Today marks the start of Plastic Free July, a global initiative aiming to reduce our reliance on single use plastic. And to celebrate, we’re sharing 50 ways you can live with less plastic, out and about, at home and in the garden.
50 might feel a little overwhelming (it certainly was when I sat down to write this blog), and you might not choose or be able to adopt all of these suggestions. Instead, pick out the ones that are sustainable and doable for you right now. Collectively we can make a big difference to our planet, helping clean up our oceans, lowering the amount of waste destined for landfill and reducing our carbon footprint.
Out and about
1. Lose the plastic bag
The plastic bag charge was introduced back in 2015, and has proven successful in supermarkets, with their use falling by 95%. The levy has now been extended to all retailers — try to keep a reusable bag on you at all times, just in case.
2. Hydrate sustainably
A whopping 10.8 billion plastic bottles were used in the UK in 2018, many of which likely ended up in landfill and our oceans. Do your bit and use a reusable bottle instead — you’ll save money too.
3. Say goodbye to plastic cutlery
If you know you’re going to be dining al fresco, take your non-plastic cutlery with you, and keep a stash in your glove compartment or office drawer.
4. Sustainability, to go
Plan ahead and take a reusable cup with you on your next trip to Starbucks. The UK gets through about 2.5 billion paper coffee cups a year — a million trees are felled and almost 1.5 million litres of water used to meet this demand. Take your own reusable cup to the coffee shop, you’ll often get a discount for doing so.
5. Sip with a conscience
We’re a thirsty bunch here in the UK, getting through around 4.7 billion straws each year. So it’s no surprise that the government banned the use of single use plastic straws last year. There are some exemptions though, and the ban isn’t the norm across the world. If you’re offered one, just say no.
6. Stop chewing on plastic
Did you know that most chewing gum contains plastic? It’s no wonder that our pavements are stained with the stuff. Opt for a gum that’s 100% plastic free instead — Iceland became the first supermarket in the UK to sell plastic free gum in 2018.
7. Cover up with a reusable face mask
Studies suggest that globally we’re using 129 billion face masks every month — that’s 3 million a minute. And most of those are disposable, made from plastic microfibres. Let’s reduce that startling figure and choose reusable face masks instead.
8. Compost your dog poo
Not the most glamorous of swaps, but one every responsible dog owner can easily make — opt for compostable dog poo bags. They do exactly the same job as their plastic counterparts, but won’t end up in landfill.
9. Feeling peckish? Take your own snacks
They won’t be crammed full of sugar, or wrapped in plastic. So you’ll be having a positive impact on your health as well as the planet. Mix up some nuts and seeds, pack up some hummus and veggies to dip, or try making these energy balls, which sound delicious and will probably keep you going longer than a packet of salt and vinegar crisps.
10. Think about how you travel
If we ever actually get the chance to travel again, there’s a few ways you can reduce the amount of plastic you’re using. Take your own toiletries in reusable bottles, and resist the temptation to stock up on all the hotel miniatures. Also, avoid the mini bar. Your wallet will thank you for that one too.
11. Join a litter pick
This one’s good for the earth and sociable too. Simply search online for litter picks in your area or, if you’re close to the coast, join the Great British Beach Clean which takes place between Friday 17 - Sunday 26 September 2021.
In the kitchen
12. Shop local
Only one third of plastic packaging is currently recycled, it’s more likely to end up in landfill. Opt for local shops and markets — the food you buy is less likely to be covered in plastic and will be fresher too. Plan ahead by taking your own containers to butchers, fishmongers and bakers.
13. Get milk and more delivered
Companies like Milk & More will deliver milk, juices and other products right to your door in glass bottles and jars, and take them away to use again. Simple.
14. Buy non-perishables in bulk
If you do need to buy products packaged in plastic, try to buy in bulk — it saves on plastic in the long term, and will often save you money too. Better still, head to your local refill store with your own containers and stock up that way.
15. Try a local veg box delivery service
The team at Pure Planet are big fans of veg box schemes — they support local businesses, slash air miles and the produce tastes better too. Oddbox also tackles food waste by delivering perfectly good fruit and veg that didn’t quite make the supermarket cut.
