Plastic-free(ish) Living

15 Jan

I ran a Twitter poll to see what I should write my next post on, and of the two people who replied, half wanted a post about plastic-free living. That is clearly the undeniable will of the people, so let’s proceed.

Background

I’ve been trying to reduce my plastic use over the last year or so (yes, basically since Blue Planet II), and I’ve tried out a number of plastic-free alternatives and techniques – some successful, some less so. This is not based on exhaustive research (for that, try My Plastic-Free Life), just one woman’s dabbling. But it might give you some ideas, if you too were very sad about the baby whale.

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In the bathroom

Toothbrush

You can get bamboo toothbrushes, which look and feel nicer than plastic ones, I think. I like WooBamboo, which has recyclable nylon bristles (if you can be bothered to pull them out with pliers – I just snap the head off). The handle is then compostable.

I tried a brand that also had plastic-free bristles. They fell out almost immediately. I would not recommend.

Toothpaste

I haven’t yet found a viable alternative to plastic tubes of toothpaste. You can get some ‘natural toothpaste’ in glass jars, but as it is very expensive, I have not tried it yet. The charcoal stuff in tins does not appeal at all.

Dental floss

Believe it or not, you can get dental floss made from caterpillar silk, and presented in a glass vial (which I promptly broke, but the floss is still going). It’s a lot more expensive than the plastic stuff, but given how rarely I floss my teeth (sorry, dentists), that’s not a big problem.

I used to use those dental floss picks – you know, the ones that have a holder to make it easier – because they were much, well, easier, but I didn’t feel like I could justify throwing away that amount of plastic after a single use. Flossing using the cheesewire-round-fingers method is more tricky, but that’s a lot of what (semi) plastic-free living is about: getting used to a small amount of inconvenience or extra cost, for the sake of the planet and your health.

Toilet paper

You can get loo roll without plastic packaging (plastic film is non-recyclable) from Who Gives a Crap? You have to buy 24 rolls at a time, but it’s not as if it goes off. It’s not that much more expensive than supermarket stuff, and they deliver. The only problem is that the rolls are double-length, which makes the cardboard tube too small to fit on some toilet roll stands.

You can also make your own baby wipes / moist toilet paper using cloths of your choice plus boiling water and coconut oil, apparently, but I live with other people, and boxes of poo rags in the bathroom are probably a step too far for communal living.

Soap

This one is easy – just switch from hand-wash to solid soap. It’s cheaper, lighter to carry home and it lasts for ages. You’ll wonder why you were ever taken in by the fad of liquid soap.

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I like this one

On the other hand, if you really can’t be doing with solid soap (but there are some lovely ones! Try Lush or L’Occitane), some places will refill your bottle of hand-wash. Locavore in Glasgow is one.

Shampoo

Same as soap. Solid shampoo used to be rubbish, but it has improved a lot. It lathers more easily than hand soap, and works through hair easily. It is a lot more expensive than the bottles, but again it’s lighter to carry and lasts for absolutely ages, so it works out cheaper in the end. You can get them from a few places, but Lush has a good selection.

You can also take it in your hand luggage without putting it the liquids bag. If your liquids bag is as stuffed as mine, that’s pretty useful.

Conditioner

I’ve had less success with conditioner. I use the solid conditioner these days, but it is quite a bit harder to use than the liquid stuff – it doesn’t work through as easily, and it’s slippery to handle. I’ve been using Lush’s Big conditioner, but if you can suggest one that’s easier to use, go ahead.

As with hand-wash, there are a (very) few places that will refill your liquid shampoo (although maybe not conditioner).

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Double-walled plastic. Why?

I haven’t discovered any plastic-free way of getting serum. OK, it’s not for everyone, but I have mega-curly hair, and if I had a nuclear fallout shelter, I’d probably stock it with bottled water, canned food and John Frieda FrizzEase serum. It comes in ridiculous amounts of plastic, but as yet this is not a sacrifice I’m prepared to make on my anti-plastic quest.

Cotton buds

The stems of these used to be made of plastic, but it’s increasingly easy to find ones with paper stems. Just read the packaging before you buy.

Sanitary care

Please skip this section if you’re too squeamish, but it is an issue that causes a lot of plastic waste.

You can get washable sanitary pads which are really quite good. Again, you’re sacrificing convenience, but then it’s not as if you have to go out and buy them every month.

There are also plastic-free brands like Kind (available from Boots) and Natracare (available from a few random places), which are more convenient for when you’re out. And then there’s Mooncup – but that’s where I get too squeamish.

In the kitchen

Food

Getting food that is not covered in plastic is tricky. There are a few places that do loose foods like rice and pasta (Locavore again), but even some big supermarkets will let you put things like bread rolls, deli stuff and butcher’s meat / fish into your own containers if you ask them to. (Although I once asked an assistant to put some sausages in my plastic tub – so she wrapped them in a plastic bag, and then put them in. 🤦‍♀️)

Of course, you can also try to get things in cans or glass jars where possible, rather than plastic. Get Schloer or Appletiser instead of Coke or other fizz (apologies for the brand names, non-Brits – these are fizzy fruit juices), and get olive oil, mayo, ketchup etc. in glass. It’s not always cheaper, but the reduction in choice does make shopping quicker.

Storage

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Gift-wrapped bread

As for storing stuff, there are stretchy silicone lids that are an alternative to clingfilm, or I quite like beeswax wrap, which has the added advantage of making your food look gift-wrapped.

In the bedroom

Stop sniggering at the back! This is mostly about toiletries and clothes. Some people apply their unguents in the bathroom, others in the bedroom. I’ve opted to put them here.

The hands

You can get solid hand cream in a tin from the Edinburgh Natural Skincare Company. You can even get a refill without the tin, if you contact them directly. A few other places do it, too, although I think Edinburgh is the best. Try Etsy for some options.

