31 Baby Steps to low-waste living
Apologies for the lack of alliteration… but hooray, it’s Plastic Free July!!
To mark the occasion I thought I’d add to this post daily with a new step you can take at home to help you reduce your waste.
Whilst I am far, far, FAR from completing my own journey to zero-waste, I love how Plastic Free July pushes me to up my game that little bit more. I hope it can encourage you in this way as well!
Visit this page each day to get your next step, or like the EcoNotes Facebook page.
On days 1-5 we’ll be setting ourselves up so we can make good decisions throughout the month, and from Monday 6th onwards I’ll be sharing tips in accordance with my (often ignored) cleaning schedule: Menu Monday (kitchen), Toilet Tuesday, Washing Wednesday… you’ll catch on.
Remember: if you start getting impatient, feeling like we’re crawling at a snail’s pace, that’s the idea – small changes are the ones that stick!
Good luck, you can do it!!
Day 1: What’s in your bin?
My advice to get started is always the same – every time you put something in the bin, question it.
- Could I live without this item?
- Is there an alternative with recyclable packaging?
- Is there an alternative with no packaging?
You can choose to do this on an item-by-item basis, or keep a written list next to your bin to review at a later date.
Let your housemates know – they might like to join you on this mission too!
Day 2: Know your packaging symbols
If you had a go at yesterday’s step, you may have started looking for recycling symbols. Many companies make our lives easier these days by actually writing which parts of their packaging are recyclable or non-recyclable, but many just use symbols and leave it to chance as to whether or not the consumer can be bothered to do their homework.
So today’s step is just that: do your homework! Or at the very least make use of mine… 😄
The first thing I discovered when looking into this was that the two green arrows in a circle (above) SHOCKINGLY just mean the company supports environmental charities. It does not guarantee the item uses recycled material/is recyclable.
The best thing to do when it comes to plastic is to get to know your triangle numbers. Although each borough or council differs in what they collect (more on that tomorrow…), this chart is a good starting point. Why not print it off and stick it by your recycling bin?
Whilst the info here will go a long way to helping you make better decisions, do also have a little google yourselves if you have time.
Day 3: Local recycling research
Currently in the UK, kerbside recycling guidelines vary widely depending on the borough or council. Whilst I long for a nationwide system with clear rules, if certain areas don’t yet have access to the right recycling facilities, I’d rather they be honest with us rather than sneaking our waste off for overseas incineration.
To remove all doubt from your next recycling decision, why not put aside 10 minutes today (yes, that’s probably all you’ll need!) to visit your council’s website and see what they say. I was pleasantly surprised when I did this last year! And my borough of Waltham Forest has recently made huge improvements in the recycling services it offers.
So go on, instead of spending the next 10 minutes scrolling through the Facebook forest, why not do some local recycling research?
Day 4: The 5 Rs
You’ll have heard of the three Rs (reduce, reuse, recycle), but today I’d like us to consider zero waste guru Bea Johnson’s 5-tiered system. It offers an excellent framework of questions we can ask ourselves each time we consume.
Always consider these steps in this order:
With each item we buy, we are sending a message to companies that we want them to keep using raw materials and energy to make more and more products. Always ask before you buy: do I really need this item? If yes, can I buy it second hand?
Can you lower the quantities of what you do buy? You can apply this question to many different things around the house. This also raises the subject of decluttering (yay, my favourite!) – an action in which we are confronted with our past consumerist tendencies and may be shaken into changing our buying habits.
Next, ask if you already own something that could serve the same purpose. Do you really need a separate kitchen tool for every ingredient?! 😱 Thinking creatively will not only save you money, but it also brings a fantastic sense of satisfaction. You’ll rediscover what it’s like to have a toddler-like excitement about cardboard boxes!
You’ve heard a lot about this over the past few days – but just notice how this is the _fourth_ option. We shouldn’t just fall back on it, as even recycling has its environmental drawbacks (think about the energy needed to transport and transform your discards).
There will be a future step on this, but start thinking about what you could be keeping out of your black bin and giving back to the plants.
P.S. I highly recommend Bea Johnson’s book Zero Waste Home. Why not find it in your local library, buy it second hand, or download the ebook?
Day 5: Make it easy
Now that we’re all experts in what we can and can’t recycle, let’s make sure it’s easy for others in our household (and us, on a tired day!) to stick with it.
- If you haven’t done so already, go back and print off/write down your own versions of the plastic triangle number chart and your council’s allowable recycling and display them near your bins.
- If your refuse and recycling are currently kept in separate places, think about whether there’s a way they could be kept side by side, to make it as easy as possible to access.
- Make sure your bins/collection containers are clearly labelled so everyone can muck in.
The goal is to make recycling decisions easy for even the laziest of house mates (and no, I’m not speaking from experience – Sam is an expert rubbish sorter! 😄).
Day 6: Food storage
Today is Tupperware day!
Food storage is one area where people mistakenly believe the plastic free way is too expensive. The zero waste galleries of Instagram and Pinterest are full of metal tiffins and mason jars, with pristine pantries full of photo-friendly containers. But it doesn’t have to be that way! Buying new containers when you already have perfectly good ones idling at home is much worse for the environment.
Why not use one of your tea breaks today to sort through your Tupperware collection? Get rid of any unmatched lids and bottoms and vow to use what you have here instead of reaching for the clingfilm or food bags. I always feel I’m doing something right when my Tupperware cupboard is almost empty!
