My top ten tips for going plastic-free

It’s helpful to think of your plastic-free future as a journey; plastic is everywhere and if you try to go cold-turkey you will quickly lose motivation and feel that it’s impossible. Take it slow and give yourself a break if you occasionally slip up. It will get easier!

Refuse single-use items: plastic water bottles, coffee cups, plastic bags, straws and all
the other bits of pointless plastic that we are all bombarded with on a daily basis. A cotton
tote bag takes up no room at all and once you get used to bringing a reusable water bottle
with you it becomes as much a part of the leaving-the-house routine as picking up your keys
and phone.

Limit the number of bins in your home to just three; one for recycling, one for composting and one for landfill/incineration (and if you’re not already composting food waste then start immediately! Food waste in landfill rots anaerobically producing huge amounts of methane gas). It’s also worth checking the recycling guidelines for your area to ensure you’re recycling the right things and not contaminating it (meaning it’s likely to end up in landfill, anyway).

You’re now ready to assess where most of your plastic waste comes from and see where you can make changes. Remember that recycling is a good place to start but a terrible place to stop. Plastic can only be ‘downcycled’ a couple of times, unlike aluminium or glass, which can be infinitely recycled.

Bettina Maidment has happily lived plastic-free for 18 months

Personally, going plastic-free has led me to live more sustainably in general so
the idea of chucking out all the plastic for natural alternatives makes no sense at all –
throwing out stuff is just wasteful. Use up what you’ve got first and one-by-one look for
more sustainable plastic-free options. This way it’s much less overwhelming and will
give you plenty of time to research the alternatives.

As well as avoiding plastic I also go for products produced ethically and which don’t contain palm oil (this stuff is in everything from biscuits to hand-soap). Lush is great for ‘naked’ palm-oil free toiletries to get you started and Buy Me Once is a great website for bigger purchases.

Think about a product that you use regularly and see if there is a simple switch to make it plastic-free. For example, can your washing detergent be bought in a cardboard box? Can you swap your single-use disposable razor blade for a stainless-steel safety razor and
ladies, can you ditch the tampons for a Mooncup? We tend to buy the same things out of
habit when with a bit of investigation there is often a better plastic-free alternative out there (and one which will generally save you money in the long run too)…

If you can avoid the supermarkets you’ll find it much easier to avoid a lot of unnecessary packaging. Buy fruit and veg loose at the greengrocers (I use Onya bags instead of plastic produce bags for smaller items) and bring your own Tupperware to the
butcher, fishmonger and deli. They’ll be more than happy to accommodate as it saves them
money, too. Sometimes you’ll even get a discount – I get 10 per cent off at the local deli for bringing my own containers. If you’re lucky enough to have a bulk store nearby, you’ll be able to find loose pulses, grains and so on (this app shows you your nearest bulk store).

If the supermarket is your only option, try and go for the loose produce. You should still be able to use your own tupperware at the butcher counter and so on (Morrisons and Waitrose now openly state that you can bring your own containers). If you can’t avoid the plastic
packaging leave it at the checkout and make a stand that you’ve had enough!
Online shopping is a plastic minefield but swapping to a veg box such as Riverford, or a local box scheme and getting milk via a milk-man, will reduce your plastic consumption hugely.

There is often a better plastic-free alternative out there – and one which will save you money in the long run

A huge amount of plastic waste is a result of the food industry; whether it’s ready-meals or take-aways they can be absolutely swathed in the stuff. Batch cooking and freezing extra portions cuts down on food waste and means there’s always supper even if you’re in a hurry. Taking a packed lunch to work will also reduce your plastic usage (beeswax wraps are a great replacement for cling film but equally a sandwich fits nicely into an old takeaway container), it will also be cheaper and healthier!

I’ve been amazed at the number of products that I’ve been blindly buying for years that can be made at home. I now make liquid hand-wash, bar soap, lip balm and
deodorant from a couple of household items, plus my own window cleaner and all-purpose cleaner. From toiletries to cleaning products you can find a recipe online that only requires a few simple ingredients – plastic-free and avoids a load of unnecessary chemicals, it also feels
immensely satisfying to become more and more self-sufficient.

When you next need to make a big purchase ask yourself whether you can you borrow it from a friend, use something you’ve already got, or do without. If you need to buy it, be more mindful when you do; can you buy it second-hand or from a more ethical supplier – or could you find a plastic-free alternative? Plastic is seemingly in everything and the more we reduce our consumption of it the less demand there will be, and the less will be produced.
When I do have to buy plastic (I have two boys who are obsessed with Playmobil…) I have a rule of ‘no new plastic’ – eBay is your friend (and will save you money too!)

Every pound you spend is a vote for the kind of world you want to live in. By choosing to avoid overly-packaged products, refusing straws and questioning retailers on bad practise, you’re sending a clear message that we don’t want or need all the plastic that’s forced upon us. Can you get involved in a local beach clean or similar activity, or add your voice to campaigns demanding change?  Complacency will lead to politicians and business hoping that we’ve forgotten all about it and reverting to the bad old days. It’s up to all of us to create a plastic-free world that future generations will be able to enjoy.

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