Blue Planet II started on BBC1 last night (yay!). Along with the usual visually stunning cinematography and Sir David Attenborough’s authoritative yet soothing narration, it also carried a stark warning about the impact our reliance on plastic is having on the planet. There must be alternatives, surely?
Ever since that photograph of the seahorse holding onto a cotton bud appeared all over the internet, I’ve been trying to find ways to reduce how much plastic I use and dispose of. What I have done so far is hardly comprehensive and can seem pointless when you’re shopping at the supermarket and surrounded by the stuff, but it’s a start.
1. Opt for soaps over shower gels
High street chain Lush has a selection of soaps that are sold by the weight and come wrapped in biodegradable paper. If you’re really feeling eco-friendly, try one of their shampoo bars too and that is another bottle removed from the bathroom! Lush offer you a free face mask when you bring back five of their black pots to recycle, but I’ve found they come in handy to store the shampoo bars. They are easier to open than the special tins when your hands are wet and slippery in the bath or shower. I use my pot kind of like a cheese dome with the lid at the bottom for the bar to rest on and the actual pot goes over the top of it as a protective shield.
2. Use bamboo toilet roll!
Seriously! Bamboo takes a year to grow whereas trees take hundreds of years to grow before being chopped down. “Cheeky Panda” loo roll has biodegradable packaging and the 4-pack counts as an add-on item at Amazon. You always need toilet roll so you’ll never be short to make up the £20 free delivery with Amazon purchases.
3. Switch to cotton handkerchiefs
OK, so this isn’t for everyone and takes a little more thought, but hear me out. They are kinder to your skin, they are pretty, they can be folded up so as not to let any…goo…escape, they don’t tear, they don’t disintegrate and leave a white dust all over your laundry if you forget to empty your pockets. Buy enough to last you a week, use one a day, scrape off any hard bits, give them a quick wash in the sink with hot water and baking powder or Vanish, chuck them in with the rest of the laundry and you have nice, clean cotton hankies ready to be reused.
If you’re like me and get heavy colds now and then, invest in a pack of white hankies to be used only for those awful times (I got a pack of 12 for just over £3 on eBay). White hankies can be pre-washed in water and bleach to really sanitise them before putting them in to be washed with your clothes.
If you’re really averse to the idea, the good news is that Cheeky Panda sell a box of bamboo hankies!
4. Use a biodegradable bamboo toothbrush instead of plastic
You can buy these on eBay quite reasonably. Use different coloured permanent markers to personalise them. But don’t throw your old plastic toothbrush out just yet! Keep it for cleaning awkward nooks and crannies - I use mine to clean my Tassimo machine…which brings me onto my next topic…
5. Don’t ditch the coffee machine just yet!
TerraCycle has a network of drop-off points for your used coffee pods. Find your nearest one, drop them off and they get sent off to be recycled.
Use the coffee machine for hot water instead of the kettle. My kettle takes forever to boil and needs a lot of water in it to reach the minimum level, so for one cup of coffee it seems a waste. Either use the hot water function on your machine or stick a barcode from a used Tassimo pod over the descaling disc to get hot water fast.
6. Use your own cup for takeaway coffee
Yes, they have an initial outlay cost, but over time it will pay for itself. Many coffee chains like Starbucks and Costa give a discount on takeaway coffees if you bring your own cup. You can even use them for your “free coffee when you buy something instore” at Waitrose with your loyalty card! I have a purple Klean Kanteen with a sip-style coffee lid, plus an extra lid that simply has a hanging loop for when I want to put water in the Kanteen instead of coffee (PS, check eBay for these!).
7. Buy a stainless steel water bottle instead of plastic bottled water
Not only is this cheaper in the long run and more eco friendly, but you can even take an empty steel bottle through security at airports and fill it up at drinking fountains in the terminal! No need to pop into WHSmith and buy a newspaper and bottle of water anymore!
We are fortunate in the UK that our tap water is safe to drink. Don’t like the taste? Try putting some in a glass bottle in the fridge, it makes a world of difference. Or add some lemon, lime or other fruit juice to your taste.
8. Get a pack of reusable food wrap instead of cling film
You can get either food-safe silicone or cotton and beeswax wraps to cover food. The first purchase may cost as much as cling film over the year, but at least they stick to what you want them to stick to instead of rolling themselves up into a useless sticky ball!
9. Use glass or stainless steel to store food
We all know that plastic can leech into food if we store it long enough, so why do we keep doing it? IKEA have a range of glass storage called Fortrolig that is fridge, freezer, oven, dishwasher and microwave safe (ok, the lids are plastic but you don’t have to use them).
10. Buy loose fruit and veg
You can get some rather cute cotton produce bags that are both organic and fair-trade online. They are much more reliable than those flimsy things supermarkets put beside the loose onions and they can double as a bag for delicate items to go in the laundry.
11. Refuse a straw
Some pub chains are doing away with plastic straws. Unless you absolutely need one for medical or dental reasons, then invest in a pack of stainless steel or glass straws.
12. Reuse postal packaging
If you buy a lot of things online you will end up with a multitude of cardboard boxes and plastic post bags. Hold onto them for when you need to sell something online and post it, chances are you will manage to find a bag to fit it without having to buy one from the Post Office.
13. Check the labels on clothing you want to buy to see what it is made of
It is too easy to buy cheap throwaway fashion from Primark and it doesn’t seem to matter if it wears out after three months. However it does matter if it ends up in landfill.
Polyester clothing in the wash gives off tiny particles of plastic that water filters cannot catch. They end up in the sea, in fish, which end up in human stomachs.
Cotton t-shirts can be cut up and used as cleaning rags, handkerchiefs or repurposed into knitting yarn.
Last time I went to the Gap Outlet at Dalton Park, I tried on a light jacket that was in the sale and had an extra 40% off. I liked it, but what was it made of? I checked the label. Lyocell? What the hell is that?! In the changing room I looked it up online. Apparently it’s some kind of magic material made from wood pulp that takes a lot less water and land to produce than cotton, is soft, strong, absorbent, resistant to wrinkles and biodegradable! Needless to say, I bought the jacket!
14. Try to reuse the plastics you own instead of throwing them out
Find unusual ways to make use of what you already have. If you have old plastic food boxes that you no longer want to use to store food, use them for crafts or tool storage. I repurposed a big old paint pail as a trial composter…before it got full within a week and we had to get a bigger one anyway…I have two tubes of lip balm from the Body Shop and when they run out I plan to fill them up with coconut oil. A shower spray bottle is going to get filled with a mix of water and white vinegar when it is empty instead of buying another spray bottle.
15. What about my weakness for x, y and z? They come in plastic packaging!
I know! I feel the same about Cadbury’s Caramel Dairy Milk and Pepsi! I’m human, I’m in no position to go cold turkey on either of them. However I have tried to limit myself to one can of Pepsi a week and have discovered that my favourite luxury chocolate Divine has recyclable packaging. For now, simply try to cut back and find alternatives, eg instead of buying cookies I can bake them.
- Use soaps and shampoo bars over shower gels and shampoo bottles
- Use bamboo toilet roll
- Switch to cotton handkerchiefs
- Use a bamboo toothbrush
- Recycle your coffee pods
- Use your own mug for takeaway coffee
- Buy a stainless steel water bottle and stop buying bottled water
- Use reusable food wrap over cling film
- Choose glass or stainless steel to store food
- Buy loose fruit and veg
- Refuse a straw
- Reuse postal packaging
- Check labels for material on clothing
- Repurpose the plastic items you already own
- Cut back slowly on your luxuries that come in plastic packaging