As hard as we try, 91% of plastic still isn’t recycled. So how easy is it to make changes to your lifestyle, to help cut down your plastic consumption — or to cut it out altogether?
Six months ago Pure Planet Member and plastic activist Alex Wilson set out to help people cut their plastic waste when she launched a pop-up shop at her home called Harry’s House Refills. A year on, Alex has added another venture, Trees & Seas, which specialises in plastic-free bathroom products. We talked about plastic and the environment with her to see how to live a plastic-lite life.
Is it possible to live plastic free?
It is. But you have to be really careful about what and how you consume. Plastic surrounds us: in our buildings, vehicles, clothes, furniture, wrapping our food… it’s everywhere. Some things, the structural things, are hard to avoid, but as individuals we can easily cut out single-use plastics.
What would you say to inspire others to reduce plastic?
I remember being inspired by the quote “we don’t need one person doing zero waste perfectly, we need a million people doing it imperfectly”. Start small — a shampoo bar, a washing up liquid refill, a bamboo toothbrush — then build up.
Was your eco-entrepreneurship triggered by anything?
I started to live more of a zero waste lifestyle when I had my little boy. I was looking for somewhere to refill rice and pasta and somewhere to get plastic wrapping-free veg, but couldn’t find anywhere near me. So I decided to buy in bulk, and then sell from home. Having no overheads I was able to keep prices down, competing easily with our local big supermarket while providing a more sustainable product. This accessibility — being local — is really important to me. It’s also the reason that a portion of the profits are donated to mental health charities. I want to be able to help people access the services they need!
What’s your biggest fear about the future?
Seeing the state of the waterways, seas and local environment is enough to make you realise plastic pollution is bad. However, researching it makes it unbelievable. Would you believe there’s a mass of waste in the Pacific that’s bigger than 1.6 million sq km? That’s bigger than German France and Spain combined. It contains almost 1.8 trillion (that’s trillion) pieces of plastic totalling 80,000 tonnes. That’s insane! Every time I go away, abroad or at home, you see plastic and rubbish in the water. Surfers Against Sewage do some great work around pollution of the sea, and support various plastic free communities.These are a great resource and completely non judgemental,as all movements should be!
How would you recommend going — or at least trying to go — plastic free?
Lots of people give out hints and tips about how to make some really simple swaps, and tricks for reducing your daily waste. Some plastic-free swaps are really easy, and with so much being delivered in letterbox-sized boxes now, you can get it quickly and safely!
What are your top plastic free tips?
Razor blades Use a safety razor instead of disposable ones. In the UK we throw away millions of disposable razors. Safety razors also cause less skin irritation because your skin isn’t having several slightly blunt blades dragging across it multiple times. They get a really smooth shave despite the single blade, and the blades are recyclable. No waste. Combine it with a shaving bar and you’re set.
Image: Trees & Seas
Shampoo bars They come without the plastic bottle and just one bar is the equivalent to two shampoo bottles. Conditioner bars are also available and are brilliant and last even longer! This often works out cheaper (brand dependant of course) because they last so much longer than bottles do!
Image: Trees & Seas
Cleaning Cloths Many cloths you use for cleaning contain microplastics and they shed when you wash them. Instead try one that contains 0% microplastics, and doesn’t come in plastic packaging. I love the Maistic Cloths, because they wash really well, and are great for cleaning everything from glass to sticky baby hands!
Toothpaste Go for tablets rather than tubes. They take a couple of days to get used to, but they are fantastic! You just pop one (or two if you prefer) in your mouth, munch, and brush as normal!
Soaps Soap bars are a really great, and an incredibly easy swap for shower gel and handwash. You can get so many lovely soaps now. My current favourite is a rose and geranium one, with rose petals throughout it.
Image: Trees & Seas
What drives change?
Ultimately, my main inspiration is my little boy. I think I’d still be doing this to a degree, but perhaps not as passionately. And maybe I wouldn’t have taken it so far as to run a couple of small businesses to try and help the cause. It’s not just about my child of course; I want future generations to be able to enjoy the beauty of our planet.
I’ve said before that I think it’s important to make some change, to start to transition and take it easy when you’re new to zero waste… we don’t all have to do everything. You can be vegan and get take out coffee, be zero waste and fly now and then, eat meat but only shop locally, use renewable energy like Pure Planet and not compost. Whatever you’re doing, it’s the little things that help. Don’t break yourself trying to do it all, but try to do something. Help fight the good fight!