You could also use the age-old technique of resting an up-turned plate over a bowl, and why not choose some pretty beeswax wraps to add to your next birthday or Christmas list?
I’ll admit that I do quite like the look of shelves full of matching jars. But why not choose a type of jar you already buy and start saving those? My personal favourite is mayonnaise jars – the mouth is just the right size for me to get my hand inside to wash it and it’s especially great for storing soup and pasta sauce in the fridge as it has a smaller base than my Tupperware.
As with many of these steps, get thinking and get creative – it’s much more fun and satisfying than sticking with old wasteful habits!
Day 7: From bottles to bars
Today we are in the bathroom, the first place I started tackling plastic reduction.
If you’re anything like I was, you buy your shampoo whenever it’s on offer, just in case you might run out soon, completely oblivious to the hoard you already have at home. I think at one point I had about 8 bottles waiting in the cupboard…! When you start to get to the end of your current supplies of shampoo and shower gel, why not consider trying some bar alternatives?
One of our wedding presents was a beautiful box of artisan soap. I had been saving it for years for a special occasion (?!?!), but when we switched to bar soap we started using them up and absolutely loved them (thanks Claxtons)!! You’ll find that once you declare yourself a low waste wannabe everybody will buy you fancy soap for Christmas and birthdays 😄 But you’ll wonder how it makes you SO HAPPY!! Here is a link to a recent favourite of mine which uses up the waste from other products.
A few years ago my friend Annette told me about a soap company in a local industrial estate, Funky Soap. I have used their shampoo and conditioner bars ever since and not only love the products but also the fact that I’m supporting a local business. It always feels like a mini adventure visiting their premises!
If you decide to switch to shampoo bars, be prepared for a period of transition – my hair felt icky for about 3 weeks, but it was definitely worth the wait. And what better time to try this than now, when we’re all staying home more often?? Rather than washing my hair every day I now find I can get by with 2 or 3 washes a week, which is great for saving water too.
Post in the comments if you have any favourite alternatives and don’t forget to use up what you already have first!
Day 8: Reduce your washing
This might seem pretty small but it can make a huge difference over the course of a month or year.
Are you in the habit of throwing all your clothes in the washing basket as soon as you take them off? If it’s your underwear, be my guest 😆 and of course I realise that we are all biologically different. But why not start asking questions at the end of the day instead of acting on autopilot?
- Running your washing machine less regularly = less energy use and a longer life for your machine;
- Washing your clothes less regularly = a longer life for your clothes and fewer microplastics released into the water system;
- Washing less = less washing product waste;
- Reducing the number of times you have to do the washing = an easier life for you!
- Use your nose. If your clothes still smell good, save them to wear tomorrow;
- If you have a new stain, try to spot clean it immediately – you might get another day’s wear out of it;
- Switch to natural deodorant: the biggest surprise I got when I did this was realising that the biggest reason I was having to wash tops was stale deodorant odours. With natural deodorants, that problem has disappeared!
As a household of two adults, we generally have one single-load washing day per week – Washing Wednesday! Sometimes we even have space for some bedding and towels in the same load.
How much can you reduce your workload and be kinder to yourself and the planet?
Day 9: Decluttering
When I told Sam it was decluttering day, he said “what took you so long??”. It’s no secret that this is one of my favourite subjects. But what does this have to do with Plastic Free July I hear you say?
Thinking back to our 5 Rs, step two is to reduce. In her book Zero Waste Home, Bea Johnson’s first observation on this step is that reducing will cause us to “evaluate past consumption”. Going through all our stuff makes us very aware of what we already have and enables us to pass things we don’t need onto others who will use them, saving the purchase of new items. The less stuff we have, the less time we’ll spend cleaning it, and in extreme cases, we might even be able to downsize our homes.
It can be hard to honour both the purger and the eco nut inside you. As a result, some eco warriors become hoarders and some extreme declutterers mindlessly fill bin bag after bin bag. But there are ways to declutter responsibly!
Before you start, identify your exit routes:
- What is recyclable in your area?
- What does your local tip accept?
- Are there specific collection points at your local supermarket?
- Visit the Terracycle website to find collection stations near you.
- Familiarise yourself with your local charity shops.
- Think about whether you know anyone that might be in need of some of your surplus items, i.e. new parents/university freshers.
- See if sharing apps like Olio have many users in your area, or think of local organisations such as schools, care homes and shelters that might benefit from you discards.
And if you’re a saver of jars and boxes, set yourself a physical limit. Designate one big box that you’ll keep useful boxes in, or one shelf in a kitchen cupboard for empty jars.
Remember that your home is not a landfill! If something needs to go in the bin, let it serve as a reminder to you to be more mindful in your future purchasing habits. And if something is lying idle in your home, could it be helping someone else?
Day 10: Carrier bags
One of the top villains in the war against waste is undoubtedly the plastic carrier bag. Reusable bags are the norm these days, with 2015’s introduction of the carrier bag charge having vastly reduced the production of this particular perpetrator.
Do you struggle to remember your bags? As soon as you have emptied them, put them somewhere you won’t forget them next time – straight back in the car, or in the hallway so they are the last thing you see before you go out. Why not write “take bags” at the top of your new shopping list, or keep one or two in your handbag? I even have a fold-up bag attached to my violin case!
But how’s this for a u-turn: did you know that the plastic bag was actually invented to SAVE the planet, not harm it?
According to this article, “a paper bag has to be used three times to be as environmentally friendly as a plastic bag that is recycled” and “bags made of cotton… need to be used at least 131 times.”
