Having begun my plastic-free and zero waste journey in January 2018, I’m now over 7 months into it.
In that time I have made some significant changes to my consumer habits, which, in the last 3 months, has significantly reduced the amount of waste I now send to landfill. Has it been easy? Sadly, no. This is mainly because of the way many supermarkets currently package their products. I’m based in the UK, and there are only a small number of zero waste / package free shops, which, unless I decide to travel for a half hour, I don’t have access to.
The good news is that we’re more aware of the impact that plastic waste has on the natural environment now than we used to be. Over the last few months, it’s been increasingly discussed in the media; from talks of banning plastic straws in the UK and EU, to new zero waste shops opening (a first in the U.K. for many years!); and campaigns which have been set up to make towns and cities across the U.K. plastic free, often led by organisations such as Surfers Against Sewage.
So surely that means we will see big changes very soon, right? It is fantastic that people are becoming more aware of our plastic pollution issue across the world. But it’s a global issue that unfortunately will not be solved overnight.
Since I’ve started on this journey to becoming plastic free, I have seen that supermarkets have made some small changes to the food products they offer. For example, pasta and rice can sometimes be purchased from some supermarkets in boxes; there is the occasional snack in compostable packaging; and some supermarkets now allow their customers to bring their own containers to their deli counters to help with reducing plastic waste. It’s great that these changes are happening. However, I believe there is a lot more that we as the consumer can do to have a bigger impact, and to accelerate progress on eliminating the plastic problem.
If every one of us were to make some small, simple changes, such as swapping that pasta that we might buy in non-recyclable plastic packaging for a similar version in a cardboard box, the manufacturers might start to listen. If we as the consumer were to vote with our feet, the manufacturers might consider changing the way their products are packaged. After all, it’s likely that manufacturers would take the view that listening to what their customers want is important.
As I’ve said before, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed about making these kind of changes, since there are so many products at our fingertips that aren’t good for the environment, both in the way they’re packaged, and in some cases, the ingredients they use.
To get around this, I have mainly focussed on reducing my waste at home so far, and in particular, I’ve made some significant changes to the products which I use in both the kitchen and the bathroom. I’ve listed a number of them below:
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Cosmetics and beauty products:
- Reusable cotton wool pads. They can be put in the washing machine, and used time and time again
- Shampoo bars. I’ve recently been using them with bicarbonate of soda. See the link to my article on zero waste shampoo here for further info
- Natural and biodegradable deodorant in a tin, jar or in a card wrapping
- Concealer and face powder in a bamboo casing, which is refillable. I’m planning to find out if the empties can be returned to the supplier and reused by them.
- Bamboo toothbrushes. You may have heard about how plastic toothbrushes have been found washed up on beaches 1000s of miles away from where they originated from. There isn’t an easy way to recycle them, and nor do they biodegrade. The most disturbing thing is that they’re harmful to marine wildlife. When I heard about this myself, I decided to look into switching to bamboo toothbrushes.
- Eco toothpaste. There are a number of eco options, including activated charcoal toothpaste which comes in a jar; Truthpaste; and Toothy Tabs to name a few.
For food shopping I have started buying:
- Pasta and rice in a box (with a small plastic window). Although not perfect, it is an improvement on buying pasta and rice which are packaged in non-recyclable plastic packaging.
- Dried fruit from a health food store, where they’re available loose, or from an online zero waste retailer
- Fruit and vegetables which are available loose. On occasions they do come in multipacks in a cardboard box. Although some people may argue this still isn’t zero waste, a cardboard box is much easier to recycle than the netting that some citrus fruits come in, and is more eco friendly.
- Cheese in a recyclable plastic container or foil wrapping. Again, this is by no means perfect, but it’s the best option I’ve been able to find so far.
- Tinned meat and fish, or taking my own container to the deli counter in supermarkets. They have been happy to fill my containers with sliced meats so far which is great.
- Fresh bread from the bakery section of a supermarket. I have a number of large plastic containers. I take them to the supermarket to put the bread in, to avoid taking home any plastic at all. If I’m asked about it at the checkout, I just explain what I’m doing and why. I’ve had no objections from the staff about it yet.
- Potato waffles in a box instead of oven chips in a bag. I’ve also got around this by making my own potato wedges, see the link to my article on quick and simple recipes here
- Fully compostable teabags or loose leaf tea. A number of tea manufacturers are now starting to switch from teabags with plastic in them (which means they won’t biodegrade), to fully compostable ones. If you don’t know anyone local to you with a compost heap, they’re also suitable for food waste bins which are collected by local councils (in the UK) to be made into biofuels. If you’re not in the UK, there is also a ShareWaste option.
- Mints instead of chewing gum. Mints are widely available in either metal tins or paper / foil wrapping. The metal tins are great as they can be re-used again and again. Paper and foil are both easily recyclable.
- Chocolate in a foil and card wrapping. The chocolate bars I’ve found wrapped like this are usually lower in added sugar too, so not only are they better for the environment, they’re also healthier for us too.
- Reusable shopping bags and reusable produce bags made from 100% natural fibres (such as cotton). Not only are they better for the environment because natural fibres are able to biodegrade, shopping bags such as these can also go in the washing machine, and are durable, which makes them a really cost-effective solution.
…and these changes have meant that I have produced less than three 200ml jars of trash at home in the last 3 months:
There is still lots more to do, but I believe that taking small steps can have a big impact overall. By taking simple, manageable steps, we are less likely to feel overwhelmed and more likely to feel motivated. It’s surprising how quickly those small changes add up to living more sustainably.
I hope you’ll join me in deciding to reduce your plastic consumption and that you find these ideas useful.