What do you do with your plastic when you go zero waste?

What do you do with your plastic when you go zero waste?


But that’s not a super informative post, right? So let’s dig a little deeper.

In my kitchen alone, I have a plastic coffee maker, a few plastic tupperware pieces, plastic cooking utensils, and some ziploc bags in the fridge and freezer. What’s the more sustainable choice – to honor all the resources and energy needed to create that plastic, or to toss them and use even more resources to replace them unnecessarily?

People exploring a zero waste lifestyle should be using plastic. Let’s talk about why…

why you need to keep using plastic

Plastic is not inherently bad. It’s a miraculous piece of material that has given us flexibility in the way we package, create, and innovate. The real problem with plastic is our out-of-control consumption of it and how it’s been co-opted into an almost entirely single-use material.

And while it’s normal to have that frantic feeling of “I need to get rid of all my plastic NOW” when you first start your zero waste journey, it’s not the most sustainable impulse. That’s because the environmental effects of your plastic purchases are already a sunk cost, ie. a cost that’s already happened and can’t be recovered. Getting that plastic out of your house does nothing to improve the environment.

What do you do with all of your plastic when you go zero waste?

Need more convincing? Here’s a few more questions those of us practicing zero waste should ask ourselves when we feel the urge to purge:

Has the function of the item changed since you realized buying plastic items isn’t good for the environment?


Is it zero waste to waste resources by throwing away a still-working product?


How ethical is it really to give away an item that you think is bad for the environment?

Not only is it a matter of literally passing on trash to someone else, the chances of the plastic item being disposed of properly is much higher if you take care of it than if you pass it to someone else. Take ownership of your items and future trash.

By immediately getting rid of items you don’t want, you are just perpetuating bad habits. Instead, embrace what you have and honor your items.

Zero waste is not about creating a picture-perfect life; it’s about being as sustainable as possible. Sometimes that means holding onto previous not-so-good choices until we truly have the need to make a better, more sustainable choice.

Plus, remember: zero waste isn’t zero and if you think zero waste is just about a Mason jar of trash, you’re missing the most important stuff.

when can you throw away still-functional plastic items?

The only caveat to my super-short “never” answer is when it may be harmful to you. For example, I had a cheap plastic spatula from when we moved into our first apartment. At some point, it began melting when I used it. Into the trash it went – event though it was technically still functional – because I really don’t want plastic in my food.

When getting rid of old plastic items, make sure you’re disposing of them in the most sustainable way possible. Check out your local recycling program to see if they accept that type of plastic. Alternatively, search online for mail-in programs that will take your item.

What do you do with plastic when you go zero waste? - Polly Barks

ways to repurpose plastic

Make sure you get your use out of the plastics you do have before replacing them with zero waste alternatives. But even after their primary function has been served, plastic items can still be reused in different ways to be given more life until they ultimately head to the landfill.

Here are a few ideas on how to repurpose common plastic items:

Plastic bags
  • Use them as trash bags.
  • Store loaves of bread or vegetable scraps in the freezer.
  • If they’re sturdier, use them as shopping bags.
  • Keep using as storage for bulk food.
  • Use it as storage for any small miscellaneous items.
  • Turn cracked tupperware in mini-seed starters or plant pots.
Plastic shampoo or soap bottles
  • DIY your own soap and reuse the containers.
  • Cut off the bottom and use them as small planters.
  • Give them to your kids for bath activities.
Plastic toothbrushes
  • Keep one with your cleaning supplies to scrub hard-to-reach spots.
  • Use it as a scrubber for dirty vegetables.
Plastic razors
  • Dull razors can still remove pills from cashmere or wool sweaters.
  • Scrape hard-to-remove things like paint off tile.