16. Swap takeaways for fakeaways
We’re not suggesting giving up takeaways completely (a Papa John's stuffed crust hawaiian will always have a special place in my heart) but how about forgoing them every once in a while? A fakeaway can taste just as good with a little effort, and saves on those little plastic pizza tables, pots and containers.
17. Host an eco-friendly potluck
On a similar note, next time you have your mates round, forgo the takeaway and ask them to each bring a homemade dish instead, transported in reusable containers, naturally.
18. Brew up, minus the plastic
The average tea bag isn’t plastic free. That’s because they’re sealed with a little plastic. Some brands have now introduced plastic free alternatives, or better still, buy your tea loose instead.
19. Get a biodegradable caffeine hit
Many coffee pods end up in landfill or being incinerated. Well-known brands are taking steps to improve things, but how about choosing biodegradable coffee pods instead? Grind offers just that, and they’re compatible with Nespresso machines.
20. Dispose of your waste correctly
One of the simplest things we can all do to help the environment is dispose of our waste correctly. Pay attention to what you can and can’t recycle (this can differ between Councils) and keep a separate bin for food scraps that can be composted.
21. Rinse. Recycle. Repeat
Always empty and rinse anything you plan to recycle. You risk contaminating porous items in the same recycling load if you don’t, and that could make the whole lot unrecyclable.
22. Check the label
Many food brands have introduced plastic free packaging. Look for packaging that’s labelled biodegradable or compostable. Or, negate the need for packaging altogether and head to a zero waste refill store.
23. Wrap it up
When you think about it, it’s sort of mad that we wrap up our leftovers in single use plastic. Luckily, there’s an alternative — use a reusable beeswax wrap instead.
24. Reconsider your food storage
When it’s time to replace a plastic storage container, recycle it before swapping to a glass version. Mason jars look much nicer on your shelves, but can be costly, so start collecting the jars that food comes in to reuse.
Around the home
25. Clean up your act
Traditional cleaning products tend to come in single-use plastic, and contain strong chemicals that can be harmful to you and the planet. Choose a plastic free alternative, like smol which delivers eco-friendly laundry detergent, dishwasher tablets and cleaning sprays right to your door.
26. Make your own cleaning products
Following on from our previous point, and better still, is to make your own cleaning products — unblock your sink with bicarbonate of soda, and sprinkle some in your empty fridge before scrubbing away with half a lemon and rinsing off with warm water to get it sparkling clean.
27. Brush up
Conventional sponges are made from oil-based plastic, which is great for cleaning but not so great for the environment (especially if you’re replacing them every two weeks, as is recommended). Try a natural dish brush or linen cloth instead.
28. Buy second hand
Sometimes, buying plastic is necessary. But consider buying second hand where you can. Computer monitors, pet carriers and furniture can all be found for much less online or in charity shops.
29. Avoid clothes made out of synthetics
Everytime you wash a synthetic garment it sheds tiny bits of plastic. And it’s these microfibres that make up 85% of human-made debris on shorelines around the world. Where you can avoid buying new clothes made from polyester, acrylic, lycra, spandex and nylon. And if you need to buy clothes made from these synthetics, get them second hand.
30. Choose slow fashion
Yes, fast fashion is fast to produce, but if it’s made from polyester it’ll take much longer to disappear. Invest a little more in clothes made to last and learn some basic sewing skills to increase their lifespan further.
31. Consider alternatives to plastic when it’s time to replace
Inevitably, things break. And while it can take up to 500 years for plastic to decompose, it’s usable lifespan is much shorter. When it’s time to replace a plastic item, first consider your options. Is there an environmentally-friendly alternative?
Take a look at what’s coming through your letterbox and unsubscribe yourself from companies sending you plastic covered brochures in the post that always end up in the recycling.
33. Have a very merry plastic free Christmas
It may be the height of summer, but it’s only 178 days until Christmas. A two metre high artificial tree made from plastic has a carbon footprint measuring around 40kg of CO2. That’s more than 10 times the size of a sustainably-grown, harvested and disposed of real tree.
34. Don’t wrap gifts in plastic
Continuing the festive theme, consider how you’re wrapping your presents. Opt for recyclable wrapping paper (they’re often not) and use plastic free ribbons instead of tape.
