I made a commitment last year to reduce my use of single-use plastics and used Plastic-free July to focus on what changes I could make. I focussed on things room-by-room in my house to identify what I could do, and have made the following changes since then:
- I switched to ‘Homethings’ cleaning products – this was something that earned an investment on Dragons’ Den. I invested in three plastic trigger-bottles from them (you can use ones you have at home, but I figured this would work for me as they can be reused continually and are labelled up). Then you get little tablets to turn tap water into cleaning product. You just fill the bottle with warm water and drop a tab in and it dissolves into nice-smelling cleaning product. The three bottles I have are for general use (surfaces etc), bathrooms and ‘shiny’ things (mirrors etc). If you buy the tabs, they come in fully-recyclable/compostable packaging. Cleaning products you buy in the supermarket are normally about 90% water, so we are transporting all that water around the country unnecessarily, when you can just use the water out of the tap.
- I use proper dishcloths that can be washed and re-used (and put them through the dishwasher too to sterilise them). I also use scourers that can be washed and re-used, rather than continually buying plastic disposable ones.
- I use a shampoo bar now and no longer buy plastic bottles of shampoo. The ones I use are by a British company called grüum. I got a free bar initially (just had to pay postage) and have found it to be great. The bar costs around £8 but lasts for ages, so works out much cheaper than bottled shampoo.*
- I buy a conditioner bar (by Friendly Soap) in a local shop. I had heard a lot of people say they struggled with conditioner bars, but with this one you can either use it as a bar, or dissolve it in hot water to turn it into ‘normal’ liquid conditioner. I do that and put it in an old conditioner bottle. The bar makes up 600 ml of conditioner and costs about £6, so again this works out cheaper than bottles of conditioner.*
- I am making a switch to soap bars from liquid handwash and shower gel. I have not managed to totally switch yet, as I do love some of my nice brands, but am gradually moving more towards the bars, so every little helps, right? And there are so many lovely soaps now.*
- I have just started a switch to Fussy deodorant – just ordered my first one today. This was another Dragons’ Den winner. You buy a ‘case’ (like you get with solid deodorants) and then get the refills. Each deodorant (as well as being cruelty-free and vegan) funds the collection of 1 kg of Ocean-bound plastic. I’m looking forward to seeing how this works out. Watch this space!*
- I have stopped using those plastic netting things you get for the shower and have started to use a sisal soap bag or a facecloth that can be washed and re-used.
- I try wherever possible to buy moisturiser etc that is in glass rather than plastic containers. This one is work-in-progress, as there aren’t always glass options.
- I made a commitment to never buy a coffee in a single-use cup. I have some refillable cups, including a couple of collapsible ones, so they don’t take up much space in a bag, and I always try to take one with me. If I forget, I just have to do without my coffee unless it comes in crockery!
- I also committed to not buying any drinks in plastic bottles. I used to drink a lot of fizzy drinks from bottles, but have switched to water – I still have the occasional can, but refuse to buy plastic bottles.
- I have stopped buying plastic bags for food in the kitchen. I inherited a big box of pretty strong plastic zip-lock bags when my Mum died. Rather than throw them out, I have been using them, but washing and re-using them. I still have a stock three years on! I try to use boxes and tubs to store food wherever possible.
- I bought wax wraps too for food, which has really reduced my use of cling-film. There is still a roll in the drawer, but it’s been there for a long long time!
- Like Tammy, I started to get my milk delivered in glass bottles from McQueen’s Dairies. I still feel ridiculously excited putting out my empty bottle at night and picking up the fresh milk from the doorstep in the morning!
- I started a veg bag order last year from the very local organic veg garden. From May to December, you get a weekly bag of whatever is seasonal. In bounty periods, you get extra. By subscribing for the season, you can choose your price based on your income and it helps to subsidise people on lower incomes. You get the veg in a hessian bag that you return each week, so no plastics. The veg is amazing, local and very very fresh, and I have tried things I’ve never tried before – who’s heard of aggretti, which was in my first bag?
- Otherwise, I try wherever possible to buy fruit and veg that isn’t in plastic bags. It’s quite difficult as I just have a small supermarket locally and there often isn’t a choice, but when there is, I buy loose. There are local farms where you can buy cauliflowers, broccoli etc loose, which is great. We have great strawberries and raspberries around here, but they all come in plastic tubs, so I am failing on that front as I can’t resist them! I haven’t managed to find any pick-your-own places near here yet.
- I have put my name down for an allotment! In the meantime, I am growing potatoes (just from a leftover salad potato), leeks, peas, rhubarb, lettuce, strawberries and raspberries in planters in my garden. I also have an old Belfast sink planted with herbs, so that I don’t have to buy bags of thyme etc, just for a couple of sprigs.
- I get my fish from the local fish sheds – they wrap it in paper, so no plastic. And, of course, fresh, local and very tasty.
It’s amazing how you can make little changes one-by-one, and then find you have actually done quite a lot. I already feel I have made a difference, and that shows in the amount of recycling I now do – the majority is now paper/cardboard, glass and cans (tonic – oops!). The Big Plastic Count last month highlighted what single-use plastics I am still using, and that has given me a focus for this July. I’m going to continue the count throughout July and use the results to see what my priorities will be this year. I already have washing-up liquid and toothpaste in my sights!
If you have any ideas for how to reduce single-use plastic, why not send them to the Sustainability Committee (ECRF.Sustainability@ed.ac.uk) and we can share them with your colleagues?
* Another advantage of these products is that you can put them in your hand-luggage if you’re flying, without having to fit them in that wee plastic bag for security.