it is our only home. So let’s not leave garbage around our place. And just like when we are living with kids, we need to pick up the trash of “our more immature members of society” until they learn how to clean after themselves.
  9. Eat your ice cream – “Cone or cup?” “Cone” – is the right answer. Let’s move away from the habit of producing waste for short-term pleasure or convenience. While a cone of ice cream leaves no waste behind, lots of ice cream cups have a plastic coating layer inside of them. And of course, ditching the plastic spoon is a no-brainer.
  10. Toilet etiquette – Repeat after me: pee, poo, paper! These are the only things we should flush in our toilets. No wipes, no cotton pads, no cotton buds, no condoms, no tampons or menstrual pads. Because whatever we throw in our toilets, will not disappear (shocker), but end up in our sewage system and finally in our rivers and seas. So let’s put that note on our bathroom door to not forget: ‘Pee, Poo and Paper’.
  11. Update your toiletries – Our bathrooms are usually storing a large amount of our plastic waste: in forms of packaged creams, shampoos, liquid soaps and other cosmetic products. Let’s gradually switch to non-plastic alternatives, but first(!) finish everything we have. There is no need to create more waste, so let’s squeeze as much life out of our plastic items as possible. Then, we are ready to move on to shampoo and conditioner bars, bamboo toothbrushes, stainless-steel razors, reusable wiping cloths, biodegradable make-up pads and natural loofah scrubbers.
  12. For the ladies… – Conventional disposable menstrual products like tampons and pads usually contain plastics, artificial fragrances, adhesives and chemical gels, which are not only bad for the environment, but also bad for the ladies. Especially when it comes to the most sensitive parts of our body. Menstrual cups, reusable pads and period underwears are some of the innovative alternatives every lady should try out.
  13. Wash wisely – Whether it’s dishes or clothes, we need to change our washing habits. Plastics release chemicals when scratched on the surface or washed repeatedly on high temperatures. Even certain detergents can damage our plastic kitchenware. This is why we need to wash them gently with cold water or switch to ceramic, glass, stainless-steel or wooden alternatives completely. And how about clothes? Unfortunately, many of our garments contain plastics, especially activewear. As we wash these synthetic materials, they release microplastics which end up in our waters. What we can do is: wash our clothes with a fibre catcher or in a washing bag to stop fibre pollution.
  14. Clean wisely – While our kitchens are the heart of our homes, they are also a hotspot for plastic waste and environmental harm. Instead of using disposable plastic scrubs and chemical-filled cleaners, let’s invest in sustainable cleaning tools made of natural materials like coconut husks. As for detergents, let’s choose plastic-free and chemical-free dish washing soap bars to keep our homes clean and protect the environment at the same time.
  15. Make a fashion statement – When you go shopping, always check the materials of the clothes you want to purchase, and try to avoid synthetic fabrics like nylon, rayon, acrylic and all types of polyester. Even when it comes to accessories and bags, consider their material before buying them. Also, instead of throwing your unwanted garments away, let’s give them to friends, charities or second-hand shops. And by the way, second-hand shopping is a great way to save the planet and save money too!
  16. Take care of your things – By taking good care of our things, whether it’s clothes, shoes or something else, we can prolong their life span. It’s that simple.
  17. Channel your inner minimalist – In a consumerist society, we learned to think that the more we have, the happier we are. But in reality, the more we have, the bigger the mess around us. We need to downsize and declutter our homes: single out the most essential items we truly need, and get rid of everything else. This way we will not only find it easier to keep our place tidy, but we will also appreciate everything we own more. And, eventually discover what the important things in our lives are – and they are usually not things anyway.
  18. If you want it, make it! – Let’s learn how to make our favourite products, and get around product packaging completely! We can learn from various DIY (do it yourself) experts how to make our own soaps, cleansers, cleaning liquids and many more household and beauty necessities. This way we produce less waste, save money, and take back control over what we put on our bodies.


What lifestyle change are you currently adapting to? Do you have another idea how to reduce plastic waste?

Let’s realize that we consumers have the power in our hands. When we stop buying plastics and choose other alternatives, corporations have no choice but to make eco-friendly products. And that is power.

Header image by mali maeder from Pexels
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About Tünde Tarnoczy

A big fan of TED Ideas Worth Spreading from a young age. She got invited as a Tedx speaker in Seoul, later joined the team as a TEDx blogger in Vienna. Skilled writer and language teacher, with a strong interest in design and beauty. Born in Vienna. 4 nationalities. 5 languages spoken. Find out more about Tünde through her articles.

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