Plastic Challenge - July 2018
It has taken me a while to get round to finishing this blog post, but I have finally done it. It is a bit of a long one, but hopefully helpful to some of you, who are wanting to start their journey to a plastic free life!
I had been interested in reducing my impact on the environment for a long time, but I had also been a little bit clueless about where to start and when to find time to do it when balancing between a hospitality job and job hunting, both mentally and physically very exhausting. In May, I had a chat with Marine Conservation Society to see if they would be interested in partnering up with #RoamResponsibly campaign, that I have been managing. During the discussion they told me that they will be running a Plastic Challenge again in July this year and that it might be something that I might want to take part in.
My boyfriend got a great job near Birmingham and so we left the lovely Edinburgh and Scotland behind and moved to the West Midlands in the beginning of June. As I had a new flat to equip and no job lined up, I seized the moment and started thinking about the way I could reduce the amount of plastic waste (and other types of waste) that my boyfriend and I produce. I signed up for the Marine Conservation Society's Plastic Challenge. If you aren't familiar with the challenge, the idea is to #GoPlasticFree for the month of July and to minimise especially the use of single-use plastics.
I asked a few other content creators to come on board and set up a small group chat with them to share tips and ideas and shared our progress also through RoamResponsibly Instagram Stories. And this actually is my first tip: if you want to go plastic free and zero waste, find likeminded people to do it with (Instagram is a great place to do this). Share your experiences and tips with others on what products are good and where to find them or how to make your own! It is incredibly helpful and motivating to share knowledge and experiences - I suppose in a way that is how we have got so far as a species! I have recently joined a Birmingham Zero Waste Facebook group, where people share tips on local zero waste shops and events. Your town or city might very well have the same, and if it doesn't, why not set one up?
It is not a surprise that most of the plastic waste is generated in your kitchen and bathroom: too many cosmetics, products and foods are unnecessarily wrapped and/or packaged in plastic. Plastic is an amazing material, but grossly overused, bad for the environment and many types of plastics out there still cannot be recycled. I am baffled by the UK's ability to be so far behind in these things. In Finland for example, we have had a bottle deposit return system for decades, many more materials are recycled and many unrecyclable plastics go into "energy waste", where they are burnt to generate energy. Burning of course is probably not the best idea in terms of climate change, but it is better than having the rubbish pollute nature and seas all around the world. And this does not mean that everyone would recycle there but at least people have the option to do it.
Easy Plastic Free Swaps to Start with
Below I have listed a few easy swaps to make and tried to include prices of the products as well to give an idea of how much they might be. Unfortunately, ethical and environmentally friendly products are usually a little to significantly pricier than their unethical counterparts and therefore it just simply is not affordable for everyone. Many of the products last much longer, though, and therefore the slightly higher cost is going to pay itself back in the future.
I have been unemployed and job hunting the whole summer and financially supported by my parents and my boyfriend (shoutout to these amazing people!), so money has been tight, but I have still tried to go for the more sustainable and environmentally friendly option, whenever I can. I was also lucky enough to be gifted products from a couple of brands - I have marked these brands with an * behind the brand name. They are all brands that I would highly recommend even if I had not been sponsored, and brands that I have since purchased and will keep purchasing.
Swap your plastic toothbrush to a BAMBOO TOOTHBRUSH and you can start making a big difference. The handles of bamboo toothbrushes are fully biodegradable, but unfortunately the bristles aren't yet so, do remember to remove these before you compost the handle or put it in your foodwaste bin. I swapped my plastic toothbrush to a bamboo one from HydroPhil*, who offer a normal one but also a extra soft one for anyone, who has sensitive teeth or brushes too hard (like me). Bamboo toothbrushes cost generally around £4.
Use SHAMPOO AND BODY WASH SOAP BARS instead of ones in plastic bottles. Even though, many shampoo and body wash bottles are recyclable, this is an easy way to reduce a lot of plastic waste. Soap and shampoo bars are usually also made of natural ingredients and a lot better for your skin and hair.
With a shampoo bar you will experience usually about a month-long transition period, during which your hair will get rid of any remnants of liquid shampoos and your hair and scalp will adjust to the soap. I started with a Rosemary and Lavender shampoo bar and a Lavender and Geranium soap bar from Wild Sage & co*, which smell gorgeous and have been very good to my hair and skin.
I am also in love with a newly emerged brand called Conchus, who make shampoo and soap bars, but also ready-made hair rinses. It is recommended to use a hair rinse (usually apple cider vinegar) after shampoo bars as a conditioner for your hair. I bought the apple-cider-vinegar-free hair rinse from Conchus and I have been loving it, PLUS it lasts for a long while!
More about shampoo bars and hair rinses in my blog post about Plastic Free Hair Care! Shampoo and soap bars generally range between £4-6 per bar (shampoo bars are more expensive). They also last for quite a while: my shampoo bar will probably last for about 1.5 months and body wash will last over 2 months (I shower once a day)!
Buy PLASTIC FREE TOOTHPASTE. Toothpaste tubes, like many other tube-like packaging cannot be recycled as it cannot be cleaned and therefore contribute a lot to the pile of rubbish that we throw out. I was given a few brilliant examples, Tooth Soap Stick and Natural Toothpaste, to try by Georganics*, who make natural toothpaste and other dental products, most of which come in recyclable packaging. I have been using natural toothpastes for years now due to normal toothpastes giving me allergic seactions so the swap was not that difficult. However, when swapping from a conventional to a more natural toothpaste, you may find it hard at first to get used to the different taste, consistency and level of foam. You can also try toothpaste tablets from shops like Lush (although they come in plastic packaging, which hopefully is recyclable) or from Anything But Plastic, which have flouride in them and come in cardboard boxes! I tried the Lush toothy tabs and I have to say that they did not work for me at all - got an allergic reaction, so I will be staying away from them! Plastic free toothpastes are a little bit pricier averaging around ~£7.
