Many people bang the environmental drum but rarely does anyone commit to changing their life and trying to make a real difference. All too often, the sight of my over-flowing plastics recycling box will pull me up short and make me swear to cut back on plastic bags and buying fruit and veg in unnecessary plastic containers but I’ll be honest, I don’t find it easy to stick to it. Life can be busy and rushed and it’s often tempting to go for the easy option.
My friend, Alice, is an example to all of us. She and her family (husband, Ryan and daughters, Mabel and Nancy) have gone plastic-free for a year now and when you read her tips on how to do it, you’ll be filled with a new determination and a resolve to just do better and I guess that if we all just did a little bit better we could make a massive difference.
General Life Rules
Yes, there are a few involved I’m afraid… But although I was / am a rebellious arse, I do enjoy being stubborn/pig-headed and following them!!
ZERO TOLERANCE policy to plastic bags (including bags for life) – keep loads of re-usable canvas-type bags/material tote bags in your car and always have one rolled up in your handbag etc. There are some great designs out there – these are two of my favourites:
Also to plastic water/drinks bottles – invest in drinks bottles for all of you, and never leave the house without one. Get caught short – sit in a café and get a glass of water, or if you’re on the motorway, like we have been on occasion, Purdeys comes in a glass bottle.
Another zero tolerance rule – say no to take away coffee cups and plastic lids. Keep cups are another must have (again, loads of lovely designs out there) and if you find you don’t have one on you, get a coffee to drink in at a café. Short on time but need a caffeine hit? Have an espresso!
And no to straws! Why places still offer them in such abundance when it’s known they get stuck up turtles’ noses etc is beyond me. I’m not one of these people organised enough to own a stainless steel straw for the kids to use when we’re out and about. Let’s face it, it would just be covered in fluff at the bottom of my bag!! They just have to go without. And we use paper ones for parties etc.
Another invaluable rule? Meal planning for the week ahead. I know, it feels ridiculously organised and grown up and you probably think you just don’t have time for it. But it’s really a brilliant way to ensure you have the food you need (because it’s not easy to get everything at the drop of a hat when you’re not going to supermarkets as a rule). I do ours on a Friday/Saturday and write the shopping list at the same time.
I ask the kids to each contribute a couple of choices and I decide the rest. It means I look in recipe books etc which I wouldn’t do otherwise – I’d just default to the recipes I know as standard. So, it shakes up what we eat as well which is great. Most importantly it means we don’t waste food. When I was online shopping I’d get swayed by offers, etc. and just shop on auto-pilot and would often end up having to throw out food by the time the next shop came around.
Another general rule is No Online Food Shopping. Ever. You can’t control what they put in your basket, or the packaging. And it’s rare to find anywhere that doesn’t sell meat and fish or fruit and veg in plastic. My Christmas food shop last year was the thing that tipped me over the edge and sent me on this change in lifestyle.
Instead I shop religiously in a small town nearby, every Saturday morning, that has a butcher, a greengrocer and a health food shop that sells dry goods that you can weigh out. There have been a handful of days during the last 12 months where it’s felt like a stress to fit it in, but generally it’s a lovely routine – and is a cheeky excuse to have an hour or so without the kids on a Saturday morning.
One of the things I’ve found about changing to be Plastic Free is that I’ve had to make time for things that might take a little longer. And I was someone who was forever in a rush. I still am but I like that living this way forces me to slow down every once in a while.
We are lucky living where we do – because there are also a couple of great shops locally to help with this journey. For those in Brighton a must-visit is Hisbe – http://hisbe.co.uk/ – where I get all my pasta, rice, lentils, laundry and toiletry refills. There’s also a great shop in the Brighton Open Market on London Road.
And of course, Infinity Foods is another great source in Brighton of plastic free products – particularly for toiletries and household goods. http://infinityfoodsretail.coop/
There’s less of an offering in Hove sadly – although Four Seasons on Church Road is great for fruit and veg.
