At the end of last year, I participated in ‘No Plastic November’. I’m a little late in sharing how I got on but really wanted to continue to implement changes and learn a little more beforehand. I soon learned that a no plastic month was near impossible, considering how little preparation I had done. Despite the set-back and the feeling that I’d already failed throughout Novembers first supermarket trip, I was determined to cut down as much as possible. Since November, I’ve continued to make changes and have considerably reduced my plastic waste. Here’s how you can reduce yours too (in order of difficulty, beginning with the easiest).
1. Put yourself on a plastic bag ban
Plastic bags are the most obvious thing to cut out if you want to reduce your waste. I know that the majority of people already reuse their bags when supermarket shopping, but more can still be done. If your plastic bags break then make sure that you’re recycling them correctly- larger supermarkets host specific bins for them in their lobby. Equally, if you completely run out of plastic bags, consider hessian or cloth alternatives as they’ll last much longer and are easier to recycle.
I find it helpful to keep a couple of bags on hand in both my car and handbag to avoid being caught out.
2. Ditch the straws
If you need (or just like) to use straws, there are plenty of glass or metal alternatives. These can be used over and over again. I personally prefer either compared to the paper alternatives which go soft quite quickly. A good habit to pick up is to actively ask for no straw when at a restaurant.
I’ve seen quite a few people complaining about the movement to ban plastic straws and I’m not sure why it’s causing such an issue. We all know that there are bigger problems to tackle too but straws are an easy thing to cut out for the majority of people. It’s a simple place to start.
3. Bigger is better
Sometimes plastic just can’t be avoided. Its use in the world as we know it is overwhelming and legislative changes are one of the only types which will yield enough power. I’m also very much of the opinion that at an individual level, small changes are better than no changes at all.
While I’d argue that we should all do our bit, I’m not zero waste. Neither is my aim to convert anyone in such a dramatic way. Buying larger quantities of things will save on waste. So for example, one large tub of yoghurt will produce less waste than a multi-pack of individual portions.
4. Swap to bars of hand-soap
I hate bar soap that leaves your hands feeling squeaky and dry. Switching to it was something I didn’t think I’d get on with at all, but after trying Simply Soaps, I’m a convert. Throughout November I used their Geranium and Rose bar. It comes in 100% compostable packaging, which does no environmental damage.
I’ve since also branched out to other bar hand soaps which are something I’ll continue to use. Local health stores usually sell hand soap without any wrapping and sometimes TK Maxx sells it in paper. Despite not feeling quite as moisturising as liquid soaps, they do the job, smell nice, and leave my hands feeling just fine. A lot of people dislike bar soaps for hygiene reasons which I completely understand. I host normal liquid soap anywhere we might have guests and bar soap in the private bathrooms- even cutting back in this way reduces waste.
5. Use reusable bottles
The plastic bottle waste statistics are staggering, watch A Plastic Ocean to find out more. I’ve never been someone who enjoys tap water (I can really taste the difference) so I was worried about how I’d get on with a refillable bottle. Luckily my workplace has a water dispenser which contains filtered water, so I use it to fill up my Chilly’s bottle, which sees me through the week. Over the evenings and weekends, I drink tap water mixed with cordial (bought in glass where possible) or squash. Last year my monthly plastic waste would contain upwards of 30 plastic water bottles, so switching to a reusable one has really made a difference (and saved me money).
6. Buy no-plastic fruit & vegetables
Quite a few varieties of fruit and veg are available to buy loose at supermarkets. Use paper bags provided or take your own mesh bags if your local store only provides plastic. There really is very little benefit to buying them in plastic, in fact, it swelters some fruit (like bananas).
7. Check the packaging- Favour tin, cardboard or glass
Recently I’ve been writing beauty product empties posts and by keeping the packaging to photograph, I’ve realised just how much waste my beauty products create. As much as I want to help the environment and do my bit, I really feel that with respect to recyclable packaging: its brands that need to do more and better. I have found ways of recycling some packaging more effectively which I’ll cover in a more in-depth post.
