Saying goodbye to single-use plastic, part 6: Plastic Free Periods

You may have seen me mention cloth sanitary pads/liners in a previous blog post, which I made the very comfortable transition to a while ago and have since expanded my collection. But how about menstrual cups?

Firstly, what is a menstrual cup?

There are several different types/brands, likely the one you’ve heard most about is Mooncup® but I have no idea if they were the first?! Essentially, menstrual cups are made from medical grade silicone and are designed to capture your flow during that dreaded week of the month, as a tampon would, except it sits lower down and is zero waste/low impact.

They’re very hygienic if cared for correctly (they need to be boiled to disinfect, but we’ll come back to that later) and being completely reusable, they are much more eco-friendly than ‘normal’ sanitary products which the average woman will use more than 11,000 of during her lifespan, amounting to a serious amount of waste – not to mention financial cost! Shocking, right?! Think about just how full your bathroom bin has gotten in the past… grim.

I must admit, when I first heard of them during my uni days, I thought it sounded gross too. Boiling a menstrual cup?! In the kitchen?! Obviously, you do this in a pan solely designated to your cup but the idea just did not appeal to me. Here I’ll try to outline the potential reasons against, for, and where you can find them. Any questions not answered below, please do leave a comment or message me directly!

Reasons why you may not like it

  • Habit
  • *Convenience* (I put this in asterisk because I hope to prove to you that it is, in fact, quite convenient after all)
  • Initial cost
  • Sounds gross
  • Never heard of it before…

Habit is a funny thing to break and convenience has driven us to the wasteful world we find ourselves in now; however, these things can be altered. What may initially seem inconvenient eventually just becomes normality. So, what changed my mind?

Reasons why you may LOVE it

  • Super easy to use
  • Very convenient
  • Much more cost effective over time
  • Kind to the planet
  • Easy to clean
  • No rushing to the shops to stock up on tampons when you feel the pain coming…

When I decided to take the plunge I still wasn’t totally sure if I’d like it or not. What if it hurt? What if I didn’t do it right and it leaked? Would it be messy? But since using it I can honestly say I’ll never go back, it’s one of my favourite sustainable swaps I’ve made so far! I love it! I’ll answer all these questions in the practicalities section…

Which cup did I choose and why?

TOTM, a Cardiff-based company, because these guys are recommended by one of my favourite Instagram ‘influencers’ Oenone (@uhnonee) and because I decided it was time to add periods to my single-use-plastic-free tick list. Plus, it’s pink. And local. What’s not to love? (Side note: If you haven’t listened to her Adulting podcast yet, I really recommend giving it a try. I’ve probably mentioned it before but it has opened my eyes to so many really important issues.)

My TOTM cup arrived super quickly, maybe even next day delivery, and their customer service on Instagram is fantastic; they’re very helpful, friendly and always seem genuinely happy to answer any questions you may have. I really recommend them myself, I don’t have a referral code I just love my cup and can’t fault their service! Plus, their size 2 cup is now available in Tesco stores! As well as a lot of their organic sanitary range.

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Screenshot from my Less Plastic insta-story

So, what about the practicalities…

Is it safe? Yes. Medical grade silicone, as long as you clean it properly in between periods (boil in a pan, dedicated to this purpose alone, for 4-5 mins) is completely safe. Also very important: don’t tug on the bottom when removing, the seal has to be broken for the cup to come out properly and safely so to do this you have to squeeze the bottom first – more on this later*.

How often do you have to clean it? Rinse it every time you change/empty it during your period, then once finished boil it as stated above and it’ll be sterilised ready for next time. They come with a handy little drawstring bag to keep them safe and clean too ☺

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Bubbling away peacefully in its special pot 🙂

How long do you keep it in for? General recommendation is max 8-10 hours as far as I’m aware and I’ve had absolutely no worries with leaving it in this long, however it does depend on your flow as well. For the first few days you may want to check it more regularly to get used to taking it out and putting back in, but also so you get to know your own flow a bit better; more often than not it’s nowhere near as much blood as you think. Honest!

Once you’ve gotten used to this then you’ll feel a lot more comfortable leaving it in for the full working day and not worrying about leakage or discomfort. And generally that’s what I do; put it in/clean it when I first get up and then again when I get home from work. So far I’ve had no issues with this but as I said, it does depend on flow; mine is pretty light after the first two days and I think that’s also due to the combined pill I take as contraception (risk of too much info there but I thought it might be relevant to some of you to know).

