This topic has gathered a lot of attention recently since our beloved David Attenborough highlighted the problems that we all face because of plastics. It’s a minefield of a topic, with lots of information and equally lots of misinformation. I’m sure we’ve all seen the videos of the disastrous effect plastic use is having on our oceans and the poor animals feeding plastic to their babies, so I have no intentions of eco-shaming or high horsing here. I just want to share the very personal story of why and how we’re reducing our plastic waste on our household.
It all started with a conversation on a bus three years ago when we lived in an old hippie town in Australia called Fremantle. It was the kind of town where even the council were championing cycle paths and free water bottle refill stations. I sat beside a chatty older lady who spotted my shopping bags and was cooing at Ethan. In that conversation, she taught me two things (that no matter how deeply I denied for a while after), I couldn’t unlearn.
“Have you ever opened your fridge and seen how much plastic there is compared to food in there?”
Completely stumped, I promised her I would have a good look when I got home.
“Do you realise that most of that ends up contaminated or mismanaged so it doesn’t get recycled? And most plastics can only be recycled a few of times before they inevitably end up in oceans or landfill. It’s also probably not good for you and the little man’s health.”
On that bus, I won’t lie, I felt mildly defensive towards this little old lady and her canvas bags. But the cogs in my mind turned and when I got home I opened my fridge. She was right. More plastic than food.
That day, Gavin returned home to find me deep in a ‘zero waste’ and ‘plastic toxins’ internet rabbit hole, full of energy and new ideas about how we were going to lead a 100% plastic-free life, like, immediately. Well, it’s been three years and we’re still not entirely plastic free. The process is long and it’s difficult. But one thing I’ve learned for sure is that (as with most things in life) it’s not about achieving perfection, it’s about one-by-one making smaller, better choices.
While it’s been challenging, we haven’t looked back. We’re so committed now and enjoying our changes that in the summer we’ll be launching a side business to make it easier for other local people to make small changes too.
It’s a colossal topic, so here’s an overview of the progress we’ve made in the last few years.
The very first thing I did was stop buying plastic water bottles. I think I had always known it was a con, being sold bottles of stuff that’s free in a tap. But when I threw in my new plastic-free motivation (and the fact that one of my friends called it plastic tea on account of the plastic leaching into the water), it was by far the easiest thing to cut out. I bought a Zulu glass water bottle and now I’m completely unashamed to walk into a bar or cafe and ask for a refill (something that caused a bit of embarrassment in the beginning). For festivals and gigs where the policy is plastic cups only for drinks, you can pop one of these handy collapsable silicone cups in your bag.
Plastic bags were pretty easy to give up, although in the beginning, I was duped into buying the ‘bags for life’ which are really just more plastic bags (albeit robust ones). I now use trolley bags and produce bags for my weekly shopping and have bought a few nice structured canvas bags too. I find that totes, while great for stuffing into your handbag, just squish most of my shopping as they have no structure.
Straws were equally easy to eliminate. I mean, if it comes in a cup or glass, you can drink it without a straw. The most difficult thing about this one was remembering to say “No straw please”, especially when ordering food for Ethan in a restaurant. They always seem to bring kids straws for some reason. I’ve bought these beautiful stainless steel straws for home use.
Since buying my KeepCup, I actually find drinking tea or hot chocolate out of plastic cups to be a really unpleasant experience. I mean, I can taste the plastic (and almost all paper cups are lined in plastic). It grosses me out. The bonus is that most cafes will give you a discount for bringing a reusable cup. We usually have a couple in the car so it’s easy to grab them if we end up on an impromptu cafe stop.
In Australia, we had several bulk buy shops near us which made reducing plastic packaging in our grocery shopping WAY easier. Living in rural Scotland, I don’t have those luxuries. So while we’re still working on things like finding a milkman that delivers in glass bottles, I’ve switched our fruit and veggie shop to an organic farm box supplier who rarely uses plastic packaging. To be honest, we’ve had to completely change the way we eat to avoid plastic packaging. Interestingly, it’s made our diet infinitely healthier and forces me to cook most things from scratch. I typically shop around the perimeter of the shop (with the centre being heavily packaged foods) and will choose any brand that uses glass, stainless steel or paper over plastic packaged ones. Reducing plastic while grocery shopping is an entire post of its own and while I choose to make some compromises (hello Tesco’s awesome gluten free pasta!), it makes a massive impact on our household waste.
We’re currently in the process of tackling our bathroom. Man, that place is a haven for plastic bottles. Some switches we’ve made are bulk buying toilet paper (did you know that we’re literally cutting down trees just to wipe our bums?!), I’ve swapped regular toothpaste (almost impossible to recycle those tubes) to this toothpaste which I adore, their floss is awesome too and this deodorant actually works. We don’t use liquid soap anymore and use good old bars of soap for our handwashing and another in the shower as a substitute for shower gel.
I swapped my period products for a Lunette and now I’m in love. It’s super easy to use and makes me feel so clean during what is otherwise a pretty rubbish time of the month.
Things I still need to do better: I have yet to buy a set of cutlery for my handbag which would stop the inevitable “Damn, I need a plastic fork for my takeaway salad” problem. In fact, it’s happened so many times that I’ve just added this one to my Amazon cart while writing this. I’m also in the market for a decent shampoo and conditioner, either in a glass bottle or a bar.
One thing that I have many people comment on is “How the hell can you afford to pay £9.90 for toothpaste?!”. Honestly, in my experience over the last three years, I’ve worked out that we only spend 5% more on groceries. Item by item, it’s a more expensive way to shop, that’s for sure. But when I look at our overall spend, the fact that we’re being far more discerning about the quality of the products we buy, and we’re mostly cooking from scratch, means that I’m not tempted to chuck 10 plastic wrapped extras or packaged foods in my trolley each week. Reducing our plastic waste has kind of come with its own type of minimalism. Instead of a million bottles in the bathroom, we’ll spend the same amount on a few substitute products. I’d say overall, we have fewer things now, but we can, therefore, afford to buy better.
And that 5% extra we do spend on better quality things, makes me really happy. I also personally look at it as 5% more of my grocery money invested in my kids future (a bit grandiose, I’ll grant you, but it’s how I feel nonetheless).
Well done for making it to the end of this mammoth post!
Are you thinking of (or currently) reducing your plastic waste?
Do you have any favourite plastic free products or ones you wish there was a plastic-free version of?
And if you have any questions about how we do things, ask me anything! I’m an open book, but no expert, so I’ll try my best to answer.