Confession time: I, probably just like you, am a huge plastic user. In today’s society, it’s practically impossible not to be. Plastic is everywhere you turn, and while we are all increasingly interested in dropping it, society is not quite keeping up. Going plastic-free is very different from going vegan: it’s more time-consuming, definitely more inconvenient and sometimes more expensive. And at times it’s just plain impossible: despite all our best efforts to reduce our consumption, society is set up in a way that fully avoiding waste, or even avoiding plastic, is largely unachievable.
Despite our world being rigged against us in the fight on single-use plastics, I’ve always been a big fan of a “the change starts with you” mindset, so I decided to implement some steps to make my household as plastic-free as humanly possible. Disclaimer: I am talking about single-use plastic here. Reusable plastic is my friend and always will be: the items already in my home will stay there, as they have been trusty and unbreakable for years. Tossing them out in favour of a metal, glass or steel alternative is wasteful and unnecessary.
On my journey, which began a bit tentatively a few months ago, I found that some aspects are much easier than others. Reducing plastic is a multi-faceted, complex endeavour, and like many other pursuits it’s best approached on a step-by-step basis. Here are some of my discoveries.
The easy stuff
These are the things I’ve had virtually no issues with, that were simple and effortless, and that I will continue to implement without thinking much about it.
Plastic bags. Possibly the simplest change you can make starting today. The next time you hit the supermarket, simply don’t get a plastic bag. Easy. I have tons of tote bags lying around at home, most of which I received as goodie bags at various events, and I always keep one of them (or more) in my handbag when out and about, as to avoid plastic bags at shops. It’s really mind-boggling to me that people still use plastic bags, when it’s such an easy change to make.
Solution: Cotton tote bags. Easy, eco-friendly and so much prettier than a plastic bag.
Shampoo and detergents. This one might not be easy for everyone, but it is for me, as I happen to live next to an ethical food shop which offers – you guessed it – refills. I go there with my old plastic bottles to stock up on washing-up liquid, fabric detergent and softener, shampoo, soap and conditioner. The first time I went in, I braced myself for the price tag…only to find out it was actually not bad at all. Some of the items even cost less than what I’ve been paying in supermarkets all these years.
Solution: check if your town has an eco-food shop or any other place that does refills. Even if you think it doesn’t, it probably does – you just have to find it!
Straws. I honestly don’t get the appeal of straws. Unless you are a disabled person who genuinely needs straws – and in that case, your access to them should be easy and effortless – there is no necessity at all for them in your life. Worried about staining your teeth? Just bring a reusable straw. I have one, they’re fabulous.
Solution: reusable straws…or simply no straw at all.
Coffee cups. As a remote worker, I don’t really do takeaway cups. I always sit down in the café and have my coffee in an actual cup while I work. I don’t use takeaway cups unless I’m at the airport, and even then I have a reusable one to bring. So this one is a no-brainer, really.
Solution: the KeepCup! Or ditch the takeaway and actually sit in the café, take a nice break and have your coffee in peace. Shocker, I know.
The doable stuff
This requires a bit more thought, but is still approachable and fixable, on a more long-term basis. Like any lifestyle change, going plastic-free requires a transitional period, and I’m tackling these challenges one by one.
Bin liners. My first reaction to the charge on supermarket plastic bags was “but what do I line my rubbish bins with?” Well, rumour has it that there are these biodegradable bin liners, which I’m quite keen on exploring. They shall be mine. Unless they are very expensive.
Solution: Compostable bin bags! If you’re in the UK like me, Tesco has some that are not too pricey.
Razors. I use cheap, plastic, throwaway razors, and I started shaving when I was 12 (yup, that’s how early those beauty standards get to us!), which means over twenty years of plastic razor use. I am now on the lookout for a keep-it-forever metal razor that I can simply swap out the blades for. Shouldn’t be too hard.
Solution: reusable metal razor.
Period products. I was all about buying a Mooncup…until I read a horror story about a girl whose had gotten stuck. Now I can’t get that out of my head as I plonk down another box of Tampax into my shopping cart.
Solution: Mooncup, and try not to read scary stories on the internet.
Makeup. Have you considered plastic in your makeup? We’re so keen to wage our wars on plastic packaging, but we tend to forget about our mascaras, lipsticks, foundations – many of which are packaged in single-use plastic. Thankfully, there are new brands on the market that create cruelty-free, vegan makeup with packaging that’s entirely plastic-free. See our guide to zero waste for your beauty routine.
Solution: Luna Beauty, a UK-based cruelty-free, vegan and zero-waste beauty brand that’s also palm oil-free!
Hummus. I have a serious hummus addiction. Between my husband and me, we go through 4-5 tubs per week (yes, really) and of course all of those tubs are plastic. I have rarely considered the plastic impact of our crazy consumption, but going through our rubbish, I realise that hummus tubs make up a surprisingly big part of it. The solution? Well, it’s definitely NOT to cut down on hummus (no way). Instead, I got a blender and will be experimenting with making my own.
