30+ ways to reduce your single-use plastic consumption
Did you know every piece of plastic that’s ever been produced still exists somewhere and more than 8 million tons of plastic ends up in our oceans every year? Say no to single-use and disposable plastic. These practical tips can either help get you started on your plastic-free journey or if you’ve mastered the basics (reusable bags, bottles, cups and straws) then there’s plenty of ideas here to help you try something new.
1) Reusable bags at all times
We know you probably have this one covered most of the time but are there the odd occasions where you forget to bring your reusable bag? We all do – we are human after all!
These ideas might help…
* Put a couple of foldable small bags in your handbag or backpack for those spur-of-the-moment purchases.
* Keep a bag of reusable bags in the boot/trunk of your car
2) Reusable produce bags are perfect
As well as your reusable shopping bags don’t forget some produce bags for your loose fruit and veggies (and pastries and bread and anything else you find). You can buy them online (search reusable produce bags) or make your own. The one shown above is made from a shower scrunchie! Simply unravel it. Cut to size and tie a knot at one end. So simple! Supermarkets have loose fruit and veg but hunt around your local shops (Asian shops in the U.K are great for this) for things like plastic-free celery, cucumber, herbs, cauliflower etc… markets too of course. Finally, if you find yourself in the supermarket without a produce bags, search for the mushroom bags – these are normally paper with no plastic window. There’s no law to say you have to put mushrooms in them!
3) Bringing your own bottle
Wherever you go, bringing your own refillable water bottle is a great habit to get into and will make a big impact. Apparently, it takes an average of 66 days to ingrain a new habit. Can you make the commitment? Have a few bottles – keep one in the car, in your bag/backpack or keep your keys near one so you don’t forget when you go out. Single use plastic bottles of water are easy to give up if you go out prepared. Don’t be shy to ask for a refill while you are out and about (or ask for a jug of tap water in a restaurant). Refill.org.uk has some great tips (and an app) for finding refill points around the UK.
4) Straws suck
They really do. If you’ve ever done a beach clean you’ll know how prevalent they are as marine debris. At home, it is fairly straightforward to not use one. Buy a reusable or compostable straw and you are sorted. When you are out and about though – even if you have your reusable straw with you – it’s sometimes hard to remember to say to the restaurant or bar staff ‘no straw please’ (or plastic stirrer for that matter). The only way to get better at remembering is to keep trying. Most drinks don’t really need straws but if you do need or want one, having a reusable straw in your bag/backpack does the trick. Then it’s just a case of remembering to ask for no straw!!
5) Disposable coffee cups are a big problem
Disposable coffee cups are used just once and then most likely end up in landfill. Those handy takeaway coffee cups are mostly not recycled due to their complex construction and multiple materials. In any case, recycling is not always the best solution – try to refuse before you recycle. In the UK, it is estimated that we get through 10,000 disposable coffee cups EVERY TWO MINUTES! Just like having your water bottle handy it’s a good idea to have your reusable coffee/tea mug handy too. Many outlets offer a discount for using your own mug. You can also support outlets who use compostable cups like Vegware.
6) Can you clear out your cling film (Saran Wrap)?
There’s lots of ways to reduce your reliance on this very handy but very disposable item.
1. Leftovers on a plate or in a bowl can just have another plate placed on top and then they can be popped in the fridge.
2. Make a beeswax wrap – this will mould to your bowl – or you can wrap your sandwiches in it. This one was made from an old handkerchief (a clean one!). Sprinkle beeswax on it – cover with baking parchment (or similar) and iron till melted. There’s lots of guidance online.
3. Purchase or make a reusable sandwich wrapper. This one is washable and holds together with Velcro. Handy for all kinds of things.
4. Purchase or make an elastic reusable bowl cover (or use a shower cap!). Washable and reusable.
Do you have any other ways to kick out the cling film?
7) Ditch your plastic deodorant
OK, not strictly single use but nonetheless your deodorant is probably not reusable. One option is to make your own. It’s pretty easy and while some products might be tricky to get completely plastic-free you’ll still be up on the deal! Our favoured recipe is: Melt 3 tbsp. coconut oil in a double boiler. Add 1 tbsp. cornflour + 1 tbsp. bicarbonate of soda. Mix well and add 5-10 drops of tea tree essential oil plus a few drops of something like lavender essential oil to make it smell nice. Put it in a clean jar, stirring every now and then while it cools to ensure it mixes well. If it melts too easily add some beeswax to the melting coconut oil. Honestly, this really works! There are ready-made alternatives – try LUSH UK, Fit Pit or Earth Conscious and many others if you prefer. The internet is your friend here.
