Painless ways to reduce plastic at home

When I think about making changes in my life (improved diet, saving the planet, reducing spending), I am often aware of quite a lot of resistance – it’s like the arguments for all the cons are already sat there waiting in ambush, anticipating the day this would happen. I am expecting it to be painful before I have given it two seconds’ thought. That is before I even begin to consider getting my husband and the kids on board with the idea!

I watched the nature documentary Blue Planet 2 like so many people and felt compelled to do something about my own use of plastics (apparently one of the 80% of viewers who did). I researched online to see what I could do and found an absolute wealth of resources, from Facebook groups to infographics to entire websites dedicated to the subject.

Here’s what we tried and how painful (or otherwise) it was:

  1. Reusable shopping bags – this one we were already in not-quite full swing with. We are generally pretty good when we go to the shops, but almost all the home delivery supermarkets either insist on delivering in plastic bags (they do take them back, but how helpful the recycling is I will need to research for another day). One supermarket did offer to deliver without the bags, but a very disgruntled delivery driver would then unload the boxes onto the floor in our hall, complaining about the policy. One provider, at least, does use paper bags. Personally, I would be happy to have boxes that we exchange each week, even if there was a rental charge or deposit for this, but we are a way off that yet and lots of people would struggle with space to store them.Paper straws
  2. Paper straws instead of plastic ones – super easy and I much prefer using these, although some of them have foil embellishments added so may not be fit for recycling or composting. Also, I am aware that paper straws are less suitable for some people, so silicon or metal ones may be better in this case.
  3. Laundry egg and eco limescale remover – after a small initial outlay, this has saved us quite a lot of money already. We were using an eco laundry detergent in a plastic bottle, albeit the largest one we could get to limit the amount of packaging. We have been happily using the egg instead along with distilled white vinegar, which does a great job of dealing with any bacteria (and the resulting nasty whiff). We do still use fabric conditioner at this point, but again in a large bottle to reduce plastic packaging. This has been a really easy switch for us. No complaints from the family. 
  4. Bar soap instead of a plastic soap dispenser. This switch has been another very easy one. I wanted to make sure that we used a soap that did not contain palm oil. I absolutely love the Lush products but also use soaps from local Oxfam shops. We repurposed clay dishes gathering dust in the kitchen cupboards as soap dishes. I have also switched to bar shampoo, which I keep in a repurposed plastic pot. The bar deodorant has been less successful so far – the one I tried did not function as a deodorant very successfully!

  5. Making Ecobricks. This involves cutting up any plastic that cannot be recycled and putting it into a plastic bottle to be used for construction of things like flower planters. The plastic has to be cleaned then cut and packed very densely into the bottle, which is frankly physically exhausting. However, the point here is that it shows just how hard it is to get rid of the plastic we use that cannot be recycled (even the recyclable stuff is problematic). It has made us really think about how to reduce the plastic coming into the house.
  6. Buying fruit and vegetables loose. This is a bit more expensive than buying wrapped, but you do at least only buy what you need.
  7. Using beeswax wraps and tupperware rather than plastic bags and cling film. Again, this has been a pretty painless transition. There is a little bit more washing involved, but it’s really not much effort (and I am dreadfully lazy).
  8. Sanitary products – these take some getting used to so still a bit of a work in progress.
  9. Reusable water bottles have been another easy win for me. Plastic water bottles do still find their way into the house when people are thirsty out and about, but we reuse the bottles. 
  10. Buying secondhand toys from charity shops rather than new. Not everybody’s cup of tea I am sure, especially as I try to do this for Christmas presents for my kids at least, but it ticks so many boxes for me. For one thing, I don’t feel guilty when we take it back to the charity shop after it has been loved and outgrown. Obviously it’s money to a good cause, much cheaper than new and you don’t have to wrestle with all that packaging and then try to dispose of yet more little plastic bits.

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