We recommend starting out by keeping an eye on your rubbish and recycling bins for a week or two to get an idea of what plastic is coming in and where any problem areas are. Then, download our handy plastic audit questionnaire which will take you through different areas of your home and give some guidance about how to reduce, replace and eliminate.
You’ll be amazed how quickly your rubbish and recycling will shrink once you start eliminating disposal plastic. Don’t rush it, though – it’s easy to become overwhelmed. Always use up what you have, regardless of its packaging, before buying anything new. We have compiled ideas for each main area of the house, including how and where to shop plastic-free locally, how to make easy swaps for everyday items, and a number of things you can easily make yourself at home.
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WHAT YOU NEED
This way of shopping for groceries will help you to reduce the size and volume of your weekly rubbish like nothing else will! The following handy items, many of which you may already have at home, will help you to shop for, transport and store unpackaged food:
- Re-useable large, medium and small fabric or netting bags
- Re-useable containers with lids
- Re-useable bottles
- Screw top jars and Kilner jars or similar
Markets, greengrocers, farm shops and 'zero waste' shops are your best friends here – we’re blessed with many in Gloucestershire - see a list of local shops on our resources page. Here you can fill up your own bags and containers with fresh produce, storecupboard goods like pasta, rice, muesli, spices, etc. and use your bottles to get refills of milk, oil, vinegar and more. The benefit is that you can buy as much or as little as you want which can help with not needing to go shopping so often. Our local plastic free champions The Beeswax Wraps Co. have put together two useful maps to help you find your nearest milk refill station and zero waste shop to buy dry goods plastic free. If you’ve not used one of these shops before, you might like to read our blog on how to use your local zero waste shop.
You can also buy unpackaged in supermarkets – take your own bags for fruit and veg, and containers for cheese, meat and fish. Most bakery counters will slice loose loaves for you and put in your own bag. And some supermarkets – certain branches of Asda and Waitrose, including in Cheltenham, for example – have dispensers for loose dry goods and other products. Instead of ready-made fresh meals, consider buying plastic-free frozen meals.
If you prefer to have food delivered at home, join a local food cooperative such as Stroudco Foodhub or a local vegetable box scheme. Milk & More delivers fresh oat milk in glass bottles in addition to dairy milk and groceries. There are many local milk delivery services in Gloucestershire that also deliver orange juice in glass bottles, eggs and more. Buying from wholesale suppliers as a group can be a good way to spread the cost and quantity. We’ve had good experiences with UK grown pulse farmers Hodmedods, BuyWholefoodsOnline and the Suma collective.
STORING FOOD AT HOME
Back at home, store food in kilner jars, containers or in the fabric bags. If you buy sacks of potatoes, store these in a dark, cool place like the shed or garage. Utilise your freezer for ready meals that come in cardboard only so that you always have quick convenient food at the ready. Re-useable, waxed food wraps (beeswax or plant-based wax) are a fantastic product to keep vegetables, cheese and bread fresh for longer and they can be used in the fridge and freezer too.
MAKE YOUR OWN
Make things at home that can help avoid plastic bottles and containers, for example salad dressings, hummus, pate, snacks, pizza, granola, oat milk, biscuits and crackers. Of course, growing your own produce is a fantastic way to avoid plastic. Start with simple things like windowsill pots of herbs, watercress, sprouts and chillies. Swapping allotment produce with friends, joining into a local crop swap like the one run by the Long Table in Stroud each year, or joining a seed bank scheme is a brilliant way to make your harvest go further.
FROZEN FOOD & READY MEALS
Many garden centres and some farm shops have freezer containers with loose fruit, veg and ready-meals, Highfield Garden World, Over Farm and some Coop supermarkets among them. Typically you can find:
- frozen peas and mixed veg
- frozen summer fruit
- frozen fish cakes
- frozen breaded mushrooms
- frozen ready-to-bake pastries like croissants
Simplify your cleaning routine with a staple of basic products that you can either buy from a local refill supplier or make yourself with just a few ingredients. Swap your cleaning utensils as and when you need to buy new ones for non-plastic alternatives. Avoid wet wipes - they are made with a lot of plastic even though they feel like fabric.
For a list of local shops check our resources page and the Ecover refill locator. Most zero waste shops, eco shops and some farm shops offer refill stations where you can take your empties and refill at a fraction of the cost:
- Liquid laundry detergents and fabric conditioner
- Toilet cleaner
- All purpose cleaner
- Liquid hand soap
- Floor cleaner
Most supermarkets offer a basic range of products that are not packaged in plastic:
- Dishwasher tablets
- Washing powder
- Laundry bleach powder
- White vinegar
- Kitchen roll in paper
Amongst many other useful plastic-free items you can buy the following at most hardware stores:
- Bicarbonate of soda, citric acid and borax substitute (great for simple cleaning recipes)
- Spot-cleaner soap bars
- Furniture polishes in glass and metal containers
- Cotton dish cloths
- Wooden-handled brushes
- Metal pot scourers
- Metal buckets and mops with wooden handles
ZERO WASTE & FARM SHOPS
Here you might find the more unusual swaps for plastic items, made with unusual materials but very effective nevertheless:
- Dishwashing brushes with wooden handles
- Dishwashing soap bars
- Scourers made from coconut fibres
- Loofah plant cleaning sponges (to substitute yellow plastic sponges)
You can make simple cleaning products with a few ingredients such as lemons, vinegar, bicarbonate of soda and essential oils. The internet offers many recipes, check out this local blog article or advice from Moral Fibres for more information.
