Plastic Free Summer + 13 Ways to Adapt Waste-Free Living

August 30, 2017

Last summer, after arriving fashionably late to the Plastic Free July challenge, we attempted to go plastic free for the month of August. I say "attempted" because, well, we dove in somewhat ill-prepared, and came out far from successful. When we started on our minimalist journey, we knew that we wanted to live a less wasteful life, but were unprepared for the shock of suddenly "giving up" plastic. I thought I'd walk away from the challenge feeling like an environmental super hero (like Greenzo from 30 Rock, minus the crazy), but I mostly felt like Hexxus or that I was personally responsible for the Great Pacific garbage patch (it's a real thing, guys) every time I bought a tube of toothpaste or was too lazy to cook dinner and bought a shrink-wrapped frozen vegan pizza instead.

We were so accustomed to the convenience of plastic and prepackaged and pre-prepared, so used to being able to grab food, cleaning products, clothing, at a moment's notice without planning ahead. And of course, there is nothing wrong with convenience (like indoor plumbing, 24-hour drug stores, or those super fancy blenders), and to be fair, plastic isn't all bad either - it's actually an incredibly versatile and useful material that plays many important roles. But this wasteful convenience is rapidly destroying the environment, and to help protect and preserve our planet, I knew we needed to change our attitude towards waste, and the way that we live. Maybe a small family of three wouldn't make a huge difference, but it was better than doing nothing.

Over the next nine months, we slowly made some changes, and decided that at the beginning of this summer we would go an entire three months without using plastic and avoiding other waste as well, with the hopes of continuing a similar lifestyle long term. We gave ourselves a grace period during a week and a half of holidays in July to restock on some toiletries, and to indulge in some pre-packaged tofu and vegan fast food. We made some sacrifices, as well as some exceptions to the rule, and learned a lot.

While we are still far from experts, I wanted to share some of what we learned for those interested in adopting a waste-free lifestyle. I've provided lots of links to resources, especially in the Toronto area, and some products found on that I've found useful for waste-free living - but, of course, only purchase new products if they can add value to your life.

13 Ways to Adopt Waste-Free Living
(aka What We Learned From Our Plastic Free Summer)

1. Be prepared to fail sometimes. This may seem sort of discouraging right off the bat, but as we quickly learned, it takes time to change habits to align with waste-free living. You don't have to do it all at once. It may be hard to reduce all plastics and waste from your life, depending on where you live and your lifestyle, or what you are willing to sacrifice. You could choose just one thing to give up and start from there - even small changes make a difference. We're still learning and failing all the time, and we're still not 100% plastic or waste free.

Kitchen + Grocery
This is easily the area in our home that produces the most waste because our food is what we buy the most of. A lot of food products are wrapped in single-use plastic, which as the name implies, is used once (to wrap your food) and thrown directly into the garbage afterward.

2. Skip the Plastic.

  • Use reusable snack bags like Stasher Bags.
  • Replace cling wrap with beeswax wraps.
  • Bring your own reusable produce bags like these organic cotton muslin ones, Or these mesh ones (while they are plastic, they're made from 100% recycled post-consumer plastic water bottles).
  • Pack on-the-go meals in lightweight stainless steel containers like this or this for wet foods.
  • Use stainless steel straws.
  • Bring your own reusable water bottle or coffee cup.
  • Use cloth bags or baskets for shopping.
  • Find out which take-out restaurants will let you bring your own containers (and skip the disposable wrapping around burgers).
  • Eliminate plastic garbage bags by putting dry waste directly into the garbage can, and wet food into compost (we've been looking into one of these indoor Bokashi composting systems).
  • Make your own dish soap with liquid castile soap.
  • Let kids use "real" dishes instead of plastic ones. We've used child-sized metal utensils, small mason jars or shot glasses, and regular ceramic dishes since our daughter started eating solids at 5 months - she has maybe broken three dishes since then (I've broken twice as many in that time, guys).

Reducing other disposable kitchen waste:
  • Replace paper towel with reusable cloths or rags.
  • Be fancy and use cloth napkins.
  • Wash dishes with reusable sponges or cloths.
  • Use ceramic non-stick baking trays (instead of parchment paper or cupcake liners).

3. Buy in Bulk. 

We were able to significantly reduce our kitchen waste by going to stores like Bulk Barn, or the bulk section at local grocery stores - we simply have to do some planning ahead of time to bring our own jars or cloth bags to store bulk food. We started saving larger jars from pickles, nut butter, salsa for storing bulk food. I find that now we also just buy what we need, and therefore waste less food.

In Canada, there is a small but growing number of Zero Waste markets opening up where you can buy a wide variety of package-free food, body, and home products loosely in bulk.

4. Eat Seasonally.

We're used to eating all kinds of produce year round, even when they're not in season or from our local area (country even). Often produce that is out of season or from other countries comes prepackaged, but we found that by mostly eating food that's local and in season we were able to reduce a lot of our food-related waste.
  • Go to a local farmer's market.
  • Visit local orchards and berry patches when in fruit and vegetables are in season.
  • Grow your own. Even though we live in an apartment building we've been growing lettuce and herbs on our window sills since late winter.
  • Shop at or join a coop.
  • Join a community garden (we found a local one to sign up for next year!).
  • Forage for your food. This year we've snacked on mulberries, black berries, apples, mushrooms, and wild garlic - all free, growing wild and local. **Remember to never eat something you find unless you're 100% sure what it is.

