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Plastic never goes away. Whether it’s a stranded whale with dozens of plastic bags in its stomach, an albatross carcass stuffed with disposable lighters and bottle tops, or a turtle that had a straw painfully removed from its nose by scientists – the lasting impacts of discarded plastic on the natural world are clear to see.
Yet with a truck-load of plastic entering the ocean every minute, and the average plastic item taking centuries to break down, the problem is only going to get significantly worse if we fail to urgently halt the production of ‘disposable’ plastic.
Whilst governments, manufacturers and large corporations need to do more to address the issues, we all have the power to reduce demand – to use less plastic in our lives.
I’d like to start with saying that it isn’t easy to avoid plastic in today’s world. Almost everything we buy is encased with plastic. Some items are easier to opt for plastic-free options (such as loose fruit and veg) but often you need to approach things differently, or forgo a product altogether, or accept that you can’t be perfect and any reductions you make are better than not trying at all.
However, it’s true that the best way to see less plastic in the world is to vote with our wallets. Trying to avoid single-use plastic products and packaging is the most powerful way to send a message to manufacturers and retailers in the language they best understand (£££!)
A few months ago, we identified 9 tips for living with less plastic to get you started.
This is a follow-up post that aims to inspire you to experiment further with using less plastic in your life.
Bonus: single-use plastic-free options save you money in the long-run and are healthier (exposing you to less harmful chemicals) as well as helping to stem the flow of plastic to our oceans 🙂
1. Clean your home with natural ingredients
There’s no need to buy multiple plastic bottles of cleaning products designed to tackle a different surface, or different room. White vinegar and water is just as effective!
Decant the white vinegar into a spray bottle (maybe you can reuse one of your old cleaning bottles), and mix with water (approx. 1/3 vinegar to 2/3 water). If you don’t like the smell of vinegar, you can add a few drops of essential oil, although as the smell evaporates after 10 minutes this step isn’t strictly necessary. The mix is very cheap, and can be used as a bathroom, kitchen, or floor cleaner.
When you need something to tackle more stubborn cleaning (e.g. build-up in the shower or bath); either rub a lemon on, leave for a few minutes, and rinse off; or sprinkle bicarbonate of soda and vinegar, leave for a few minutes while they fizz away, and then rinse off.
2. Swap bathroom bottles for soap bars
Keep an eye out for local artisan sellers of handmade, plastic packaging-free soaps at your local market or health food shop, or online. Natural, unpackaged soap is kinder to your skin (no synthetic ingredients) and the planet too.
Many soap producers now offer shampoo bars too (no more plastic bottles!) Although it can take a little while for your hair to get used to a soap bar, many who persevere end up with the best condition hair they’ve ever had. Experiment with using no conditioner, or a diluted apple cider vinegar rinse. Alternatively, try a Lush conditioner bar. Read more about how to use a natural shampoo bar effectively for your hair.
As everyone’s hair is different, it can take a few attempts and a few weeks to find the best solution for you, but in the long-run you will save money, have less bottles cluttering your bathroom, and be more eco-friendly too.
3. Use natural oils to cleanse & moisturise
Again, everyone’s skin is different, so you may need to experiment here too. I started using coconut oil to cleanse and moisturise my skin around 18 months ago, and love the simplicity of my new routine.
Simply warm the coconut oil in your hands and rub into your skin to remove make up, wipe off with a tissue (to avoid blocking the sink with oil), and then wash your face with a warm flannel to remove all traces of make-up. Use the oil again at the end as a moisturiser. If your skin is dry, use it on wet skin to seal in the moisture. One of the best things about this beauty regime is you can use the same oil all over your body so there’s no need for multiple products!
Less expensive beauty products cluttering your bathroom = more money to spend on things you love doing, and of course less plastic waste. Coconut oil usually comes in glass jars which are easy to recycle or reuse. If coconut oil doesn’t work for your skin, try olive oil or sweet almond oil (in glass bottles if possible).
4. Ladies, discover the mooncup!
Ok guys, you can skip to the next point, although it would be great if you could flag this one with the significant females in your life!
Unfortunately, most tampon applicators are made from plastic, and when they’re flushed down the loo they wind up in the sea. Plastic-wrapped disposable sanitary pads also contribute to our mammoth ocean plastic problem.
The good news is that there are reusable alternatives available that are cheaper, safer and ocean-friendly too! An amazing Bristol-based organisation, No More Taboo, offers sustainable sanitary products and invests 100% of its profits into charitable projects that tackle the taboos surrounding menstruation and sanitation.
Switching to a reusable menstrual cup and/or reusable sanitary pads is an investment initially, but within a couple of months it will save you money, and you won’t have to worry about running out of supplies ever again. As soon as you get the knack of it, you won’t look back!
5. Invest in a stainless steel razor
If you use a disposable, or even refillable, plastic razor you will be throwing away plastic every time you replace the blade. Learning to shave the ‘old school’ way with a stainless steel double edge safety razor is cheaper, more eco-friendly and gives better results too.