8) Turn away from tea bags
Yes, it’s true the humble tea bag contains plastic! You’ll also find it is hard to find a box of tea bags that doesn’t contain plastic as part of the packaging. The simplest (and tastiest) way is to switch to loose tea. Whether you make a full tea pot or just an individual cuppa there’s plenty of options out there for you to make it easy. Buy your loose tea at a local tea shop – in the UK Whittard Of Chelsea let you take your own container in so you can be totally waste-free. Coffee drinkers have embraced the whole process of making coffee from scratch (let’s not talk about those pods!) so let’s get the tea drinkers in on the act. Who knew you could help the oceans by drinking a cup of tea?
9) Say ta-ta to tissues
You’ve mastered the plastic-free basics now but what about those sneaky plastics that get everywhere? Most tissue boxes have a small plastic insert (how annoying). A few don’t (Sainsbury’s does a cube box which is plastic free and Green Cane Paper have a plastic-free box) but tissues themselves are single use and mostly made from paper which is a resource intensive product. Why not use a handkerchief? We all used to didn’t we? Of course, washing your hanky regularly is important and maybe if you have a nasty cold you might want to use disposable tissues but for everyday use a hanky is handy. Even if you’re not going to use one for your nose a clean handkerchief in your bag is handy for avoiding plastic bags, wrapping up leftovers/donuts/cookies etc…
10) Ditch that disposable cutlery
Being prepared when you go out is essential if you want to minimise your single-use plastic consumption. Having some reusable cutlery in your bag is a really handy idea. It could be one of these packs you can buy (quite handy – we even slip in a reusable straw) or make your own – but just a spoon popped in your bag will cover most scenarios. You’ll be amazed how many times you can then refuse single-use plastic cutlery. Even better, it often offers the opportunity to have a chat with the establishment or fellow customers about why reusable is better.
11) Exfoliate effectively
We are hoping that you’ve already got rid of any face scrubs etc… containing microbeads but you can go further and cut out the plastic pots/tubes of most exfoliants. How about going back to a face cloth/flannel? Or you can get lots of simple recipes online for home-made scrubs using things like coffee grounds or sugar. Everyone’s skin is different but there’s a plastic-free option out there for you.
12) Wash your hair waste-free
(OK, not exactly waste-free but we’re a slave to alliteration and it’s just about plastic-free!). There are increasing options for plastic-free hair washing – from no-poo to buying plastic free options. We’ve settled on a LUSH UK shampoo bar and apple cider vinegar Just a tbsp. of the vinegar in a cup, dilute with your warm shower water and rinse through. Then rinse out thoroughly. We promise you won’t smell like fish and chips and your hair will be tangle free and nice! We all have different hair needs so try a few different options. There are lots of easily accessible ideas on the web. What have you tried? Yes, the vinegar bottle top contains plastic but we’ve yet to find a refill spot for vinegar near us. We keep looking though – and are also considering making our own.
13) Waste-free wet wipes
Yes, you can make your own wet wipes. You can use kitchen roll (less waste-free) but even better is a washable reusable cloth wipe (these bought sharky ones are cool but you can use any cloth you have). There are lots of recipes on the web but this one is 3/4 cup of water (distilled is best) and 1 tbsp. coconut oil melted into it. Add a few drops of the essential oils of your choice – we used tea tree and lavender. This will do on its own but you can add things like liquid soap, baby wash, cleansers, other oils like vitamin E or jojoba. Keep in an airtight box and you’re good to go. Don’t make too many as they will go mouldy after a while. Make what you’ll use in a couple of weeks or so. We even have a sharky wet bag to take some out and about. If making them yourself is not for you then perhaps consider Cheeky Wipes who have a super system that you can use on yourself or for your baby.
14) Dive into the deli
The deli is a great place to find things like meat, cheese, ready-cooked items and salads plastic-free. We know that ideally, we’d be making our own but sometimes the life conspires against you and you just need that convenience. You will probably end up having a conversation with the server about why you want your products put in your own containers with a plastic film – hopefully you might convert them! For the most part, people are very accommodating and often interested in the whole plastic-free thing. Occasionally someone will be a jobsworth and refuse but it’s very rare in our experience. You can explore local independent delis, butchers and markets (the best way to shop) but these items in the photo were bought at a large supermarket in the UK. As long as they can put the barcode sticker on your container (doesn’t make it waste-free we know!)) they are generally happy.