It’s worth Googling for local options for those not near Brighton. Online, there’s a site called Suma – https://www.sumawholesale.com/. You can buy dried, household and beauty goods in bulk which is better than nothing and if you get the big 5l bottles of shampoo, etc. I think you can return them to them. A lady I met in Dorset has joined forces with a few of her mates to do the big shops because she can’t store food in that quantity, and I think there’s a minimum order. So, if you’re not lucky enough to have a good wholesale/weigh shop locally that’s a great option to look into.
Supermarkets are really interesting when you break them down – I can get booze and canned goods easily. Maybe the odd loaf of bread if there’s a bakery and they’ve not packaged it already. And meat, fish and cheese but only if there’s a deli and I’ve remembered to bring containers. But other than that, it’s generally just lemons, broccoli, baked spuds, onions, garlic, carrots, avocados, apples, bananas (and not always) that are loose. It’s crazy when you start breaking it down! Useful for the odd emergency but not part of my general routine.
I was thinking the other day I reckon I’ve spent 90-95% of my shopping budget this year in just a handful of shops in a 10 mile radius of our house, that would have otherwise gone to a faceless supermarket. That really makes me happy
Anyway, I digress…..so in terms of nitty gritty details…..
Hands up, I love food, and cooking, and we never ate processed foods really. Which perhaps meant it was an easier transition. That said….
Milk and OJ – we get this delivered, in glass bottles – from www.milkandmore.co.uk. Enter your postcode to see if they deliver in your area.
Cream – I buy in jars. It’s long life, so not as sexy and perhaps a little more pricey but we don’t eat it much so it’s ok. This link is for the image only – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Double-Devon-Cream-pack-company/dp/B00U9VNJ30 – local people you can buy from Rushfields amongst other places.
Yoghurt – I used to buy in jars but our local Budgens stopped selling it recently which is annoying, but there is an online supplier here – http://www.browncoworganics.co.uk/browncow/Organic-Yoghurt-River-Cottage-500g.html
And next year I’m going to have a go at making my own!
Cheese – we don’t eat loads but if we need it I tend to buy at a supermarket deli counter and ask them to put it into my own containers or into a paper bag. The first few times you have to ask this can be a bit embarrassing but you get over that, and most of the time they’re interested in why you’re doing it. Alternatively, I buy the ones wrapped in wax.
Meat – we have a great butcher locally so I buy everything from them. They wrap a lot in paper or give to me for my own containers/bags. If you only have a supermarket nearby then try to shop at the deli counter if practical, and use your own containers.
Fish – we don’t have a local fishmonger so I buy from the deli counter in our local Waitrose as they wrap it in paper. Tesco and Sainsbury’s don’t offer it.
Dried Goods when it comes to pasta, lentils, rice, nuts, cereals, seeds, peppercorns, popcorn, bouillon powder and porridge oats – as mentioned, I buy most of these from Hisbe (Brighton) and a weigh shop in Henfield, my local shopping town. You fill a paper bag with what you need, and I have a load of jars at home that I keep stocked up. I realise I’m really lucky having these stores on my doorstep, but it’s definitely worth looking on Google to see if you have any locally – and if not, buy in bulk from somewhere like https://www.sumawholesale.com/.
Some mainstream options to look out for otherwise…
· Spaghetti in a box – there’s a range called Barilla that’s sold in cardboard boxes. You can buy it at Four Seasons (for those in B&H).
· Lasagne in a box – Waitrose own brand lasagne comes in a box.
· I think there are a couple of Jamie Oliver products in paper packaging too.
· Porridge oats – the Irish range Flahavans is sold in paper bags
· And as mentioned below – Weetabix and Shredded Wheat have no plastic inserts.
General fruit and veg – as mentioned, there’s a great greengrocer a few miles away in the town where I do the weekly shop. I know they’re rarer than supermarkets – but it’s definitely worth a Google to find your nearest one. Such a great range of produce and nice to know it’s generally locally grown. The paper bags get reused for dry goods or for wrapping butcher purchases.
Herbs – we’re lucky enough to be able to grow ours at home. I’m really not that green fingered but a small patch of garden is dedicated to it and starter plants from the garden centre have flourished with little attention.
