Plastics have plagued our lifestyles, the environment and quite possibly our health for a good portion of the past century, and it probably only takes a quick flick through social media or even a stroll down a super market isle to see the extent of the issue… Plastics are seemingly impossible to escape, but the good news is that we're seeing more and more ways that we as consumers can make a change! Disposable single use plastics can often times be easily switched for reusable alternatives, so we've put together a bunch of tips and awesome eco-friendly alternatives that may help you start living plastic free!
Here's our complete guide to plastic free living, with easy top tips and awesome eco swaps for avoiding single use plastics!
Why Plastic Free?
At every stage in plastics' life-cycle, there is clear cause for concern. To start, crude oil is extracted out of the ground, which is refined into petrol, diesel and jet fuel amongst other things. Plastic is almost always petroleum based and therefore has a strong linkage to non-renewable fossil fuels and green house gas emissions.
From crude oil, the next step often involves processing plastic into tiny pellets for other products to be made at a later date. These tiny plastic pellets are shipped around the world on huge cargo ships, and it's not uncommon for cargo to spill into the ocean. Products made from these tiny pellets are incredibly durable and long-lasting, but it's this durability that has sadly lead to highly polluted eco-systems with the plastics never truly going 'away'.
It's not that plastic doesn't break down - it does - but it breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces of micro-plastics, eventually entering the food chain at a microscopic level, if it hasn't already been ingested by turtles, seabirds and other marine life.
An issue on top of this is the recycling process... A vast amount of our plastic waste is shipped all the way back around the world for developing countries to deal with, only for it to pile up in landfills due to it being so difficult to recycle and manage. Aluminium on the other hand is much more widely recycled and is also infinitely recyclable, whilst plastic is only ever down-cycled.
Plastic Pollution On A Cornish Beach In The UK
So, Where To Start?
From plastic bags and bottles, to straws and single use coffee stirrers, plastic certainly seems to be everywhere you look! Trying to give plastic up all at once can seem overwhelming to say the least! But, the good news is that you don't have to.... Give it up all at once that is...
Falling back into old routines can be frustratingly easy - we've all been there! Focus on one thing at a time, and when you're comfortable with it, take the next step, and then the next step and so on.
The other thing that we don't want to do is start throwing out every plastic product in our home in exchange for 'zero waste' alternatives because, well, that's not very zero waste. It's okay to use what you already have, swapping it out when it's all used up or all worn out.
We've got a bunch of tips and easy eco-swaps in this blog post so you can do what you feel most comfortable with and, soon enough, you'll notice the difference you've made and just how far you've come!
At The Shop!
Hand's up if you've ever been caught out without your bags for life at a supermarket checkout? Yep, us to! Remembering to bring a bag tends to be half the task, as you often forget that it's not just the groceries that you'll need a bag for. We've got bags in bags in bags now so that we never forget, and even if we do, then we've most likely got a backpack after all.
Always start your shopping list with BAGS FOR LIFE so you that you never forget!
Reusable cotton bags for fruit, veg, grains and much more are also great to have ready in the car for your shopping trips if you tend to want to use the single use plastic ones you can find up the fruit and veg isles. Supermarket shops can still result in more plastic packaging than you'd like though, so you could try to find a bulk / refill / zero waste shop near you and see what you can get without any packaging what-so-ever! Just remember some containers and a few of those reusable produce bags too! If going to a zero waste shop isn't really an option, then no worries! Just try to limit processed, pre-packaged or frozen foods from your shops and try to make more meals from scratch with local produce bought at a farm shop, farmers market or even a veg box subscription!
On The Go!
It's common place for people to grab a meal deal when they're on their lunch break... A prepackaged sandwich, packet of crisps and a drink in a plastic bottle - not bad for £3, right?! The convenience of pre-packaged foods truly can be too tempting sometimes, but it's sadly this convenience that eventually amounts to a much larger environmental cost.
Avoid opting for a meal deal when on your lunch break!
Water bottles, lunch boxes, cutlery sets and a little bit of forward thinking are really going to help you save on plastic packaging when on the go. A reusable coffee cup will even get you a bit of a discount now in a lot of places, and if you like to use a straw, then there's some great alternative reusable straws now available. Lastly, beeswax wraps have proved a very popular alternative to cling film, and can be bought or even home-made from old textiles and clothing!
