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 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.

A Palm oil free Pancake Day!

“Are you dying for a cookie? ‘Cos orangutans are…”

If this was on your next cupcake or pack of cookies would you think again about your food choices? This was one of the little notes (although rather passive-aggressive) that some friends of mine and I had on home-baked goods at our recent palm oil free bake sale on Valentine’s Day – a Love Your Planet bake sale, as such. The simple idea was to make more people aware of the devastating impacts of palm oil and suggest some small changes to their food choices that can be good for you and for the planet.

This is a huge debate in itself and one which I’m still muddling my own way through, but here are the simple facts:

  • 85% of all palm oil originates from Indonesian & Malaysian [primary] rainforest
  • The industry is linked to major deforestation, habitat degradation, animal cruelty and indigenous rights abuses as land and forests are cleared for plantation development
  • Plantations themselves are set up using a slash-and-burn technique, devastating anything left behind and releasing huge amounts of CO2 when underlying peat is burned, significantly contributing to climate change
  • 1/3 of all mammal species in Indonesia are now considered critically endangered as a result of unsustainable palm oil development and habitat destruction
  • An estimated 1000 – 5000 orangutans are killed each year for this development, despite their being “a conservation emergency” according to the UN due to their vital role in the germination of rainforest ecosystems
  • Palm oil is found in approx. 40-50% of household products such as baked goods, confectionary, shampoo, make up, cleaning products and toothpaste

With this in mind, I’ve been working to try and cut out some of my own palm oil consumption where possible; one of the most straight-forward ways to do this is through chocolate and biscuits. Or so I thought… Turns out it’s next to impossible to find palm oil free chocolate unless you want to pay a pretty penny! BUT there’s such thing as RSPO Certified Palm oil which despite heavy criticism over its true ‘sustainability’ and certification process, at least it shows that somebody somewhere is trying to do something about it and that companies are taking some environmental responsibility.

For now though, here are my recommendations for a palm-oil free pancake day:

  • CHECK YOUR CHOCOLATE. There are many conflicting sources online but best thing to do is check the company website to be sure. More details below.
  • NO MARGERINE. Butter is usually fine but margarine contains palm oil as a preservative – some brands are RSPO certified but realistically, butter is better anyway!
  • Opt for toppings full of natural goodness!
  1. Banana slices & honey
  2. Berries & natural yoghurt
  3. Strawberry slices & nut butter (100% natural) – Meridian’s almond butter is my favourite and totally palm oil free!
  4. Or the all-time classic: lemon juice & sugar. (Okay, it’s not as healthy as the other options but it is lush I think we’ll all agree – and even better, it’s palm oil free!)

Nutella. This has long been considered one of the worst offenders for palm oil content; however according to their website it now only uses RSPO certified palm oil… “Ferrero’s achievement of the RSPO certification has also been praised by Richard Holland, Director of WWF’s Market Transformation Initiative.” WWF has a whole world of criticism itself from many environmentalists around the globe due to its involvement with a lot of major corporates, but that’s a whole other kettle of political fish. Personally, I’d say avoid if you can.

If you really can’t live without some chocolate in your pancake, then these brands are also RSPO certified: McVities, Cadbury’s, Oreo, Sainsbury’s, Waitrose, M&S, Co-op. It’s hard to know who to believe and what to think with so many conflicting arguments, but my own guilty pleasure of RSPO cert. chocolate tonight will be a gooey melted Carb-killa in all its goodness.

For more information on palm oil, why it’s such an important environmental issue and what the debate over RSPO certification is all about then have a little look online – here are some links to get you started: the story of Palm Oil,Say No to Palm Oil, Orangutan Foundation International, Rainforest Foundation.

Happy Palm-oil free Pancake Day!!

Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx

*Note: header image from this website