Bread – I buy whole loaves from a bakery on the Saturday shop, then cut them up into quarters (or halves depending on how much we need or whether it’s a weekend etc), then wrap what I don’t need in foil and pop it in the freezer. Voila, a week’s supply of bread with no plastic! I did make it for a while at the beginning, and still enjoy every now and again, but this is definitely the easier route!
Butter – real butter only, no spread, in foil or paper.
Croissants, etc. – for a treat this range is a very good almost plastic free option – Jus-Rol is a good option to have in the fridge. https://www.jusrol.co.uk/products/pains-au-chocolat or https://www.jusrol.co.uk/products/croissants
Celery/Cucumber – one of those nightmarish things that only certain grocers have outside of plastic, and so I just have to plan/know in advance if I need them (see my note about meal planning above). We are lucky to have space for growing veg and this year bought a few cucumber plants and they went NUTS! Endless supply for three months. For local people, Rushfields is the only place I’ve found that has celery not in plastic!
Grapes/Berries/Soft fruit – I only buy these from the greengrocer if they’re loose or in the open plastic tubs because I empty them into a paper bag and leave the tub behind on the shelf, knowing they can reuse them. Another tip is I freeze most soft fruit these days – also cut up banana – it’s brilliant for snacks and smoothies and means the fruit doesn’t spoil during the week. Pick Your Own farms are also your friends in the summer if you have one nearby.
Smoothies – on the subject of smoothies, during summer we have them for breakfast. I would buy all the fruit on Saturday as part of the weekly shop, cut it all up into different combos and freeze in individual bags. Then remove every morning, add water, oats, a bit of date syrup (or whatever you like) and then nutribullet them. So easy! These bags are brilliant and can be reused a few times generally before being thrown away – https://www.ifyoucare.com/baking-cooking/snack-sandwich-bags/#iLightbox[e1ab84fdf3d2ca0a426]/0
Mayo/Ketchup/Oils/Date & Maple Syrup – all available in glass bottles.
Flour/Sugar – can generally find ranges in paper bags if you shop around. Although recently I had to buy golden caster sugar because NO ONE sold it in paper! I confess that it leaves me feeling soiled the few times I’ve had to do that haha
Cereals – we mostly eat porridge and muesli which I buy loose. But Weetabix and Shredded Wheat come in paper packaging. I know, it’s not the most exciting … but the kids just get used to it to be honest. And I’m one of those mean mothers who thinks cereal is grim given the amount of sugar in it – and the fact that a normal serving is at least double what they put on the packaging for daily guidelines, etc. Measure a 35g serving and see for yourself!
Some of my friends love places like Abel & Cole and Riverford for (mostly) plastic free food deliveries – so worth looking at these. I confess to being too much of a control freak to do it, as I like to know exactly what I’m getting for the week.
The things I miss …. I won’t lie there are some things I do really miss … lettuce probably being my biggest (impossible to buy plastic free, so we plan to grow it this year). We used to eat so much salad – but now they’re mostly deconstructed – cucumber, tomatoes, grated carrot, avocado – just all sliced on a plate without the lettuce bit. Not as visually exciting, but still delicious!
Also, frozen peas (instead I eat fresh peas in the summer, and keep meaning to buy some of the bulk bags a few farm shops offer and freeze these for the winter).
And ham! I struggle to get to a deli frequently that has it available without packaging. I rely on bacon and big chunks of smoked bacon bits from the butcher instead for cooking with (soups etc). A friend suggested I cook a gammon joint and use this – fair point I’ve not got around to this – one for next year!
Booze is obviously fairly straightforward! Beer wise I tend to just buy bottles – or get a box of cans – to avoid the plastic connectors you get with cans.
Tonic/Soda Water – cans generally, and occasionally (if available/in the mood) splash out on the posher glass bottle brands, e.g. Fever Tree.
Squash – never buy it which helps – but if I did I’d just go for the glass bottle varieties. Might cost a few pence more – but I would just make the kids have it less frequently!
