Plastics. They’re everywhere. Literally everywhere. Just looking around this minimalist café now I’d need more fingers and toes to count the amount of plastic items that I can see. Yet it’s now more apparent than ever how damaging they are to, not only our natural environments and wildlife, but also to our own health.
So I decided to try going an entire month without single-use plastics to see just how easy, or hard, it is, what alternatives are out there and whether the responsibility is with us as consumers or with shops and manufacturers.
The honest truth is that it was incredibly tough and I did slip up – I struggled to find alternatives, I was shocked by a lot of unnecessary plastic, and I was outright outraged by some items. In a way I’m quite glad that the month is up because, although I certainly won’t be rushing to waste plastic, frankly it’s pretty tiring and just plain hard.work. to look at every label, rummage for every alternative, and fork out more money for essentially the same items. We even have plastic items to hold other plastic items:
To make it easier for you, I am going to split this article up into categories of products that I came across and include the good, the bad and the alternative, so feel free to scroll through to the section you need help with.
Before I begin, let me just reiterate that I gave up single-use plastic – because although there is a lot of plastic around, for some of those items that we keep and use again and again, plastic is a good option when you take into consideration the processes and resources used during the manufacturing process – but that’s another story.
So here goes:
Fruit & veg:
Sadly, when we see an aisle like this in our supermarket, we don’t even bat an eyelid. It’s normal. It’s standard practice. But it’s shocking. And this was just one aisle, in one supermarket, on one day, and you can see that some of the shelves were already emptying and ready to be restocked; it was only 1pm.
Further to this I was shocked to see that for the fruits and vegetables that did have a plastic-free alternative there was a significantly unbalanced ratio in the amount of loose compared to plastic-wrapped, as well as the evident price difference. Did you know that supermarkets charge 50% more for loose food items without plastic than those pre-packaged?! And of course let’s not forget the provided plastic bags for the loose veg…
And whilst I’m all for having loose fruit and veg in my trolley, sometimes – in the case of 12 carrots or apples etc, – it’s just not quite convenient.
After feeling pretty fed up – largely due to being surrounded by hundreds of customers mindlessly using the provided plastic bags (because if it’s there, people will use it right?), including one woman putting one banana in a bag, I decided to head off to a local green grocers.
I was pleased to see the majority of fruit and veg loose, with paper bags to use. Although there was also the option of using plastic bags, the paper ones were more prominent, and I hope that with increased awareness and pressure, the plastic bags will completely disappear.
The only downside was that the price was more than the supermarket produce – however, if the green grocers that you go to is an independent, local business, then perhaps you agree with me that it is worth the extra money? I’ll leave that one up to you..
These are my favourite bagels ever – in my opinion, they’re just better than any others, utterly delicious.
But of course, they come in single-use plastic, so I had to put them back. After scanning the bread aisle and seeing that every single item was wrapped in plastic, I swiftly headed to the bakery section to get a fresh bread alternative. I was pretty surprised to see that there were only single-use plastic bags available to put this bread in – I’m sure it wasn’t that long ago that paper bags were offered to do the same job. And whilst fruit and veg is fine to put in a trolley without any wrapping, fresh bread doesn’t have a layer of protection. No bread for me.
Ordinarily I bring my own lunch into work each day, but on the occasional day when I want a treat, or I’ve just been too busy dreaming about a world without plastic to prepare any (joking, not joking) I buy some in the local town. But during this plastic-free month I really struggled. Every supermarket sandwich, pasta pot and sushi tray came in plastic, every takeaway food stall, and grab-and-go meal didn’t provide an alternative. After marching my hungry self around getting more and more frustrated I managed to find a hot wrap in Pret (which was delicious btw) that came in a fully recyclable corrugated cardboard wrapping. But that was about it, very disappointing.
If there’s one thing I love after my Sunday tai chi class it’s going out for coffee & a snack with my Mum. We normally share a pack of Caffè Nero’s stem ginger biscuits but unfortunately, they’re packaged in single-use plastic.
In fact, the majority of their snacks are wrapped in plastic.
After looking around feeling pretty miffed – even more so after remembering I had given up chocolate for Lent – I relentlessly had to settle for an oat & raisin cookie (boring!).
