One month. No (single-use) plastic. Can you do it?
Honestly, I’m a little nervous.
Mostly because I currently eat a lot of Quorn and most of it involves plastic packaging, so finding veggie alternatives is going to mean getting creative or upping my fish intake from my current reduced rate of twice per week. Let’s not forget that in order to take part in #PlasticFreeJuly you don’t have to give up plastic completely, you can simply make more of an effort to swap the biggies and go from there. The only reason I’m taking the mega plunge is because as some of you will have read in my previous posts, I’ve already been making lots of sustainable swaps over the past 7 or 8 months so this feels like the next natural step (or rather, quantum leap).
I’d like to address both sides of the coin in this post; firstly, the top 10 changes you can make if you’re a beginner on this journey (warning: these have been mentioned in previous posts) and secondly, the next changes I, myself, will be making. *Gulp*
Top 10 sustainable swaps to start you off:
- Bags for life
- Water bottle & coffee cup(s)
- Toothbrush & toothpaste
- Shampoo & shower products
- Washing up
- Cleaning products
1. Bags for life
First of all, use these over their single-use counterparts. Second of all, remember them!
We all do it, head into the shop just for ‘a couple of bits and bobs’ and either forget to take a big enough bag in with us or pack everything in nicely, get home, unpack and leave the bag for life in the house. We’ve all been there.
Next time, leave them somewhere you can’t forget like hanging on the front door or on the coat rack as you walk out. What I do is have several dotted all over the place; one or two in each handbag just in case and you’re sure to be covered 9 times out of 10. The ones that fold away nice and small are perfect for this (my favourite pictured above) and some can even be looped around or clipped onto the outside of a bag rather than shoved to the bottom of it.
Produce, bread, meat and fish are the simplest areas to reduce your single-use plastic consumption in when grocery shopping. In terms of supermarkets, look out for the ones with tongs and brown bags with plastic insert in the bakery section and simply take your own cotton or clean bag for loose bread instead. For supermarket loose produce, head to the larger stores as these tend to have a wider variety but be warned, they’re usually more expensive compared to markets and greengrocers. Most meat and fish counters nowadays will allow you to take your own lunchbox to them so where possible buy these things fresh rather than packaged.
Alternatively (and preferably, where possible), support local businesses instead and seek out farmers markets, butchers, fishmongers and bakeries who are often more likely to be on board. (I like to do this as a Saturday morning activity but appreciate that doesn’t work for everyone).
You must have heard enough about this in the news already but in case you weren’t aware, straws are one of the most common litter items found on beach cleans and incredibly harmful to marine life, often becoming lodged in the noses of turtles and the stomachs of penguins with potentially fatal consequences. Worse still, eventually they can break down into micro or nano-plastics which are absorbed and eaten by fish and sea life, poisoning the animals and/or making their way back to seafood eaters like myself.
Refuse straws altogether or purchase your own metal or bamboo ones, but remember to make the refusal clear when ordering a drink to avoid assumptions and slip-ups.
4. Water bottles and coffee cups
In my opinion these reusables are some of the easiest changes to make but the problem many people face is remembering to wash them up between uses, so do this during the day in your workplace if you can or I recommend having more than one and keeping them in different locations. One in the car, one in your bag and you’ll never be caught short. Just don’t forget to put them back once clean!
Although some plastic cutlery can be recycled and wooden ones composted, reduce comes before recycle and therefore it’s much better if you have your own in the first place. You can’t go wrong with a trusty spork in my opinion (mine pictured above) but there are also several cute sets you can get online which are perfect on-the-go size, available from many places such as Joseph Joseph or Surfers Against Sewage & Save Some Green.
6. Toothbrush and toothpaste
Toothbrushes are another of the most common litter items found on litter picks and it’s something that perhaps wouldn’t have crossed your mind before. Rather than throwing away old plastic ones, they can be kept for cleaning those hard-to-reach areas in bathrooms and kitchens but when buying new opt for a bamboo toothbrush which can be dissembled and composted afterwards – mine is from Save Some Green. If you really can’t go without, compromise with an electric brush with changeable heads (dispose of these responsibly in the bin not the toilet) which is at least a reduction in waste and can be used for years if cared for properly.
Toothpaste can be made yourself if you’re feeling creative or purchased online and in some zero waste shops in glass jars rather than plastic tubes. Finding the right one for you takes trial and error and does come at a premium price but every little helps and it should last longer.
7. Shampoo & shower products
There are now growing numbers of shampoo and conditioner bars available if you search online but I get mine from Lush, who also do ‘naked’ shower gels which are cruelty and plastic free as well as many, many of their bathroom and beauty products (all are cruelty free). This is another one I’ve actually found super easy because these do seem to last a lot longer than bottled products and they’re so much more convenient for travelling.
Loofas, natural sponges and even crochet pouches for soap (in place of shower gel) are all also available online from several sources such as Cardiff-based Tabitha Eve Co, who I’m a big fan of if you hadn’t guessed already. [The below image is taken from my ‘Less Plastic’ Instagram highlights]
8. Washing up:
Ecover are a great brand for being more eco-minded* as their bottles are made from already recycled plastic and can be recycled again, as well as having refill stations dotted about the country (the closest to Cardiff is in Penarth). Alternatively, zero waste shops like Natural Weigh often have washing up liquid as one of their products so take a large container (I use an old 4 pint milk bottle), fill your boots and decant into a pump or squeezy bottle as and when required.