So the message is clear – no matter what your bags are made of, welcome them into your home as members of your family and use them til they’re old and grey. And try not to fall into the trap of buying every pretty reusable bag you see.
A bag is for life, not just for Christmas!
Day 11: Search engine
Environmental epiphanies are often swiftly followed by incredible feelings of guilt. We can vow to change our ways going forward, but it’s sometimes difficult to know how we can atone for damage already done. But thankfully there is a simple, free way to help us turn futile feelings of guilt into useful action so we can start doing our bit towards restoring the carbon balance today.
Ecosia is a search engine that works exactly like Google or Yahoo, but behind the scenes, the company’s servers run on 100% renewable energy and 100% of the company’s profits are used to plant trees, restoring ecosystems and supporting poorer communities worldwide.
So why not take a moment to:
- Visit your computer browser settings, select search engine and set it to www.ecosia.org.
- On your phone and tablet, download the Ecosia app and move it to where you usually keep Google or your previous search engine.
Each time you search, you’ll see how many trees have been planted through your own use (I’m currently at 1243!) and the use of others (the company has just passed the 100 million tree mark!).
Day 12: Clothing
We all need it. We all wear it. We all have our own style, whether or not we know it. But there is a backstory to the fashion industry that is often ignored and I’d like us to focus on today.
Did you know that, over the last decade, many high street shops have moved from having four seasons per year to 52? And at the end of each season, much of the unsold inventory ends up in landfill. Clothes used to be bought only when needed, but now many people list shopping as a hobby, buying clothes on impulse before relegating them to the deep dark depths of a wardrobe stuffed full of garments which will hardly see the light of day again.
Thinking further back along the process, so much energy goes into making and transporting new clothes. The materials used are sometimes plastic-based, so waste from the factories harms the environment, and the workers making them often work in harsh conditions for very little pay. Read more here.
There are a few things we can do to make sure we aren’t contributing to the problem:
- Shop second hand in person – you can read my post on this subject here;
- Shop second hand online – I have found nearly-new clothes (and even some with the labels still attached!) through the mobile app Depop and on the Thrift+ website;
- Repair your clothes when they need it rather than throwing them away prematurely (YouTube is your friend for any kind of mending tutorial);
- If buying new, support shops that treat their workers fairly and favour natural materials;
- When your clothes really are past their best, get creative and repurpose them as other items or cleaning rags;
- Buy only what you need, and even then, try going without for a week or so to see if any other items you own can step up;
- Pass on any clothes you’re no longer wearing to save other people from buying new.
Why not take up the challenge to buy no new clothes for 6 months? You may be amazed at what you learn, and how much money you could save.
Day 13: Food waste
Did you know that the average UK household wastes £540 each year on uneaten food (more facts here)? It’s obviously not great for our bank balances, but this waste is also detrimental to the planet.
As with other industries discussed earlier this month, the more we make, the more energy is required to produce and transport the products. And if we fast forward to the other end of the journey, wasted food produces greenhouse gasses as it breaks down, and unwanted food sitting in our cupboards could definitely be put to better use elsewhere.
One step I’d encourage you to take today is to declutter your food cupboards. We’ve all bought fancy cook books with good intentions, but the truth is that most of us like to stick to a fairly solid repertoire of family favourites. If you come across an ingredient you don’t often use, be honest with yourself and keep it out on the counter until you decide what to do next. If the food is (definitely/almost) in date, either challenge yourself to use it (search BBC Good Food for ideas) or pass it onto someone who will (text friends or list it on a sharing app like Olio).
And to avoid any impulse buys in the future, why not keep a permanent shopping list in your phone? I keep mine in my notes app as a tick list and uncheck a box when something runs out at home. That way, I always know what I need. (Added bonus – my list is now in order too, so I don’t have to double back on myself in the shop! That is, until the next time they next decide to change the layout…).
Day 14: Teeth
Looking after out teeth is such an integral part of our daily lives. Yet dental waste is one of the real baddies in terms of plastic waste. It probably wouldn’t take you long to find a washed-up toothbrush on your next beach walk. So how can we keep our teeth healthy and respect the environment at the same time?
As soon as you start looking into plastic free toothpaste, you’ll become very aware (if you’re not already) of the fluoride debate. Talk to your dentist about this before you make any decisions – I was fascinated by the research mine told me about!
Lots of plastic free toothpaste brands now exist, so why not research some and read the reviews? I can recommend these toothpaste tablets, especially as my dentist seemed pretty happy at my check-up 6 months after I had switched.
- If you like using a manual brush, bamboo options are now widely available;
- If you use an Oral B electric toothbrush, check out London-based company LiveCoco for recyclable head replacements;
- You could also look into Miswak. I only heard about this recently: it’s a chewing stick still used in many cultures. But as with anything I mention here, check with your dentist first.
I remember feeling a little deflated when, about 10 years ago, my dentist didn’t jump for joy when I told him I had started using mouthwash daily. Google (or much better, Ecosia) the question “is mouthwash necessary” and you’ll find out why. There are times when it might be useful to help clear up temporary inflammation or infection, but daily mouthwash use is mostly just a way for companies to make money. No more mouthwash = no more plastic mouthwash bottle.
A habit I am always trying to get into… but regular floss is a real environmental villain. The good news is, low-waste alternatives are increasingly available:
- Water flosser (although this will use more energy! And I wonder how much floss you’d need to use to reach the equivalent of a big plastic machine…);
- Biodegradable interdental products such as these;
- Biodegradable floss.
