14 Ways to Reduce The Amount of Plastic in Your Home
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The problem is, plastic is literally everywhere. And it doesn't ever go away.
|Photo by Arshad Pooloo on Unsplash|
We filter our water in a plastic jug. Our oceans are full of discarded plastic carrier bags, pipes and tubes and old plastic drinking straws, to the detriment of marine life that sometimes think it's a tasty jellyfish or other creature bobbing about in the depths. Our tap water even has plastic in it, just less than bottled water. We wrap our food in plastic and we drink our coffee out of plastic cups. I'm even tapping out these words onto plastic keys.
Plastic might have once been considered a cheap, durable material, but now I think we're becoming aware of the dangers. Live Science has estimated that humans have so far produced a whopping 9 billion tonnes of plastic. That's a lot. And what about all that waste? Did you know that a standard plastic carrier bag could take up to 1,000 years to decompose completely? And those disposable nappies that you used for your kids when they were babies will still probably be around in landfill for another 400 years, while generation after generation of babies' nappies are dumped on top of them? It's just not sustainable.
And I don't know about you, but the idea that I'm drinking or eating plastic microparticles unnerves me.
We need to severely reduce - or ideally, stop - our reliance on plastic. It's not good for the environment, it's not good for animals and it's almost certainly not good for us.
Here are some ways you can reduce the amount of plastics in your home and do your bit for the environment.
Buy your fruit and veg at the market, or loose at the supermarket
Buying your fruit and vegetables loose, and packing it in your own hessian or linen bag is cheaper and less wasteful. After all, you only buy and use what you needed in the first place, rather than go for that plastic-wrapped 1kg pack of sweet potatoes when you only need 1. Do this, and you'll be amazed at how much plastic disappears from your home, and how much money you save, too. Supermarkets prices take into account the cost of the plastic packaging, which is why it's often cheaper to buy the same quantity, but loose. Plus, buy refusing to buy fruit and veg in unnecessary plastic wraps, you're sending a clear message to retailers, and it might make them change their ways. After all, who needs a banana or an avocado in a plastic bag? Seriously.
Hack your beauty routine
Still using disposable cotton pads and plastic toothbrushes? OK, so the cotton pads might break down over time, but it's still rubbish and it's still - if you're chucking it in your bin - going into landfill. We've been conditioned to believe that disposable items are time saving for us, like they somehow do us a favour even though we're buying them every month and just binning them after we've used them. Same for make up wipes. Do what I do. I buy a pack of these super-soft bamboo pads that come with a laundry bag. I use them to wipe off make up, put them in the bag, and then when the bag's full, I wash them (in the bag) so they're ready to use again. I keep them in a little jar by the bathroom sink. My teenager uses them too. Yes, it's a bigger expense first off than a pack of disposable ones but you're saving plastic (the packaging) and waste, and you'll save money over time. They also apparently last over 1,000 washes, so you're likely to never need to buy them again. And buy a bamboo toothbrush, instead of a plastic one. The handle is compostable, but the brush fibres are nylon - the manufacturer of these brushes suggests pulling them out and recycling them with any plastic recycling you have at home, which shouldn't be too much, once you've read this post. Either way, the plastic load is much less on the environment, until they can come up with something else to use instead.
Hand gels, shower gels, shampoos... have a look in the average bathroom cupboard and I bet it'll be full of plastic. I switched to buying soap in the spring and it's clean, hygienic and seems to last much longer than the hand gels I used to buy did. They're cheaper, too. And you can buy soaps with gorgeous scents - I love this tea tree and eucalyptus one, which you'll find in a little dish next to my bathroom sink. And as for shampoo, check out shampoo bars, that are just like soap. You wet your hands in the bath or shower, massage the bar so you get a foamy lather and wash your hair as usual. I use Lush's Soak and Float shampoo bar (great for an itchy scalp) and my kids use their olive oil and rosemary bar. And, like the soap, they're all packaged in paper, so that's compostable, too. Waste-free washing!
You can buy a product (most likely packaged with plastic) for everything these days. Cleaning your oven, polishing your furniture, wiping down your worktops, air freshener. So cut back on this - and save some money - by using home made options, instead. I totally recommend the book Low Tox Life, by Alexx Stuart, if you're looking for non toxic cleaning ideas. Keep your kitchen stocked with white vinegar, lemons, baking soda and olive oil and you'll be surprised at what you can clean with them. I cleaned an embarrassingly burnt out oven with the glass door browned with cooked-on grease with just baking soda and water. And it cleared it better than my old oven cleaner with all the fumes. Check it out. Also, I bought this scrubbing pad which is made from plant fibre - I clean my sinks, pots and pans with it beautifully, and it can be composted.