15) Bulk stores are brilliant
Get your grains, pulses, rice, granola, nuts, spices and much more at a bulk store. Bring your own bags and containers (these were made from the legs of an old pair of pyjamas) and hey presto! You’ve got lots of your food plastic-free and waste-free. Of course, not everyone lives near one but new stores are opening up all the time. If your store is far away maybe you can make a special trip once or twice a year to stock up on long-life essentials like these?
Top tip: buy your chick peas dry from your bulk store. Soak them and cook. Then freeze in batches. Perfect for plastic-free hummus. Cheap too!
16) Remove your make up reusably
Buy or make your own reusable makeup remover pads. The shark ones were homemade with very rudimentary sewing skills. The pink ones were bought from Etsy where you can find lots. Just pop them in with your laundry when you’ve used them and you no longer need to buy cotton wool. Coconut oil is brilliant for removing eye make-up – it literally melts off. An old eye gel pot is perfect for keeping some in. The wedge of Lush solid face cleanser/soap is also great for cleansing – even for sensitive skin. There are so many solutions out there to make your cleansing and cleaning routine plastic-free – you’ll find you end up simplifying it too – less products, less plastic, less harsh chemicals, less fuss, lovely skin!
17) Switch your soap
Once upon a time we all just used soap bars. Yes, you can get refills for liquid soap dispensers but a plastic-free bar of soap can be entirely waste-free. Not all soap comes without any packaging but there are plenty around with just cardboard/paper or even ‘naked’. You do have to be careful though, many do have sneaky plastic wrappers (hint…give the box a gentle squeeze and listen for the tell-tale sound of the plastic rustle). There’s plenty of online options (check their packaging policy first) or hunt around your local shops and markets. Surprisingly we’ve found TK Maxx is a good place to find plastic-free soap. Posh soaps often come in a nice box (can be easily reused/upcycled) and wrapped in paper like this lemon soap here. Final a top tip: invest in a soap dish where the water can drain. This will make your bar last much longer!
18) Toilet paper tips
Toilet paper is practically impossible to buy plastic-free in the shops but there are now several companies offering mail order toilet paper (plus kitchen roll and tissues) without the plastic. You can buy toilet paper made from sustainable bamboo/sugarcane fibres. Who Gives A Crap and Greencane Paper both supply toilet paper of this type – there’s still some packaging of some sort but both companies have worked hard to justify what they use and why. It’s plastic-free though (the clear material on the Greencane product is cellophane which can be composted in a good compost bin). When you compare prices, compare the price per sheets as the rolls are generally longer than supermarket rolls. Great to have these options now in the UK (also available in Australia, NZ, and the USA).
19) Crafty cleaning: refill and reuse
Cleaning your home doesn’t haven’t to be full of disposable plastic. There’s plenty of options with bicarb (baking soda) and white vinegar, soda crystals etc… but if you want to stick with more conventional products there are companies like Splosh and Ecover UK that offer refill options. There are also options for your laundry too. Splosh are mail order so there’s some packaging but you can send back the pouches for reuse.
20) Brilliant bicarb
Bicarbonate of soda/baking soda is your friend when you are trying to go plastic-free. You can clean so many things with it – use it as an abrasive or mix with vinegar to clean stubborn stains, unblock sinks, sprinkle on carpets to freshen them up, keep your fridge smelling sweet, keep yourself smelling sweet with homemade deodorant, clean your teeth, add some to your laundry, sprinkle some in the cat litter tray to keep smells at bay, exfoliate your skin, discourage weeds in your garden, itchy bite relief, keep your pathway ice-free, make a bath bomb and so much more! What have we missed? What’s your favourite use for bicarb?
21) Better bread
You can, of course, make your own bread but let’s be honest we don’t always have the time or want to. With a bread bag, you can get plastic-free fresh bread from the bakery (even bakeries in big supermarkets will cooperate sometimes). We went to our local baker, asked them to slice it and put it straight in the bag. You can even freeze loaves in a bag for a short while!
The instructions for this fabulous and super easy to make bread bag came from Gippsland Unwrapped. Our sewing skills are pretty basic (don’t look too closely at the sewing!) but even we managed to make this. It has a square bottom and everything. We used an old sheet and for the ties we had some of those ties you get on clothes tops that are used to stop them slipping off the hanger.
22) Less lunchbox plastic
Lose your lunchtime single-use plastic with a bit of preparation. Put hot leftovers/soup in a wide mouthed flask. Put your (homemade of course) hummus in a reusable pot alongside some tasty carrot sticks and wrap your sandwich in a reusable wrap like this one. Making food from scratch and making use of leftovers is the key here. It takes a little thinking about and time but remember that piece of single-use plastic will be here forever! What’s your best plastic-free lunchbox hack?