Solution: make your own. Yes, it’s more time-consuming, but can also be more delicious!
The difficult stuff
And now for the tricky part – the struggles, the hardships, the impossibles. For now, at least.
Milks. No. Just no. There are MANY things I would do before I make my own almond milk. It’s expensive (you have no idea of the amounts of almonds needed to make a tiny quantity of milk), takes forever, and isn’t B12-enriched. It’s the kind of thing I’d try once or twice, to say that I know how to do it, but it’s quite safe to say that it will never make it into my life on a daily basis.
Solution: I have no idea. Until some launches an almond milk refill station, I guess we’re all stuck with the packaged stuff, with the more dedicated among us making their own.
Drinking water. This is perhaps my biggest problem with plastic reduction. Everyone’s proposed solution seems to be as simple as “reusable water bottle!” but my problem isn’t the bottle itself as much as the stuff that goes into it. I drink a lot of tap water, but I can’t get over the idea that it’s not healthy to drink on a daily basis, no matter how often it’s repeated to me that tap water is safe to drink. After my husband had kidney stones, clean water is a big priority in the Camilli household, and to make things even more difficult, he only drinks sparkling water. I am currently looking into buying a water distiller, because plastic bottles are depressing.
Solution: a ViaFosa distiller. Or the tap.
Significant other. This brings us to my final dilemma: living with someone who just isn’t that into the eco life. I have been able to veganise my husband, who once said “I will never go vegan”, and now comes to do protests and outreach events with me. But his commitment to veganism is where it ends. Every time I try to bring up plastic reduction, an argument over my “being difficult and creating problems” ensues. His position is that unless corporations take their responsibility, individual choice doesn’t really matter. I largely agree, but I don’t see why I should continue using disposable plastic while waiting for companies to step up their eco game. So I will continue – gently – doing my thing, in the hope of converting him.
Solution: be patient, and let change take its time. That’s really all I’ve got on this one.
One of the best ways to help the fight against plastic pollution if you live by the sea, like I do, is to take part in a beach clean-up, or organise your own. 80% of ocean plastic comes from land-based sources, and you’d think people would know by now not to leave litter around – but that is unfortunately not the case. So I will be grabbing some of those compostable bin bags and heading to the beach for a clean-up really soon.
This month I am reading…Give a Shit by eco-expert and Vilda friend Ashlee Piper! Look out for review coming soon.
This month I am watching...Good Girls on Netflix. Such an entertaining, stereotype-busting show. LOVE it.
This month I am listening to…The Last Internationale. Just discovered them and am hooked.
This month I am planning…to take part in the Vegan CampOut in Nottingham! Exciting stuff.
Header photo by Sagar Chaudhray via Unsplash
Great article and refreshing to hear someone say how challenging it actually is to actually go zero waste. I’ve just ordered a safety razor from Naked Necessities and also discovered the Plastic Freedom website! Xx
Yeah, I know – I think people need to realise that it’s not always about “simple tweaks”, it’s a lifestyle change and takes time, just like any other lifestyle change. Let’s talk about how difficult it is, and why we should all do it anyway.
A great post! It’s really important to share how a low waste lifestyle isn’t as simple as making swaps here and there; some things are a lot easier than others to change, some are almost imposible.
Oat milk is SUPER easy to make! I was the same as you (“Nope, no way am I making my own plant milk!”) and then I realised how incredibly cheap and EASY it is to make oat milk. It costs about 10p per 800ml!
Compostable bin bags on the other hand has issues~
oh I am hating the compostable bags so far 😀 they are TINY! Nothing will fit in there. I took them to the beach clean the other day and they sucked. They kept breaking and I ended up using many more than I would have with a big, sturdy plastic bag!
Yeah I have a feeling I will end up trying to make the milk myself in the end. As soon as my husband goes back to uni and leaves me free to “mess up the kitchen”, as he calls it every time I attempt to do anything at all in there.
Its helps if you dont go zero waste all at once and do one switch per month. That was the only way I could do it. Else, everything would have piled up and made me miserable.
With milk, I get almond butter from the dispenser in my health food store. I scoop some out, add water and blend to use in my smoothie. Its not the same but after a month, I started to really like the taste of it. I mix my butters to make different milks. Tahini makes a yummy milk too. Cashew butter makes this amazing decadent milk. I would never had made my own milk. Its just too much work. All these switches add on and become an overhead in household chores otherwise.
Good luck !
Great tips! For the compostable bags to line your bins it isn’t very helpful as they will not really compost on the landfills, although might still be a slightly better option than basic plastic bags. I hope that the UK will soon start investing in a proper recycling and waste infrastructure where this wouldn’t be an issue.
For the water, the UK has actually one of the cleanest tap waters, however, if you are iffy there are many different versions of water purifiers. And if he likes drinking sparkling then investing in a sodastream might be an idea 🙂