You don’t have to give up on life as you know it to reduce plastic use. Hanna Woodside checks out surprising swaps that can make a big difference.
Do you suffer from plastic anxiety? Feel a pang of guilt every time you sneak a disposable fork to eat your Pret salad? Are you haunted by those poor, innocent dolphins tangled up in plastic detritus in Blue Planet? Even if you’re reading this while merrily sipping a smoothie through an evil plastic straw, most of us know that we need to do our bit to stop the 5.2 million tonnes of plastic waste we create in the UK each year. Only a third of this is recycled; much of it goes to landfill or winds up in the sea.
But beyond stuffing a Bag for Life into your handbag, it can feel as though living a less plastic-filled life is the preserve of hardcore eco-crusaders or smug wellness bloggers with endless time and cash at their disposal. What can regular, busy, imperfect people really do to make a difference?
‘You don’t have to be perfect,’ says Natalie Fee, author of How To Save The World For Free and founder of City to Sea, which fights plastic pollution. ‘It’s still worth making one small, manageable change, rather than doing nothing at all.’ So instead of berating yourself for not achieving a completely plastic-free, zero-waste lifestyle, here are some low-hassle swaps to consider.
Switch up your shampoo
Ideally, go for solid shampoo. A bar of soap for your hair eliminates the need for a plastic container. Lush’s shampoo and conditioner bars (from £7) have rave reviews and last up to 100 washes – roughly three times more than a bottle of the liquid stuff. Can’t handle the powerful aroma of Lush’s stores? Try Foamie shampoo bars (£6.99, boots.com). Rub directly on wet roots or lather up in your hands, then massage in the suds. ‘If solid shampoo isn’t for you, look for haircare brands that make their bottles from recycled plastic,’ says Natalie Fee. Try Aveda (available in Debenhams, M&S and John Lewis) or Faith in Nature (available in Holland & Barrett).
Try a smart detergent
‘Up to 90 per cent of regular washing detergent is just water – and there are environmental impacts of transporting all that water around,’ says Sarah Lewis, who runs thezerowaster.com. She recommends a brand called Splosh. Order a bottle of its laundry detergent (£5.45 for 430ml) and when you run out buy refill pouches of concentrated detergent, which you mix at home with tap water. The pouches cut plastic waste by around 90 per cent (you can return empty pouches to Splosh for free and they re-process the material). It works out at 26p per wash – no more expensive than a branded liquitab – but with far less wasted plastic. Splosh also does concentrated refills for washing-up liquid, kitchen cleaner, hand wash and shower gel. Genius.
Choose an eco toothbrush
We go through an estimated 300 toothbrushes in a lifetime. If you use a manual plastic one and chuck it every two-to-three months when the bristles are knackered, you could switch to a biodegradable bamboo toothbrush, such as Humble Brush (£3.99, superdrug.com). Another option? ‘I use a Yaweco toothbrush, which has replaceable clip-on heads,’ says Sarah Lewis. The handle is made from plastic (in a solar-powered factory) but crucially won’t end up in landfill because you only discard the heads. Get a Yaweco brush on Amazon for £7; a pack of four replacement heads costs about £6.
Step away from wipes
Make-up wipes: words guaranteed to get environmentalists agitated. These ‘disposable’ wipes contain plastic, block sewers and take up to a century to break down in landfill (yes, your smoky-eye-stained wipe from Saturday night won’t leave this planet until 2119; a mind-boggling thought). ‘Try washable make-up remover pads like the Face Halo,’ advises Natalie Fee. A disc of ultra-fine microfibre you dampen with water and use to gently remove your make-up, a Face Halo will last 200 washes and costs £7.50 from Boots: a no brainer money saver.
Keep cutlery in your desk draw
‘When it comes to all the plastic rubbish that washes up on our beaches, after plastic bottle tops the biggest culprit is disposable cutlery,’ says Martin Dorey, author of No More Plastic and founder of the #2minutebeachclean initiative. Not surprising given we use 16.5 billion pieces of disposable cutlery a year in the UK. Bring in some proper cutlery from home tomorrow, which will take 30 seconds to wash and dry by hand. Do it while the kettle’s boiling for your post-lunch cuppa and think of all the dolphins you’ve saved.
Wean yourself off clingfilm
Some people love clingfilm. Yes, it’s convenient and, yes, avoiding food waste is an environmental concern. But it’s extremely wasteful: we go through 1.2 billion metres of it in the UK each year. ‘Wrap your leftovers with stretchy, reusable silicone covers and bags,’ says Natalie Fee. Food Huggers and Stasher are two brands to check out – and you can put them in the dishwasher. Converts to Beeswax Wraps –washable sheets of waxed organic cotton that hold their shape – are evangelical; you’re looking at £10 for a two-pack, but each wrap will last up to a year.
Five really easy plastic-free wins
1. DOWNLOAD THE REFILL APP
This points you to the nearest of the 20,000 UK shops, cafés and chains offering free refills for your water bottle. refill.org.uk.
2. PICK PAPER COTTON BUDS
Every year, 1.3 billion plastic ones are flushed down the loo. Muji’s have paper stems and come in a paper sleeve (£2.95 for 200).
3. USE COMPOSTABLE COFFEE PODS
Can’t live without your Nespresso machine? Try Eden Project’s Biodegradable Capsules (£3.50 for 10 at Waitrose) as a compromise.
4. …AND PLASTIC-FREE TEA BAGS
Lots of tea bags use plastic to help seal the edges. Those by Pukka, Clipper, Teapigs and Good & Proper are plastic-free.
5. EAT PIC ’N’ MIX
Sweet wrappers are one of the worst offenders for beach plastic. Go for pic ’n’ mix in a paper bag or an old-fashioned tin.