We are far from the perfect eco-friendly, zero-waste, plastic-free family.
I often still choose the “easy” (and less sustainable) path during the craziness of life-parenting-a-four-year-old-whilst-simultaneously-running-my-own-business-and-trying-to-pay-bills.
But I’m horrified by how much unnecessary waste we’re producing. The issue of plastics has now reached breaking point, and big changes need to be made. There doesn’t seem to be a beach free of nurdles, and every week our recycling boxes are full to overflowing with the waste that comes from a three-person-plus-cat household.
Because life IS hectic, we decided to – slowly and surely – make well-considered changes to try to reduce the waste long term.
This isn’t a New Year’s Resolution, or a quick-fix fad. We’re trying to change habits; to actually change the way we’re living and what we’re doing. And it takes time.
We haven’t made all these changes in one go – it’s been a slow process over several years (although we’ve made a more concerted effort over the last two years).
So far, I’m stunned by the results. We’re actually saving money, AND there have been some seriously unexpected health and wellness effects too. I’m not even tempted to switch back to how we were doing things before.
Here are the changes we’ve made so far (and a bit about how they’re working out). I hope they provide you with some inspiration for making changes too:
Food, Drink and In the Kitchen
- Buying packageless store-cupboard stables, like loose grains, flour, sugar, dried fruit, nuts, tea, coffee, herbs and spices, pasta, oil, vinegar, bicarb of soda, baking powder…. the list is extensive! We made the switch about 6 weeks ago, and have noticed a MASSIVE difference in how much is going into our bins and recycling boxes. We missed a general bin collection so are heading into our fourth week with one wheelie bin (not overflowing), which isn’t bad for a family of 3. We also missed a recycling collection, and amazingly our recycling bins weren’t even remotely overflowing after two weeks. Not only that, but because we have to make a bit of a trek with our own containers, and mindfully choose what we buy, we’re more conscious and careful of what we’re eating and how we’re using the food. We LOVE Zero Green in Bristol, and Scoop and Spice in Yatton are also good. I’ve yet to try Replenish in Weston, but it’s on the list. I was worried this would be too time consuming, but Little Whirlwind LOVES the excursions, and we only have to top everything up every two-to-three weeks.
- Beeswax wraps – I love these, and I love the fact our clingfilm use has PLUMMETED
- Silicone Lids (Oria) – does the stuff the besswax wraps can’t do (cover meat; be microwaved and dishwashered, and can be used over hot food. And they cover pretty much all our bowls)
- Refillable washing-up liquid (Ecover) – I get these refills done at our corner shop (we’re so lucky they stock these kinds of products). We have two bottles, which we alternate between – so we’re never stuck short.
- Cotton napkins – with a little person about, we’ve been getting through A LOT of tissues and kitchen roll. So far, they’re working well! (And yes, I admit, they don’t get ironed – just washed, dried, folded, used and repeat!).
- Composting – I’ve been doing this for almost a decade now. We only have a little composter in the garden, but the slugs and snails and other garden creatures are abundant and very busy, and love our veggie peelings and offcuts as well as coffee grinds and tea leaves.
- Veg box (Riverford)- tasty seasonal organic veg, with virtually no packaging. We’ve been using Riverford for several years, and LOVE it! (My little boy gets so excited about checking out the contents of the weekly veg box, and I think I can thank Riverford for his passion for fruit and veg)
- Reusable metal straws – Little Whirlwind loves using straws, but I felt really uncomfortable about the waste. We had a free re-usable plastic one from a restaurant which did a few months, but because it looped around it ended up getting dirty inside and we couldn’t clean it. We’ve been using the metal ones daily for over six months now, and they work really, really well.
- Loose leaf tea – one of the latest switches, and I’m SO happy. The tea tastes better, and I only use as much as I need. And the waste can go in the compost heap. (I switched years ago to Clipper organic tea, thinking the teabags were plastic free. I’ve only just discovered that it’s only some of their herbal teas are, and the normal breakfast tea teabags contain plastic)
- Eliminating kitchen roll – ok, we’re not quite there yet, but it’s been a revelation to discover that cloths can be used to mop spills and wipe sticky ands, and clean tea towels can be used to dry washed fruit and veg. The new napkins have really helped reduce kitchen roll use too. We do still use a bit of kitchen roll, but I can’t remember the last time we bought some, and we’re definitely using much, much less.
- Eating less meat – this is another one that was a side-effect from life-in-general rather than being a deliberate change – I lived abroad for two years where meat wasn’t really eaten all that much. My habits changed, and 15 years later I still haven’t reverted to my former meat-every-day self. As a family we eat veggie for most meals (although we’re not vegetarians). There’s been a lot in the new about how reducing meat consumption has massive ecological benefits (not to mention it’s invariably packaged in single-use plastic). Now, when we do have meat, we try to support local farms (spending more money on super tasty and responsibly sourced food, rather than buying cheap meat more often).