If you do have plastic dental waste you’d like to recycle, you may find that Terracycle has a collection point near you.
Day 15: Washing day
There are two main areas in which we can be kinder to the planet on washing day. Reducing the chemicals we release into our waterways and switching to products packaged in less plastic.
We may be familiar with checking ingredients lists on food, but have you ever looked at what’s in your washing products? Much of the stuff that goes into regular washing liquid, powder and fabric softener is harmful to aquatic life, which isn’t great news considering where the water from our machines ends up. Sometimes these harsh chemicals can even be the cause of skin irritation. Try to find a washing powder with more naturally-based ingredients why not try going without fabric softener at all? Much like yesterday’s mouthwash mention, it is a product which companies have made us feel we need more than we actually do. If you miss the perfumes in fabric softener, you could try adding some essential oils to your wash (Holland and Barrett sell lots of affordable scents).
Thinking back to the 5 Rs, why not consider whether you actually need the things you are using? And once you’ve pared it down to the essentials, search for products in recyclable packaging.
Our current washing arsenal features:
- Ecover Non-Bio Washing powder, in a recyclable cardboard box;
- White vinegar, sometimes with some lemon rinds soaked in it, bought in 5l bottles (plastic, but recyclable and the bigger the bottle, the lower the amount of plastic per litre)
- We also have a few products from Mangle & Wringer which work really well!
If you can, always try to line dry your clothes to save energy. Only iron what you need to and maybe next time you need a new iron, consider going back to the good old days of dry irons – my parents’ dry iron is older than me and still going strong! 💪
Day 16: Food on the move
Today marks my first bit of playing work since 14th March! 🥳🎻
I’m all set with my home-made mask (no, I don’t know what the piece of music on the fabric is) but I thought this was the perfect opportunity to talk about how we can maintain our low-waste lifestyles when we’re out and about.
- Stainless steel water bottle: I thought this was a bit of a fad when we could all just reuse plastic bottles, but it is SO nice having cool water that stays cool!
- Reusable cup: metal or glass reusable cups are great – they will also snag you a discount at most coffee shops. I highly recommend Keep Cup, especially as they are local to me in Leyton. Beware bamboo and rice husk cups though, as the natural fibres are mixed with a plasticky-gluey type substance which has been shown to leach formaldehyde, amongst other nasties, when hot;
- Straws: unless you need one for medical purposes, why not just go without? In cafes, look around you before you order to see if you need to pre-empt the server automatically putting one in your drink.
Believe it or not, developing an aversion to plastic may even help you to lose weight! It certainly worked for me: when faced with the decision of plastic-wrapped chocolate bar vs. no snack and plastic, I found I coped very well without. If I’m out all day I’ll take a piece of fruit and what we call a “yummy pot” with me, which is just a little jar of dried fruit and nuts. Buying the ingredients in bulk means less packaging, and I can tailor it to suit my current tastes.
- Enter the trusty Tupperware once more! Sandwiches and salad items travel even better in reusable containers than they do in clingfilm or food bags;
- Wax wraps and Keep Leaf pockets are fantastic options if you’d like to reduce the bulk in your bag as the day progresses;
- If you’re often out for both meals, I highly recommend getting a food thermos. Having a hot meal in a rehearsal break without the mad dash to get a take-away is such a treat;
- Take the time to visit a cafe and eat in, but have your accessories with you (see below) just in case disposables are the only option.
- Keep a cloth napkin in your bag (I cut up and hemmed an old tea towel to make mine);
- Invest in a travel cutlery set or take a set of cutlery from your kitchen, wrapped in a napkin.
Get in touch if you have any other tips and tricks I’ve missed. And thanks for following along so far!
Day 17: Immerse yourself
Environmental awareness often starts with a lightbulb moment. Once you’ve realised that throwing something away just means it’s no longer in your house, and that in fact nothing ever goes “away”, it’s hard to know where to turn next!
To avoid this thought becoming crippling, I think it’s important to be in touch with those who are managing to change their actions and turn their realisations into positive actions. Listed below are just a few of the resources I find helpful. But do some research of your own and let me know if you find any gems too.
- Like the EcoNotes page if you’d like to keep getting suggestions for simple swaps
- – Join a few groups that you can learn things from: I recommend Journey to Zero Waste in the UK and Waltham Forest Ethical and Sustainable Living
And remember – different voices inspire different people, so if you’re not getting value from any of these you can always leave the groups or unsubscribe.
Day 18: Paper
Once upon a time, plastic bags were invented. Why? To reduce the waste created by paper grocery bags! Paper comes from trees and trees are essential for maintaining the right carbon/oxygen balance, among other things, so it is important to think about minimising our waste in this area too.
Humans started recycling paper around 2000 years ago in Japan, so thankfully we no longer need to use “virgin” paper. If you need to buy some, always look out for 100% recycled paper.
But by now, you may have cottoned onto the fact that recycling isn’t always the answer. The process of industrial recycling uses up a lot of energy and often causes pollution that we just don’t need right now! So how can we do our bit at home? The 5 Rs of course!
- As you’ll have seen on many email signatures now, always think before you print. Could you use a tablet or computer instead?
- Try to avoid browsing in shops that lure you in with pretty notebooks that you’ll buy and never use. Make one out of scrap paper instead and find some old craft paper for a cover.
- Try to avoid automatically reaching for paper towels in the kitchen. A cloth or sponge will often do the job just as well, or even better!