How about overnight? Yep, no problems there either in my experience. You have to consider that some people only sleep a few hours a night (how they live I do not know) but even if you’re a seriously heavy sleeper like myself, don’t worry, you’re covered. The seal makes sure of this. I always used to find that when I slept with a pad during the night it was generally lighter than during the day anyway so assumed it was to do with being horizontal but I have no scientific justification for this, just an observation.

How easy is it to put in and take out? It does take some getting used to and I think it also depends on how comfortable with yourself you are down there. In my opinion, the more comfortable you can bear to get with that area the better, so as to avoid feeling unnecessarily awkward in situations where exposure is required, such as during a wax, smear or medical exam. It drives me nuts that so many people are afraid of getting a smear test for this very reason – please remember that these are professionals. They don’t care what you look like down there so neither should you. I digress.

There are several different types of fold you can do to insert the cup effectively (here’s a useful YouTube video) and different folds will be more suited to different people/shapes & sizes. You also need to make sure you’re relaxed down there otherwise it’s not going to be comfortable. Some people do find them uncomfortable to insert and wear and if this is the case for you I would recommend seeking professional advice just to be sure; remember that babies are meant to come out of there ladies… there should be plenty of room if you can relax. If need be, it’s generally recommended to get graceful and cock a leg up on the bath or assume a squat position to ensure easy insertion (those last two words sound gross, I know). The cup should sit comfortably just inside, so that the chord is right at the edge but not protruding, you just need to be able to access it easily for removal. Do not go putting it up as far as a tampon.

Screenshot 2018-11-19 at 5.31.51 PMIn terms of removing* and cleaning it you need to make sure to break the seal before bringing the cup out, otherwise you’ll risk serious discomfort and possibly even some injury in severe cases. Simply squeeze the base of the actual cup, above the cord at the end, and it kind of folds back a little as you remove (you may even hear a gross noise as the suction breaks). Do this over the toilet or in the shower to avoid extra mess, rinse in the nearest sink/in the shower if at home, then reinsert and crack on. In a public toilet be sure to take a water bottle into the cubicle and rinse in the loo, or worst case scenario wipe down with loo roll and rinse when you get home. It’s worth nothing that you should wash your hands before and after you empty your cup to make sure everything stays clean.

You can also practise putting it in and taking back out again a few days before your period actually begins just to get used to it – there’s no rule that says you have to be on your period!

Does it hurt? No, most people I’ve spoken to agree with me that you can’t really feel it to be honest because it sits lower than a tampon, quite close to the edge (close enough so that you can feel the cord to remove it). You may feel it at first but it’s very quickly forgotten about!

Can you exercise with them in? Yes, they’re perfectly safe to exercise in due to the seal it creates which prevents leakage and means it’ll work in all positions! Just rinse and clean it as normal and crack on!

How do I know which cup size is right for me? This varies depending on the brand, some have more options and some less, but TOTM’s guidance is that if you’re below 18 years old and do not have sex regularly then go for size 1. Size 2 if you’re under 25 and/or haven’t given birth vaginally. If you’re over 25 or have given birth naturally opt for the size 3, although I recently had a friend ask me about this as she wasn’t sure which category she fit in and when referred to the TOTM online team she told me they were a great help, so don’t be afraid to ask them for specific advice.

Where can I buy a menstrual cup?

As previously mentioned, TOTM now have availability in some Tesco stores, whereas Mooncups can be purchased from my friends at Natural Weigh. Also, Ripple once open on Albany Road will be stocking Hey Girls! cups, where one is donated for every purchase to help end period poverty, as well as reusable pads. Some brands are even available at Superdrug stores. There are all manner of different ones to choose from and this post isn’t sponsored by TOTM, it’s just that this is the brand I went for and am very happy with.

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Source: TOTM Organic

So, how do you feel about them now? Convinced to give it a go yet?

If there are any questions I haven’t answered here, please do leave them in a comment or send me a direct message and I’d be happy to help or point you in the right direction. There’s also a good amount of advice online (I was inspired by my friend Hannah’s blog post on her site The Feral Lady) and in plastic-free/eco forums on Facebook etc. One I use regularly for tips and advice is Zanna Van Dijk‘s ‘Living Consciously Crew’.

