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22 Plastic Free Swaps at the Supermarket

Author: Naomi Liddell
Have you watched Our Planet yet? I desperately want David Attenborough to be my Grandad. We watched the first couple of episodes at the weekend. It’s equal parts jaw-droppingly beautiful and heart-achingly devastating. But they have achieved something wonderful with how it’s been filmed and narrated, there is a gorgeous sense of hope throughout the whole series that makes it feel uplifting. I couldn’t write a post about plastic free swaps and not mention it. 

We watched it with Ethan and being 5 years old, he naturally had a ton of questions about seals falling off cliffs because of disappearing ice. I love his little inquisitive mind. But I do find it difficult to balance the answers. On one hand, I want him to know that we have a responsibility through our choices to protect the environment but on the other hand, I worry that it might be too heavy a burden or make him judge others based on their efforts (including the multitude of things that Gavin and I get wrong on a daily basis). He already gets so annoyed when he sees litter. He’s a sensitive wee soul. 

 
But I suppose all we can do is try our best at home and teach him that other people are trying their best too. Plastic is such a pervasive material and it’s just kind of snuck up on us all. Weeding it out of buying habits is a mammoth task especially considering we all have access to different resources, be that time, money or geographical location.  For instance, our nearest bulk food store for buying things like rice, oats, dried fruit etc. plastic free is a 35 minute drive away. I only make that trip once every 2-3 weeks to stock up. Because of this, I’ve spotted some easy swaps in the supermarket for typically plastic packaged products. Making these swaps is also a way to vote with your cash, alerting the corporate powers-that-be that… No, we don’t need bananas bagged in plastic thankyouverymuch. That’s what banana skins are for.
 
For all the other things home and toiletry wise, Gavin and I set up our own online shop, in the hope we could plug a gap in the market for plastic free products in central Scotland. But it turns out, most of our customers so far have been from England! Maybe one day, I’ll own a Tesco sized shop full of all things natural and plastic free and you all can visit me and we’ll drink (plastic free) tea together.  But until then, here’s the best we can do with what we’ve got…
 
22 Plastic Free Swaps at the Supermarket
  1. Dishwasher Powder & Salt – Most supermarkets have been selling their own brand of these in card boxes alongside the plastic bagged ones. Same product, different packaging. Oh and Lidl and Aldi finished 2nd and 3rd place in the Which? test for dishwasher tablets. They also come it at 1/4 price of the leading brands. 
  2. Laundry Detergent – Buy the bulk boxes of powder rather than the bottles or pouches of liquid and you’ll save both money and plastic waste. 
  3. Hand soap – Swap liquid hand soap for a good old fashioned bar of soap. You’ll usually find a few brands packaged in card at the shops. 
  4. Fabric Softener – We’ve just ditched it all together as we found it was making Gavin’s psoriasis dramatically worse. It’s made zero difference to our washes. 
  5. Dishcloths – Buy washable cloths you can throw in the machine rather than disposable. Preferably made from natural fabric that will decompose once done. 
  6. Toilet Roll – Some large Tesco’s stock Renova which is a recycled loo roll wrapped in paper. Alternatively, use Who Gives a Crap (my favourite) to get your TP delivered. We use their bamboo paper and with double length rolls it works out the same cost per roll as the supermarkets.
  7. Tea – Most tea bags are actually sealed with plastic adhesive, plastic tea… Yum… Teapigs teas are made of biodegradable and compostable natureflex and come in a compostable cardboard box. 
  8. Coffee – Percol sells ground coffee in home compostable packaging. Coffee pods are unfortunately an area that needs a lot of work. But Lakeland sells these Eden Project biodegradable pods that work with Nespresso machines. 
  9. Oats – Quite a lot of brands still sell oats in paper bags so opt for those. My favourite though is Flahavans Organic oats. The creamiest porridge ever! 
  10. Wheat biscuits and shredded wheat – Aldi’s basic brand are in card and paper. Most other supermarkets also will have a couple of brands in card with wax paper. 
  11. Pasta – The best of a bad bunch is Barilla pasta in a card box with a small plastic window. 
  12. Rice – Uncle Bens rice comes in a cardboard box – Although we tend to buy the large bags from the world food aisle rather than lots of smaller packages. We eat a lot of rice!
  13. Herbs & Spices – M&S and Sainsburys own brand come in glass bottles with metal lids.
  14. Salt – Most supermarkets sell rock salt and sea salt in card boxes.
  15. Loose Nuts – Lidl sells these and some Holland and Barretts.
  16. Fizzy Drinks & Tonic Water– Opt for cardboards box multipacks of recyclable cans rather than plastic bottles. Fizzy drinks always taste better from a can too. 
  17. Condiments – Opt for glass bottles of mayo, ketchup, salad dressings, mustard, honey, jam etc. 
  18. Oils and vinegar – These can also be very easily bought in glass bottles. Aldi does a great range of affordable oils in glass bottles. 
  19. Fruit & Veg – Bring tote bags or produce bags for loose fruit and veg, or just chuck them loose into your trolley if you forget your bags. 
  20. Bread, rolls, buns etc. Take your own containers or tote bags to the bakery section and fill up!
  21. Frozen food – All Linda McCarney products come in cardboard packaging. Most Birds Eye products like chicken dippers, nuggets, potato waffles and fish fingers can also be bought in cardboard only. If you give the box a shake you can usually hear if there’s plastic inside – Bonus points for looking like a loon in the frozen food aisle. 
  22. Ice Cream – Blocks of ice cream in card are available at most supermarkets now. Yum!