23) The bee’s knees
Beeswax can be handy in all kinds of plastic-free We use it mainly for making beeswax wraps. Some beeswax – grated or use pellets- sprinkled onto some cloth (we used an old but unused handkerchief). Place some greaseproof or parchment paper over the top and iron till melted. Get a good spread but start with less- it’s easier to add more than to take it off! Once cool you can use your wrap to replace cling film. Wash with cool water and reuse. Beeswax is also handy to firm up your homemade deodorant in hot weather. For those that prefer not to use beeswax then candelilla wax is a good alternative. Have you found a good use for it?
24) Switch your sweets
If you’ve got a sweet tooth then going plastic-free is tough! Look for old-fashioned sweet shops or pick’n’mix places and stock up on whatever takes your fancy without the plastic waste. Has anyone had a go at making their own sweets/candy?
25) Cut out the cotton buds
If you use cotton buds then please don’t buy ones with a plastic stick! If you’ve ever done a beach clean you’ll know how pervasive these are as marine litter. Just everywhere! There are many types available now made from sustainable materials – ranging from bamboo to cardboard. More and more manufacturers are replacing their plastic sticks with paper or something similar so it’s easier than ever to get a plastic-free Whatever your cotton buds are made from NEVER flush them down the toilet.
26) Pencils and pens
Maybe not the most obvious thing when going plastic-free but you can cut down on your disposable plastic by making some wise choices. Like many things when moving to a waste-free and/or plastic-free life it comes down to buying items that are good quality, can be replenished/reused or repaired. A plain pencil is great. You can also go for a mechanical pencil with refillable lead. Sometimes you do need a pen though. Cheap plastic pens just end up in landfill so why not invest in a fountain pen? They are not always refillable from an ink bottle (the best solution) but even plastic ink cartridges might use LESS plastic and you can sometimes buy refillable cartridges to replace your disposable ones.
27) Crazy about coconut oil
It’s almost a running joke now isn’t it? The plastic-free person and their coconut oil! BUT… it is amazing stuff and can be used to replace many things that would otherwise come in disposable plastic. We use it for our homemade deodorant, eye make-up remover, a deep hair conditioner, hair oil, moisturiser and hand cream (but weirdly not in the winter – makes our hands quite dry when used on its own!), as the basis for more traditional types of creams and body butters, oh and we cook with it too! We haven’t yet tried home-made sunscreen – which can use coconut oil as a base but that’s next on the list. What’s your favourite use for it?
28) Make your own meals:
Convenience food is …well… convenient but pretty much always comes with a plastic price. A little planning and a love of food leads you to home-made foods – soups, hummus, guacamole, coleslaw, potato salad, curries, chillies, lasagne… the list is endless. Of course, you don’t have to do it all at once. Add a new recipe as you feel and you’ll see your plastic waste reduce. There’s also the other benefit is it’s generally tastier than shop bought and you know what ingredients have gone into it.
29) Wipe down without waste
Technically more of a waste-free tip than a plastic-free tip as it’s possible to buy plastic-free paper towels from companies like Who Gives A Crap and Greencane Paper but even so – getting used to finding a reusable solution to a disposable action is the right mindset for the progressive plastic-free person! Having a set of rags and cloths around means you don’t have to use and trash valuable paper (or even bamboo/sugarcane) products. We use a whole load of cloths – some are old bedding/towel rags, some are purpose made. Most can go into the wash to be reused but old rags used for particularly dirty jobs can be composted (assuming they are made from natural fibres). Have you found your way to waste-free living since you started your plastic-free life? It’s kind of inevitable in some ways! Even if you’re not there yet remember, every step you take in the right direction has an impact. So, congratulate yourself on your successes, not your failures!
30) Moo-ving to milk bottle
Go old school with glass milk bottles. We know not everyone has this option but for those who do – it’s great to have your milk delivered fresh in the morning. Many dairies also deliver fruit juice in bottles too. For those in the UK findmeamilkman.net is a good place to start and there’s more help from Plastic Is Rubbish.
31) Best bee balm
If your hands need some serious moisturising then a balm is the way to go. Yes, it takes a few minutes to soak in, but the result is soft hands! And it is easy to make! The main ingredients are oil and beeswax. We used 50% olive oil, 30% coconut oil and the other 20% was what we happened to have around which was vitamin E oil and jojoba oil (you could miss this out and just use more olive/coconut oil or use others like almond oil). A ratio of 1 part beeswax to 4 parts oil works well but you can experiment with the mix (This link has lots of good advice). Melt the oil and beeswax in a double boiler (like you do when melting chocolate), add some essential oils of your choosing, decant into some sterilised tins and leave to set.