- Reusable silicone “sponges” for washing up (Eco Egg)- They go in the dishwasher, so they can be reused rather than chucked away after use, and are more hygienic too. They work better than I thought they might!! (Little Whirlwind loves the fact you can pour washing-up liquid inside the “sponges”!).
- Next to try: Milk in bottles delivered to our door…. but WAY too pricy at the moment.
Personal Hygiene and Self Care
- Moon cup – My first line of defence. I started using this kind of product in 2003, and it has changed my life (this is not an exaggeration!). I was VERY reticent to try this initially, but it ends up being much cleaner than the alternatives, and you need to deal with it less often. It makes travelling and exploring easier (I backpacked extensively while using it) too.
- Washable sanitary pads (Cheeky Wipes)- My second line of defence. And an even bigger life-changer. After three months or so, I started to notice a massive difference in myself: periods became lighter, shorter by a day, and I no longer have any period pains (which is quite dramatic for someone who used to spend at least one day a month curled up on the sofa clutching a hot water bottle and groaning). I did a bit of research online and found a lot of anecdotal evidence to indicate that many women are experiencing the same thing when they make the switch. Oh, and it’s no where near as grim as your imagination would have you believe!!
- Eco-friendly, ethical toilet roll – It was reallyWho Gives A Crap difficult to persuade Long Suffering Husband to change brand. But what a difference it’s made! I ordered a big box of premium toilet roll. And it’s amazing. Firstly it’s actually CHEAPER than the Cushelle loo rolls we were using before. And it lasts MUCH longer. It’s thinner than Cushelle, but stronger, and even LSH has agreed it passes the softeness test. No plastic is involved in the packaging, and furthermore, they are an ethical company. 50% of their profits go to building toilets in parts of the world that are seriously lacking in facilities. Check ’em out and give them a go. We’ve definitely been impressed and won’t be changing back.
- Bar soap for hand/body washing – we’ve always used plastic-bottled hand-pump soap, but for completely non-ecological reasons (a severe case of eczema), I’ve had to switch to olive bar soap. It’s gentle, gets my hands clean, and lasts far, far longer than the plastic bottles. It also works absolutely brilliantly with the safety razor (no need for any extra shaving products). Why didn’t we switch sooner?!!
- Bar Shampoo – I’ve been using bar soap for a little while now. It’s not been a totally issue-free journey, but I’m getting there! I tried a couple of different bars before I found one I’m happy with, and my hair really benefits from an Apple Cider Vinegar rinse afterwards (which has simply replaced the applying-conditioner part of the hair washing process).
- Washable make-up remover pads (Cheeky Wipes)- these are amazing. Larger than cotton wool pads, gentle, and effective. Bye bye single-use cotton wool pads.
- Coconut Oil as a makeup remover – gentle and moisturising, and WHY DID I NOT KNOW ABOUT THIS BEFORE?! I love that I’m no longer applying what felt like paint-stripper to my face, AND this stuff removes very stubborn waterproof mascara very easily!
- Cotton hankies – my husband has been using these for YEARS, and I’m just in the process of making the switch (although I’ll still have disposable tissues on hand for those really nasty colds)
- Home made deodorant – I really loved the results, but because it’s fairly time consuming, I haven’t done this for a little while, and unfortunately have returned to shop-bought deodorant recently.
- Plastic-free deodorant – the next-best thing. And I’ve found one I LOVE by ‘ku.tis. It’s a natural deodorant in a cardboard tube: easy to use, and works MUCH better than the “normal” mainline stuff I was using before. (I get mine from Zero Green in Bristol).
- Natural Toothpaste – Ok, I don’t make my own, but I’ve now switched to a natural-ingredient, stored in a glass-jar kind of toothpaste. It’s kind of clay-like, tastes COMPLETELY different to conventional toothpase, and I definitely had to put my brave pants on before trying it. (Yes, I was REALLY nervous about this). The reality? It’s another one of those life-changes moves. My teeth feel cleaner, smoother and much less stained than before, and my dentist has commented on how healthy my gums are. No amount of brushing with Colgate left my mouth feeling this clean. It IS more expensive, but there’s no way I’m switching back. I use Green Wyse from Zero Green in Bristol.
- Safety razor (Edwin Jagger) – I was nervous about this one, but actually it’s HUGELY more effective than my old Gillette-with-disposable-blades, and much, much cheaper, too.
- Wooden comb – So far not as good as the plastic one (it’s not as gentle or good at untangling my fine hair), and I do still have a couple of plastic combs I use.
- Glass nail file – AMAZING, and last for ever (pretty much). Unless you drop it on a hard floor. Which I did. Not as convenient to carry about in a handbag, but great for use at home.