However, this situation did teach me that, if the desire to reduce your plastic consumption is in your consciousness, then there is always an alternative, and if we’re all doing it then it can and will make a big difference.
Tea is something that I did not enjoy giving up during my plastic-free February. At this point you may be thinking, ‘there’s no plastic in tea?!’ but did you know that the majority of tea bags are sealed with a type of plastic called polypropylene? I did know that Teapigs do not use any plastic in their teabags, and all of their packaging is completely plastic-free too!
Even the packaging in their front window of their boxes is made from a new compostable material called Natureflex!
However, I was pretty shocked when I saw that a box of Teapigs teabags was 4x the price of my usual Twinings mint tea in a standard supermarket. Now I’m all for using plastic-free products but that’s pretty extreme in my opinion. So basically I went without tea during the entire month.
However, as I am writing this it has just been announced that PG Tips are switching to fully biodegradable, plant-based teabags with no plastics! Amazing news and let’s hope that this encourages the other major tea brands to do the same.
During the month it really made me realise just how many plastic packaged products we all use without giving it much thought. But now is definitely the time to change that and make more conscious decisions.
It’s my opinion that if you can change to a plastic-free alternative, then why wouldn’t you?
I normally use those standard hand-wash bottles and although it takes me a while to go through them, there are easy alternatives which would stop me from buying them ever again.
So now I’ve changed from using this:
It’s just a Burt’s Bees hand soap but there are lots of other brands available.
I’ve also done the same with shower gel, exchanging this:
And even toothbrushes! Changing from this:
To this bamboo toothbrush:
One of the items that I had particular trouble finding an alternative for was plastic-free cotton buds, especially following the recent spotlight on these small plastic items being in the ocean:
Upon researching for plastic-free alternatives, I soon found out that supermarkets such as Sainsbury’s were selling them with paper stems instead of plastic. Great and convenient! However, I was actually pretty stunned when I found them in store to find that yes the cotton buds were plastic-free, but they came in a box MADE OUT OF PLASTIC!
And to make matters worse, it actually shows on the box that the plastic isn’t widely recycled.
And this was the same in various other stores who claimed to have adopted these paper-alternative buds. A real disappointment.
Lastly, this isn’t quite single-use plastic but useful to share. During the month I needed to get a new hairbrush but didn’t want a plastic one. This was when I discovered EcoTools.
Their range of hairbrushes are all made with recycled bamboo, recycled aluminum and recycled plastic, whilst their packaging is made of cotton and bamboo fibres!
Finally, the artist in me found a great alternative for paint palettes. So instead of this:
I purchased this:
Although there was quite a big price difference between the plastic palette and the ceramic one, personally I thought it was worth it based on aesthetics, estimated lifespan and frankly a happier conscience.
What shocked me the most?
The month focussing on reducing my plastic consumption was truly eye-opening, and with that came many discoveries that shocked me, but one that’s really stuck in my mind is this:
Not only in recent months but actually for the past few years, it has become public knowledge that single-use coffee cups are devastating for the planet due to their plastic film covering inside, meaning that they cannot be recycled. Did you know that 7 million coffee cups are thrown away every single day in the UK alone? So why this supermarket decided to sell packs of them is beyond me. A great alternative is a reusable cup on your daily commute, and please do not buy these single-use ones from supermarkets.
So what now?
So that’s my month without single-use plastic. It was tough and it was tiring but it was eye-opening and inspiring too!
I’ve learnt that whilst retailers and manufacturers have a huge responsibility to take care of our planet, developing sustainable alternatives and making it easier for consumers without charging unrealistic prices, each one of us also has a responsibility too.
If you keep buying plastics then retailers will keep producing them, and destroying our planet as a consequence, but if the demand goes then the unnecessary plastic will too.
I hope this experiment has shown you that there are alternatives, and there are small changes that you can easily make in your every day lives, if you are merely conscious about your decisions and how these decisions are affecting our natural world, which ultimately affects our own wellbeing.
By each of us making these small changes, we can make a big difference.
Do not get disheartened, do not give up, do not feel powerless.
As always, I remain optimistic and I hope you do too, that together, we really can change the world.
If you have any questions about my experiment or any of the products featured in this article, please message me via my Facebook page. I would also love to see and hear about any great plastic alternatives that you have found, and the personal changes that you are making to help keep our world safe.