When you live a more sustainable life you can increase your happiness levels! Dr Mark Williamson, Director of Action for Happiness said:
“Living a more sustainable life brings a great sense of purpose and helps us recognise that we are all part of something bigger”
There are levels as to the effort everyone is willing to go to to reduce their plastic consumption. What I thought would be good to talk about today is more of an introduction to plastic minimisation – simple, easy, almost effortless swaps that those starting off a journey into plastic waste reduction will (hopefully) find useful.
Just a note to say all endorsements/mentions of brands in this post are not paid advertising/I am not collaborating with any at present, purely some companies I came across in my research offering plastic free alternatives.
Food and drink
- Get a keep cup.
- Many of use feel the need for a caffeine fix or our favourite hot beverage on the go. Billions, yes billions!, of take-away cups get thrown away in the UK alone every year. Due to the plastic lining to ensure they are waterproof; the majority of these cups are non-recyclable. Get your own keep up and save single-use plastic being thrown away once you’ve finished your drink.
- So many different styles and brands are out there, go looking for one that you enjoy, and it can become your functional accessory.
- Use a re-usable drinks bottle.
- Did you know that one of the most commonly found item on beach cleans are plastic bottles?
- Get a reusable one and this will save you chucking a bottle in the name of keeping hydrated.
- More and more cafes are willing to refill your water bottle for free these days so it’s an economical choice too.
- My favourite reusable bottles these days are the metallic double lined ones, they keep your water cool and refreshing but can also be used to hot drinks.
- There are many brands out there, such as the well-known Chilly’s, but you can get just as good (in my opinion) less ‘fashionable’ brands online at Amazon, so plenty of options out there.
- Also, remember you can often take unfilled drinks bottle through customs when travelling, no excuse to need to buy a plastic bottle in duty free! Most airports have drinks fountains the other side of customs, so just empty the bottle before you go through security and fill it up again the other side.
- Have bags for life.
- The 5p surcharge for plastic bags in the UK has seen a dramatic reduction in the use of single use plastic bags.
- I find it a good idea to keep these bags anywhere I might need them in case I forget. I have a tiny cloth ‘bag in a bag’ in my handbag and a bigger canvas bag in my car, just in case I forget or have an impromptu purchase.
- If you’re buying food online and getting it delivered to your home opt for shopping without plastic bags.
- Say no to a straw.
- Plastic straws have been in the public eye a lot recently. You can now find biodegradable ones being offered in many restaurants, cafes and pubs etc. So, check what a straw is made of before you say yes, or buy a ‘keep straw’, a bit like a keep mug, if you like drinking with one a lot. You can now find straws made out of glass, paper, bamboo and stainless-steel. Whilst this does help the ocean, plastic straws are thought to account for less than 1% of ocean plastic. Every little does indeed help though.
- Use alternatives to cling film.
- Did you know that cling film can’t be recycled whilst silver foil can be!? Just a little tip.
- Bring your own cutlery to work.
- Based on a 5-day working week, 28 days annual leave a year, and only needing one meal whilst at work using a knife and fork for your lunch this would save 464 pieces of plastic cutlery a year, just from one person!
- Shop at greengrocers (or other store with less #pointlesspackaging).
- Loose fruit and veg can be popped into paper bags if needs be, but try just keeping them loose and then washing them at home if not in a peelable skin. Often these are locally sourced produce too so you’re supporting your local community and reducing greenhouse gas emissions due to transport – double whammy.
- ODDBOX if you live in London is another option (there are other similar companies dotted around the country) – not only reduces plastic consumption but food waste too, win-win. You can have these delivered right to your door. If more people use these services more mainstream food suppliers such as supermarkets might stop rejecting funny-shaped foods which taste just as good, in turn dramatically reducing food waste.
- Local farmers markets if you can get to them – I acknowledge some are on working days and hard to get to or not in your local town.
- Drink fancy wine!
- Strew top wine bottles and metal screw caps often contain BPA, a chemical used in many plastics. Go for the old-fashioned cork instead.
- Make your own nut/oat milk.
- There are plenty of simple to make recipes out there and it’s often cheaper than the shop bought stuff.
- Please do however, consider the nutritional content will differ from shop-bought products which are fortified. Whilst I am a massive advocate of environmental sustainability, I feel you also need to look after your own health so bare this in mind and ensure you get all your recommended micronutrients if going for this option.
- If you don’t want to do this/feel it’s too much effort, consider using the milk-man Milk is delivered in glass bottles instead of plastic containers, and the glass is reused and recycled.
- Stop using chewing gum.
- Most gums are made with synthetic plastics which aren’t biodegradable.
- Consider which brew you use!
- I am quintessentially English and find nothing quiet as cosy as having a warm cup of tea steaming in your hands. Did you know that many teabags themselves have plastic in, and I don’t mean in the wrapper, in the teabag itself. This is used in manufacturing to create a heat seal to ensure the teabag stays shut tight on the shelves and in your cup of boiling water.
- This means they are not biodegradable, so if you compost your tea bags you could be leaving microplastics in the soil!
- Not to worry! Luckily there are some companies out there who are on hand and have invested in plastic free tea bags, winning! As you can see from below, some of their solutions are less than ideal, so maybe consider loose-leaf tea too and remember to check out how they are packaged!