Have you considered how much plastic is wasted each month when you have your period? Pads and tampons are mostly wrapped in plastic wrap for a start. Then you've got the plastic that's inside the towel - a leak-proof layer, the little plastic strips you tear off, etc. Go plastic free with a Mooncup or use washable bamboo underwear, like I do. You can buy them for different flows - I have a couple of different ones for the different days - and use it alongside an occasional pad on heavier days or a reusable cup.
Be aware of how your food comes
Plastic jars, plastic food wrap, plastic tubs for your salad - before you buy, have a think about the plastic that you're bringing into your home and if you can, opt for brands that wrap their products in biodegradable or fully recyclable materials like paper, or glass. I always now choose olive oil packaged in glass rather than plastic, for example. I think we should go back to the old days where the milkman would collect your old bottles from the doorstep as he placed the new ones down. You might even have a self-serve shop near you that you can scoop foods out into your own containers and pay by weight.
Use glass containers for storing food
Last year, I went through all my cupboards and threw away all my plastic, save for a couple of BPA-free lunchbox containers, which I try not to use. I replaced it with these glass containers. They come with plastic lids, but the plastic doesn't really come into contact with the food if it's just sitting in your fridge. The pack I bought comes in different sizes, and they can be used in the fridge, freezer, microwave and the oven without staining or bending. I love them. I also save any glass containers and jars from foods I buy to store leftovers, salads, salad dressings and all sorts.
Don't use a plastic takeaway coffee cup
Many coffee shops now are offering you a discount on your cuppa if you bring your own re-useable cup. I keep my bamboo cup in my bag in case I ever go for a hot drink in town, and I take it in the car, filled with a chicory coffee, to my daughter's early morning violin lesson on Saturdays. I have the Twinings bamboo fibre cup but there are lots of different ones out there. And it won't make your drink taste funny like my old plastic cups used to. The trick to this is to keep your coffee cup in your bag after you've rinsed it and dried it, so you're never stuck having to buy a plastic or paper one (some coffee shops now charge).
Buy biodegradable options
As well as using paper bags for food, see if you can buy paper bags for your kitchen bin. Biodegradable isn't always the best, because it's still generally plastic and only breaks down into tiny particles rather than composts completely, but you can get hold of 'plastic' bags that are actually made from vegetable fibres, so they can be composted. Like these ones, for example. Check the packaging and find an option that fits your bin.
Switch those single use coffee pods
I think whenever you see convenience at its most convenient, that's probably not a good thing. Little portions of coffee packed up in little pods made from plastic or aluminium that you pop into a specially designed coffee maker for your morning drink. I used to have one of these machines years ago, and the rubbish bin was filled up with the plastic pods. There are eco-versions out there that use biodegradable paper. Look for more environmentally friendly ways to brew your coffee, or do it the old fashioned way: coffee stored in a paper bag and brewed on the stove in an aluminium coffee jug.
Use less cling film
Use the containers I mentioned above to store leftover or pre-prepped food. I try and reduce the amount of cling film I use to wrap foods, but I admit it hasn't disappeared completely. For cakes, I place them on a plate and then instead of wrapping it, I lower a glass mixing bowl over the top, to keep it fresh. Use lidded containers rather than food wrap. Or look for paper food wrapping options, like these compostable lunch bags that my kids take their sandwiches to school in.
Stop using carrier bags
When the UK government brought in the 5p charge for every plastic carrier bag given when you do your shopping, the press was printing photos of people carrying their shopping to the car in their arms, or putting it loose in the car boot. I thought it was great! Most supermarkets now have recycling bins to put your old carrier bags in, so they can be recycled, but still, it's far better to do without them. Supermarkets that deliver to your home via online shopping still dish out bags, but you can sometimes opt not to have them, which means taking the crates to your kitchen and unloading it while the delivery person waits for them back. Think about how you can reduce - or better still - stop your carrier bag usage. I keep a couple of large shopping bags in my car boot. When I unpack the shopping I put them straight back in the car before doing anything else, so I don't forget them the next time.
Stop buying plastic water bottles
Plastic bottles of water are so convenient, I know. But consider buying a stainless steel flask - you can buy small ones, these are what my children use for school. My husband takes a small 300ml glass bottle to work, with a smoothie or other cold drink in it, alongside his salad.
And if all else fails...
I try so hard not to bring plastic into the home at all these days, but if all else fails and you have plastic, put it out for recycling when you're done with it. Most councils now recycle lots of different types of plastic, so it will be turned into new things rather than sitting there in landfill for the next 1,000 years. The only problem is that not all of it is recycled - it's thought that only a third of our plastic actually gets recycled, but I have a nagging suspicion that this figure is actually quite optimistic.
Do you have any tips for reducing plastic levels in your home? Share them with us in the comments below.