Solid hand cream is no good in winter if, like mine, your hands are usually blocks of ice. Nivea does a hand cream in a small tin, and there are some specialist uber-natural companies that do it in glass jars. Try nosing around some craft fairs.

The body

Switch to metal canisters instead of plastic stick deodorant. Yes, it’s still got a plastic lid, but at least there’s less.

You can use coconut oil (in a glass jar) for moisturiser, or whip up your own. The internet is full of recipes. I make my own moisturising body scrub (which, admittedly, I do not use in the bedroom): olive oil, granulated sugar, and essential oils (which are, ironically, optional). Very quick and easy, and cheaper than shop-bought versions, too.

The face

But when it comes to facial toiletries and make-up, I have completely failed. A few years ago, lots of companies did glass jars of moisturiser. Now they are almost all plastic, even if they are made to appear like glass.

You can make or buy your own make-up removal pads to avoid buying cotton wool pads in plastic packaging. I made mine from stiff-ish cotton, which on reflection was probably a mistake. Maybe go for something more soft and fleecy.

Make-up almost always comes in lots of plastic, although mousse foundation comes in glass (with a big plastic lid), and a few of the more expensive brands (Mac, Bobbi Brown) do refills for magnetic palettes, I think. (So does the Body Shop, but the reviews are not good.)

You can get solid mascara in a tin, but as I had solid mascara when I was 10 (don’t blame me, blame my aunt), and remember it as a bit rubbish, I hadn’t been tempted to seek it out. However, there does now appear to be mascara in glass, so I might give that a go.

Clothes

Plastic clothes release tiny bits of plastic into the watercourse every time they are washed. Don’t think you wear plastic clothes? What about

• Acrylic?
• Polyester?
• Nylon?

Yep, all plastic, as is PVC, polyamide and basically everything else beginning with “poly”.

You can get special bags to catch the microfibres and then put them in the bin, but you can also try to reduce the amount of plastic you wear.

So what’s not plastic?

• Cotton
• Linen
• Wool
• Cashmere
• Angora
• Leather
• Silk
• Fur (not fake)

(One thing I’ve noticed writing this post is that anti-plasticism and veganism are not happy bedfellows. Fortunately I’m not vegan, but it must be a pain if you are.)

Viscose is also not plastic, but it’s not as sustainable as all that because some pretty serious chemicals are used to make woody fibres such as bamboo into a nice, soft pair of trousers.

In the living room

If you’re anything like my sisters, you’ll have lots of lovely scented candles lying about. When you come to light them, use matches rather than a disposable plastic lighter – or get a Zippo (or similar) and refill it. Same goes for cigarettes if you smoke, of course.

Out and about

This is where a bit of planning goes a long way in avoiding plastic.

Food and drink

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Such a handy thing!

You can take a reusable water bottle to avoid buying a disposable one, or just take a cup like my wonderful collapsible one, or a nice bamboo one. There are more and more places you can refill. For instance, Costa will fill up your bottle for free, even if you’re not buying anything. There’s an app you can get that will locate the nearest place to refill.

You can use your own cup to buy hot drinks as well, and save money while you save the planet, as lots of mainstream places offer a discount.

Take your own snacks and/or lunch, and put them in a tub or beeswax wrap rather than clingfilm. I tend to stash a cereal bar, as my tummy rumbles in an embarrassing fashion when I get hungry, and I’ve discovered that I can make them fairly easily, so provided I’m organised enough, I shouldn’t have to buy plastic-wrapped snacks.

If you’re not much of a one for baking, you can always sit down for 10 minutes in a cafe instead.

Hankies

I’m never caught without a hanky, but rather than having a plastic-wrapped pocket pack, I take a cloth hanky and have a couple of paper hankies (from a cardboard packet) in a gorgeous wee pouch I made for the purpose – always handy for cleaning stuff up and offering one to other people.

I made my cloth hankies myself, and tried selling packets of them at craft fairs, but they didn’t budge. Apparently the world is not yet ready for sustainable noseware (except for those old-fashioned white ones with flowers or an initial in the corner that they still sell in Marks so you can give them to your gran at Christmas). The end result of that experiment is that I am very well stocked with hankies. I have plenty material to make more, too, so if you are in fact ready for my hankies or hanky pouches, drop me a line in the comments and I might stick some on Etsy.

Hand sanitiser

Surprisingly, it is not that hard to make your own antibacterial hand gel, with just strong alcohol, essential oils and aloe vera gel. Ok, that last one is tricky to get without plastic packaging unless you have an aloe vera plant. I bought one just last week for a fiver. They are apparently very easy to care for so considering my record with plants, this one should last, ooh, weeks.

I still carry hand wipes, which are occasionally very useful. I suppose I could carry a sealed plastic bag with a damp cloth in it instead, but I haven’t quite got there yet. It doesn’t help that I am a fan of the small handbag.

Bag

Who doesn’t carry a spare carrier bag now? And as the 5p charge is likely to increase, probably anyone who doesn’t already will start.

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An umbrella reborn

I recently discovered that you can make bags out of umbrella fabric once the spokes have given up the ghost, so I now have quite a pretty carrier that is also fairly strong and, crucially, doesn’t take up much room in my handbag.

(I should probably say that I have a sewing machine, in case you now think that I spend all my evenings laboriously hand-sewing hankies, pouches and bags. I don’t. I spend them laboriously crocheting instead.)

***

So that’s my run-down of how I reduce my plastic use. You may think I’m nuts, or you may think I don’t go far enough, but I hope some of the ideas and links are of use to some of you.

Plastic-free options are expanding all the time, of course, and this post will probably be out of date by the time I publish it. Feel free to add any updates in the comments.

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