- Pukka Tea – arguably my favourite brand for a non-caffeinated beverage. Their teabags don’t contain any plastic and use cotton instead as a seal. The teabags themselves are 100% biodegradable (or recyclable if don’t compost) as made out of plant cellulose and the strings of unbleached cotton (https://www.pukkaherbs.com/contact-and-social/frequently-asked-questions/tea-packing-manufacturing-queries/do-your-teabags-contain-plastic/). This said, teabags are individually wrapped in a plastic sachet. WHY!!?? – apparently to “lock in freshness and protect high essential oil content” https://www.pukkaherbs.com/contact-and-social/frequently-asked-questions/tea-packing-manufacturing-queries/why-are-pukka-teabags-wrapped-in-individual-sachets/).
- Teapigs – their teabags are made of soilon, a bioplastic. This, whilst not a synthetic plastic, is unfortunately not suitable for composting at homes but can be placed in a food waste bin if you council provides this service and wont biodegrade in landfill. Again, the packaging of these tea bags used to contain plastics, but Teapigs have changed so that the clear inner bag which teabags are sold in is now compostable. They state on their website that they are “the only tea brand to have been awarded the A Plastic Planet Plastic-Free Trust Mark” and that their 15s & 50s packs pf tea temples, tins of tea and matcha tines are certified plastic free. They have on their website a really clear table showing what each of their different styles of teabags are made of and how best to dispose of them here: https://www.teapigs.co.uk/articles/is-there-plastic-in-our-tea-and-packaging.htm. I didn’t know all this before researching for this blog and I might need to consider drinking more Teapigs in the future! Sadly my council don’t have a food waste bin collection so I would need to consider their use of bioplastics.
- Twinings – as a whole, Twinings teabags are made with plastic-free plant-based cellulose, but sadly the manufacturing process ‘heat-seals’ the tea-bags using polypropylene (a plastic). Their only tea-bag range which is fully biodegradable (but again compostable only by your council food waste collection) and doesn’t contain any plastics is their pyramid tea bags. However, once more, these are often sold in plastic packaging.
- There are many other tea companies out there, some of which are making strives to become plastic free (such as Clipper, which according to their website moved production to be plastic free from October 2018, but it might take a while for this to ripple down onto the shelves – for more see https://www.clipper-teas.com/frequently-asked-questions/ and go to ‘plastic free tea bags’), and others which are currently not plastic-free (such as Yorkshire Tea, sad as this is my favourite caffeinated tea). I’ve chosen just a small selection, but I thoroughly recommend investigating on a company’s website or contacting them if you’re interested if your favourite brew is plastic free or not.
- Soap bars.
- Using bars instead of dispensable soap liquid saves the plastic container. You can cut sections off the bar at a time and store on a rack to prevent that soapy-sludge on the bottom and keep your soap fresh.
- Shampoo bars.
- Have you considered using a shampoo or conditioner bar instead of the bottled ones? They can last longer and now come in a wide range of scents. Lush do a great range including a vegan protein shampoo – who knew! Check out their article about shampoo bars here: https://uk.lush.com/article/mighty-shampoo-bar and range here: https://uk.lush.com/products/shampoo.
- Travelling toiletries.
- If you NEED to buy a 100ml or less bottle if just going hand-luggage only buy them once and refill the same bottle every time. This saves horrendous waste buying a new tiny bottle every time and your bank balance as bulk buying is cheaper.
- And buying bars (above) doesn’t count towards your liquid allowance! Win-win.
- Face wipes.
- Face-wipes don’t disintegrate in water like toilet paper. They contain plastic.
- Use a facial cleanser or wash with a muslin cloth.
- Plastic free periods – OK this is a gender-specific tip!
- Tampons and pads take centuries to degrade in landfill.
- Have you considered a reusable menstrual cup? They are often made from silicone and are you insert it into your vagina to catch menstrual blood. You then empty by pouring this down the toilet and wash before re-inserting. There are several brands out there now, the Lilly cup, Moon cup, Lunette Menstrual Cup, coming in different sizes and can last a decade!
- Period pants are an alternative
- If you don’t fancy the idea of menstrual cups or if you have tried and they don’t suit you maybe consider using non-applicator tampons instead of applicator ones, they have less plastic – every little helps.
- Buy second hand!
- Charity shop clothes reduce the impact of the fashion industry on the environment.
- Second hand books are great too, charity shops or even on amazon if you click ‘new or used’ under the price button – economical too!
- Make your pets plastic free!
- Some ideas include natural cat litter, plastic-free toys, metallic or ceramic food and drink bowls.
- Get a real Christmas tree!
- Not only are they plastic free but absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere whilst growing.
- Get a GuppyFriend bag.
- A vast amount of ocean plastics are microplastics. Sea life often mistake microplastics for plankton and ingest it mistakenly. Not only can this be extremely damaging for the animal itself, microplastics can accumulate up the food chain.
- Did you know that your clothes shred microplastics in the washing machine? Washing your clothes in a GuppyFriend bag captures these microplastics and stops them entering the water system.
- Yes, you then have to dispose of these plastics, but you can do so in a way which minimises the risk that they will enter the oceans.
- Please don’t use glitter.
- Glitter is a microplastic which, as mentioned above, is awful for our oceans.
Lastly – be proud of the small changes you make, every little really does help. You can try one and then move onto the next idea if this works best for you. This is just a list of ideas, I realise some might seem too extreme for some, so just pick the ones that work for you and go from there. If you feel you want to then progress with reducing your plastic consumption you can always come back to this page to refresh your memory for more ideas.
I hope this inspires some of you to reduce how much plastic you use.
Go out there and make the world a better place.