Reducing plastics – 10 tips for beginners

Last week, it was announced that a new ‘continent’ was discovered in the Caribbean. A continent made of discarded plastic bags and bottles, cups and cutlery, wrappings and cheap plastic tat. Square miles of trash filling the ocean, poisoning fish and by extension, us. It is IMPERATIVE that we reduce our dependency on plastic and get rid of our ‘throw away’ culture. Being a mother of three children, living in a wealthy country, I am well aware that I am a big part of the problem. I am also very aware that the planet that I will be leaving to my children in 50 years time is not one I would like to inhabit. Indeed, it might not be habitable at all. I have gradually reduced my consumption of plastic over the last couple of years, without making too much of an effort, but I am really determined that this year I will make a radical change and ensure that I don’t contribute to this ecological disaster anymore. I want to stop being so wasteful, and become resourceful instead.  I know I am not going to become a vegan hermit living in the mountains in a days, but I want to take clear steps to improve my lifestyle and become greener. Here are my 10 first steps – some of them I am already doing 100% of the time, others only partly. Are you in with me?

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–  No one-use plastic bags. At all. Ever.

At the moment I have 4-5 canvas bags that I keep in my handbag, in my pram, in my car, so that I can use them for a quick shop at the supermarket, or when I go to the local market. For my weekly shop, I have big, IKEA-style bags that I pop in the trolley. What I need to resolve though is plastic bag use at the butcher’s/fishmonger’s, as they usually wrap produce in plastic.

– No bottled water

This one is fairly easy. As a mum of 3, I used to buy bottled water on almost every trip out. Even if I brought water with me, it just wasn’t enough, and I don’t like re-using plastic water bottles as apparently plastic can seep through the water. I bought a big glass bottle that is protected by a silicone sleeve, and cost me under £10. Mine is for TKMaxx and is similar to this one. It’s perfect because it is easy to clean and contains enough water for us, and I can refill it outside if needed. My kids still have plastic (reusable) sippy cups, which I am planning to replace with Klean Kanteen ones or similar.

The next step is to simply stop buying any drink in plastic bottles. The Guardian reports that a million plastic bottles are sold every minute around the world, and only a tiny percentage are recycled. The rest end in landfill, or in the sea. For juices, get carton packs (although some are coated in plastic so not ideal) or get a cheap juicer. For milk, some local milkmen use glass bottles (I am looking for one actually, any recommendation?).

-No plastic cups/ cutlery/ plates

I don’t like these anyway and never buy them. I’m in at an event where they are being use, I will just avoid them and try to find other containers to use. For picnics, I will bring reusable containers/ tumblers, and regular cutlery. No need for plastic stuff.

Also, straws! Yes, no more straws. No, you don’t really need them. I am not sure who thought they were a good idea in the first place. If you do really actually need them, don’t worry, Klean Kanteen is your friend again! They are not cheap, but will save you a lifetime of buying straws. Some shops also have paper ones.

-No gum

Gum is a gross habit, and yes, gum contains plastic. Think about it: you chew on it for 5 minutes, spit it out, it stays out there for five years. That means there must be a huge iceberg of discarded gum somewhere. Just cut it out!

If you are really addicted to gum and struggle to quit, there are apparently a few plastic-free alternatives on the market, according to A Plastic free Life. But really, do you need that?

– Avoid fruits and veg wrapped in plastic/cellophane

I am trying to get most of my fruit and veg from the market so no unnecessary wrapping. However, it is usually not organic. Organic fruits in the supermarket on the other hand are often wrapped in plastic, which is really annoying me as it feels counter-productive! I don’t know what is worst, plastic wrappings, or pesticides destroying the soil? I’m also looking at where produce come from, and try to buy local and seasonal. I’m still working my way around that one, and will probably sign up for a veg box to be delivered at home. For dry items such as lentils or pasta, buy in bulk or find a zero-waste shop where you can bring your own containers.

-Avoid shower gel and hand wash liquid

Soap is your friend! Yes, bar soap, not the liquid one with tons of additives. That way, no more ugly plastic bottles in your bathroom. If you don’t like soap scum, or find your soap getting soggy, get a proper soap dish with a grille, so that the soap keeps dry. Also sharing soap is NOT unhygienic; in fact it is much more hygienic than a soap bottle that has been touched by many dirty hands! Simply rinse after use. If you are feeling brave, try making your own soap, it’s easy, fun and rewarding, and it makes a nice gift.

You are feeling extra brave? Bin the shampoo bottle and use a shampoo bar instead. I am planning to try the Lush ones soon. You can also use ghassoul, if it works for your hair (it doesn’t really for mine as it’s thin, but give it a go).

Same for your deodorant, bin the plastic, get an alum stone.

– No tea bags!

That’s a weird one isn’t it? Are you all looking at your tea bag and wondering how on earth there is plastic in there? Well yes, some brands use polypropylene to seal tea bags, which means that they also cannot be composted. I’m sure you don’t want that sipping in your tea! There is a great article over at Moral Fibres listing which brands do and don’t use plastic in their tea bags; Pukka Tea seems like the best option. Otherwise, do as I did and go back to an old-style tea infuser like that little guy here, and use loose leaf tea. It tastes so much better, and it is so much more enjoyable. The only issue is that now I make myself a whole teapot, rather than a mug…

Stainless Steel Loose Tea & Coffee Strainer Ball

– Make your own detergents, laundry soap etc

I am not really good at that, I’ll admit. I have my homemade cleaning spray that I use for everything (simply vinegar and water, with a dash of dishwashing liquid and a few drops of tea tree essential oil), and I use Moroccan black soap diluted in water to clean the floor. However, I still use bleach and other sprays for more heavy duty cleaning. I am pretty sure I could manage with just bicarbonate of soda and white vinegar, and will give it a go. For my laundry, I try making my own ivy laundry liquid but it didn’t really work. I am not super keen on using soap because I am worried about soap scum built up, especially with washable nappies. My options are a laundry egg (any good?), or buy from a ‘green’ brand such as Ecover. Ecover sells wholesale, which seems like a good option to reduce packaging. Other brands such as Reyouzable let you bring your own bags and bottles to fill.

– Think about the use of plastic in your home

As much as I would love my kid’s to have only beautiful handmade Grimm toys and Ostheimer figurines, we do have Lego, Playmobil and similar. What I completely refuse to buy is cheap plastic tat from the pound shop that they will play with for a week and then discard. Some of our Playmobil come from charity shops, so I feel that at least they got a good, long life. When we are done playing with them, we will donate to friends or charity. Other items such as toothbrushes can be replaced with bamboo ones or siwak sticks for instance.

-When there is no other option…

Of course most of us do end up with plastic waste at the end of the day. Make sure you dispose of it properly so that it can be recycled. In my local council for instance, we have recycling bins but they only accept some plastics and not others. For instance, plastic bottles, box and tubs are ok, but plastic bags, clingfilm and bags of frozen food need to go in the general waste bin. Check which bin to use!

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