So, you checked out some of your options for refill and zero waste shops earlier right? Well, zero waste shops aren't just great for getting package-free groceries! You can get a tonne of home cleaning supplies to refill your old bottles with once they run out. Again, a great place to start is to simply check out what's available to you locally, which should include a full range of all purpose cleaners, washing up liquid, laundry detergent and fabric conditioners.
A cupboard full of cleaning supplies can quite often be replaced with just two things!
An alternative to getting every single one of your cleaning supplies refilled is to simply switch them out for two main things - wine vinegar and bicarbonate soda! With these two things, you can do the washing up, disinfect surfaces and even clean the toilet! Use 1 part white vinegar with 1 part warm water for counters, floors and dishes etc. For stubborn dirty dishes and the bathroom, use white vinegar with the bicarbonate soda. However, for granite or marble surfaces, you'll want to use a castile soap instead, which again, you'll be able to get refills of at your local zero waste shop.
If using DIY cleaning products, try infusing orange peels into the mix!
Sticking with the home cleaning, you might be surprised to hear that synthetic sponges and cloths are notorious for shedding plastic micro fibres straight down the drain! We've made the switch to some awesome all-natural alternatives by Maistic! We love our wooden pot brushes from Redecker too!
Another thing that may surprise you is that tea bags often contain plastic too! We recommend switching to reusable stainless steel tea infusers with loose leaf tea to avoid this. It's the same for coffee filters too, and speaking of coffee, the pods that are used with some certain machines can be swapped out for reusable stainless steel pods instead. Lastly, if you haven't tried alternative milks yet, then you're really missing out! Trust us! Unfortunately though, if you go to the supermarket to get your oat, soy or almond milk, you'll find that they usually come in tetrapaks, so not completely plastic free... This is where a nut milk strainer of your own can actually be really fun and super easy to use, albeit sometimes a little messy!
In The Bathroom!
Making swaps to more eco friendly alternative products in your bathroom can be really easy! A lot of our first eco-swaps were actually for different health and beauty items that we use such as switching to bamboo toothbrushes instead of plastic ones. We also started to use solid soap and shampoo bars pretty early on as well, which are great for travel too! Something similar especially in regards to travel is a plastic free suncream - we found an awesome all-natural suncream made by Shade that's completely reef-safe, so it won't harm corals or any marine life either!
When it comes to all things oral care, we recommend Georganics, for anything from all natural toothpaste to dissolvable mouth wash tablets! Most of their products come in reusable or recyclable glass jars and the also have completely plastic free floss, which is otherwise almost always made out of plastic!
Stay away from toiletries that contain micro beads... Micro beads are plastic!
Face wipes and wet wipes are considered by some to be the greatest 'greenwashing' scam there is right now... Whilst most contain plastic, others are marketed as a more eco-friendly option, sometimes branded as 'biodegradable' but still taking years to do just that. Plus, they're still single use! So, for removing make up for example, swap them out for some reusable cotton pads from Bambaw! You can just chuck them in the wash and they're good as new again! Instead of using any disposable plastic razors, we use an amazing bamboo safety razor made by Bambaw as well, which everyone always seems to be so jealous of!
An obvious swap related to the bathroom would definitely have to do with toilet paper, which always seems to come in plastic packaging for some reason! Well, that's not the case for Who Gives A Crap, who also makes all of their toilet paper from either 100% recycled paper or 100% bamboo!
Who Gives A Crap even supplies toilets and safe sanitisation to communities that need it!
More items that might help to cut down your plastic consumption are reusable menstrual products, which could mean cotton sanitary pads or silicone cups! Both have proven massively popular amongst those trying to cut down on waste!
Reusable alternatives can help to save so much money compared to single use too!
Lastly, this wouldn't be a complete guide without us mentioning bidet toilet attachments or reusable nappies for babies... It's safe to say that we don't know much about these options ourselves, but they too have proven to be very popular, waste-saving alternatives!
So, What Now?
Sadly, it is unlikely that, right now at least, we're all going to be able to live a completely plastic free lifestyle... The stuff is bloody everywhere! From cooking pans lined with teflon to our clothing being made from nylon! The important thing to remember is that we can still all make a big difference in the amount of single use plastics that we consume. Nobody is perfect and you don't need to make every single change all at once! Use up what you already have and repair or upcycle what you can. Invest in quality products that will last and see what you can get second hand as well!
Got a great tip for living plastic free? Leave a comment below to let us know!
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