Some of the methods below require a bit of skill, like shaving with a safety razor for example, others are just simple swaps for something less packaged or made from natural materials and ingredients. Avoid wet wipes - they are made with a lot of plastic even though they feel like fabric.
For a list of local shops check our resources page. Most zero waste shop, health food shops and some farm shops offer refill stations where you can take your empties and refill at a fraction of the cost:
- Shower gel
- Bubble bath
- Liquid hand soap
INDEPENDENT SHOPS AND ONLINE SHOPS
- Toilet rolls, naked or wrapped in paper from Greencane or Who Gives a Crap
- Toothbrushes made from bamboo or wood
- Toothpaste in glass jars or toothpaste tablets
- Safety razors and blades
- Soap bars for washing, shaving, shampooing and conditioning
- Period panty liners, or sanitary pads and tampons from Natracare (check our #rethink periods blog)
- Bath salts
- Cotton buds with paper sticks
- Re-useable make-up remover pads
- Suncream in tins by Not the Norm made in the UK
MAKE YOUR OWN
If you'd like to try making your own toiletries you are in luck - there are many helpful books and internet sites and often the same ingredients such as beeswax, base oils, essential oils, mineral clays and bicarb are used in many different products. Once your have some of these in the house your can try your hand at lip balm, hand creams, body oils, make-up remover, hair spray, deodorant and even toothpaste! We recommend Neal's Yard Make Your on Cosmetics and The Art of the Natural Home by Rebecca Sullivan for their excellent and simple recipes.
It is not easy to avoid plastic and man-made polymers when it comes to clothing but here are some pointers:
- buy local if you can, online shopping comes with tons of plastic packaging
- check the label and choose cotton, linen, wool etc.
- avoid fleeces as they shed more than usual microfibres with each wash
- avoid excessive buttons, plastic zips, metallic fabric, laminated prints, polyester, nylon
- go for long lasting clothes rather than fast fashion
- consider buying secondhand
- swap clothes with friends and family
- pass on kids clothes to others
- mend your garments - also check dry cleaners for garment repairs and alterations, local tailoring services and repair cafes in Gloucestershire who offer textile repairs including for knitted garments
- learn how to sew or repurpose garments
Parents - especially new ones - are bombarded on all sides with marketing about the “stuff” they must buy, much of it plastic based. Even if you can resist that pressure, the conventional baby necessities – in particular, disposable nappies and wipes – are plastic based, along with their packaging. But there are solutions:
Some disposable nappy brands are better than others: for example, those made with sustainable materials (eg bamboo – though this has its own environmental costs), or those which are biodegradable under certain conditions. But by far the best and easiest way to cut household waste with a baby is to switch to reusable nappies. Likewise with disposable wipes, some are more sustainable than others, but a far better bet is to use reusables from brands like Cheeky Wipes, or even to make your own. For bottle-fed babies, you may also want to consider what your bottles are made of - new research showed that conventional baby bottles release millions of microplastic particles a day, but there are glass, silicone and steel baby bottles on the market. Our blog on living plastic free with a baby has lots more.
As a parent of older children, you'll probably find yourself fighting a rising wave of plastic in the form of toys, clothing fabrics, and snack packaging. Buying second hand and hand-me-downs are great ways to minimise new plastic, and there are plenty of companies selling ethical and plastic free toys if you wish to buy new - you may wish to encourage friends and family members to do the same. Make your own too - let the kids raid the recycling box, or get out into nature to find loose parts for play. Zero waste shops are a great source of plastic free snacks, and the Zero Waste Chef has 10 zero waste snacks for kids (and those that feed them). Read more on our blog on plastic free parenting.
Whether it is packed lunches or eating on the go, there are some good practices to avoid having to buy plastic wrapped products.
WHAT YOU NEED:
- a good lunch box or tiffin
- a reusable water bottle
- a reusable coffee or tea cup or a thermos
- a set of travel cutlery (or a small set of bamboo cutlery)
- beeswax wraps - very useful for wrapping sandwiches and all sorts
- the willingness to make your own lunch, snacks and hot drinks in advance!
REFILL ON THE GO:
Download the Refill App with a handy map of where your can refill tap water for free and thousands of participating outlets, including train stations, museums, shops, bars and cafes.
READY MADE FOOD IDEAS:
- Quiches from local shop or market
- Savoury snacks from the deli counter
- Left overs from the day before
- Glass of pickles or olives
MAKE YOUR OWN:
- Veggie sticks and hummus
- Cheese biscuits
- Soup in a thermos
There is a good choice of online shops for plastic free products and ethical living in the UK. These retailers take care with their packaging methods too. All too often we order online what we believe is a green alternative only to find that it is heavily packaged in plastic or shipped half way round the world.
BEAUTY & HEALTH
Upcycle Beauty (vegan, plastic free and uses by-product wherever possible eg nut shells)
Wild Sage (cosmetics from Hereford)
Wild Nutrition (plastic-free, plant based supplements)
Star Child of Glastonbury (essential oils and more)
Clothing should be an investment and of a quality that means the clothes will last. Shopping for ethically produced clothing means that the garments are more expensive. But this means that we are more likely to choose carefully and look after our clothes!
Lucy & Yak
Local shops like SVP Eco or Loose in Stroud have a simple online presence so you can order and collect. For food, check the Open Food Network for the nearest local collective to you for ordering local products online for home delivery.