How can I go plastic free without a zero waste shop?

As Plastic Free July begins for another year, the pandemic has undoubtedly changed our relationship with single-use plastic. Whether you’re new to this issue but have gained a new pandemic perspective or were already an eco-warrior but have had to undo a few changes due to restrictions or changes in shopping habits – consumption habits have definitely changed, as have the times.

This is our opportunity now to take back some control over our own god-damn lives, having relinquished so much over the past 18 months, particularly in the form of personal plastic consumption. Restrictions are easing and research has proven that there’s absolutely no reason why you can’t safely use your own coffee cup again or take your bags for life out shopping, so now is the time to bring in some sustainable swaps for good.

What if you live rurally though, or don’t have easy access to a zero waste/refill shop; what then? This can be a challenge but one that’s getting easier to overcome – so today I’m here to tell you how! (The keen-eyed among you will notice that there is plastic in the heading photo, however this has been reused and refilled so is no longer single-use – ta-da!)

There’s a plethora of resources out there and many I’ll certainly miss in this meagre post, but I’ll split it down into categories to give a little bit of direction and hopefully to act as a guide of sorts. It also goes without saying, of course, that the time and ability to do this sort of thing is a privilege in itself so please don’t be judgemental of others if they’re not on board – we can all try our best but there needs to be systemic change too to make the sustainable choice the easier choice. And thus we begin:

Online marketplaces

These are effectively your online markets which bring together a wide variety of eco-friendly products so you can get as much in one place as possible, saving time shopping around and saving a bit of money on delivery costs too.

My top recommendations are:

I’ve recommended several of these to friends & family and would say they’re a brilliant first port of call. Also, Etsy is absolutely brilliant for finding all sorts of sustainable swaps! And as small businesses have taken a bashing, prioritise them where you can. With that in mind, check out Tabitha Eve too as they have a lovely range of eco products and I first met them at my local market!

Here’s the online shop that started my single-use plastice free journey back in 2017 🙂

Localised options

Farmers markets are a great way to shop for loose fruit & veg, locally made products and reduce your carbon footprint from transport. Engaging with producers and vendors in this way also facilitates helpful conversation around things like asking for no plastic bag and explaining why you’re trying to go plastic free, as well as gently suggesting ways in which they can participate by opting for cardboard punnets rather than plastic ones, for example.

Sadly, this again can be a bit of a luxury so other alternatives include searching for a local veg delivery box, finding out if any farms near you do deliveries such as milk, eggs etc. or have milk refill stations which have surged in recent popularity, (here’s a handy map) or using social media to your best advantage. By this I mean, using Facebook community groups to ask for advice and recommendations on any of the previous as well as keeping a keen eye out for anyone selling homegrown veg or homemade plastic free products locally. You can often pick up small fruit or veg plants to have a go at growing yourself around this time of year for a few simple pounds; last year I got three different types of mint for £2 each!

Delivery options

This brings me to by far the biggest and most widely available option, which is specialised delivery services. Fruit & veg boxes surged in popularity during first lockdown for good reason – we’ve had an Abel & Cole weekly box since 2017, initially because we were living with family for a short while in an area where it was harder to find loose options, and have kept it since due to convenience. I still get top up bits when we need them, but having the bulk of our produce come from organic and responsible sources for a reasonable price is a weight off my mind and was a lifeline last year.

Other well reputed sustainable produce deliveries are Oddbox who specialise in reducing food waste from wonky veg, or Riverford who work hard in the sustainable food sector far beyond their primary service. As mentioned, in many places there are local options as well but if you live further out or, like me, fancied the convenience of swapping specific veg in and out a few days before due to preference (not currently available thanks to Covid) then these are well worth considering. Some you can add in other groceries too such as washing up liquid or tea bags if you’re running short – I can’t rave about them enough!

An example of one of our A&C veg boxes

Moving away from veg, you can also get refill/zero waste deliveries of all sorts of things such as household cleaners, dried goods and even sweet treats.

For cleaning, look into:

For dried goods, look into:

There will be others, too; they’re growing all the time and it’s never been easier to get quality, plastic free groceries without even leaving the house!