After all that, it’s worth adding that although reducing plastic is no doubt a good thing, some materials like glass are actually quite heavy on resources to recycle so it’s best to keep any jars you gather for reuse. We use ours for tealights outside in summer, storing leftovers in the fridge, storing small things like screws in the garage etc. But of course, recycle what you can’t reuse. Also, paper bags have a higher carbon footprint than plastic ones so it’s best to bring durable, reusable bags with you to the shop.

So there are a few of the tips I’ve gleaned from trying to reduce our waste.  Do you know of any other plastic swaps we can add to the list? Or is there anything here you think you’ll make the switch to in future?

 

 

 
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Naomi can’t decide which she loves more: adventuring with her boys or being left alone in a luxurious bath with a great book.
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15 thoughts on “22 Plastic Free Swaps at the Supermarket

  1. http://Www.terracycle.com is a website where you can search for locations to recycle things that can’t go in the household recycling.

    I used it to find where to take the coffee pods form work – every couple of weeks I drop them all off to be recycled. A small thing but very little helps etc..

      1. Yes I found out that they recycle crisp packets – there’s a stall on the market in our nearest city that will send them off for you, so I save them up and take them.

  2. Morning Naomi! Do you know whether there are any plastic free alternatives to J cloths? I switched to using them instead of kitchen roll and surface wipes and just chuck them in the wash until they fall apart. They appeal because I can buy them in bulk for pennies in Lidl but now I’m wondering about the plastic content….and what might be being released in the wash

    1. Susie I’d say your best bet is to buy a batch of dark grey (or colour of choice) face cloths/ cotton flannels. They’re cheap as chips, wash really well with your towels, are long-lasting and can be industrially composted at the end of their life. They are also better than anything at cleaning surfaces or wiping up spills. Reserve the j cloths for really dirty work you know would ruin a cloth, like working on the car.
      If you want to go super cheap and zero waste, cutting up old towels for rags is pretty much the same thing 👍🏼

  3. You could try an ego egg for laundry, replaces soap powder and fabric softener.

    I know that soap is the better waste free choice but I do prefer hand wash and use Soaper Duper, possibly one of my favourite brands, their bottles are made from recycled plastic and they support wateraid.

    1. I’ve heard mixed reports about the eco egg Roz, how do you find it? Might wait until the baby poonamis are over first!

  4. I’ve swapped to a shampoo bar now my gigantic TKMaxx TIGI shampoo is at its end and love it. Got one from Lush with a tin a it smells great. Next on my list is a decent conditioner bar but apparently a good one is hard to find. My coffee cup is bamboo and have used it at Costa and Starbucks with ease. My water bottle is a Sigg. And you can replace just the cap and recycle it rather than replace a whole bottle. We’ve already changed to board of soap, soap powder has always been better for me anyway so buy the big fairy box, back to glass Heinz ketchup but had forgotten how much splodges out when you whack the bottom. Have heavy duty trolley bags. Haven’t yet took my own containers to morrisons but they encourage you to do that. It’s really hard when we’ve been brought up on all these disposables and led to believe it was all being recycled…any luck on getting a milkman yet. That’s been my favourite change, having the glass bottles delivered

    1. Helen you are rocking it! I actually prefer my shampoo and conditioner bars. I find there’s less residue left on my hair and it’s in better condition. My husband feels the same. He finds them much better for his psoriasis too.
      We take our own containers to our butchers and they are so welcoming about it. But you’re right, you don’t actually realise just how much plastic we all use on a daily basis until you step back and look… Then you can’t unsee it! 🙈

  5. Thanks for sharing this list Naomi. I would challenge some tho, synthetic materials being washed is now known to release microplastics which some would argue are worse than plastics as they get straight into our waterways, ecosystems, animals and eventually us! I have seen the cora ball (https://coraball.com/) which apparently collects microfibres in your wash but to mixed reviews.

    Also I’m not convinced on the increased use of cardboard and tins, a lot of food packaging is coated in a thin layer of plastic – tins and cans are now coated with plastic on the inside (I guess to prevent the contamiantion by the metal) but ironically now has a greater risk of BPA leaching!

    It just seems like we can’t win and its very overwhelming with so many conflicting studies / reports etc. Gaaah!

    1. Hi Sarah, yep, good points. I’m aware of the microplastics problem, which is why I suggested opting for a natural material dishcloth that can be washed and reused.
      As for the increased use of cardboard and tins, I still maintain that infinitely recyclable aluminium tins are a better option than finitely recyclable plastic bottles (if you’re going to purchase the product regardless). Industrial recycling facilities are still able to process these and most cardboard, even if coated.
      This post was written to give better alternatives, but as you say… There are no perfect alternatives. Hopefully things will get better though.

  6. Very late to the party on this one but really helpful article, thanks Naomi. So true about once you step back and see it you can’t unsee it and it’s terrifying! 🙁 We have a wholefoods shop in Inverness I’ve been meaning to get to for a while so you’ve given me a push, thanks!

  7. Very late to the party so hopefully someone will still see this and find it useful but we’ve swapped to Cheeky Wipes for face/hand washing toddlers and my own make up removal/cleanser and they’re amazing! We’ve cut down on so much waste x

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