Milk/OJ – as mentioned, get this delivered from the milkman. And if I wanted he does apple, grapefruit juice, etc. I do miss the really fresh stuff. But mostly it’s for the kids and they’re less fussed. And occasionally I’ve just bought a load of oranges and squeezed them at home!
Tea – tend to go for Clippers because the bags are unbleached and the boxes aren’t wrapped in plastic. But someone pointed out after I wrote this that all tea bags have a thin layer of polypropylene plastic to enable the bags to be sealed. My husband drinks a lot of loose tea, so I reckon in 2018 we might just ditch the bags all together.
Coffee – had to give up instant coffee because of plastic lids. So now just buy Illy ground coffee as it’s in foil. Beans would be even better! I bought one of these because making coffee from scratch for one person was a faff – they’re great! https://www.amazon.co.uk/Bodum-Travel-Press-Coffee-Maker/dp/B0042RU4XU?th=1
This is the harder end of the spectrum and I’ve had to have some trial and errors with different brands, and have sometimes had to give into a plastic lid or two because the options are few and far between.
Toothbrushes – bamboo all the way! Every plastic toothbrush you’ve ever owned STILL EXISTS in landfill! It’s madness! The Environmental Toothbrush range is great because you can buy in bulk so feel better value for money, and come in both adult and kids sizes and a variety of soft/medium/hard. And they can be thrown on the compost bin or fire once done with. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Pack-Environmental-Toothbrush-ENVIRONMENTAL-TOOTHBRUSH/dp/B01A76QQQS/
Although after posting this someone pointed out the bristles are plastic – as their website says:
The bristles are made from a BPA FREE polymer resistant to microbial growth during normal use, to ensure safety and durability. We have tried to find a biodegradable bristle but as of this time there is nothing available – apart from boars hair (don’t want to go there). No they are not Nylon 4 (as far as we know there are no bristles made from Nylon 4 on the market today). We have tried to bring you a toothbrush that is better for the environment – over the years we have been misled by our manufactures about our bristles being made of Nylon 4. We still believe that our toothbrush is a better alternative to a full plastic toothbrush.
I tend to chuck mine on the fire when they’re done. Or the website suggests cutting off the bristles before putting the handle into the compost/bin. It’s not perfect I guess… but better than the whole brush living on the planet for 500 years
Toothpaste – it’s really hard to find non-plastic containers. I use Euthymol which is in a metal tube, but it’s an acquired taste and Ry and the kids really didn’t get on with it. So, I’ve relented and buy them normal tubes. Next year I’m on a mission to change that too though!
For the more adventurous there are various charcoal/mineral based products – from the likes of https://uk.lush.com/products/toothy-tabs-mouthwash and https://georganics.co.uk/
Someone also recommended this on fb – https://www.truthpaste.co.uk/
If you’d told me a year ago that I’d be using organic homemade deodorant and toothpaste I wouldn’t have believed you But living this way becomes addictive and I don’t like to be beaten haha!
Make up – I’ve skirted around this by using what I had in cupboards etc. Benefit’s powders are great as they’re generally cardboard/metal. But am investigating my options in more depth as it’s reaching critical stage again! Lush look like the best starting point as so many of their products come without packaging! https://uk.lush.com/products/make
Eye make-up remover – standard coconut oil in a jar is incredible. Won’t ever look back! And the jar I bought in January is still going strong
Nail polish remover – over the last year I’ve basically been biting off old nail polish, or covering it with new layers. Nice Thank goodness, I was recommended this recently – https://www.bwcshop.com/kind-clean-nails-nail-polish-remover/
Skincare – I started by splashing out on Aesop as it’s packaged in glass. But it is super pricey and actually I didn’t get on with it. But perhaps that was my skin just getting used to change after years of using the same Clean and Clear astringent cleanser. Anyway, I’ve been using an amazing cleanser – bought from Holland & Barrett. The jar is expensive but it’s lasted me 6 months and it’s so rich there’s no need to moisturise. http://www.hollandandbarrett.com/shop/product/beauty-kitchen-abyssinian-facial-cleansing-balm-60028956
I found this on my travels and it looks delicious – https://thefuturekept.com/collections/25-under/products/cacao-lotion-melt-moisturiser
Deodorant – again, a bit of trial and error because there are no big brands out there. And things like deodorant are different for different people, but here a few options. This glass jar product was great initially, but started to irritate my skin at times so I stopped – http://thegreenwoman.co.uk/shop/FitPit-Natural-deodorant.