Here’s to more plastic-free periods! I honestly wouldn’t be without my TOTM cup now.

Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx

 

*Acknowledgement: some of the images used are from TOTM’s website because I’m not really artsy enough! 

A little life update…

Hey folks, it’s been a while.

I would normally apologise and make excuses, but I’m trying to stop apologising when I don’t need to be sorry. I’ve always been the kind of person that leads a generally busy life and constantly juggles hobbies or priorities, but I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing. Some things slide for a while to make way for others, that’s just life.

So, what has been going on?

I have no idea whether anyone’s really interested in these ‘life update’ posts but when it’s someone I follow and read their posts regularly I know I like to be a little nosy so I figured ‘what’s the harm?!’. If it doesn’t interest you, you don’t have to read. More than anything I’ve been thinking it might be good to get my blog-related thoughts down on paper to hold myself accountable too.

Firstly, you probably already know from a few tweets and Instagram stories that my OH and I are buying a house which is all very exciting, but moving is something I find to be very stressful. I’m a control freak so have trouble just letting things happen, I prefer to make them happen myself. Buying the house in fact isn’t even the start of where my posting has gone awry; we were uncomfortable in the flat we were living in and decided to negotiate with our agents to leave our contract early, which in itself took time and then there was the whole closing everything down, moving everything out, getting our deposit back debacle to deal with. And now we’re living with my in-laws whilst the house is going through. Fair play to them, it’s so good of them to take us in in this interim period and we’re getting along really well but as it’s transitional, I still kind of feel like I’m moving. When you put it all together I think I’ve been ‘moving’ since July. But like I said, I really can’t (and don’t mean to) complain because I honestly don’t know how we’d have coped without having the support from our parents. Plus, we now have chickens at my in-laws which is great fun!

The knock-on impact from this is that I’ve been trying really hard to manage my money better lately (difficult for me at the best of times) and eating out a bit less than I used to, on top of the fact that I’m not actually living in Cardiff right now. Me three years ago would never have believed how much I miss our little city life at the moment; I grew up in a very rural village and then went to uni in the bubbliest uni bubble you’ve ever seen (Aberystwyth, woop woop!) so I remember being very intimidated by the ‘big city’ when I moved here. Cardiff, of course, isn’t big at all in the grand scheme of things but it certainly is for me!

In terms of blogging, I have a handful of half-written posts that I now feel are too far gone to finish. For this I do apologise, whole-heartedly, and intend to make up for in quality going forward if at least not in quantity. I’d also intended to come back with a food post having written so much about my single-use plastic journey recently but at the moment plastic is coming more naturally to me and to be honest, I haven’t been all that adventurous food-wise either (besides the Chai Street vegan menu the other week which was seriously good stuff). So heads up that the next post is probably another about plastic, but hopefully one that a few of you may be particularly interested in, we’ll have to wait and see. I have a few food posts in mind and a particular idea I need a little more work on, so will be trying my best to get back into some sort of swing from now on.

There you have it. Nothing ground-breaking and certainly a far cry from some of my best work but I felt the need to get something out there to explain why I’ve been so absent and hope that you’ll continue to bear with me while I sort my life out (although it’s about to be another very busy year both in and outside of work). Most importantly, the passion is still there. Also importantly, Ripple Living announced last night that it’s going to be on Albany Road, just a short walk away from our new house. I couldn’t be more excited!

I’ll be back very soon,

Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx

10 ways to kick-start your Plastic Free July (and the next steps I’m taking in mine)

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:

  1. Bags for life
  2. Groceries
  3. Straws
  4. Water bottle & coffee cup(s)
  5. Cutlery
  6. Toothbrush & toothpaste
  7. Shampoo & shower products
  8. Washing up
  9. Laundry
  10. 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.

2. Groceries

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).

3. Straws

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.

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My straws in Nest 23, Cardiff

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!

5. Cutlery

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]

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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.

9. Laundry:

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.

Loo roll

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…

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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.

Tea bags

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…

Laundry, continued…

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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!

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My first glass milk bottle in Cardiff

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,

Charles xx

Header image taken from the MCS plastic challenge webpage.