- Reducing hair washes – This was a tough one for me, as I (thought I) had to wash my hair every day. It’s very fine and prone to greasiness. However, due to a bad bout of eczema on the palms of my hands, I had to cut down on what was coming into contact with them. This enforced reduction in hair washing has had amazing results, and I’ve found I can now go for two days (and sometimes three) without having to wash it. (Important note: although my hair is rather unwieldy and rarely looks neat, I am a bit of a clean-freak about it. I was determined not to go all Eco at the expense of my hair. I’m genuinely shocked and please about this…and using half as much shampoo. Which is saving quite a lot of money as well as using half the amount of plastic!)
- Plastic-Free Organic Cotton Buds – admittedly not as strong as their plastic counterparts, but infinitely better than I was expecting, and definitely better for the environment.
- Next steps: washable toilet “paper” – ok, I might have reached my limit with this one. I have done the research, but I have a long way to go mentally before I even consider experimenting with this one. (I’ll stick to just trying to use a bit less of the normal stuff!!)
About the House
- Eco friendly laundry detergent and fabric softener (Ecover) – we’re really lucky that our local corner shop does refills for these. We’ve been using the same three bottles for over a year now.
- Soapnuts instead of laundry detergent – for some clothes washes, I’m using soapnuts in a little bag – chucked in with the laundry in place of detergent and fabric softener. They’re natural and reusable (up to about 10 washes, depending on which article you read). I’m convinced they work, Long Suffering Husband isn’t so sure (yet). I still use detergent for large washes, anything with quite heavy staining, and for whites washes, because sometimes there really isn’t the time to split laundry into small loads and pre-soak things. So we’re striking a balance right now between soap nuts and detergent, and it seems to be working ok. (Hopefully we’ll move more towards the Soapnut end over time).
- Line Drying – I’ve been line drying as much laundry as I can since I started working from home. In a weird way, I actually enjoy the process, and it has added benefits: clothes smell fresher (apart from when the surrounding fields have just been done), and the direct sunlight gets rid of stubborn stains (like watermelon, for example). Just never, ever line dry towels. I learned this the hard way!
- Dryer Balls – the idea with these cricket-ball-sized sheeps-wool balls is that you bung a couple of them in the dryer with your clothes, and they dry more quickly (therefore less energy being used), and make your clothes softer. We have a condenser dryer, and I have found clothes are often still damp (depending on the weather!) after the normal “extra dry” cycle. These balls do seem to be helping with that.
- Brickette maker (Eko-Mania) – We’ve started to turn our paper-to-be-recycled into “logs” for our fire (our home is very cold in winter and we don’t have central heating, so this is a necessity rather than a luxury). They’re pretty good too, although take a while to make & dry. (Plastic reduction in the packaging of the plastic-net covered logs these brickettes are replacing). For more info on this, check out Little Whirlwind’s Instructional Video!
- Mending and Fixing – although I complain about it, there’s a huge amount of satisfaction in mending clothes and fixing things, rather than chucking them out and getting something new. I’m not a great seamstress (I only know two or three types of stitch), but I can attach a rough patch to my little boy’s trousers quite quickly and extend their life a bit. And I’m a dab-hand with glue and tape for fixing everything else!
- Buying clothing and other items to last (rather than going cheap) – This is definitely a long-game one, and is quite tricky to do if you have limited amounts of £££ coming in each month. I’ve recently invested in a sturdy pair of black ankle boots, and bought an expensive but excellent quality raincoat. I had been buying new boots every year, and wearing them out (that’s what £9 from Asda will get you), and a new rain coat each year, for basically the same reason. I’ve also been going for better quality jeans, as the cheap ones were wearing out within a couple of months. (That’s the trouble when you’re a mum of a toddler AND a photographer – there’s a lot of crawling about on the floor!!).
- Next steps: Home made cleaning sprays – feels a bit time consuming, and somehow a bit of a leap-of-faith; making useful things out of properly worn-out clothes (I have a stash, some ideas and no time at the moment!!)
Out and About
- Refillable water bottles – We’ve been doing this for a number of years, and it’s really not that hard to do. I’ve just moved over to Chilly’s metal water bottles, as my plastic refillable finally gave up the ghost. Little Whirlwind still has a plastic one, but it’s still infinitely better than single-use plastic bottles.
- Reusable/Refillable takeaway coffee cup – I bought one for Long Suffering Husband to use at the cafe at his work (he’d been using one or two disposable coffee cups a day). Little Whirlwind chose the pattern (it’s a bit 1970s retro brown floral), and LSH is told on a daily basis that he has a “Hippy Wife”. But I can live with that.
- Next steps: Take our metal straws out-and-about with us (and be a bit quicker with the “no straw thank you”), getting out of the habit of buying plastic-packaged drinks when we’re out and about (especially as we always carry water with us anyway)