Four simple ways to reduce plastic

Plastic has found its way into most areas of our lives, often without us even realising.  (Spoiler: wet wipes are made of plastic).  But since the Blue Planet hit our screens in 2017, our love affair with the material might just be on the wane.

That’s not to say that plastic doesn’t have its place.  It helps to prolong the shelf life of foods and means it reaches you in perfect condition.  But we do have a problem with plastic taking over materials that were doing a perfectly good job before it came along and replaced it often without us realising (hint: tea bags) or when it just simply isn’t needed.

But where to start?   Cutting down on plastic can seem quite daunting when there is so much of it in our lives but here are four very simple ways you can start.

  1. Loose vegetables

Pre-packaged fruit and vegetables are often over packaged – tray, dividers, film.  But fruit and vegetables don’t always need packaging as they have their own.  When was the last time you ate the skin of a melon or pineapple?

Smaller items such as green beans will need to be contained or you’ll just leave a trail around the supermarket as they free fall through the holes in the trolley.  To solve this you could take your own cotton bags or use an elastic band.

But the benefits of choosing loose aren’t just environmental.  Money Saving Expert found that there are savings to be made by choosing loose items, although it isn’t always the case so check the cost per kg.  A second advantage is that you can choose how much you need for the week and not have this decided by the supermarket.

  1. Wax and grease proof paper

You’ve got the hang of making your own packed lunches for you and the children/spouse/partner (and anyone else who likes the look of your awesome sandwich for that day).  But if you can’t use a plastic sandwich bag or cling film, how on earth are you going to stop your cheese and pickle from mingling horribly with your apple?

The answer is wax or grease proof paper.  It is moisture resistant so won’t let your sandwiches dry out, will keep it away from the rest of your lunch and is biodegradable.  It can also be used to keep cheese and pastries fresh while chilling in the fridge.  It is available from most supermarkets and is reusable if you give it a gentle wipe.

Here’s a handy tutorial to show you how to wrap it up securely until lunchtime.

[Photograph: Vicky Wasik]

  1. Coffee and tea

In the UK we consume a massive 165 million cups of tea and 70 million cups of coffee.  But the harmless cup of brew is a source of plastic.

Single-use coffee pods have notoriously shameful environmental credentials.  Not only are they single-use and made of plastic but they are also very difficult to recycle.  Switching to coffee grounds takes this problem away and is cheaper than other options that most coffee connoisseurs would approve of, but you are often left with a combination of plastic and foil packaging that is really difficult to recycle.  You can use the leftover grounds in all sorts of weird and wonderful ways.  The bottom line for consuming coffee at home in a plastic free environmentally friendly way is to stick with an instant in an easily recyclable tin or glass jar and try to forgive the necessary plastic lid.

Although the humble tea bag is relatively harmless compared to the coffee pod, most bags are a source of plastic that you could easily remove by using loose tea leaves in a tea pot (that’s why they don’t rot down in your compost bin).  Tea leaves don’t seem to be quite as useful as coffee once they are used although both are compostable in a compost bin or recycled through the green wheeled bin.  Organic tea bags are more likely to be made from biodegradable material such as paper.

(Make sure you choose Fair Trade and don’t forget that both can be composted at home!)

  1. Face cloths

Wet wipes might be an easy option when you’re tired after a long day but not only are they made of plastic they are also not designed to remove make up and daily grime from your face and can be dehydrating for your skin.

Washable wipes are a great alternative.  The density of the fabric means that they are good at retaining heat from hot water, making it a doddle to shift make up and everyday grime.  They really aren’t just for babies and could really brighten up your complexion.  Failing that, a good old-fashioned flannel will do the job.  Ikea sell 4 for only £1.20.