Saying goodbye to single use plastic: part 5

It’s been a while since I’ve posted about plastic as I’ve been waiting to accumulate some more ‘sustainable swaps’ to write about. The truth is many of the previously discussed initial lifestyle changes one can make, such as seeking out loose fruit & veg, always carrying a reusable coffee cup, bags for life and straws, swapping to a bamboo toothbrush and even reusing old spray bottles to make homemade cleaners rather than buying new, have all pretty much become habit for me now. Whilst it’s become a bit of a light-hearted joke around the office, that doesn’t change the fact that more people need to be making these alterations to continue to encourage wider change – which so far, thankfully, seems to be working as my friends and family begin to make their own small changes! The more the merrier though as the saying goes.

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A reminder to always pack your eco essentials 🙂

If you’re unsure where to start or simply ‘haven’t gotten around to it yet’, head back to my first post of the series for some inspiration and dare yourself to read many of the current news articles about why reducing single-use plastic is so important. Yes, we’re never going to see huge changes overnight but the planet was here before us and will be here long after us and, in my view, is far more important than our lives will ever be. It is our home at the end of the day.

“It’s pretty amazing that our society has reached a point where the effort necessary to extract oil from the ground, ship it to a refinery, turn it into plastic, shape it appropriately, truck it to a store, buy it and bring it home is considered to be less effort than what it takes to just wash the spoon when you’re done with it.”

Source: IEMA

I still have plenty left to change; try as I might, I still can’t buy unpackaged like Quorn, yoghurt or milk. I’ve looked into using a milkman but I don’t think will work for us at the moment as we don’t have a porch or tucked away doorstep, so that’s one for next time. Fortunately, a large proportion of plastic milk cartons in the UK are made from already recycled plastic so don’t beat yourself up too much if you’re in this same situation or haven’t yet made the milkman switch. Some things have changed since my last post though, so what’s new?

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Plastic-free shopping

This isn’t as easy as I’m sure many of us would like and the truth is that we do need to, as consumers, use our purchasing power and vote with our wallets where we can to show companies that we care about this stuff. I do realise though that this isn’t possible for everyone and that buying loose, free-range, high welfare and organic isn’t perhaps a luxury everyone can afford, so do work within your means. These are the ways I’ve been trying to make my shopping as plastic-free as practically possible:

  • Loose fruit & veg – I’ve touched on this before but if you can seek out a greengrocers or farmers market it honestly isn’t as ridiculously pricey as the supermarkets make it
  • Tins – beans, chickpeas, sweetcorn etc; tins can be washed out and put in the recycling bin
  • Milk – as mentioned, most plastic milk bottles are made from recycled plastic already and can be recycled again, but there are glass options growing in popularity now
  • Yoghurt – I tend to buy large pots of Skyr/natural yoghurt and keep them to use for other things or refill at zero waste shops like Natural Weigh or the soon-to-come Ripple in Cardiff
  • Meat/fish – ask your fishmonger/butcher if you can use your own container, Asda, Cardiff Market and now Morrisons do this and I’ve had success with Sainsbury’s once but am unsure if this is a company-wide thing
  • Seek out zero waste shopping opportunities – e.g. Lidl; you can buy nuts loose and bread if you want to, just let the shop know that you’re using your own containers

Hygiene products; panty liners

I was about to write *WARNING: taboo content* and apologise to any male readers but

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then thought better of it. Periods should not be taboo and it’s absolutely ridiculous that one feels the need to introduce a warning before discussing something so common to half of the population. ‘uhnonee‘ previously The Tiny Tank has a brilliant talk about this on her podcast ‘Adulting’, which I absolutely love and strongly recommend, and this article from The Guardian is also highly relevant.

As long as I can remember I have worn a pant liner every single day, sometimes changing it to a second new one throughout the day and it became obvious to me that this was something I was over-looking in my plastic and waste reduction journey.
What were the alternatives? First of all, don’t wear one at all. Whilst this may seem the most obvious option, I find it uncomfortable and habit is a funny thing. So whilst searching online as I often do to read up on other zero wasters’ journeys and recommendations, I came across washable cloth panty liners as a thing and was intrigued.

These tend to be handmade from natural fabrics, mostly cotton but sometimes also bamboo, made to the shape and size of regular pant liners you can buy in the shops. Manufactured liners have a sticky side to attach it to your underwear which is plastic-based in addition to the plastic fibres infusing the pad itself. Cloth liners have wings with little poppers on instead which are visible when undressed but help keep it tucked into the pants, though you may need to put it back into position every time you go to the loo as they can slide around a bit.

