We talked with two people from the popular website Less Plastic Life to get hints about how to use less plastic.

  • Ryota NakajimaBiological oceanographer
  • Yoko KogaHomemaker advocating for the
    “Less Plastic” lifestyle

What is “Less Plastic Life”?

A website that compiles practical tips and tricks for cutting plastic from your daily life. Launched by Nakajima and Koga in 2017, the site posts new content once or twice a month.

We talked with two people from the popular website Less Plastic Life to get hints about how to use less plastic.

It's easy to enjoy a "Less Plastic Life".

What prompted you to start “Less Plastic Life”?

KogaUntil 2017, plastic problems weren’t even on my radar. I’d use plastic bags like it was nothing. But once Nakajima taught me all about plastic pollution, I started making changes to do my part by reducing my own plastic consumption. It turned out to be a lot of fun. I was hooked!
NakajimaThe most effective solution of all is to use less disposable plastic. We started “Less Plastic Life” to share practical tips on what average folks can do on a daily basis.

“Less Plastic Life” makes reducing waste sound fun. How is that possible?

KogaMoving away from plastic items means more wood, glass and stainless steel in your life. This naturally increases the aesthetics of the things that you use every day. Seeing them, touching them, brings joy. It lifts your spirits. Also, it’s fun to find yourself new items. Changing your lifestyle changes your mood.
NakajimaYou don’t need to cut out plastic entirely. It’s best to start off thinking of it like a game. If you sit your kids down with all the plastic trash you generate in a week and say, “How can we make this less?” they’ll see the fun of it and want to help.

Can “Less Plastic Life” translate into savings?

KogaExcept for emergency rations, we stay away from beverages in plastic bottles. We often make our own detergent from citric acid and baking soda. Liquid soaps and body washes can be replaced by soaps in bar form. Mesh bags used for draining compost can be swapped with disposable containers made from newsprint. Each of these solutions saves you money, so collectively they help reduce expenses.

Lots of people have started to carry their own bags to the grocery store. What other similar things could we start taking with us?

KogaIf you bring your own plastic containers when you go out to eat, you’ll never need a takeout box. We always pack our own straws and forks. Since the real issue with plastic bags is throwing them away after one use, you can pack a plastic bag and use it several times.

What should people look for in a water bottle?

NakajimaThe most important thing is a simple construction that allows for easy cleaning. No unnecessary features.
KogaIt’s fun to look at all the different options and find the one that’s right for you.

What should people look for in a water bottle?

Are glass bottles better for the environment?

NakajimaThat is an important question. If you throw away a glass bottle after a single use, just like plastic, glass is an environmental burden. Since it’s so heavy, it costs a lot to transport, and melting it down to recycle it takes lots of fuel. Plus, broken glass can be a hazard. But if it isn’t made to be thrown away, glass can be used almost indefinitely, which means a much lower environmental impact in the long run.
KogaSingle use products are really the main problem.
NakajimaIt’s also crucial to tighten up recycling programs so that plastic doesn’t wind up in the ocean. It’s not plastic that’s to blame, but the way we use it.

What about biodegradable plastics? Don’t they decompose?

NakajimaThe biodegradable plastics made from corn starch that we see in clear egg cartons and the like contain something called “polylactides.” Unfortunately, polylactides don’t decompose so easily. They require a temperature of approximately 60°C to begin to biodegrade. Ocean temperatures are far too low for them to break down. The fact that they’re derived from plants means less reliance on petroleum, but biodegradable plastics can’t solve everything.
KogaSome plastic bags are only 25% polylactides, but if you throw them out, it’s the same old problem.
NakajimaPolylactides don’t use petroleum and can be recycled, so with the right recycling system in place, they’re a good material. Development is underway for plastics that will break down in the cooler temperatures of the ocean, which is something to look forward to. We can’t get by without plastics of any kind. Disposability is a requirement for the syringes used at medical facilities for administering drugs and vaccines.
KogaSame goes for IV drips.
NakajimaDisposable products help to ensure sanitary conditions. We might even say our life expectancy has gotten longer thanks to plastic.

What about biodegradable plastics? Don’t they decompose?

Once you start making these adjustments, how much “less plastic” will you use?

KogaAt home, between the two of us and our child, we only use one kilogram or so of plastic per month. That’s about one-third of the average plastic used by a Japanese household. It just requires a little attention.
NakajimaThe biggest dent you can make is cutting back on plastic bottles. They’re heavier than you might think, so cutting them out makes a huge difference.

What can people do today to move towards a “Less Plastic” lifestyle?

KogaThe simplest and best thing you can do is start using bar soap. Switching from body wash and liquid soaps to bars not only reduces plastic waste dramatically, it saves you money. Plastic trash bags cost a lot of money, too, and become trash in their own right, but you can make your own from newspaper. Plastic clothespins and hangers become surprisingly brittle through exposure to UV rays. Investing in stainless steel alternatives will reduce your plastic consumption over time.
NakajimaThe kitchen sponge you use to wash your dishes every day can be replaced with a tawashi scrubber made from hemp palm. It’s an easy switch, no inconvenience whatsoever.
KogaIt’s a win-win situation. I’d even say it’s a more pleasant experience.

Has the pandemic resulted in more plastic waste?

KogaIt sure has. Look at how foods have been individually wrapped, to stop the spread. More takeout means more trash from the containers. What you can do is carry your own bento box or reusable containers, while cutting back on disposables.
NakajimaSince the pandemic brought about an economic downturn, there was a slight decline in plastic production overall, but also a huge increase in disposable items like masks and gloves. Since plastics can save lives, this is one of those times when we must weigh the pros and cons.

Ryota Nakajima

Ryota Nakajima

Biological oceanographer. Receiving his doctorate in 2009, Nakajima worked as a researcher at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography before taking his current research position at an oceanographic institution in Japan. His research focuses on marine plastic pollution, specifically trash that sinks to the ocean floor. His writings include Dr. “Less Plastic” Talks About Marine Plastic Pollution (Iwanami Shoten).

Yoko Koga

Yoko Koga

Homemaker advocating for the “Less Plastic” lifestyle. With ten years of experience in the tech sector at an electronics company, Koga went freelance after becoming a mother. Learning about marine plastic pollution motivated Koga to research plastic-free items and lifestyle alternatives.