35. Give a greener gift
According to a 2018 YouGov survey, over half of Brits receive at least one unwanted Christmas gift each year. Forgo the need to wrap your present altogether and gift an experience instead. Alternatively, why not make a donation on their behalf? With Send a Cow you can send a gift of chickens, goats and yes, even cows, which translate as donations for people living in rural Africa.
In the bathroom
36. Check what you’re putting on your skin
Need to replace some empties? Check the label for polyethylene first, a thermoplastic that’s sometimes used as a thickener or abrasive in skincare. Glow Organic, a natural, cruelty-free beauty brand, has an extensive list of the other microplastics that are worth looking out for, and avoiding if you can.
37. Swap out bottled shampoo and conditioner for bars
Shampoo and conditioner bars are greener, more convenient for travel and often cheaper than the traditional hair care that comes in plastic. Lush was one of the first brands to introduce the bars in the UK, and is a good place to start if you’re thinking about making the swap.
38. Brush your teeth with bamboo
If you change your toothbrush anywhere close to what your dentist recommends, you should be getting through around four per year. That means, in the UK, we’re using and disposing of 200 million brushes annually. And it takes 400 years for a plastic brush to degrade. Thankfully, there are alternatives — take a bamboo brush for a spin instead.
39. Choose a plastic free toothpaste
And on that note, it might be time to rethink your toothpaste too. Around 1.5 billion single-use toothpaste tubes are thrown away globally each year — choose a plastic free tube or try toothpaste tablets.
40. Opt for plastic free toilet roll
Choose a roll that’s made out of bamboo and wrapped in recyclable paper. The Pure Planet team are big fans of Who Gives a Crap, which sells forest-friendly tissues too.
41. Have a plastic free period
On average, people who menstruate will have their period for 2,535 days of their life. 90% of the period products available are made from plastic, and often flushed down the toilet, causing blockages and polluting our environment. But there are alternatives; mooncups, reusable applicators, pads and liners, and biodegradable tampons are all now available in high street pharmacies and supermarkets.
42. Stop flushing your wipes
Most wet wipes are made out of polyester and polypropylene, and often get flushed down the toilet. In fact, wet wipes make up 93% of the material causing sewage system blockages. Yuck. Look for a biodegradable alternative, and whatever you do, don’t flush wipes down the loo, even the ones that claim to be flushable.
43. Stock up on your beauty faves
Refillable beauty is having a moment, with many brands now offering refills of their most loved products. Beauty favourites embracing the refill include Fenty, Charlotte Tilbury, L’Occitane, Hourglass, MAC and Olay.
In the garden
44. Grow your own
If you’re lucky enough to have your own outside space, have a slice of the good life and start your own veggie patch. Even a sunny windowsill can be transformed into a herb garden. Nothing tastes as good as what you’ve grown yourself.
45. Make your own compost heap
Compost sacks can only be recycled if they’re thoroughly cleaned first — if you have the space, make your own compost instead. The Royal Horticultural Society has great advice on home composting to get you started.
46. Invest in wood or bamboo seed trays
Once broken, plastic seed trays can be harder to recycle. When it’s time to replace your plastic seed trays, invest in sustainable ones made from wood or bamboo instead.
47. Label with lolly sticks
Plastic plant labels can degrade quickly in sunlight, rendering them useless. Instead, use bamboo labels, or upcycle your old wooden ice lolly sticks.
48. Plant up something biodegradable
Up to half a billion plastic plant pots end up in landfill in the UK each year. Use biodegradable plant pots instead, or invest in a terracotta version which’ll look great on the patio too.
49. Grow responsibly
If you’re ordering plants and garden materials online, look out for plastic free mail order companies, buy plants bare root, or bring on seeds. Taking cuttings from your existing plants instead of buying new each year will save you money as well as plastic.
50. Make use of your empty toilet rolls
Plastic modules are rarely recycled and often flimsy. Use toilet roll inners or make modules out of old newspapers instead. Seedlings might need more water but they won’t take as long to establish.
Some plastic is non-negotiable, like medicine blister packs for example, but we can all try to use it more responsibly and reduce it where we can. How do you plan to live with less plastic?