- If you need to print, do it double sided, or…
- Keep scrap printer paper. My accountant once asked me why I had printer cartridges on my expenses list but not paper – I rarely print on fresh paper these days, so one pack can last me years!
- Ditch your regular magazine or newspaper hard copies and sign up for online versions instead.
- Save the packing paper found inside parcels and find an eco-conscious local business to pass it onto – they may even give you a discount on your next purchase! You can also use it yourself in place of bubble wrap, padded envelopes or wrapping paper.
- Keep wrapping paper and gift bags. With a bit of imagination, even a present wrapped in brown paper can be the jewel under the Christmas tree!
- If you want to make some quick notes, e.g. during a phone call or to keep score in a board game, pull some paper out of your recycling bin.
- As with plastic, make sure you know what you can and can’t recycle. This is one reason why it’s so good to reuse any wrapping paper you receive – did you know it’s not recyclable if it has glitter or a plastic top layer? Do the scrunch test if you’re unsure!
- If your paper is free from artificial dyes and inks, deal with it yourself at home by putting it in your compost or food waste bin.
Day 19: Make do & mend
One of the most loved scenes from British comedy Only Fools & Horses features street-sweeper Trigger proudly showing off his award-winning broom. His friends are understandably surprised at how well it has lasted, prompting Del Boy to ask “have you actually swept any roads with it?”. “Of course! But I look after it well” Trigger replies. “I’ve maintained it for 20 years. This old broom has had 17 new heads and 14 new handles in its time”.
It may not still be the same broom but, all silliness aside, if he had thrown the whole thing away every time it broke, he would have more than doubled his landfill contribution!
Today’s challenge is to channel your inner Trigger. Just a few decades ago, people bought things to last and had, or knew someone with, the skills to fix things when something went wrong. Unfortunately, many manufacturers make products with intentionally short lifespans these days so that custom will keep flooding their way, but we shouldn’t just accept this as fact.
- Write to companies and ask if they provide individual parts;
- Look on YouTube for a tutorial on things like darning socks, fixing your bike or elongating your device’s battery life;
- Support your local businesses: that doesn’t just mean retail shops! Look out for cobblers, dry cleaners offering alterations and computer repair centres;
- Buy a replacement when you have to, but try not to buy duplicates just because a manufacturer claims their latest upgrade will change your life.
Can you imagine how much would be saved from landfill if we paired our grandparents’ frugal spirits with our instant access to online tutorials? Just as we take our malfunctioning cars to the garage and ourselves to the doctor, put in that teeny bit of extra effort and reap the rewards of a healthier bank balance and the priceless feelings of pride and satisfaction at the new skills you have learnt.
Day 20: Washing up
One area you would be forgiven for overlooking when trying to reduce your plastic waste is dish-washing. Whether you wash your dishes by hand or in a dishwasher, here are some suggestions for cleaning up your washing up!
I am not lucky enough to have one of these… but there are two main ways you can lower your footprint in this area:
- Run it less often. How about setting yourself the challenge of cutting your dishwasher use in half? Rinse and reuse mugs and glasses throughout the day and try to minimise the crockery and cooking equipment you use. Sometimes simply revising the order of food preparation stages when cooking your most regular meals can achieve this.
- Switch to plastic free, natural products. I’ve heard good things about Smol, Ecozone and Splosh! Or if you use loose powder from a cardboard box, experiment with using less than recommended – apparently it does just as good a job.
My husband used to only agree to a certain brand of washing up liquid. You may know it – I think it’s famous for the baby on the label?? You hardly needed any liquid to get a good lather and the eco alternatives I had tried just didn’t measure up.
That is until we tried Splosh! It arrives in a highly concentrated gel which you add to water, and the pouch it comes in is returnable for recycling. It works brilliantly and smells good too.
It’s now also possible to buy dish-washing bars – in fact I believe some of my more mature readers may remember these from years gone by. We have one under the sink waiting to be tested so I can’t comment just yet, but fingers crossed, and watch this space…
Have you ever stopped to think what washing up sponges are made of? You guessed it… plastic! There are SO many eco options on the market now, so do a bit of research and try some alternatives to see what works for you. We use a natural fibre brush from Redecker, natural loofahs and wire wool for stainless steel.
Let me know if you have any more eco washing up tips – I’d love to hear from you!
Day 21: Cleaning
Cleaning is another of those day-to-day things that both creates plastic pollution and releases damaging chemicals into our home and wider environment. Start looking at what’s in your cleaning products and you’ll soon realise that what claims to make our homes cleaner often actually just leaves us surrounded by toxic chemicals. When a product made specifically for flushing down a toilet or sink states it is “harmful to sea life” there is something seriously wrong!!
So I propose two steps here:
- Try to minimise your cleaning products to two or three types of cleaner. Don’t believe advertisers who tell you you’ll need a different bottle for each room or surface!
- Look around for the option that will create the least waste.
Just like most households, we had amassed an impressive stockpile of products before starting down this path. As a result, we are still using up quite a few things, but as each product runs out I look to substitute it either with something I already use, or an eco alternative (and sometimes save the empty spray bottles for future use!).
Some products we use now are:
- White vinegar. We buy this in 5 litre bottles and use it for almost everything!! Pop it in an old spray bottle with equal parts water and you have an almost universal spray cleaner (there are a few materials that you shouldn’t use it on, so check before using on things like wood and stone).
- Bicarbonate of soda. Packaged in cardboard and fizzes up with white vinegar to work on bathroom grime build-up.