The same goes as above in terms of refills but you can also use soap nuts or purchase an Ecoegg like myself which has refillable pellets and lasts for months in-between. It doesn’t leave as strong a scent on the laundry but if I need an extra cleaning boost I dissolve some bicarb of soda in some water, add 10 or so drops of lavender oil for scent and add that in as well which does the trick.
10. Cleaning products:
Ecover* also do a variety of household cleaning products but to be honest, bicarb of soda and white vinegar does a fantastic job on nearly everything. I made my own anti-bacterial spray for surfaces (pictured above) and there are so many sources online for DIY cleaning products, go ahead and get creative!
And there you have it, your 10 tips for starting out on a single-use plastic free journey! It doesn’t just have to be for July 🙂
*EDIT: I just discovered that Ecover and Method are now owned by SC Johnson who do not make any attempt to hide the fact that they do test on animals… Maybe don’t go for these after all.*
So, what are my next steps?
Throughout my ‘Saying Goodbye to Single-use plastic’ series I’ve worked through these initial 10, some of which take more time and effort than others but it’s all worthwhile in the end. The way I see it, implementing these plastic free alternatives is like joining the gym or starting a new regime; initially it feels like a lot of extra effort but with time you begin to see the benefits and it just becomes habit.
If you search around a bit there are a few alternatives to your regular toilet paper online but before committing to anything make sure it’s biodegradable. Otherwise, it should not be going down the toilet and will contribute to those grim but very real fatbergs we’ve seen on the telly. Anything that isn’t toilet roll or bodily excretions should not be flushed, regardless of whether it’s labelled ‘flushable’ or not. Just wanted to get that out there…
I’ve chosen to try out this Who Gives a Crap? toilet roll which is made from recycled paper, not virgin like most other loo rolls, wraps all its rolls in recyclable paper and also donate 50% of their profits to help build toilets for those in need with fab charities like WaterAid. How cool is that?!
There’s a variety of other products available on their website as well as information about deliveries and a detailed FAQ page, but the initial price sounds quite steep at £24 for 24 rolls or £36 for 48. You do, however, get discount for buying multiple boxes so some communities club together to do this and although many sustainable swaps are initially more expensive than their wasteful counterparts, they are usually designed to last longer and so provide much better value for money. Consider how long a box of 48 toilet rolls will last and how many trees are saved in the process – is it really that much? Divided up it actually works out cheaper than some of the leading brands and isn’t tested on animals in the process, which is what we like to hear.
I have some loose leaf tea at home but my work stash of teabags has run low for some time now. This weekend it’s one of my missions to get some plastic-free tea bags from Pukka Herbs or Aldi’s Specially Selected range to keep me going (brands stated in a previous post to be plastic free).
Avoid all single-use packaging when shopping
This is what will potentially be the most difficult because even though the majority of my groceries are loose produce, rice and pasta or tinned beans etc. there’s the odd thing that catches you out such as yoghurt, ice cream (I say odd, I buy it most weeks…), salad especially is pretty impossible in the UK. Where can one find a loose lettuce?! If you find one in Cardiff please let me know because I’ve been fancying getting creative with some summer salads but this has been a barrier.
The up side of these is that many of these you can make yourself – nut milk is apparently relatively easy to make although I’ve not tried it yet; I know of a few places in Cardiff I can get dairy milk in glass bottles and got my first one just this evening (from Nisa in Splott); in place of ice cream I could make my own ‘nice cream’ with frozen bananas or there are plenty of recipes online. Anyone lucky enough to have a garden or allotment could also grow their own salad and spinach. Sadly, I don’t fit the latter category so this is something I really look forward to in the (hopefully not-too-distant) future! Donations from existing local gardens or allotments welcome…
By this I mean that I’ve gone one step further than just using cruelty and single-use plastic free laundry powder, I’ve ordered a Guppyfriend washing bag and I cannot wait! (Pictured, source: their website). This awesome little contraption is made of specially designed micro-filter mesh that catches the fibres from your synthetic clothes which ordinarily get washed out in the effluent and cannot be separated at wastewater treatment works, inevitably ending up in the environment. You simply put synthetics in the Guppyfriend, wash as usual, then scoop out the fibres and dispose of them properly – much like cleaning the lint filter on a tumble dryer. It also serves as a frequent reminder to work towards more sustainable shopping habits, which can’t be a bad thing. Keep an eye on my Instagram for updates 😉
Crisps and chocolate
I am a snacker. I’ll be honest. I’ve found a recipe or two for DIY crisps online which I trust are relatively easy but are undoubtedly considerably more effort than shop-bought; for the sake of the experiment I’ll give them a go though because the way I’ve always seen it is that the environment is more important than I! Chocolate is a tricky one in itself and is likely to be one thing I can’t avoid if I’m totally honest, I’m addicted, but snack bars can be made at home relatively easily if you’ve got a bit of time and enough will power to make them last the week. Looks like I’ll be spending a lot more time in the kitchen!
I am conscious this post has gone on for a while so I’ll round it off here but I hope it’s been useful to all of you reading, whatever your current plastic situation! Any suggestions or questions please do get in touch, or if you do take some of my advice I’d love to hear from you!
There’s loads of info available on the Marine Conservation Society website as well as a nifty little book called ‘How To Live Plastic Free’ on its way to me in the post; I’ll be keeping my Instagram as up to date as possible too. Best of luck with your plastic free journeys! 🙂
Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,
Header image taken from the MCS plastic challenge webpage.