Going plastic-free has sparked a lot of conversation and positive change recently. As more companies are doing the "right thing" and taking a look at their impact on our planet, we are all slowly becoming more and more aware of how the things that we do daily (without much thought) can be causing more damage than good.
The good thing is that the small, easy-to-change habits are the best things to focus on first to create the biggest change globally. Refill. Reuse. Repurpose to name a few.
Let's start with a few alternatives to the most common "offenders" that we find in a majority of households.
PLASTIC WATER BOTTLES, CUTLERY, & STRAWS
Did you know that just one person who decides to invest in one reusable water bottle could save an average of 156 plastic water bottles annually, that would otherwise end up in landfills or our oceans?!
Again, making this small but very important change can really help to bring down our plastic waste globally. Not to mention the amount of single-use coffee cups and lids.
Even though paper cups may seem like an eco-friendly option, paper alone cannot hold liquid so these cups have to be lined with polyethylene (a plastic that functions as a moisture barrier). To recycle these "paper" cups, the lining has to be separated from the cup before the paper itself can be recycled.
“When people erroneously place the coffee cups into their recycling bins, it contaminates the higher value plastic that can be recycled.” [Rachel A. Meidl]
Reusable, stainless steel water bottles and coffee flasks. Now you can get personalized, insulated bottles in all sizes, that can last you a lifetime! Check out my personal favorite bottles and flasks from Hydroflask (they also have a selection of sustainable food containers/jars, cutlery, and straws!).
Charcoal water filters are also a great eco-friendly alternative to plastic filter jugs like Britta if you don't have access to a reverse osmosis filtration system, or others that can be attached to your taps at home.
SKIN, HAIR, & BODY CARE
"With the average American using 11 bottles of shampoo a year, these large, bulky plastic containers are a significant contributor to many households' annual waste." I think we've all been guilty at some stage by having a variety of shampoo and conditioner products at one time, without finishing the entire bottle before moving on to the next! The same goes for skin and body care, especially if you like to use additional facial toners, serums, and creams. That's where the plastic can really add up.
Fortunately, there are now great, affordable alternatives that not only eliminate unnecessary plastic containers but are also better for our health and hair in general! Join the HAIRSTORY refill club if you're looking to invest in a shampoo that doesn't strip your hair and is free from detergents and other nasties (no need for a conditioner either!), or there's the option to buy in bulk or to seek out brands that use widely recyclable aluminum. Another option is switching to soap bars, completely free from plastic and almost always filled with natural and skin-friendly ingredients.
As for skincare, I have a personal favorite which I recently discovered whilst looking for a great quality product, which also cares about the environment. I was using REN Skincare for quite a while, and whilst I loved the product, I was still contributing to the recycling plastic issue. Sure, recycling does beat throwing it straight in the trash, but even still, tons of our recyclables still end up in landfills and oceans.
UpCircle is an awesome UK brand that is sustainable, vegan, cruelty-free, as well as being free from SLS, SLES, palm oil, silicones, parabens, mineral oils, perfumes, and sulfates. Their products are 99% plastic-free (they offer plastic-free refill options for the 1%). Their marketing materials are made from paper that’s made from recycled coffee cups, and they source and rescue by-products from other industries - the food and drink industry in particular - to add to their products, like the body and face scrubs made with Arabica coffee sourced from London cafes. A great bunch of guys and gals doing great things!
When it comes to an abundance of unnecessary plastic, grocery stores and supermarkets are some of the worst offenders.
Rows upon rows of fruit and veg coated in plastic, selling themselves as the better, more-hygienic option, when really, all that they're doing is promoting laziness and, let's face it, pure ignorance.
"Despite public pressure, UK supermarkets produced more plastic packaging than ever in 2019. This means more plastic poisoning our environment, filling our rivers, and choking our oceans. It also means more plastic leaking into the food chain. In fact, humans may already eat up to a credit card’s worth of plastic each week!" [Greenpeace].
Bring your own canvas bags to load up on the loose fresh veggies and avocados. Cotton reusable string bags are even better to save the hassle of unloading the produce to show the cashier. Better yet, forget going to the major supermarkets, and check out your local farmers market (if you have one nearby), as you'll most likely find a wider range of organic products.
Yes, bringing your own bags does require some additional organization/planning, but it's totally worth it. Keep your bags by your door or in the car so that you don't forget them. This is another great way to make sure that you're buying more fresh, healthy foods than packaged (not so fresh) processed foods.
WIPES, SANITARY PRODUCTS, TOILET PAPER, & CLEANING PRODUCTS
In the 2020 'Great British Beach Clean' survey, wet wipes (face/body/baby) were found to be the third most common litter item found (and that's not including the ones that didn't get washed up). As disposable wipes need to stay moist and ready to use, unfortunately, this means that they are not easily biodegradable, and tend to stick around for a long time after they have been disposed of. The same goes for sanitary items. Not only are they full of plastic and nasty perfumes that are unkind to your skin, but most pads contain polyethylene plastic (the adhesive that's used to make the pad stick to your underwear), which is an environmentally harmful pollutant. "The average user throws away an astonishing 125 to 150kg of tampons, pads, and applicators in their lifetime." [Organic Cup]. "One sanitary pad could take 500 to 800 years to decompose as the plastic used is non-biodegradable and can lead to health and environmental hazards." [Sambyal, et al. Down to Earth].
The good news is, there are now plenty of options for us to choose from, and it's now easier than ever to make a better decision regarding our health, and the health of our environment.
Bamboo is a great, sustainable, eco-friendly alternative, and it's being used for pretty much everything! Current bamboo products include sanitary items such as pads and liners, toilet paper, wet wipes, kitchen towels, make-up pads, toothbrushes, underwear, and of course other clothing items, and much more! Menstrual cups and Period underwear are also good reusable alternatives
Eco-friendly laundry detergents could also be a good investment, especially if you have sensitive skin and want to eliminate the harsh perfumes and chemicals (which are also extremely damaging when released into the atmosphere and into our oceans).
A study was done by the University of Washington back in 2011 to test whether scented laundry products emit dangerous chemicals through the washing and dryer vents.
"Analysis of the captured gases found more than 25 volatile organic compounds, including seven hazardous air pollutants, coming out of the vents. Of those, two chemicals -- acetaldehyde and benzene -- are classified by the Environmental Protection Agency as carcinogens, for which the agency has established no safe exposure level... These products can affect not only personal health but also public and environmental health. The chemicals can go into the air, down the drain, and into water bodies." [C. Steinemann, et al. Air Quality, Atmosphere & Health]
If you really want to cut your carbon footprint, then you can always create your own cleaning products using ingredients such as bicarbonate of soda, white wine vinegar, and essential oils. Just simply search online for your preferred recipe!
These are of course just a few ways in which you can start to be more sustainable around the house, and when going out. Making just a few switches at a time can greatly benefit our environment and lead to a greater understanding and awareness as to how we are contributing to current issues worldwide.
Finally, I would highly recommend following these two accounts for great tips and education on sustainability.
Leah Thomas @greengirlleah, Intersectional Environmentalist
Angel Arutura @angelarutura, Anti-Racism, Sustainability, Slow Fashion
Leave a comment below to share what you're doing to be more sustainable, and let me know if I've forgotten something that you think should be on this list!
Thanks for reading! :)