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How do you wash them? Are they sanitary? The simple answer is that you can rinse them in warm water or give a little scrub pre-wash if you like, but otherwise they just go in with your normal washing on 30 degrees and bob’s your uncle. I honestly love mine; in the weeks awaiting their delivery (they were made to order from Etsy) I made sure to try and use up every last shop-bought liner I could find lying around in handbags, pockets, make-up bags etc. and they arrived in the nick of time. I actually wouldn’t go back now! As with many other eco-friendly alternatives (cloth nappies, period pants, menstrual cups etc.) the cost is higher than your regular shop-bought, but over time it’ll cost you and the environment a lot less.

Mine are made from brushed cotton and are so comfortable and natural to wear that I’ve asked my mother to have a crack at making me some more to add to my current 6, which I wash and rotate religiously as obviously it’s not a whole week’s worth. I really would recommend making this switch if liners are something you use a lot, or even just to have handy at that all important time of the month. You can find a variety of sizes online (I reckon 6″ is about the same size as ‘regular’) as well as many tailored to actual period/sanitary pad purposes, though the thought can seem a little daunting. Just something to think about – it’s an insane amount of waste when you add it up!

I’ve also invested in a menstrual cup from Cardiff-based TOTM, but am yet to use it so will share my thoughts another time.

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Natural deodorant

This is one that’s taken some trial and error, as does toothpaste but I’ll come back to that later. Lush do several different types of natural deodorant, including both a bar you buy in a block and this funky-looking powder that a friend of mine says is miracle stuff. I recently tested out the bar for size and had high hopes, but I have to be honest I couldn’t stick it out for more than a few weeks.

The first thing when it comes to natural deodorant – you have to accept that you will sweat. It’s not anti-perspirant; sweat is inevitable. Once you’re over this you can crack on trying out what works for you. I started using the deodorant bar from Lush a week or so before my holiday in April in order to get the hang of it, then continued to use it for some of the holiday. The problem I faced with it was BO I wasn’t accustomed to, nor did I particularly want to get accustomed to. Like I said, you will still sweat, but it was the residual odour of that sweat that didn’t work for me. This is a very individual thing so that’s not to say it wouldn’t work for others, everyone is different.

The one pictured that I’m currently using I bought on my last visit to Natural Weigh and I have to say, this one I’ve loved and intend to buy again. It acts like a roll on where you have to push up from the bottom to bring the deodorant to the top, rather like twisting a lipstick, then simply apply to the necessary area, let it dry and off you go. It’s from Kutis, the lavender and bergamot flavour, and I think that’s what makes the difference for me – essential oils are a wonderful thing and fantastic for a whole host of plastic-free alternatives. Plus, they smell good!

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Two of my plastic-free lunchboxes – cute and not too pricey!

Lunch boxes

You may have seen on my Instagram a while back that I got really excited about finding some plastic-free lunchboxes in TK Maxx. Whilst it’s totally okay to have plastic lunchboxes because they aren’t single-use and you can keep old yoghurt or ice cream tubs etc., it’s particularly nice to find other alternatives out there that aren’t as fragile as glass can be. I’ve so far bought two bamboo lunch boxes, a set of three bamboo boxes with clip lids (for fridge/cupboard storage) and a lunchbox made from rice husks. Absolutely no complaints, they’re fab. Just be careful because many aren’t water-tight.

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Toothpaste

As I said, this is another tricky one. I first tried a small pot of Truthpaste, peppermint and wintergreen flavour, and whilst to begin with I found it gross (the boyfriend couldn’t stand it) I got used to it after a while and it wasn’t so bad. It’s not the minty fresh feeling nor the frothing up you get in a regular toothpaste, but it’s not tested on animals either so it depends on your priorities. Once this ran out I dived in for a bigger pot from Natural Weigh which is Georganics, peppermint flavour, and this has sat on the side pretty much ever since. If I thought the first one was bad, this one actually tastes like a foot. So I’m yet to find one I love but perhaps will get another pot of the Truthpaste… be warned though: it’s one of those eco swaps that is sadly a hell of a lot more expensive than its plastic tubed counterpart.

