Plastic free living for beginners

The debate on protecting the environment has been ongoing for decades, but recently it’s definitely escalated. Young people especially are more and more aware of the dangers we face if we continue living the way we do, and recently I decided enough was enough; I need to do more.

We’ve always recycled in my home so it’s not like caring for the environment is a radical concept, but apart from that I didn’t do much. Although I was recycling as much as possible and, to be fair, sending all my clothes to charity, I wasn’t actually thinking about how much I was consuming, and how much I was throwing away. There was definitely a sense of “the companies made it, so it’s not my fault if I have to throw it away” but now I’m really trying to refuse that packaging, the plastic cup, the unnecessary products, because I’ve realised that I need to think independently and not just blame corporations for producing the waste.

That said, I don’t believe in piling the responsibility on individuals’ shoulders. Turning the tap off when I brush my teeth isn’t going to make a massive difference when 4330 litres of water is used in the consumption of 1 kilogram of chicken. I think there should be more pressure on companies to think just as hard as we do about what happens to their waste. My mum firmly believes that if it can’t be recycled, it shouldn’t be made, and I really like that idea. Of course, there are countless things that require specific materials that I can’t judge because I don’t know enough about them, but in terms of household products, a lot of plastic packaging is completely unnecessary. We could cut down on so much plastic in landfill if everything was packaged in recyclable materials as standard.

With all the hype recently, it’s also easy to feel like you’ve got to buy completely new clothes, bags, toiletries, shoes, cups, storage and makeup, but not only is that expensive and impractical, it’s also not in the spirit of sustainable living. Just because there’s a sustainable option, doesn’t mean you have to buy it, and I will expand on that later in this post.

I’m very new to this, I have only a limited budget and I’m open to hints and tips from anyone, so without further ado here are the changes I’ve made to try to live a more sustainable life.

1. Reusable cup

This was one of the first changes I made. I love a cup of coffee in town or on the road so when Starbucks started selling reusable cups I bought one straight away (pictured below complete with Insta-worthy doodles). In hindsight, a ceramic travel mug would have been better but it’s an example of the things we’ve all bought as a result of being caught up in the hype. All I can do now it use it until it’s genuinely worn out, recycle it, and buy a better alternative. In terms of actually using it, there were a few times where I realised I didn’t have it with me, and either sat in and used a mug, or didn’t buy at all (which in the long term probably saved a bit of money). Generally I just put it in my bag when going shopping and to work, and then the option is there if I fancy a drink.

Image showing a reusable Starbucks coffee cup

2. Cloth bags

I’ve got a few cloth bags now as a result of university open days and I’ve started using those to carry things around; not just shopping or clothes but also the miscellaneous items that I take to town with me – phone, purse, sunglasses, keys, etc. This means that I never have to ask for a bag in shops, and they’re more durable and comfortable too! It’s not just cloth bags, but also any light, reusable bag, such as a cute drawstring one from Ale-hop which I put my track kit in for training!

A string bag from Ale-hop with sports shoes showing

3. Water bottle

I used to keep buying plastic water bottles at school, using them for about a week and then throwing them out when they got a bit yucky. I was also guilty of having far too many empty bottles in my bedroom. I found a stainless steel water bottle for £2.50 from TK Maxx, because I didn’t fancy paying £10 for one, and I’ve been using it ever since, with the exception of during the exam period when I had to buy a clear plastic one. I also took it away to Barcelona with me after checking online that I’d be allowed to take it through the airport with me. It made it so much easier because I had water for the journey there, and then I took the empty bottle through security and didn’t have to pay loads for a new one on the other side. Apparently some airports have water fountains but I didn’t find any so I just asked the cabin crew to fill it up on the plane for me. Once arrived we did struggle with refilling it, because we weren’t sure about drinking the tap water. I’ve read about a portable sterilisation pen for water which I’m going to look into some more, but for that week we had to buy a 5L bottle and use it to refill my metal one each time we went out. Although not ideal, it used less plastic than a dozen 500ml bottles and the metal bottle kept the water much cooler when we were out and about.

Late addition: I’ve just found the Refill app which shows you nearby places which will refill your bottle for you wen you’re out and about. I’m yet to use it but it would have been useful to know about!

