10 tips for reducing your single-use plastic waste
Follow these 10 simple lifestyle tips to reduce the plastic waste you produce – it’s easier to cut down on single-use plastic than you might think.
Thinking about going plastic-free? It might feel impossible because single-use plastics are everywhere, but making a few small changes to your shopping habits can make a significant difference to the amount of plastic you throw away each month. Here are 10 tried-and-tested tips to help you cut out single-use plastics.
For expert advice on everything from making products last longer, to reducing energy use and your carbon footprint - see sustainable living advice on Which.co.uk.
1. Be prepared
It sounds obvious, but a bit of forward planning can help you swap to a plastic-free lifestyle much more smoothly. Think about where you use the most single-use plastics in your daily life – covering up leftovers for the fridge? Buying bottles of water? Lunch deals and snacks? You may need to make a few small investments to replace these items, but you’ll be using them time and time again.
Rather than cling film, opt for beeswax wraps. A water bottle is a no-brainer – choose a charcoal filter bottle if you’re worried about impurities in the water where you refill it – and a reusable coffee cup can be used for a lot more than coffee. Use metal straws and pack a portable cutlery set for days out, and avoid plastic-heavy meal deals by making your own bento-style lunch box. You’ll be amazed at how quickly you come to rely on these everyday items.
2. Bring your own containers and bags
Supermarkets have been charging us for plastic bags for years, but quite a few of us still slip up and have to accept the extra cost when we’re caught short. One solution is to buy a small, reusable shopping bag that packs away neatly into a pouch. Keep one permanently in your bag so you don’t need to buy a plastic bag whenever you make an impromptu purchase.
When food shopping, take your own plastic-lidded containers, produce bags or a cool bag for fridge items with you. String or net bags are great for fruits and vegetables, or you could invest in reusable, washable bags, such as those by Carrinet. Finally, don’t forget several sturdy shopping bags to carry it all home.
3. Find some good local suppliers
Hit the high street to help you cut down on plastic – your local butcher, fishmonger, grocer, market vendor and baker are all much more likely to supply you with food that isn’t overly packaged. Meat and fish will also stay fresher in paper than they do in plastic; pop them into a storage container to prevent any leaks on the way home.
Fruit and veg almost always come in a paper bag if you buy them from a greengrocer or market stall, while a canvas tote or string bag is fine for larger produce. Also, local suppliers will just sell you what you need, such as a couple of leeks rather than a pack of six wrapped up in plastic.
4. Find a zero-waste shop
Zero-waste shops are now appearing all over the UK – shops selling food that’s free from any packaging, usually dry goods like pasta, rice and grains, pulses, coffee, spices, oats and other cereals. You take your containers with you, weigh out what you need, et voilà, zero waste. Many sell other household items too, such as refills for detergents, eco-friendly sponges and scrubbers, or toilet roll wrapped in paper.
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Find your local zero-waste store by searching online, while some health food shops also have refill stations for dry goods. If you don’t have anything local, there are some workarounds. For example, an increasing number of brands now sell products in cardboard boxes with very little or no plastic. You may need to shop around to find them, but they are out there.
5. Speaking of health food shops...
They now sell a lot more than health foods. You can pick up green lifestyle alternatives such as bamboo toothbrushes, packaging-free soap, shampoo and conditioner bars, and refills for cleaning products. You can also find giant refills for everyday beauty products like shower gel. It’s easy to miss these things when you’re not actively looking for them, so it’s worth revisiting your local store.
6. Plan ahead for evenings and weekends
Your usual eco-friendly shops may be closed during these times, so make sure you’ve got enough supplies before they shut. If you do have to make an emergency shopping trip, don’t rule out the local mini supermarket. Many have a reasonable selection of loose fruit and vegetables, and you can find plenty of food in cans or glass jars rather than plastic packaging.
7. Beauty can be plastic-free
Our bathrooms are another huge source of single-use plastic: shower gel, tubes of toothpaste, moisturiser pots and make-up products. If you’re not already using shampoo and conditioner bars, make the swap today – many major brands now offer them, so you won’t miss out on your favourites.
Buy soap bars instead of hand soap in a pump dispenser, toothpaste tablets rather than tubes, and a refillable deodorant or one that comes in a jar. Even cosmetics now come with refillable options; check out big names like Charlotte Tilbury, Clarins, Dior and MAC, or Kjaer Weis, which is leading the way in refillable make-up.
8. Get it delivered
Your local milkman is back in fashion! Doorstep milk deliveries have soared in recent years – OK, the pandemic kept us all indoors but getting your milk delivered in reusable glass bottles on an electric vehicle is currently the height of eco-cool. Many delivery companies now offer plant-based milks, or you could make your own dairy-free alternatives; check out these easy nut and oat milk recipes.
For fruit and veg, there are so many schemes now available to get fresh, plastic-free produce delivered to your door. You can choose from sustainable veg boxes, 100% organic produce, smaller boxes for smaller households, seasonal food deliveries or even something just for salad lovers. See our round-up of the best ones here.
Fruit and veg boxes can seem expensive, but the quality of the produce tends to be better. This means you’ll throw less food away and avoid having to shop for replacement ingredients. Which ties neatly into our next point…
9. Don’t assume it’s going to cost you more
Shopping in smaller stores, or buying organic food, might feel more expensive but there are plenty of savings to be made when you go plastic-free. Many coffee shops will offer you a discount if you take in your own cup, while buying larger amounts of dry goods from zero-waste shops works out cheaper in the long run.
Making your own snacks, like hummus or flapjacks, will cost you a matter of pence rather than pounds per portion. And you’ll probably start avoiding certain items that are heavily packaged, such as chopped fruit, which also tend to be more expensive than their ‘whole’ ingredients. Saving money and saving the planet don’t have to be mutually exclusive.
10. Start slow and see how you go
Reducing your single-use plastic waste will be a challenge, but you don’t have to go from zero to hero on the first day. Start with simple changes that are easy for you to maintain – making your own snacks and taking a water bottle everywhere with you is a great place to start. Once you’re doing that automatically, add in a few more tips until your recycling bin is looking pretty thin.
Embrace the chance to get creative with your cooking and remind yourself that you’re now part of a community making changes to improve the environment for everyone. Sometimes it feels like our efforts are only a drop in the ocean, but if we could all follow one or two of the tips above, that ocean could soon be plastic-free for generations to come.
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