- Citric acid. Packaged in cardboard and great when paired with white vinegar and bicarb to clean the loo (plus some essential oil drops if you like).
- Mangle & Wringer kitchen cleaner. We sometimes use this in the bathroom (yes, I know it’s called kitchen cleaner!) as an alternative to cream cleaner.
- Splosh kitchen cleaner. This we actually do use in the kitchen! It’s fantastic at cutting through grease and comes as a dilutable concentrate in returnable pouches.
And here are some tools we use:
- Copper lint remover, which has replaced lint rollers with disposable sticky paper.
- Rags made from old clothes, as lots of cleaning cloths shed plastic microfibres.
- Natural fibre wooden loo brush, kept in a ceramic pot from a charity shop.
If you are one of those slightly strange people (I’m including myself here) who is interested in cleaning videos, check out The Secret Slob‘s YouTube channel for inspiration on using vinegar, water and washing-up liquid almost exclusively in your cleaning!
And keep an eye on the blog for future posts as I discover more eco alternatives along the way.
Day 22: KonMari your clothes
If you know me, you know I’m a big fan of Marie Kondo. I know she’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but today I’d like to encourage you to at least have a go at the first stage of her tidying festival: clothes.
When I started going through the KonMari method, I was astonished to find that I had two whole bin bags worth of clothes that I either hadn’t worn for years or didn’t enjoy wearing. Donating them meant they were no longer languishing in a cupboard serving no purpose. It hopefully prevented someone else from buying new, helping to justify the resources that went into making them.
Another huge win is that I can now see all my clothes when I open my drawers or wardrobe. Nothing is buried, and I always know exactly what I own. I know whether I have the clothes I need for certain seasons or events and keep a list in my phone of things I feel I’m lacking, just in case I pass a charity shop in a rehearsal break.
- Find a free day and start early, as the most effective way to tackle this is to take ALL (yes, all) of your clothes out of your drawers and wardrobe;
- Include any clothes strewn around the house, such as coats and winter woolies;
- Pile them in categories:
- Clean the empty drawers and wardrobe;
- Tell yourself you are donating everything, then pick up each item one by one and put in your arguments for keeping the item. This is where her phrase “does it spark joy?” comes in. The biggest question I found helpful was whether or not I felt comfortable in the item.
- Once you have your completed keep, donate and recycle piles, the last step which REALLY helps in the long-run is her folding technique. If you are able to adopt this, you won’t have to organise your drawers again and nothing will get lost! YouTube is full of videos of Marie Kondo demonstrating her folding method, but it essentially entails standing the clothes up vertically so that when you open a drawer it’s like surveying the spines of books on a shelf. It’s quick to find a specific item of clothing and you always know what you have.
If you do decide to try this, send me a picture of your before and after, or of your donate pile! You may even find some tatty clothes that you can repurpose as cleaning rags.
And no, you don’t need 10 outfits of decorating/garden work clothes….. 🤣
Day 23: Medical waste
I want to begin today’s post by saying that you needn’t feel guilty when it comes to your medical needs.
The decision to touch on this topic was unsurprisingly inspired by the current global health crisis. From tomorrow it will be mandatory to wear a face covering in shops in the UK, so questions over PPE are fresh in our minds.
There is definitely a place for them! So if you need to use disposable gloves or masks, be sure to dispose of them properly in your refuse bin. There is no excuse for beaches and woodlands being littered with them.
If you can, try to source a washable, reusable mask. The internet is exploding with tutorials of how to make your own (see mine above, made from material scraps I already had), or you could support an independent seller on Etsy (a company with excellent eco credentials).
Another option is limiting your need for PPE if you are able. Plan carefully to minimize shopping trips and group errands together, allowing for mask-washing time between outings and minimising your use of hand sanitizer.
Other medical matters
With a Type-1 diabetic in the house, we are no strangers to medical waste. When medicines and equipment are vital, we shouldn’t feel guilty – we should feel grateful for the things that keep us alive and well! But even so, consider these points:
- As with all things, make sure you dispose of equipment and packaging in the best way possible. Some parts of the packaging will be recyclable, and other things will need disposing of in a responsible way via your pharmacy or council.
- It may be beneficial to write to suppliers about their packaging, either to ask advice on which parts are recyclable or to encourage them to switch to more sustainable materials.
- If you know your best chance of beating that headache is sleep, take a step back and try to get some shut-eye rather than reaching for the paracetamol as your first port of call.
- Do your best to keep yourself as well as you can by staying as active and eating as healthily as possible in order to reduce the need for standard medicine cabinet remedies.
Day 24: Beg, borrow or steal
Or rather, ask politely, borrow or inherit… but that’s not a very catchy title!
Today’s step encourages us to stop and think before we buy new things. It can be useful either when we need something only once in a while, or if we want to try before we buy.
Here are a few cases when we have found this useful:
- Instead of buying a picnic blanket for a few trips to the Glyndebourne Opera Festival, we borrowed one from our lovely neighbour Mike;
- For new recipes, ask a neighbour or friend if you can borrow any exotic herbs or spices you’re not sure you’ll use again;
- I borrowed leggings from my good friend Annette for my first Pilates class, just in case it wasn’t for me;
- We have several London-based friends who use a car less than once a month for weekends away, so they borrow cars from friends or use services like Zipcar.
Asking friends and neighbours to borrow items often results in good conversations or even reasons to hang out together for an afternoon (thanks also for letting me come and use your sewing machine Annette!).