4. Bamboo toothbrushes

On that same trip, we didn’t want to take an electric toothbrush with us, so we bought some manual ones to go away. Rather than plastic ones, of which over 850 million end up in landfill in North America every year, we opted for bamboo toothbrushes from Superdrug, but also available in many other places. The handle is completely biodegradable and the nylon bristles can be recycled separately. The packaging was also cardboard, without the plastic which usually encases toothbrushes.

a bamboo toothbrush

5. Makeup cloth

I’ve always just used a cloth to take off my makeup, never makeup pads, but I realise now how much waste could be reduced if we all use a cloth rather than cotton pads, which also come in plastic bags. I use an Afterspa magic makeup remover and it’s incredible – I don’t even need makeup remover! Afterwards I just clean the cloth with soap and water and hang it up to dry. It’s 100% polyester, which isn’t ideal but it’s so much better than disposable wipes.

6. Shampoo and conditioner bars*

I never really understood the hype surrounding the high street cosmetics store Lush when my friends came home with bags of obnoxiously glittery and sickly sweet bath bombs, but one thing they’ve been doing for years is recyclable packaging. I recently started using their shampoo and conditioner bars, which I store in a tin so there’s no plastic involved. These are also great for travelling light because they’re easy to carry in hand luggage. At some point I’m also going to try their face cleanser bars. I currently love AVON face exfoliators but can’t deal with all the plastic tubes!

*also soap bars instead of liquid handwash and shower gel – we’ve always used soap instead of body wash even in the shower, so although this is an important change it’s not one I personally had to make

Lush shampoo and conditioner bars

7. Deodorant

This one’s new. I’m using Native Unearthed’s coconut vanilla deodorant balm which I received in a Birchbox quite a while ago. I was out of deodorant just before going away, and instead of buying a new one, I thought it was high time I tried the balm out. I was super impressed with how it stood up to the sticky heat of Barcelona, and also through a full shift at work where I always get too warm as it’s a really humid environment. My one concern is how long it will last as after only a week it feels like I’ve used quite a bit of the container. Another potential problem is that the baking soda in natural deodorant can cause staining of the under arms, so I’ll have to see how that goes.

Image showing Native Unearthed natural deodorant balm in a jar

8. Paperless banking

I can completely understand why some people like to receive paper bank statements, but I love online banking and use it frequently, so receiving statements through the post is completely unnecessary. I barely read through them because it’s all on my banking app, and they just become yet another document to file away. So I opted to stop receiving them in the knowledge that it will save just a teeny bit of paper every month.

9. Refusing plastic cutlery

I can’t imagine how many plastic knives and forks end up thrown away as a result of takeout meals, expecially in motorway services. To avoid using them I carry a metal set of cutlery whenever I know there’s a possibility that I’ll be getting food on the go. This started only the other day, when I had a last minute shift change and forgot that I’d be working through lunch and therefore didn’t prepare any. I grabbed a pasta salad on my way there and ate it with a fork from the kitchen at work, opting not to take a plastic one from the shop. In an ideal world the salad itself wouldn’t have come in plastic, but I took it home and recycled it. Now a small fork is a great addition to the miscellaneous goods I carry around!

10. Food deliveries

This is a late addition to the list as I hadn’t considered the impact it has. I saw an article recently – I think it was on Buzzfeed of all places?? – that described getting food delivered as “carpooling for groceries” or something to that effect, and I realised what a good point that was. I can’t take credit for this decision since my mum organises shopping in our house, but it’s something I haven’t seen promoted much in environmental blogs. It also saves on bags, because everything is delivered in crates, and it actually stops us buying more than we need, because she uses a standard list and changes it slightly every month, so we’re not tempted by something we see in the shops.

11. Milk delivery

Delivered milk usually supports local farmers AND comes in glass bottles, so it’s a win-win!

These are all the steps I’ve already taken in order to live more sustainably and reduce waste, but there are still plenty of things I can improve! If anyone has any products or tips to recommend, please do let me know! I’m thinking of following this up with a post about the changes I haven’t yet made (but one day will) to reduce waste, and also the changes that I will never make…

What is your experience with living sustainably? Please share any recommendations in the comments!

F xx

Published by On The Fly Blog

Student and lifestyle blog based in North Yorkshire, UK

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