I recently moved to this – https://www.realfoods.co.uk/product/33705/organic-lemon-tea-tree-and-mint-deodorant but it’s possibly a bit greasy on clothes. So I reckon I’m going to try the Lush range next – https://uk.lush.com/products/deodorants-dusting-powders
Since writing this I’ve also been recommended this – www.naturaldeoco.com
Shampoo/Conditioner – initially I was refilling old bottles but had a few leakages along the way, so I bought a couple of 1l empty bottles from Hisbe and now take them there to refill. And empty out into smaller bottles for the kids’ bathroom. It’s the Suma range (https://www.sumawholesale.com/non-foods/bodycare/suma-clear-simple-shampoo-5l-dy595.html) – so you can buy in 5l bottles from the Suma website mentioned above if you don’t have a Hisbe type store nearby.
Body Wash/Soap – I use soap these days, but there are also refill options if I remember. There’s loads of great soap out there these days – you needn’t smell of Imperial Leather!
- www.skinandtoniclondon.com have some great options.
- And I bought some really lovely ones from Wakehurst Place randomly too – http://shop.kew.org/kew-fashion-and-beauty/toiletries/soap
Handwash – I use all my old pump bottles still and get them refilled at Cornerweighs (Henfield) but could also do it at Hisbe. This is the range – https://www.faithinnature.co.uk/departments/award-winning-range-of-natural-soaps-and-hand-washes.aspx?deptid=HW – and again you can buy in 5l bottles and refill your containers at home if you don’t have a local stockist. Looking at their site they also do a load of Shower / Bath Wash, Shampoo etc.
Tampax etc – if you really want to stick with Tampons buy the original cardboard applicator variety. Cheaper and way better for the environment. But really – I can’t recommend a Mooncup enough – https://www.mooncup.co.uk/why-mooncup/ Yes, I know it might feel a bit weird, etc. But once you get over that – it is just so practical and so much healthier for you.
Cotton Buds – another MASSIVE issue for our sealife – make sure you buy the ones made completely of paper, e.g. https://www.ethicalsuperstore.com/products/simply-gentle/simply-gentle-organic-cotton-buds/
I also heard that Johnsons recently changed to 100% cotton buttons – without the plastic stem. That’s very cool!
Other brands that are interesting:
· Neal’s Yard – do a few glass bottled products, including bubble bath. https://www.nealsyardremedies.com/
· Skin and Tonic London – just discovered these, but a lot of yummy glass bottled options. Steam Clean is lush and Beauty Oil seems really nice too. – http://www.skinandtoniclondon.com/
· Disciple Skin care – my friend uses their stuff and says it’s great http://discipleskincare.com/
General house stuff
Laundry Liquid/Fabric Softener – I’ve had the same bottles on the go all year and refill at either Hisbe or Cornerweighs in Henfield. Most Ecover stockists (particularly small independents) will do refills for you. I generally have two bottles of everything – so one set can sit in the car boot while I wait to make it to the shop, while the other stays in use in the house.
If you don’t have one then you can buy 5L bottles from their website – https://www.ecoverdirect.com/departments/refills.aspx?deptid=RF – every little helps!
Ecover isn’t the only option – and as someone pointed out they’ve just been bought by an American Corp. There’s also BioD and Ecoleaf which we’ve regularly used too.
Dishwasher tablets and salt – these are available to buy in cardboard boxes. Often the cheaper/supermarket’s own ranges. But they work just as well. Not yet found Rinse Aid as a refill option – although I’ve heard that white vinegar is a great alternative so going to give that a go!
Cleaning Spray and Toilet Cleaner – for B&H people you can refill your bottles at Hisbe. We buy the Ecover General Cleaner which if diluted can be used for everything. We have a spray bottle we refill and reuse. BioD do a refillable toilet cleaner too – brilliant!