Buy PLASTIC FREE COSMETICS, whenever possible. These are unfortunately, still a little bit hard to find and they are definitely more expensive than other products. However, more and more brands are emerging so keep your eyes peeled.
I have swapped for:
a plastic free lip balm (HydroPhil~£5), body butter ( Happy Holistics £10),
salt scrub (Wild Sage & co £12),
clay facemask (Wild Sage and co £12), dental floss (Georganics ~£5),
deodorant (Zero Waste Path Shop £5) and homemade body scrub.
Most of these products actually last for a relatively long time so the higher price is worth it. Other things you can find are for example oil cleansers, plastic free shaving kits, shaving soap and dry shampoo.
You should also consider using sponges etc. made of natural ingredients instead of plastic: I use a exfoliating sisal soap pouch, which is biodegradable at the end of its life. Also remember biodegradable cotton buds (HydroPhil* does ones made of bamboo and cotton) and reusable cotton rounds for your face, which you can easily find in many zero waste online stores and for example on Etsy.
The first thing I got for my kitchen was a WOODEN DISH BRUSH with natural bristles. The best type of dish brush is the one you can see in the photo on the left: you can buy new brush heads for it and reuse the handle and the materials are just wood, metal and natural bristles.
A great addition to this is a BIODEGRADABLE SCOURER made of coconut fibre - mine is from Ecococonut. The coconut bristles are biodegradable and held together by a recyclable metal coil.
I have bought REUSABLE DISH SPONGES from the lovely Zero Waste Maker and I use a good quality, REUSABLE CLOTH, that I have had for a few years (I wash it in the washing machine) instead of those blue ones that just break after a while. I also now make my own dish soap out of Dr. Bronner's* castile soap, which comes in a paper wrap and therefore is plastic free! See my previous blog post for a recipe for the dish soap!
Food Shopping and Storage
One of the first things I did, when I knew I was going to push myself out of my comfort zone and ditch plastics, was I bought some REUSABLE PRODUCE BAGS to help me shop plastic free. I searched for some online and was also contemplating making some myself, but I don't have a sewing machine so I decided to give that a miss for the time being. I then bumped into Zero Waste Maker's Etsy store and was in love. She is a costumer maker by day and then uses any fabric scraps to make these zero waste goodies like produce bags, reusable dish sponges and reusable cotton rounds.
I have now bought six of her lightweight produce bags and they have made plastic free shopping a lot easier: I use them for fruit and vegetable as well as for nuts, seeds, pastas etc. One important thing is to also stock up on GLASS AND METAL STORAGE JARS of all sizes! I have been buying ones in charity shops and in ASDA, Wilko and Søstrene Grene. You can very well use old sauce glass jars etc (clean them out well and maybe sterilise them too) and I also actually repurposed an old glass candle jar to a spice jar.
I buy most of my vegetables and fruit plastic free from our local Morrison's, which actually has a great selection of loose fruit and veg compared to other big markets. They have also recently swapped plastic produce bags for paper bags, which is great! I have bought meat and fish from the counter a couple of times, but I find that I keep forgetting to take a container from home with. At Morrison's they still weigh any meat in a plastic bag before putting it into your container, so their strategy to try to promote plastic free shopping has backfired slightly. I also have no butcher shops anywhere near me, so that is not an option for me. I have recently been thinking about going more and more towards vegetarian diet and that is something that I might do in the near future to further reduce my impact on the environment.
All the dry foods (spices, pasta, rice, seeds, beans and grains) I buy from the Clean Kilo, which is Birmingham's Zero Waste Shop and the largest shop of the kind in the UK now. I take smaller containers and the produce bags with me when going to this shop. There is a pretty nifty list of zero waste shops in the UK online at zerowaster.com and if you happen not to live near any of them, you can also buy some online from Plastic Free Pantry (tried and tested, great quality and fast delivery!) or Zero Waste Club. Remember to also buy loose tea or to make sure that the teabags you use do not have plastic in them (unfortunately many still do).
The change to a plastic free and zero waste lifestyle will not happen in one night - it is a journey. Think about everything you use or buy and whether you could eliminate the need for it. If you cannot, try to think whether there might be a more sustainable alternative available.
It all starts with small changes. Consider using reusable items instead of single-use items, from reusable cotton facial rounds and towels to silicone baking sheets. Make your own beeswax wraps to replace cling film (tutorial in my previous blog post).
If you need more tupperware, favour metal containers over buying new plastic, if you can afford it. Buy reusable metal straws and light bamboo cutlery to keep in your bag and you can refuse any single-use plastic straws and cutlery. Carry reusable metal or glass water bottles and reusable takeaway coffee cups with you. Metal and glass as materials can be recycled many more times than other recyclable materials. Many plastic products cannot be recycled at all at the moment, so even a reusable plastic product will eventually end up in the landfill. Little by little, you will become more aware and better at analysing your consumption habits. Do some research on plastic free and zero waste alternatives and make a change where you can.
There you go, some some tips to get you started. There is of course a lot more you and I can do about the plastic pollution and I’ll make sure to share more tips through my Instagram and blog. Do let me know either here or on Instagram if you have any thoughts or comments, or if you want to share your experiences going plastic free - I’m all ears!
Speak to you soon,