Be careful to start with, if you’ve been using the flimsy multi-bladed razor heads from Gillette (or similar) as you will be used to applying pressure to the skin to get a close shave. Don’t do this with a stainless steel razor! A proper razor blade is sharp, so be gentle and let the blade do the work, letting it glide across the skin. Only a negligible amount of force is required.
The other difference is the angle of your shave. It may take some trial and error (and possibly a few nicks), but once you get the hang of it, you won’t go back to your old plastic-encased razor. Position the razor at about a thirty degree angle, and shave in short, light strokes in the direction of your hair growth, pulling your skin taut AWAY from the direction of the blade.
The final tip is to look after your blades (dry after each use) and change them fairly often, once the smooth glide becomes more resistant on the skin. Don’t forget to use up both sides of the double edge blade, before replacing it, which you will be pleased to find is a fraction of the cost of your old razor’s pricey cartridges.
If waxing is your preferred hair removal method, did you know wax is made from plastic? A more eco-friendly (and cheaper) alternative is to learn how to do DIY sugaring at home.
6. Choose a plastic-free natural deodorant
There are plenty of reasons to swap out your conventional deodorant for a natural deodorant. Of course we all want to smell good, but smothering chemicals under our arms on a daily basis (in an area where our lymph nodes are close to the skin’s surface) doesn’t seem like a great idea. With many deodorants containing aluminium (linked to Alzheimer’s) and other potentially harmful ingredients, it’s worth exploring more natural alternatives, for your health as well as for the planet.
Again everyone is different, but two natural deodorants I personally rate are:
Lush deodorant bar which comes with no packaging at all (unless you order online, and then it arrives with compostable packaging ‘peanuts’. On receipt, I cut the deodorant block in half, keeping one half in a jar in the bathroom, and the other half in a soap tin for travel – it is likely to last for a VERY long time! The initial smell of the bar is quite strong, but when applied to the skin it fades to a pleasant fragrance.
Earth Conscious deodorants come in metal tins, in a variety of lovely essential oil fragrances. I personally needed to top up during the day with this deodorant in warm weather or after exercise, but still enjoyed using it, and it has received lots of industry awards and rave reviews so could work well for you.
7. Brush with bamboo
One great way to reduce your plastic impact is to switch to a bamboo toothbrush. Our favourite is the Environmental Toothbrush which is available in child or adult sizes, and soft or medium bristles. Once your toothbrush has reached the end of its life, you will need to remove the nylon bristles (use plyers) and put those in the general waste before putting the rest of your toothbrush in the compost.
Bamboo is such a popular sustainable material because it grows quickly, without the need for chemical fertilisers, pesticides or irrigation. Why not look for bamboo options whenever possible, such as hair brushes, kitchenware, accessories and even clothing.
8. Avoid synthetic clothes, they shed microfibres
If you haven’t already seen it, please take 2 minutes to watch The Story of Stuff’s mini animation on The Story of Microfibers. It explains how our ‘plastic’ clothes (those made from synthetic materials such as nylon, acrylic and polyester) are causing a massive problem with the microfibres they shed every time they go in the wash.
These tiny fibres are too small to be filtered out by water treatment plants, and end up in our rivers, lakes and oceans where they are being ingested by plankton and entering our food chain. This is very concerning and we don’t yet know the full implications of this on ocean and human health, but we can imagine the consequnces are not going to be good. The main way individuals can reduce plastic microfiber pollution is to choose clothes made from natural materials such as bamboo, wool, and cotton, and put pressure on retailers to prioritise ethical and eco-friendly options too.
9. Buy local & request plastic-free packaging
We all live such busy lives, and particularly if you are working full-time or have a family to shop for, it can be hard to resist the convenience of the supermarkets. However, if you can make time to buy local your local area will be better off. Did you know that for every pound spent in an independent store, around 70p stays in the local economy? This is far more attractive than giving all our money to the fat cats running the large corporations.
Another bonus is that local shops and farmers’ markets are more likely to stock in-season, locally produced food, and it’s easier to have an impactful conversation with the local shopkeeper about why you prefer not to buy your food encased in plastic.
However, even in the supermarket, you can make a stand against plastic packaging. Choose loose produce where possible, and either skip the produce bag, or take your own. There are people who unwrap their unwanted packaging at the supermarket and leave it there to make a point. I haven’t done this yet, but I do try to vote with my wallet whenever I can.
It’s not easy avoiding plastic, but cutting down on processed, over-packaged food, and making real food from scratch is a great place to start, and healthier too! If you have a zero waste store near you like the amazing Earth. Food. Love. in Totnes, South Devon, then try to use it as much as you can. Kids love learning about this ‘new’ way of shopping that draws inspiration from the past, before plastic became so prevalent in our lives.
For more inspiration on living with less plastic, if you haven’t already discovered them, I totally recommend Bea Johnson’s Zero Waste Home or Kathryn Kellogg’s Going Zero Waste blog – for more detailed tips and tricks to reduce your plastic waste.
Happy experimenting! #UseLessPlastic = #LessOceanPlastic
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