5. Make Your Own "From Scratch." We rarely eat out and usually make our own meals from raw ingredients, but going plastic-free (and mostly waste-free) meant there were some pre-prepared products we were accustomed to eating that were no longer available to us at the grocery store. To fill those gaps, we started to make our own almond milk, tortillas (with this press), vegan sour creamveggie ground, and the list goes on (next up is learning to make our own tofu, pasta, and vegan cheeses!). We even made our own beeswax food wraps to wrap leftovers in.

Bathroom + Cleaning

6. Eliminate waste.

7. Invest in Reusables.

Home + Clothes

8. Shop Secondhand. Buying items secondhand gives them a second life, recycles, and eliminates excess packaging waste that comes from buying items new. We've become pretty thrifty over the years trying our best to shop secondhand before buying new.
  • Go to your local thrift store or flea market.
  • Use websites like Kijiji or Craigslist to search for used items.
  • Host a Clothing Swap.
  • Use Trading Networks like Bunz.
  • Buy from and sell to gently-used clothing stores like Plato's ClosetOnce Upon A Child or Toronto's Little White Sneakers. You can even find secondhand designer clothing from thrift websites like Tradesy or Thredup
  • Shop a closet sale on Instagram. People often sell their gently used clothing there.
  • Visit the Habitat Home Restore for home furnishings, appliances, and renovation items.
  • Use Networks like Free Cycle.
  • Look up your local large item garbage collection dates, and possibly find some free furniture or home goods on the curb (and save it from the land fill).
9. Borrow over buying. There are some things that we can't justify buying for how rarely we would use them, or for the space they would take up in our two bedroom apartment. We also know that there is just... So. Much. Stuff. in the world. Imagine if every human had to have their own of every single thing? So instead we borrow from friends and family. When we travel we borrow coolers and ice packs from my parents, tools for home projects, electric fans in hot weather, and humidifiers in cold season. I swap clothing and child-related items back and forth between my sister-in-law and a close friend.

There are also resources like public libraries and toy libraries at local early years centres. In Toronto, there's a tool library and a Sharing Depot where you can borrow just about everything - from electronics to camping gear to furniture.

10. Quality over quantity. Global production of clothing has doubled in the last 20 years. According to the Council for Textile Recycling, in the U.S. alone, an average of 25 billion pounds of textiles is generated per year, approximately 85 lbs per person. Of that 85 lbs, 85% ends up in landfills - which results in 21 billion pounds of post-consumer textile waste per year. This shocking statistic reflects our attitude towards "things" in our society - we want more than we could ever need, and they're completely disposable.

I used to think that any time I walked away with a deal, I had spent my money wisely. Three shirts for $40, two dresses for $50, buy one get one free. I didn't really consider whether I needed that many new things, or about the quality of the item, just that I had "saved" money per item. Over the past two years, my mentality has changed drastically - I buy significantly fewer things, especially brand new things, but when I do I typically spend more per item. I research and think carefully about purchases before making them, especially when it comes to clothing, and slowly put money aside to invest in better pieces.

11. Repair or repurpose.

Instead of going out to buy new things, or throwing them into a donation bin (where they will likely end up in a landfill), we try to repair what we have to make it last or to repurpose them (there are some really great ideas here for upcycling clothing).

12. Go Paperless.
  • Send credit card statements and bills sent to your email.
  • Unsubscribe to newsletters, catalogs, etc.
  • Pay a service like to opt-out of receiving unwanted mailings for you, and eliminate junk mail from your mail box.
  • Send e-transfers instead of writing cheques.
  • Use your phone to make to-do lists or shopping lists.
  • Switch to compostable washi tape.
13. Recycle. Different cities and countries have different recycling systems - but you'd be surprised some of the materials that can be recycled. Certain items have to be dropped off at special locations.
  • Recycle plastic bags and batteries at most grocery stores.
  • Drop off light bulbs at most IKEA locations.
  • Websites like Recycle My Electronics will show you where you can drop off old electronics.
  • Programs like RecycleBank give you points and rewards for recycling.
How do you reduce waste in your lifestyle? Is being waste-free something that's important to you? I would love to hear your thoughts!

Note: I didn't get into waste-free/zero-waste living with pets, but there are some great tips here (for cats) and here (for dogs).

*This post is in partnership with the Amazon Associates Program. As part of this program, I receive compensation. However, as always, all thoughts, opinions, and run-on-sentences expressed here are my own.


  1. Also when foraging, make sure to harvest no more than 25% of what is there!

  2. Love all these practical tips, Robin! Not sure if I'll be making any major leaps, but I really admire what you've done for this challenge. Thanks for sharing your wisdom.

    1. Thanks for taking the time to read, Jane! Hope it gives you a few ideas. :)

  3. This is so comprehensive and gives many practical ideas. I'm already investing in the mesh produce bags for sure! Thanks for all the resources on homemaking things like soap and cleaning products!!! I love this post so much!!!! You are inspiring.

    1. So glad that you enjoyed it, Cam! Hope you enjoy the mesh bags!

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