To avoid impulsive shopping habits, The Minimalists recommend using the 30/30 rule for most purchases: “If something I want costs more than $30, I ask myself whether I can get by without it for the next 30 hours. (If it’s $100 or more, I tend to wait 30 days.)”. This may result in you mentioning your intended purchase to someone who has an under-used one lying around. This could apply to board games, kitchen utensils or garden tools.
There are some things we just don’t need to own. Whilst it’s pretty standard to borrow books from the library, did you know toy libraries are becoming more common too? And I have even seen a few tool libraries advertised! Why give up space in your home, money in your bank account and precious time cleaning or fixing an item when you could just hire or borrow it?
Let me know your biggest borrowing/inheriting wins!
Day 25: Celebrations
We may feel we are really getting to grips with lowering our day-to-day waste until we come up against the hurdle of special occasions. We want desperately to make the day unique, but this means we often feel the only route is to buy disposable decorations and party accessories. Glitter, balloons, party hats……. the list of waste created is often sickening!
But as with most things, it just takes a bit of creative thinking to make parties just as memorable – or often even more so – without the tinge of guilt at the wastefulness.
To celebrate my parents’ golden wedding anniversary last year, a bit of Pinterest browsing and forward planning resulted in:
- Ferrero Rocher favours (recyclable wrappers);
- Origami hearts on glasses made from gold card I already had and old sheet music;
- Bunting made from a £3 gold dress from the charity shop and some leftover net curtain material (thanks Aunty Helen for stitching it all together!);
- Gold paper pompoms of different sizes from Etsy which are reusable;
- By hosting the party in a restaurant, there was no need for any disposable tableware;
- I also found a gold photo frame in the charity shop which displayed an old dating photo of my parents on the present table;
- We were even able to use the horseshoes from the original wedding cake as part of the anniversary cake decorations.
I love letting my creative side run wild, but if you aren’t arty by nature, is there someone on the guest list who is and who would relish the opportunity to contribute? There are also options for rental, and although I haven’t had the opportunity to use them myself, Party Kit Network seems like an incredible business to make use of! They hire out party tableware and can even add decor and tablecloths to your order for a very reasonable price.
Day 26: Packing
Picture the scene:
It’s the night before your trip away and you have come up with every possible excuse to avoid packing. You decide you need to write a packing list but 10 minutes later, staring at a blank (hopefully scrap) piece of paper, you still don’t know where to start! Isn’t going on holiday meant to be fun? And if you’re reading this blog, you may even start worrying about how you could possibly keep up your eco efforts whilst in a different environment.
This used to be me! Aside from holidays, Sam and I often travel to other parts of the UK for auditions or concerts. It is so frustrating arriving at your destination and having to make an emergency trip to the shops to re-buy items you already own, especially as you’ll most likely only find the plastic non-recyclable versions of the items you need.
I know myself too well – trips can creep up on me and I will never be one of those people who starts packing a week in advance. So I decided to accept my nature and intentionally leave my packing until the last minute. But how do I remember everything?
In the Memo app on my phone, I keep a permanent packing check-list. It is split into sections for each room in our flat so that grabbing things to pack is super quick! Alongside the usuals, here are some examples of things on my list:
- Concert clothes: dress, cardigan, shoes, tights
- Swimming gear
- Travel Cutlery
- Travel cup
- Cloth napkin
Why not start making your own packing list today? It will save you so much time, money and stress.
Day 27: Home cooking
There are so many reasons why home cooking is a good idea.
- We have more control over the quality of the ingredients in our food;
- Cooking from scratch makes it easier to cut down on the waste that comes with takeaways, ready meals and processed food;
- Cooking together can be a fun activity, strengthening relationships and educating the next generation;
- Cooking for someone else in your household is a way of showing we care about them (so recipients, be sure to show your gratitude!)
Have you heard about the chocolate milk study? An online survey found that 7% of American adults believed chocolate milk came from brown cows. The article presenting the study also reported that 1 in 5 adults didn’t realise hamburgers came from beef (it does start with the word ham, but still…). We may snigger at this, but in a world where processed foods are the norm it isn’t too hard to see how this has come about. By cooking from scratch at home we are one step closer to the source of our food and, crucially, we can educate the next generation on the processes behind food production. If you think about it, the sort of tunnel vision displayed in the chocolate milk study isn’t too dissimilar from society’s blindness to the source and destiny of plastic and composite materials.
There has been a big drive on choosing locally-grown food lately. But this is only truly effective if we are also aware of the seasons. If a certain vegetable isn’t in season in your country, it could actually be better to buy produce from abroad. Think about how much energy it takes to replicate a tropical climate inside a British greenhouse if it isn’t a native or current local crop.
In our house, in order to eat as seasonally as possible we base most of our meal decisions on the contents of our weekly organic fruit and veg box. If we receive an unusual item, we check online for recipe ideas and enjoy trying something new. We know we’re eating good quality produce and supporting farmers. And of course, if you are able to grow some of your own food, even better!
What seasonal veg can you incorporate into your meal plan this week? I’ll be cooking some courgette pasta later!
Day 28: Toiletries
Bathroom products and cosmetics are such a personal thing. Some people love the stuff and can’t get enough, and others just use what they need to get by. When I was growing up I think I wanted to be the first type of person, but as I got older I realised that just wasn’t me!
It will come as no surprise then that I found the bathroom the easiest place to declutter. It was the first (and is so far the only) place I felt I could really achieve zero waste. So how can we minimize the plastic bottles on our dressing tables and in our bathroom cabinets?
