Plastic is a hot topic at the moment and we are all slowly getting used to the idea that it is a big environmental problem. Single use, disposable plastic will outlive us all and the mountains of it that already exist are creating devastating problems in our oceans and are making their way into everything including our bodies.
So what can we do? Saying no to straws, taking reusable cups to cafes and banning cotton buds are all worthy solutions but they are a long way from going plastic free. If you would like to do more but feel that completely eliminating plastic from your life is impossible check out our top 10 easy ways to dramatically reduce plastic.
1) Buy loose fruit and veg or sign up for a veg box scheme
Buying fruit and vegetables that are not wrapped or bagged in plastic might seem impossible if you go into any of the major supermarkets. However, sourcing plastic free fruit and veg is not actually that difficult. From signing up to a local veg box scheme to finding a local shop or farmers market which sells loose fruit and veg, there are a number different options. Check out our guide to plastic free fruit and veg for more options.
2) Sign up for a milkman and order milk in glass bottles
This is one of the first things I did when I started my plastic free journey. It was an easy switch but it had a dramatic effect on the amount of plastic in our plastic bin. It is one of the changes that has increased our weekly shopping bill but I have found other ways to decrease it (like making my own snacks, making yoghurt and buying in bulk) so the overall budget has stayed the same.
The milk is delicious and the bottles look lovely in the fridge. Plus there are no more late night dashes to the local shop when we realise there is no milk in the fridge for breakfast!
We have also cut down on the amount of milk we use and often substitute it for homemade oat milk instead.
3) Cut out shop-bought cereal
This one might be a little controversial if you have kids! My kids used to eat a lot of cereal so I thought this switch would be a difficult one to manage. But I hated throwing away the plastic bags that the cereal comes in so I decided to give it a go. Since making this decision we have built up a list of plastic free breakfast ideas and breakfast time now feels more exciting, more varied and healthier.
4) Buy plastic free meat, fish and seafood
OK, so I will admit that we are not quite there on plastic free meat, fish and seafood. But by carefully making a few changes to what we buy we have totally eliminated the black plastic trays that all our meat and fish used to come in. Find out how in our guide to plastic free meat and seafood.
5) Refuse plastic when eating out
Carry a reusable cup so that you don't have to make a choice between a disposable cup and no drink!
Remember to say no to straws. Many places are catching on and will no longer give out straws with every drink but it is worth asking to make sure you don't get one.
Try to avoid juice cartons, plastic cups and packets – look for plastic free options. Choose drinks in reusable glass cups, look for snacks that have been made on the premises that can be put straight onto a plate (I have found that this is a very good excuse to eat cake) and go for hot drinks in mugs.
6) Make your own yoghurt
Before starting my quest to go plastic free I was horrified by how many plastic pots we went through. My kids love yoghurt and it used to be my go-to option for a healthy pudding after meals. Making my own has drastically reduced our plastic consumption and using this easy peasy plastic free yoghurt recipe has made the switch easy. It has the added bonus of being much healthier than the sugar-laden versions which are marketed to kids in the supermarkets. The kids didn't love the switch to start with but we have found that letting them choose a few additions brings the smiles back (strawberry jam or mashed banana seem to be favourites).
7) Buy juice and squash in glass bottles
Squash bottles were another huge part of our weekly rubbish collection and tetrapacks of juice also featured. To cut these out I opted for glass bottles of cordial and glass bottles of juice. They are both more expensive options but I am stricter on how much the kids can have. This means we are not spending much more than we used to and the kids will thank me in years to come when their teeth are not falling out! We can get juice in glass bottles from the milkman so I don't even have to carry the heavy bottles back from the shops.
8) Eat less packaged snacks
This has been one of the hardest ones for us. I know that packaged snacks are a nightmare for the environment and I know that they are often full of hidden sugars, salt and ingredients which I can't even pronounce. But they are convenient and they are readily available which makes them hard to give up.
Fruit, veg, nuts and seeds are the obvious plastic free snacks and we have definitely increased our consumption since trying to go plastic free. Toast and dips (see our plastic free recipes blog for recipes) also work well or a smoothie (see our plastic free breakfast ideas blog for inspiration).
But I will admit (again) to not being totally plastic free! Scroll down to the bottom of this article to see how I have reached a compromise on this one.
9) Buy 2nd hand where possible
OK, so the original product probably came in plastic (and the item you buy may still be in plastic) but if there is something that you need and you can't find it plastic free why not opt for second-hand instead. You will often find it cheaper, it did not require any new materials to make it and you could be saving it from landfill.
We recently bought a second-hand sofa for £50. It looks brand new, it is exactly what we were looking for and it was being chucked out by its previous owners as it no longer matched their colour scheme! We saved it from the skip and we saved a huge amount of money and resources that would have been used to make a brand new one.
10) Look out for a plastic free shop near you
Plastic free and zero waste shops (like this plastic free shop in Bedminster, Bristol) are becoming more widespread. These shops stock a variety of food and non-food items and they encourage you to bring your own containers which you can fill from their bulk filling stations and weigh to find out how much you owe. If you have a shop near you it is a great option for buying store cupboard essentials such as cereals, pasta and dried fruit.
We are not lucky enough to live close to a plastic free shop but I have discovered an online version called Plastic Free Pantry. You can order from their website and they deliver your goods in paper bags or home compostable plant film.
If you are able to follow these 10 steps you will be well on your way to going plastic free. I realise it is not a perfect plan but whilst we wait for supermarkets and businesses to make changes and provide more plastic free options it is a massive step in the right direction.
Oh, and for those of you who haven't forgotten my mention of a compromise, I have a confession to make. I have discovered a couple (and I believe there are more) of online retailers that sell food which is near or just past it's best before date (never use by date) and sell it at a heavily discounted price. They say that they are helping to tackle the huge problem that is food waste and that the food that they sell would otherwise end up in landfill. For this reason I feel that I can justify buying plastic packaged products as I am at least consuming the food from them before the packaging inevitably ends up in the bin.
I will only buy food from them that I can't find plastic free elsewhere. This does include packaged snacks, dried fruit and chocolate. For those who can truly label themselves as plastic free this is probably unacceptable but for me, it seems like a good compromise. The money I save on these products also helps towards buying the more expensive plastic free options I have mentioned above.