Growing up in Cornwall, I'd been visiting the Eden Project regularly since I was about 7 years old. I loved learning about the recycled materials they'd used to build the site, and I loved the gift shop filled with plants, books and fun recycled plastic toys. At one point they had a temporary arcade onsite with games focused on teaching about recycling and this is where the phrase 'Reduce, Re-use, Recycle' was really brought to my attention. But despite all this information I'd been privileged enough to have access to, as I got older it didn't occur to me that my ASOS addiction and frivolous buying of the latest hair and skin products could be contributing to the huge plastic waste issue the world was facing - after all, I'm only one person! How bad could a couple more single use items be?
The more I read, the more critical I became of this attitude. I started small - I switched to packaging free Lush shampoo bars, a decision I have never once questioned in the 8 years since. At the time it felt extortionate for a 17 year old to be spending £7 on shampoo, however, I soon discovered that the bars lasted me up to 3 months when washing my hair every other day, which worked out to be much more cost effective! I've worked my way through all of the bars at this point and can say with confidence that there is something for almost every hair type. If a bar doesn't suit you or your hair needs more moisture, there are also liquid shampoo options available in tubs. Once empty, these tubs can be returned to Lush for re-use! As time goes on, more and more options for solid shampoo and conditioner bars are becoming available. And if you buy one but don't like it? No worries - they can double up as standard soap bars too, making them great for travel! Waste not, want not!
If you can't give up your products in liquid form, why not re-use? Refillable options are available for many different items - recently, we've been getting refills of Faith in Nature shampoo, conditioner and body washes at the Oxfam Superstore near Temple Cowley and the Fairtrade Shop in Headington, which also offers refills of Ecover washing up liquid. My mum has been using Ecover for as long as I can remember, because 'there's nothing nasty in it, so I can use the leftover washing up water on the plants!' - a true environmentalist! Sadly, Ecover is now owned by a large personal hygiene company and so their products are not the pinnacle of green cleaning they're thought to be, but their 'ecological' product recipes still contain considerably less harmful phosphates than other mainstream brands, causing minimal impact on aquatic life once washed away. Another option for refills is SESI, who have stockists in Abingdon: more info is available on their website https://sesi.org.uk/. Or for a different take on plastic free cleaning products check out Iron & Velvet, who offer soluble sachets of concentrated products. I'm a huge fan of their coconut and lime antibacterial spray!
Most recently, I turned my attention to my wardrobe after seeing a news piece in which the reporter pulled a pair of polyester trousers from a landfill site. It was estimated these trousers had been thrown away somewhere between 1970-1980, and yet with a wash they would still have been perfectly wearable today. With more research, I also discovered that polyester is considered the biggest source of microplastic waste in the oceans, making its way back to us through the seafood we eat. Seeing that shocked me into wondering what in my wardrobe would still be around long after I'd left this mortal coil! I stopped buying items made from manmade fibres such as polyester, acrylic and nylon and switched to predominantly natural fabrics, such as organic cotton, tencel and linen. Other biodegradable fabrics such as viscose (also known as rayon) also feature, though the manufacturing process for this is far from environmentally sound so I often buy these pieces second hand. Buying second hand is one of the most environmentally responsible ways of purchasing anything, and some of my favourite clothes have been picked up for under £10 in charity shops! Of course, it's worth noting that sometimes manmade fibres can't be avoided and some things probably shouldn't be bought second hand, such as swim and gym wear!
Finally, I try to be more intentional about what I buy, by questioning whether I actually need whichever item my lizard brain is telling me I just need. Some ideas of questions to ask yourself include what I would use this for or wear it with? Do I already have something similar to this at home? How many hours of paid work would it take for me to afford this item? Could I mimic this particular style by other means, such as by refashioning something I already own? Could I get this or something similar in a good used condition elsewhere? Usually once I've asked myself these questions, if I have any doubts whatsoever about buying the item, I walk away and tell myself if I'm still thinking about it within a week, I can buy it. These methods have seriously helped me to reduce the amount of stuff I bring into my home, just to get donated a few months later!
If you've made it this far, congratulations on getting through the above wall of text! To avoid carrying on for too much longer, I've listed a few more changes you could make below:
- Switching to plastic free cosmetics and toiletries, such as packaging free skincare (offered in Lush) and refillable deodorants (such as Wild).
- Using bar soap instead of bottles of shower gel or body wash. These can be bought package free in store, and I've also had good luck finding plastic free options on eBay, where things come wrapped in paper and card.here possible, buying food in glass, tin or cardboard packaging.
- Using natural loofah instead of those yellow and green sponges to do the washing up. They're biodegradable so once they're unusable we put them in the food waste bin.
- Buying items from refill canisters using your own containers when you can. Shops such as The Market Garden in Eynsham offer this, and further afield there are a number of places in London (such as Whole Foods) and HISBE in Brighton. More and more places are cropping up, so keep an eye out - if you're in the vicinity of a shop, why not give it a go?
- Using reusable fabric produce bags to buy fruit and veg without any packaging. These are fairly simple to make yourself, especially if you have a sewing machine - I made mine from an old cotton bedsheet destined for fabric recycling! This is also great for reducing food waste, as you only buy what you need.
- Using laundry powder that comes in a cardboard box. Ecover offers this and I've also seen that Smol now have a plastic free option available. Or - how about using a refillable laundry liquid, as mentioned above?
- Trying to reduce the amount that you order online so there's less plastic packaging coming into your home.
- Using reusable cotton pads for makeup and nail polish remover, and toner. An old but gold idea!
- When plastic is unavoidable, always make sure to thoroughly wash anything you put in the recycling bin to increase its chances of being recycled! Only clean, food free items can be recycled - pizza boxes with grease on are a no go, as are tins and plastic trays with food remnants in.
There's never been a better time to start reducing your use of plastics, as more and more companies are making changes and creating alternatives! I understand there can be a lot of pressure to be as close to Zero Waste as possible and this can be intimidating and off-putting. Don't beat yourself up over the little things as in most lifestyles, it's almost impossible to completely cut out plastic - much of our healthcare is dependent on plastic for reliable packaging and safe delivery of medicines. But by forming good habits in reducing plastic use in your own way, you will make a difference, no matter how small. Just think - if everyone were to cut their plastic use by even 30%, that would add up to a huge change world over! To summarise, my favourite line from Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell feels appropriate here:
'Yet what is any ocean but a multitude of drops?'
Good luck on your plastic reducing journey - and if you're ever in the area, I definitely recommend a trip to the Eden Project!