Recently I have been opting for tin or glass over plastic where possible (for example tin lip butter over chapsticks). I’ve also discovered some great ethical beauty brands like NEEK. Opting for better packing at the supermarket is self-explanatory.
Effective changes can be made by simply being aware and consciously avoiding plastic where possible.
8. Swap to bars of shampoo
I was really worried about how my hair would get on with bar shampoo, but needn’t have been. I swapped to the Lush Shampoo Bar in November and although its a little more hassle, my hair gets on with it well and it’s not overly difficult to use. At the minute I use a combination of shampoos and switch between this and others. My own strategy doesn’t eliminate plastic, but it still helps to reduce it.
9. Shop in store
I’m a serial online shopper and am also lucky enough to receive PR packages: unfortunately, I waste a lot of packaging. Although I reuse it where I can (and some is recyclable) I do feel guilty. Shopping in store where possible reduces plastic packaging waste (as long as you’re taking note of tip number 1).
10. Use a travel mug
Using a travel mug tends to be more difficult than using a reusable bottle, as they require more maintenance. I leave the dregs of any hot drink and travel mugs are more liable to drip. I do use one where I can and also opt to ‘drink in’ whenever I have the time. Sometimes it’s also a case of questioning whether you really need to spend the best part of a fiver on a Starbucks or whether you can manage until you get home.
11. Check the labels
Not using plastic altogether is the ultimate goal, but if you can’t achieve that, you can at least buy plastics that are recyclable. Aunt Bessie’s packaging is one of the only frozen foods that I’ve been able to find that is recyclable. We’ve also switched to toilet paper made from recycled materials (Waitrose own) and the wrap of that is recyclable too. Other swaps include buying cans of drink in cardboard boxing rather than plastic wrap, but the list goes on.
12. Re-purpose what you can
Becoming aware of how much we waste really can push us to be more resourceful. A lot of packaging can be repurposed- break the ‘just throw it away’ habit.
13. Swap to bars of conditioner
My instinct to put conditioner bars next to shampoo bars in level of difficulty was strong, but it just isn’t the case. I switched to the Lush conditioner bar but I find the shampoo version much nicer to use. The shampoo lathers nicely so you can tell that the product is working, whereas the conditioner just doesn’t feel effective enough for me. I used it throughout November and saw no difference in the health of my hair, so it might be psychological. It is, however, enough for me not to want to repurchase this particular one again.
EcoBricking is a technique that’s relatively new to me. Basically, you tightly pack all non-recyclable plastics into a plastic bottle, which forms a variation of a brick. Once your bricks have been made, you have to either use them yourself or drop them off at one of the few drop-off points. For this reason, I was a little hesitant to begin Ecobricking, but I have now and hope to update you on my progress.
The following two vary in difficulty depending on how strict you are in enforcing them:
15. Recycle everything you possibly can
Most of us recycle plastics, but there’s so much more that can be done. Cats Protection work with TerraCycle and raise money from waste that’s not typically recycled. They collect empty Colgate dental care products and crisp wrappers amongst other things- there’s a full list here. By saving your rubbish, you’re not only helping the planet, but also a worthwhile charity.
16. Use tubs more
I have a strict no clingfilm policy. Any foods I want saving are stored in a tub. I also use them to take food to work in. If you’re really on the ball, you can take them to supermarket counters and they’ll be able to save wrapping your meat, fish, cheese etc. in plastic. There are also independent stores that promote zero waste by stocking product that you can take away in no packaging. My local health store stocks dry foods and a variety of soaps and hair care which you can fill up your own jars from.
Another way of reducing waste is to support blogs, so thanks for being here! I’ve always been a fan of magazines and once religiously digested my ELLE subscription on the day it came, but online reading is just less wasteful. Whilst some magazines coat their deliveries in compostable plastics, so many choose not to. For more great sustainable living advice you can also check out 7 Little Things You Can Do To Help The Planet by the lovely Kathleen from Made In The 1990s.
A lot of swaps can be made from engaging in common sense and really thinking about the consequences of our buying habits. The sad truth is that a lot of environmental impact comes from prioritising convenience over conscience. Together and one step at a time, we can make a positive change.