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Wax wraps and cotton produce bags

I recently expanded my collection of beeswax wraps and I use them loads to be honest, I really do recommend these for anyone looking to make the first few steps toward a more plastic-free lifestyle. A friend just got me for my birthday one with a stretchy bit specifically to go over bowls, how cool?!

Cotton produce bags are also something I’ve begun using recently because not only can you take them shopping with you as they weigh next to nothing, but also helps you keep things organised at home. I started off with three and have now expanded, all from Tabitha Eve Co, recently labelling my most used ones for convenience which I actually think looks kinda snazzy!

So there you have it. If you’ve read all of the posts in this series so far you should have a pretty good idea of what you can do to reduce your own plastic use by now! But it’s important to remember that nobody is perfect; unfortunately there are still too many occasions where I’ve had to find compromise such as buying reduced food to save it from waste, which seems pretty ridiculous to me that one can’t often do both. Every little thing does help though, especially if others are encouraged to join in too.
Please take the opportunity today, World Environment Day 2018, to make a small change and stick to it #PledgeLessPlastic – you can find all kinds of info and make your pledge on the IEMA website here.

Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx

Saying goodbye to single-use plastic: Part 1

The plastic problem is all over the news at the moment. It’s been a problem for some time now, but thanks to our pal Sir Davey A and Blue Planet 2 it’s now being far more widely discussed and gaining some much-needed momentum. About bloody time. The problem is, it’s hard. There’s plastic in almost everything we use on a regular basis, it seems; so picking a time and place to start reducing your own plastic use can be tricky. Another thing is, a lot of people ask: why? What can one person do? (Same as the recycling argument which we have tried and still do try so hard to convey).

There was an article in The Guardian recently disclosing that a significant proportion of ocean plastic and waste (90%!) actually originates from just 10 river systems, all flowing through densely-populated areas of developing countries. This is a problem that unfortunately, we can’t fix alone. And without getting into complicated politics I don’t fully understand, I don’t honestly have the answers or solutions for that. But what we can change little by little is the pressure put on corporations and manufacturers by us, the consumer, to reduce over-packaging and invest in more sustainable, eco-friendly alternatives where possible.

This can be done in a number of ways such as making the effort to buy only loose produce rather than packaged, even if it means biting the bullet and paying a little more – although shopping locally is a great and often very reasonably priced way to do this. This goes too for buying fresh bread from a local bakery in a paper bag, which can be kept for storing your broccoli in the fridge (helps it last longer) or putting yourIMG_6702 sandwiches in for work – I’ve begun getting mine from Nata & Co. Butchers and fishmongers can be a little tricky as most of their packaging is plastic and/or non-recyclable, but if you’re supermarket shopping then making the effort to go to the fresh counter rather than buying it in air-sealed packaging is a positive step.

Critically, making sure to use your own reusable coffee cup instead of buying fresh non-recyclable ones every time (especially if you’re posting some sickening selfie or insta-story with it, just don’t), or stealing 10 minutes for yourself by sitting-in instead, is one small change that can have a big impact (as you may have seen in today’s news). Mine featured right is mostly bamboo from dotcomgiftshop but there are all kinds of options, such as those in this article.

As well as all this, I decided to kick-start my lifestyle changes by ordering a lovely little eco-package from UK-based Save Some Green which contained the following: 3 vegan, handmade castile soaps; 4 bamboo toothbrushes (which were on offer); 4 biodegradable scourers (made from coconut hair and non-stick pan friendly) and a set of 5 reusable bamboo straws.

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My eco-friendly purchases from Save Some Green. Also packaged all in recyclable brown paper!

Firstly, I’ll explain the straws. You may have already seen people talking about this online but straws are actually a huge offender for plastic waste and have been found to not only substantially litter beaches and oceans within a matter of hours, but can also become lodged in the nostrils of endangered sea turtles and pierce the stomachs of penguins. So, I took it upon myself to seek out reusable ones instead and these bamboo straws naturally came in a variety of sizes which has turned out to be pretty useful. I’ll be honest: I’ve loved them when I’ve used them and it has been nice to discuss them when people ask, however I’ll admit it’s been harder than I thought to make it a proper habit so far. Remembering to ask a bartender specifically not to give you a straw is one thing (weirdly, harder than I anticipated) but when someone else buys you a drink it can get trickier still. Maybe I’m over-trivialising this, but my point is that the straws haven’t been as easy to phase-in as I expected. Nonetheless, we persevere.