Loo Roll/Kitchen Roll – I buy the Ecoleaf range as this comes in compostable plastic bags. It goes straight into our compost bin. You can buy individually wrapped loo roll here but I think it’s quite pricey so haven’t done so – https://uk.whogivesacrap.org/
Bin bags – you can buy compostable ones online. Both compost bin sized and 50l swing bin sized – here’s the brand I’ve bought recently: D2W bin liners
Foil, Baking stuff, Sandwich bags – this is a great company for ethical/recycled products bought from my local health food place but they also sell online – https://www.ifyoucare.com/our-products/
Pet Food – shop around, there are a few ranges that are sold in paper bags. We get our cat food (Purely range), our guinea pig food, and our chickens’ food in paper bags. I’ve not yet been able to source straw or sawdust in anything but plastic bags annoyingly – a project for the new year!
I’ve since discovered I can buy hay bales directly from a local farm – which is great. Plastic free sawdust is still at large!
Washing up brush – I recently found that run of the mill loofahs are brilliant for washing the dishes. Grim washing up brushes begone!
Loo brushes – wooden/bristle versions are just as good as plastic, like these – https://utilitygreatbritain.co.uk/product/lav-brush-natural-fibre/
Cling film – I’ve bought some biodegradable stuff along the way – but there’s also Beeswax Wraps which although expensive are great for storing food in the fridge. The less cling film you use the better!
Someone asked about toys for kids. It’s a tricky one as so much comes wrapped in plastic. But there’s a lot to be said for still taking it into consideration and looking around for other options.
For Nancy’s birthday, I actually got the courage to write on the invite that we live plastic free and would people please bear that in mind. It was early on and I was still pretty coy about it all. But it was amazing! Everyone was so lovely and made the effort – and I think we got two presents that had plastic packaging (out of 25 or so!). There’s plenty of stuff out there – books, crafty pressies, puzzles, traditional board games, skipping ropes, etc.
I do let them have felt tips which is probably a bit naughty. I also recently bought a plastic pom pom maker because I was in a hurry and didn’t have time to shop around.
In moderation if something the kids want is made of plastic and will be used over and over for years then I’ll allow it (unless I hate it at which point I can use the Plastic Free card)! But I just try and go simpler/more eco wherever possible, and do avoid the packaging wherever possible because it’s adding no value and alternatives can generally be found. I don’t feel like they go without. And they’re both really conscious of stuff now, and I hear them freely say they can’t have something because it’s wrapped in plastic. Kids adapt easily all in all.
(We also kept our old melamine crockery, and Tupperware because throwing it away for the sake of it felt silly).
One definite bonus is it’s meant I have a valid excuse not to buy the magazines wrapped in plastic, containing a load of plastic on the front cover, that would invariably be ripped apart in the car only to be found months later in their footwells!
So, there it is… some meanderings and ramblings on how we can live our lives with less plastic in it.
I appreciate it might sound a little extreme. But if we all only followed the first few rules, we would make an incredible difference
Start small and then bit by bit take on new challenges. I promise you it’s addictive!
And in the meantime, here are some things to think about…
On this trajectory, by 2050 there will be more plastic in the oceans than fish. There are desert islands full of trash.
Recycling is no longer enough.
It’s estimated that nearly 1.2 million tonnes of plastics packaging are consumed by households in the UK each year. From this 1.2 million tonnes, it’s reported that 440,401 tonnes is collected for recycling – an overall 37% recycling rate only.
A million plastic bottles are bought around the world every minute. Every minute! And that number’s expected to rise 20% by 2021. More than 480bn plastic drinking bottles were sold worldwide in 2016.
It’s estimated Americans throw away at least 50 million plastic bottles a day.
18 tonnes of rubbish wash into the sea every year from the River Thames.
This article is well worth a read – https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/jun/28/a-million-a-minute-worlds-plastic-bottle-binge-as-dangerous-as-climate-change
Lastly, pretty much every bit of plastic you’ve ever consumed, that has gone into landfill, still exists.
How is that sustainable??
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All photos by Alice Guy