Use it up
Are you one of those people who drifts into Boots every now and then to browse, even if you don’t need anything, before coming out with a new product you didn’t even know existed? I urge you to use up what you already have before buying something you don’t actually need. I think I still have about 15 bottles of moisturizer I’ve been given as presents over the years, so I’m still making my way through those! But if you know you’re not going to use something up, donate it to a womens’ shelter or list it on a sharing app like Olio before it goes bad (yes, toiletries have their best before dates too!).
Ask if it is necessary
Day-to-day, I never wear make-up. I last bought some just before my wedding, 7 years ago! And despite discovering my first grey hair in my teens, I have only dyed my hair twice.
I know many people love make-up and the process of applying it, but if you aren’t one of them why follow the herd? Do you wear make-up for yourself, or for other people? And how much better could you be using the time it takes to dye your hair? Aside from it being a waste of chemicals and packaging, if you don’t really enjoy it that much after all, why not take a break and see how you feel? Take inspiration from these women and stop being a slave to the hair dye!
Find a better option
If you do absolutely love all things cosmetic, why not designate your next tea break as a research session on eco-friendly alternatives? Peace With the Wild would be a great place to start.
Check out days 7, 14 and 23 for more ideas on streamlining your bathroom products.
As always, if we use the 5 Rs to assess what we use, we can really start to make positive changes in every area of our lives!
Day 29: Talk to companies
If a visitor from the past were to arrive and see all the methods of communication we now have access to, I think they would be astounded at how little we use it for anything worthwhile! As we approach the end of Plastic Free July, I want to encourage you to think about how you can make a difference through how you communicate.
When you’re excited about a new eco-friendly product, shout it from the rooftops and help promote the companies that are trying to make a difference. Take a photo when you find a zero waste option on sale in a shop and post it on Facebook so that others can find it too!
When a company or product could be doing better, reach out to them. Twitter and Facebook make this incredibly easy, or takes mere seconds to find a company’s contact details online. Start by telling them how much value you get from their products and your wish to recommend them, then follow up with suggestions for improvements to help secure your loyalty. Most companies will reply, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how many tell me they have already started taking steps to improve their company’s environmental impact. Keep it kind though – a gentle word will almost always go further than a public slam.
As consumers, we have the power to support the companies we believe in and to encourage those causing damage to clean up their act.
Day 30: Money
Many people believe a low waste life just isn’t possible for them. They may quote time, geography or willpower as excuses, but the most common is money. Some people may be struggling financially as a result of falling into a cycle of credit card debt, whilst the naturally frugal among us could be slaves to price cuts on things that are too cheap to be ethically wholesome. When we shop, we zoom in on each and every product and directly compare the options available to us. But if we take a step back and look at the bigger picture we get a very different perspective.
Firstly, a low waste mindset encourages the evaluation of whether certain things are needed at all. This is the tip of the iceberg, but you might stop buying:
- Fabric softener
- Excess clothes
- Excess Tupperware
- Petrol, if you are able to walk or cycle more
- Excess food, if you have assessed your food consumption and found you were overeating
- Excess food if you are able to learn to store leftovers properly and reduce your food waste
Other ways include:
- Borrowing or hiring items instead of buying new
- Buying reusable versions of items that you previously bought again and again
- Repurposing things instead of buying new
- Buying any items you do need second hand for a fraction of the price
- If you do buy new, buying better quality items that are built to last
- Caring for your possessions so they last longer
- Monitoring your energy usage to reduce electricity bills
- Giving more thoughtful presents such as home-made food, experiences and hand-me-downs
- Decluttering could mean you are able to downsize, lowering rent or mortgage payments
So whilst a close-up glance at the swaps may suggest the lifestyle is more expensive, zooming out to take in the whole picture shows that living in a more earth-conscious way across the board could actually save you money.
HEAPS of money.
How has the lifestyle helped your bank account?
Day 31: Gratitude and intention
Here we are at the end of Plastic Free July! My last words of encouragement are to urge you not to lose heart. Whilst we humans have done a pretty good job of messing things up, if we had the power to cause that much damage and the intelligence to realise, we must also have the power to turn things around. I believe the two most important concepts to adopt are gratitude and intention:
Look around you and appreciate the things you have in your life. The more grateful we are for them, the better we will look after them and the less likely we are to go chasing the newest model. Tell others how grateful you are for them so they can start to appreciate what they have too, otherwise they will only hear the gadget enthusiasts gushing about their latest toys. Express your gratitude to the companies championing good things and use gratitude as leverage to encourage some others to up their game too.
The more intention we have, the better choices we will make. Don’t mindlessly follow the crowd: research the best options for you and the planet. Broaden your perspective and consider the entire supply chains of the items you are buying, and be aware of times when you could help others too. Give thoughtful gifts and prioritise people over posessions.
Thank you for following along on this journey through July! If it all seems a little overwhelming, pause for a little while on day 1’s step: assessing the contents of your bin. Sam and I recently managed to keep one bin bag going in our house for two and a half months!
Then rethink both ends of your time with each item you buy – purchasing, then disposing/passing on – and with the time in between, look after what you have.
Beware greenwashing – companies will lure you in with eco promises but don’t believe everything you read, and if you didn’t use an item in the first place, buying the green version will be more wasteful than not buying it at all.
And if you’d like to see a handy list of 100 swaps, check out this post from the blog My Plastic Free Life.
Get in touch if you’d like to share or receive any more specific tips as I’m sure there will be something I’ve left out!
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