Secondly, the soap. When I was reading up on how to replace some of my household products with more eco-friendly, homemade alternatives, castile soap came up as a key constituent in homemade washing up liquid. Hence, ordering it serves a dual purpose for washing both hands and dishes. I am yet to make my own washing up liquid as I’ve not finished my pre-existing bottle (also one of the hardest parts about phasing-in ‘sustainable swaps’, you have to wait to bloody finish everything you currently have so as not to waste them unnecessarily) but I’ve purchased a glass container with pump and will be doing so very soon.

On a similar note, the scourers have proved themselves useful in getting greasy spots or burnt-on leftovers from baking trays and pans without affecting the precious non-stick. They are, however, quite sharp to the touch to begin with until softened with water and don’t work as a universal washing up tool as I’d originally intended. In place of a sponge, therefore, (now I’ve successfully knackered-out my pre-existing standard, plastic-based, non-recyclable one) I’ve begun to use a microfiber cloth I already had plenty of which not only does a stellar job but also dries quickly and can be washed & reused again and again. Brill.

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Discarded plastic toothbrushes as permanent litter. Source: Huffington Post.

The benefits of bamboo toothbrushes to the environment are significant in comparison to the plastic toothbrushes we’ve been brought up on which have a large carbon footprint to produce only to end up in landfill, in the oceans, or sometimes even in the stomachs of birds (follow this link for a great infographic). The ones I purchased from Save Some Green are fully biodegradable, vegan-friendly and can be ordered with varying bristle strengths depending on personal preference. The counter-argument is that huge companies like Oral B spend millions on complicated research to exact the science of brushing and dental hygiene, yet my question is how necessary is this really?

I personally don’t know the answer. But Noel Abdayem, a qualified dentist himself, asked the same question and thus founded the Humble Brush which also boasts a handle made from 100% biodegradable, sustainably-grown bamboo and puts a portion of all purchases towards funding oral health projects for children in need. It’s worth noting though that the bristles of these are not biodegradable like mine claims to be, only the handle. All I know is that my teeth are healthy as they are and besides a little gum soreness in the first few days of getting used to the new bristles (possibly bought the wrong strength), I’ve so far not had any significant issues so feel comfortable with this decision. I even gifted some of my other Save Some Green toothbrushes to family for Christmas to get them on-board, which they did so gladly ☺

Key lessons learned in this first leg of my journey:

  • There’s a plethora of eco-info available on the web and it’s been an absolute saviour. A Google search is all you need but some I’ve found really useful are Save Some Green, The Homemade Homemaker series on The Guardian’s website and several Zero Plastic blogs like this one and My Plastic Free Life.
  • Waiting for everything you currently use to run out is a pain in the arse, but worth itIt’s got to the point where every time we finish a shampoo or shower gel bottle in our house, we cheer with excitement because it’s one step closer! (Side note: we finally finished shampoo this week so I bought a LUSH shampoo bar; absolutely no regrets. I’m never going back.)
  • Discussing it with others is the best way to spread the word and get more people involved. Don’t be afraid to explain why you’re doing what you’re doing and gently encourage close friends or family to do the same. (Gently. No-one likes a pusher.)
  • You can’t do everything. This is probably one of the hardest/most frustrating things, but going cold turkey with these things will just never work. In order to be sustainable, (any) lifestyle changes need to be brought into habit, so take it a step at a time. There’s no point throwing away all your perfectly decent tupperware, for example, just because it’s plastic when actually it’s not single-use (and is therefore less environmentally damaging) and serves a good purpose.

 

IMG_6187I do believe and hope that consumer pressure can be the kick that’s needed to implement changes on a much larger scale. The more people that deliberately reduce by buying loose veg and fresh bread over packaged, complain on twitter when they find something ridiculous (like this single aubergine I found in Aldi, for example. No need…), remember to reuse their own cups, containers etc. and recycle correctly – a topic I’ll talk more about another day – then companies will have to start listening to consumer behaviour and change accordingly.

That’s all for now folks. As I said, I’ll keep you posted on my plastic-reduction journey so will be making this into an intermittent series among the food stuff. Stay tuned for more! And if you’d like to share your own tips and sustainable swaps please do!

Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx*

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Source: Blue Planet 2.

*This post was not sponsored by Save Some Green or any other links in this article.