Every day, I’m horrified by the amount of plastic I throw in the bin. Since plastic was invented in the 60’s, the world has produced over eight billion tonnes of the stuff. Around half of it is single-use plastic, such as drinking straws, drinks bottles, takeaway coffee cups and lids, food wrappers and other packaging. Discarded after a moment’s use, single-use plastic takes hundreds of years to disintegrate into tiny microplastics and may never fully biodegrade. Around 12 million tonnes of plastic end up in the sea every year, killing and maiming countless seabirds and sea creatures, and making its way into our diets.
Plastic manufacture and incineration also contribute towards climate change, while toxic fumes released during incineration endanger the health of people and animals. A recent report by CIEL estimated that in 2019 alone, the pollution from global plastic production and incineration equalled the emissions of 189 coal-fired power plants.
With almost everything coming swaddled in umpteen layers of plastic packaging these days, the challenge of going plastic-free can seem overwhelming and it can be difficult to know where to start. But as only one third of plastic in the UK (and only nine percent globally) is recycled, it’s down to consumers to do whatever they can to cut down on single-use plastic. Thankfully, the Plastic Free Foundation has come up with a fantastic initiative called Plastic Free July that provides plenty of ideas and advice on how to reduce plastic from our everyday lives.
Here are a few ways in which I’ve been inspired to make some little changes so far:
We do most of our grocery shopping online and I recently switched from Ocado to Sainsbury’s as the latter offer a plastic bag free delivery option. However, we still end up with the odd stray bag and annoyingly, Sainsbury’s doesn’t stock my new favourite brand of pasta, Barilla (because it comes in a plastic-free cardboard box, which begs the question: why can’t all pasta be packaged this way?) So I’m now considering shopping with the Ethical Superstore, which offers an extensive range of plastic-free options.
Like loads of people, I’ve been using fabric bags and plastic bags-for-life for shopping for years, but I recently invested in some reusable drawstring net bags so that I can buy loose fruit and vegetables from the local shops without having to use their polythene bags. It’s just a matter of remembering to stuff a few in my handbag or the bottom of the pushchair before I go out.
We also order an occasional veggie box through Farm Direct, which delivers affordable, locally grown fresh produce to our door, almost all of which comes in plastic-free packaging. And, after a group of local residents contacted a local Milk Man, we now have fresh milk delivered to our doorstep in returnable glass bottles twice a week.
I’ll also be checking out a Refill store, which rumour has it, has recently opened about a mile away from our house.
I’ve been fully intending to make my own home cleaning products out of everyday household items for years but somehow never got round to it. Thankfully, I’ve discovered Ocean Saver Bottles for Life, which come with eco water-soluble pouches. We also invested in a ginormous bottle of Ecover washing up liquid, which we decant into a smaller bottle every few weeks or so. When it finally runs out, I’m going to see if I can get it topped up at a Refill store.
As for the elbow grease aspect of cleaning the kitchen, I’ve switched those vile plastic sponges for ones made of cellulose available from Wilko as well as scourers made from natural fibres such as coconut husk or coir from EcoVibe My mum also knitted me a cotton dishcloth, which naturally, I will use until it falls to pieces.
This is a big source of single-use plastic waste for us because like many families, we eat a lot of crisps, chocolate, biscuits, crackers and yoghurts each month. I’ve been trying to buy larger packs where possible and divide portions up into reusable snack bags, which results in less plastic waste than buying multipacks. Many of our local shops sell plantains, so we have had a few attempts at making our own plantain crisps. The girls happily gobble up the finished results, although the word ‘crisp’ is somewhat a misnomer. We have had more success with baking our own biscuits and gingerbread men, however. We’ve also had fun making our own smoothies, which make great refreshing snacks on a hot day when poured into reusable pouches and popped into a cool bag.
We ditched bottled hand soap in favour of bars yonks ago, but it pains me when they come wrapped in plastic. Imagine my delight when we discovered loose bars of Faith in Nature soap for sale in our nearest shop! But there’s no need to stop at hand soap. These days, shower gel and shampoo come in plastic-free bars too. And if you have access to a Refill shop, you can invest in glass bottles and never need to buy a single bottle of shampoo or conditioner again.
My sweet tooth caused me to need several fillings during my teenage years and I’ve been a little obsessive about my daily oral hygiene routine ever since. I shudder to think of how many miles of plastic dental floss I’ve contributed to landfill. Luckily, I’ve now found a biodegradable version that comes in a refillable dispenser from EcoVibe. The girls use bamboo toothbrushes in cornstarch packaging, although Mr Rixon and I still rely on our chunky plastic electric ones (for now). The next step is to investigate toothpaste in glass jars or tablet form. Toothpaste tubes are extremely difficult to recycle because they often have an internal aluminium layer for freshness. As a result, 300 million tubes of toothpaste end up in landfill every year, according to waste management company Business Waste.
Thankfully, there are loads of plastic-free options for managing periods, such as biodegradable pads, or even better, a reusable menstrual cup or washable menstrual underwear.
I’m ashamed to admit that I used to use disposable makeup wipes before I learnt that these contain plastic that takes hundreds of years to biodegrade. Shockingly, the UK stills chucks away 11 billion wet wipes them every year, even though there are loads of environmentally friendly alternatives available such as washable muslin cloths or bamboo pads.
I haven’t had a huge amount of success at growing our own veg in our north facing small garden, but even just growing a few clumps of herbs saves on some plastic packaging ending up in landfill or the sea.
A great tip from Compost Direct is to grow new vegetables from the unwanted ends of carrots and leeks or to sow seeds from strawberries. They also suggest planting leftover sweetcorn kernels, bell peppers, tomatoes and garlic bulbs in the soil to grow new plants. We recently popped some spring onion ends into a jar of water on the windowsill and watched them regrow as if by magic.
As plastic plant containers aren’t recyclable, I try to grow from seed or else look out for plastic-free plants in compostable pots. Any plastic pots we do have lying about are perfect for repotting baby spider plants and passing onto friends and neighbours.
Our cats perform their business in compostable litter in a compostable litter tray, which is disposed of in compostable bin bags. However, their food is proving rather problematic. While there are some great brands of dry cat food available in recyclable packaging, our cat Cookie has only two remaining teeth so relies mainly on wet food. I’ve spent ages researching brands of wet cat food in recyclable tins or trays rather than plastic pouches but they’re either too pricey or our fussy felines turn their noses up at them. Perhaps, we’ll have to resort to making it ourselves? Any tips much appreciated!
There is so much more that my family could do to reduce plastic, especially the single-use variety, from our lives; our journey has only just begun. How are you trying to cut back on plastic and what inspiration have you found from Plastic Free July?
Featured image credit: Naja Bertolt-Jensen, Unsplash