1. It can be overwhelming
Plastic is everywhere. From the single-use on your Tesco banana to the see-through lid on your Pringles, it’s prolific. It’s also hard to recycle. Before I started this journey, I had no idea that certain plastics were harder to recycle than others. Black plastic, for instance, cannot be recycled because of the carbon pigments used to colour it. Recycling symbols are often misunderstood so that plastic packaging is put in the recycling bin when it shouldn’t be.
When you do want to hunt for plastic free alternatives, it comes at a price: both in time and financially. Most of the alternatives I found weren’t available in high-street stores, so I had to either shop on a weekend from the local grocers or buy online and sometimes pay extra: all new habits hard to sustain, not to mention the guilt about the carbon cost of delivery and the sting of buying something I couldn’t afford and sometimes came wrapped in plastic itself.
Here’s a brief snapshot of the plastic-free products I have reneged on, because they were either unaffordable or inaccessible.
- Bamboo toothbrush. I loved it to start and it lasts longer than a normal toothbrush in my opinion. But it was more expensive and not accessible in the main shops, so out of desperation I bought from dirty Amazon, which just defeated the purpose of being more ethical.
- Shampoo bars. I loved my Lush conditioning shampoo bar. It worked like a dream, but for the same reasons above, I haven’t sustained this one. Back to plastic shampoo bottles, which annoys me every time I look at them.
It’s certainly not easy when you start making eco-conscious choices.
2. But it can be possible
Let’s not make too many excuses now. It is possible to make everyday swaps that don’t cost the earth. Taking a reusable bag shopping being the most obvious. I’ve written about the swaps I’ve made on my Instagram page, but the ones I have found easiest to implement are:
- Plastic free soap. I never really understood the liquid soap fad, but from time to time I bought one unconsciously thinking ‘this looks nice’. No it doesn’t, silly. Who wants that plastic crap on your shelf? So now I consciously ensure I buy some ordinary anti-bacterial hand soap from the local hardware shop. Just pop it in a soap dish and it won’t go all sloppy.
- Plastic free toilet roll. I use Who Gives A Crap recycled loo roll as I get 48 plastic-free rolls in a huge box every 23 weeks for £36. It’s a real winner. Literally a revolution. You don’t have to think about it and I love the quirky branding too. Plus you can wipe your bum knowing you’re not contributing to deforestation or a reduction in biodiversity. According to
- Plastic free milk. I have my milk delivered in glass bottles from Milk and More, but there are plenty of other delivery companies to try. It was my job to collect the milk off the doorstep when I was growing up, so this literally makes me feel like a kid again. Being a tired 38-year-old I’ll take what I can! It is more pricey and I am privileged to afford it, but it’s worth it if you can. It’s made a huge dent in the plastic waste we tip out each week.
- Plastic free periods: I tried a mooncup for the first time in Plastic Free July. It was surprisingly easy, not that gross and cheaper overall. It’s something I’ve feared for a long time ever since my mum first put a story about them under my nose as a teenager (I still remember jumping at the sight of it). But seriously what is more horrid than tampons or towels full of plastic? The average sanitary pad is made from 90 per cent plastic – that’s the equivalent of four single-use carrier bags. And tampons are just as bad – because their applicators are commonly coated in plastic, they’re non-recyclable. I wish I’d done this one years ago.
- Plastic free washing powder. Ever since my friend told me about ecoegg I feel like I’ve had a clothes washing revolution. It basically uses mineral pellets encased in a recyclable egg to wash clothes. It’s not perfect; I have to use another stain remover on it at times and also add some lavender natural oils when I want to have a more fresh scent on the laundry. Overall though it’s been a good purchase that will save a huge amount of money over time.
- Plastic free razor. This has been my latest purchase (I bought the cheapest metal one I could find that had decent ratings) and I’m still, literally, feeling my way with it. So far though I’m excited about the thought of not having to buy any more horrible plastic razors to get me beach body ready, cause I only shave when I go to the beach. Jokes.
- Plastic free nappies. This has been one of my favourite achievements. Not only do the nappies look great, but they do work out more affordable over time. Yes, not going to lie, it can be a bit gross having to empty out the nappy bucket and wash them, but no more disgusting than wiping your baby’s bum. So long as you hang them on the line and don’t tumble dry them, you’re doing the planet a real favour.