Supermarkets / high street

Okay so this wouldn’t typically be the first place you’d imagine finding sustainable swaps, but thanks to consumer demand shampoo bars, shower bars and all sorts of reduced plastic options are coming to supermarkets near you. Whilst we still love supporting small businesses, having these options is great for those with busy lifestyles or large families who need to be able to get everything they need in one place.

Ocean Saver drops, for example, are now available in Tesco (small biz option: Life Before Plastik – see below my reel on how they work! [AD – gifted product]).

Also in Tesco are TOTM products, a small Cardiff-based company making menstrual cups and organic cotton period products – they also offer a monthly subscription box you can get delivered home if you go direct to their website. (There are quite a few period brands who do this now, if you’re interested, but I have their menstrual cup and it’s honestly one of – if not THE best – swaps I’ve ever made. Here’s my plastic free periods blog for more info.)

You now often find a wider variety of loose fruit & veg too – although this does vary store by store and depending on the retailer, larger stores tend to be better. Some supermarkets have even been trialling refill aisles! So, next time you’re supermarket shopping, have a look around to see if you can spot any shampoo bars, shower bars (or y’know, normal soap), bamboo toothbrushes or refillable products. You might be surprised with what you find! Below are a few photos of low waste shops I’ve managed in supermarkets.

For the high street dwellers: I’ve tried out and can really recommend the Boots zero waste toiletry kit which came out just before Christmas, composed of 4 different bars (shampoo, body wash, body scrub and hand soap) at a bargain £10. The shampoo bar foams nicely unless some of the options out there and it’s one of those things you kind of have to experiment with until you find one that works for you. This sort of kit is especially convenient for trips away, popping in your gym bag or donating to your local foodbank.

And finally, clothing

You didn’t think I was going to miss out fashion, did you? Those of you who follow me online will know this has been a huge thing for me over the past few years, I knew very little about sustainable fashion before and now it’s one of the things I talk to people about the most. Without going into all the gory details (check out my INSPIRE magazine article for more background), the most sustainable clothes are the ones you already own. The second best options, for those of us that love that buzz of getting new things, is shopping second hand.

This can be:

  • swapping with friends/family;
  • charity shop shopping; or failing that:
  • resale platforms – Depop, Vinted, eBay, FB marketplace.

Depop and Vinted are the most popular ones and a brilliant place to start, especially if you’re looking for something in particular rather than sifting through every rail of a charity shop. Quite a few charity shops have moved online since Covid too, so once you get set up have a look on Depop for any charity shop accounts and follow them for a win-win sustainable shopping experience.

Ebay is also a great way to get second hand clothing, often brand new with tags (“BNWT” in case you see this and wonder what it means, as I did for a while) but keep a keen eye out as there’s a lot of brand new stuff on there too which can easily catch you out. You can also set up search alerts on eBay if there’s a particular thing you’re after, so you get notified as soon as someone lists something matching that description – this is what helped me finally find the Lucy & Yak mustard coat of my dreams last Autumn!

Facebook Marketplace gets another shout-out for this category, I’ve had quite a few bargains on there locally and often they’re cheap to begin with or can be bartered down a little if you offer to collect. (Marketplace is just great for basically anything, in my opinion.)

And finally, ReFashion and Vestiaire Collective are good second hand sites to have in your arsenal. The first is essentially an online charity shop, with a mixture of personally donated and end of season items (you can send in your own donations if your local charity shops aren’t taking) and the option to select a charity of your choice to benefit. The latter is a collection of pre-loved designer goods if that’s your vibe, so a more expensive (luxury) option but still cheaper than their original market value.

There’s also the option to rent clothing for special occasions (can’t believe I almost forgot this!) – see sites like:

This is the ideal scenario if you’ve started to get invited to events again and either want something new without spending a fortune, or have nothing to wear thanks to lockdown. I haven’t done it yet but am thinking of doing so for next year’s multiple weddings!

So, that’s it. As concise as I can muster, that’s my guide to shopping more sustainably and reducing your plastic consumption, all from the comfort of your normal routine. If you have any other recommendations please leave them in the comments for others to see! Best of luck out there 🙂

Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,
Charles xx

*Disclaimer: AD – I was gifted some products from Life Before Plastik for this post, however views are my own.

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