3. Tell your family and friends you’re doing it.
During the month, my lovely well-meaning mum bought me some anti-fatigue eye cream and hand cream. Clearly I have horrendous bags under my eyes and wizened hands and she thinks I need to sharpen up. I’m grateful for the guidance, really, as those wrinkles look like a crow’s hopped, skipped and danced all over my bleary eyes. But it only added to the plastic burden crumpling up my conscience.
So tell everyone you’re doing it. You could announce it on social media, like I did, and use that as a means to hold yourself accountable. Or if that frightens you, just mutter it to your mates and hope they are supportive. They may take the micky, but if you’re serious about it then hopefully they’ll respect you for it and may even want to do it with you.
4. You won’t have time to do everything
Not unless you cancel your social arrangements or skip work. I wanted to do so much: make my own deodorant, DIY my own cleaning products, buy my food from the local plastic-free grocery shop and make my own sandwiches to count a few.
Well, I had time to make my own deodorant once and while the coconut oil and cornflour concoction worked for a few days, when the heatwave came – plop! There went my now runny liquid deodorant all down our wooden chest of drawers as I got ready for work. Not wanting to stink the office out, I went to buy a plastic alternative in the shops first thing.
The moral is, you can’t do everything. Not unless you really overall your lifestyle. It’s not undoable however: there are some families that achieve it. But for the rest of us mortals who maybe have to barter with our other halves to make changes, as well as wrestle with our own bad habits, it’s enough to make one change a week or a month if you can. If you’re doing that, well you’re doing great.
5. Not all plastic-free options are compatible with each other
Going plastic-free can sometimes make your head swirl. I bought a Guppy Friend bag to catch the tonnes of micro waste that is swept into the seas when we wash our clothes, but it requires liquid clothes wash, which is just not compatible with the eco egg I bought to combat the plastic waste from bottles of soap suds.
I used my eco egg with the bag for a while until I realised it was making the washing machine thud along the floor like an overweight drunken bunny. Not advisable. I’ve since read other blogs which say how you can make your own clothes wash liquid. I haven’t got round to that yet, but I’m up for trying it. Once I’ve pushed the washing machine back into position.
7. You’ll realise the mistakes you’ve made in the past
Like plastic flowers for my vases. I don’t even have a justification for that. I just eyeball them each morning as I go to the kitchen for breakfast and wince.
Or drinking copious amounts of takeaway coffee absentmindedly while inwardly believing I’m an eco warrior. Or paying for ironing to be done because you’re short on time and can’t face doing it only to find out it comes back wrapped in single use plastic.
8. Make a future plan
One of my favourite quotes is ‘If you fail to plan you plan to fail’ and while I love a good list, we all know where we want to shove that list when you’ve had a long day. Most days I’m flying by the seat of my pants and too tired to make my own deodorant, let alone write about the experience. But I know that the days I manage to create some time to think and plan my next eco-conscious steps will be the days I am more effective.
The reality is it depends on hard work in forming new habits and a new routine, especially in this convenience, hyper-social, consumer-based life we have created for ourselves. Making time on the weekend to go to the local grocery shop rather than ordering plastic-wrapped food from online, or washing cloth nappies rather than just chucking away disposables, are all new habits taking you away from doing other things that you may prefer to do instead. That’s when eco-conscious living can start to wear you down, but try not to let it.
If you start small and start tackling the easy things first: such as plastic free loo roll, washing powder, milk or food then you’ll be more likely to keep going. Who knows how much you’ll be able to achieve then and how much you may inspire others in the process.
Did you do Plastic Free July? What did you learn from it? Do you agree with me or did you have a different experience? Let me know in the comments below, or if you’d like your story to be included on this blog, share your story here.
One thought on “8 Lessons from Plastic Free July – The Guilty Green Mum”
I’ve been trying my best to go plastic free all year and, like you, I found some of them very challenging. It’s very hard to make the switch over night so I just make sure that once something in a plastic bottle runs out, I try and replace it with a more ecologically friendly product. One day I hope my household will be as plastic free as it possibly can but for now I’m trying to do the best that I can.