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How to go Nearly Plastic-Free, for Free

There are hundreds of blog posts out there listing what you need to buy in order to go plastic-free. This isn't one of them. I'm here to help dispel the myth that going plastic-free needs to be expensive. Truth be told, if you actually stop buying and instead make a few simple changes, you can reduce the plastic in your life with ease. Here is the Greener guide to going nearly plastic-free, for free.

Mountain of rubbish and garbage on the beach by the sea

Photo by Antoine GIRET on Unsplash

Is plastic bad?

Well, yes and no. Plastic is an intelligent invention, facilitating the life and work for millions of individuals, businesses and industries, from food and pharmaceuticals to aviation. But the properties that make plastic so useful also make it so problematic. And now, we're hooked. The UK produces over 300 million tonnes of plastic every year, and 50% of it destined for single-use.

Everything we buy from fruit to clothing and garden supplies is wrapped, packaged and adorned in plastic. Once used and disposed of, the immortal material goes from bin to landfill, river or ocean where it lingers for hundreds of years. Even when plastic is recycled in the UK, our councils have been known to ship it to illegal dumping sites in South East Asia or send it to be incinerated where it is burned and harmful emissions are released.

Almost all plastics are by-products from the manufacturing of planet-warming fossil fuels (gas, oil and coal). So as long as plastic remains a part of our daily lives, fossil fuels will too. 

What is being done about the plastic pollution problem?

Globally there is an increasing awareness that single-use plastic is bad for us and our planet. In the UK, numerous brands have signed up to WRAP's UK Plastic Pact committing to make 100% of their plastic packaging reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025. The Government's 25-year environment plan sets a target of zero avoidable plastic waste by 2042.
The fear is that if we wait till then, the damage caused by plastic pollution could be irreparable. 

My take on going plastic-free
Reducing your own household's plastic consumption isn't going to solve the world's pollution problem, but collectively it could. Think about every bottle of shampoo that you've ever bought. Then think about all of your friends, family and work colleagues and their shampoo usage. Imagine how much plastic would be saved if, collectively everyone you knew gave up on plastic shampoo bottles forever.

Brands, retailers and policy-makers have the power to stop the production of single-use plastic and ultimately end plastic pollution. When we use our power as consumers and vote with our money, the brands and retailers are forced to listen. Right now is the perfect time to become a part of the plastic pollution solution by making some easy lifestyle changes and reducing the amount of single-use plastic in your home.

Giving up the plastic in your life is possible, but whilst retailers and governments play catch up it can be expensive and impractical for many of us. One of the reasons I set up Greener was to help improve accessibility and ease when it comes to living an eco-friendly lifestyle. I believe that the most sustainable thing is the one you already have, so here is my list of 5 ways to go nearly plastic-free, for free.

6 kilner jars filled with different salad-based meals
1. BYOE - Bring Your Own EVERYTHING

I find that most of my impromptu plastic consumption takes place when I'm outside, hungry and unprepared. The combination of being outside so much during lockdown, and not having access to my normal shops has led to a new packed-lunch habit for me. I'm now the woman that whips out her homemade trail mix or slices of watermelon whilst out on a walk. This has brought an end to my unhealthy snack habit and a lot less plastic in my life. So my first tip is to BYOE. Leaving the house to meet a friend? Pack a piece of fruit. Getting ready to go to work? Fill up a bottle of water. Organising a picnic? Plan in advance and prepare food at home rather than stopping off at Tesco. These supplies don't need to be in an expensive bottle, or a stainless steel lunchbox - use the empty Robinson's bottle or container that you have at home. Refill is a great app that tells you where you can refill your reusable water bottle whilst out and about - download Refill app here.

2. Swap one thing

Choose one thing in your home that comes packaged in single-use plastic. It could be your shampoo, hand-wash, clingfilm, packaged fruit or herbs. Once you've chosen your item, spend 5 minutes researching what the plastic-free alternative is. The next time you're running low and need to buy a new one, shop for the plastic-free version online or at your local eco shop. You'll be pleasantly surprised at how the plastic-free alternative lasts longer and so costs less over time. Next month, choose another item to swap to keep up the good eco karma.

3. Plan your meals

Did you know that 40% of the bagged salad we buy every year in the UK is thrown away? Food waste is a huge contributor to climate change, and unopened food is the biggest culprit. The food we planned to use, but never got round to cooking and eating. And since so much of our food is wrapped in plastic, throwing it away means it goes to the landfill without oxygen permeating through to decompose the food. This means that your packet of soggy salad or mouldy bread will stay on earth for as long as the plastic. That's where planning your meals comes in. Next time you write your shopping list, think about the meals you plan to eat for the week ahead. When you go shopping, stick to the ingredients and items you need and you'll find you not only throw less away, but you save money too. Another tip is to ignore best before dates, smell or taste your food to see if it's actually gone off. If it has, remove the plastic packaging and either compost or dispose of separately.

asparagus, cherries and pomegranate displayed at a farmers market

4. Visit a farmers market, zero waste shop or greengrocers

I used to hate food shopping, but once I realised there was an alternative to the cold, stressful experience of supermarket shopping, I fell in love. I really do love going to the farmers market. In the midst of colourful fruit & veg, freshly baked bread, homemade honey and dedicated dairy farmers, there's just a vibe. These local farmers are proud of their produce. It's seasonal, organic and it's their livelihood. Best of all, you can take your own bags, containers and beeswax wraps to do your week's shop without using any plastic. Contrary to popular opinion you can actually save money versus the supermarket as fruit and veg in season is cheaper - you just need to avoid the artisan bread stall. If you live in London visit London Farmers Markets to find your nearest market, and for the rest of the UK or world a simple search for 'farmers market near me' should help you find one in your town or city. A second supermarket alternative is to visit your local Zero Waste Shop. Here you'll bring your own bags, containers and jars and fill them up with the variety of loose produce in-store. Use the Zero Waste Near Me website to search for your nearest shop. Alternatively, opt for your local greengrocers for plastic-free fruit and veg that's often fresher and cheaper than the supermarket.

5. Take action against plastic pollution

Now that we're all on a path to reducing our use of single-use plastic, its time to take action outside of our homes. There are numerous ways to campaign or take action. Choose what works for you, your schedule and the way you like to do things. Here are a few ways you can take action against plastic pollution, for free:

  • Sign this Friends of the Earth petition to help reduce plastic in oceans.
  • Go plogging – a running-based rubbish collecting trend from Sweden. You don't actually need to be running to plog, just a glove and a bag to collect rubbish you find when you're out and about. Like a beach clean up, but on the street.
  • Take the Plastic Free July challenge - Join 250 million people across 177 countries reducing and refusing single-use plastics this month. Head to the website to take the Plastic Free July challenge.
  • #OurPlasticFeedback - encourages supermarket shoppers to take a stand against major chains by unwrapping plastic items at the till and returning the packaging to the supermarket with a written note, compelling them to reduce their plastic packaging.
  • Write to your elected representative - Using the website WriteToThem you can write a letter to your councillor on subjects like recycling, local composting and roads. Alternatively, write to your MP who is responsible for making laws in the UK and overall examination of all aspects of government.

A photograph of a string bag, string, wooden chopsticks and cutlery on a white background with orange text overlayed reading: How to go nearly plastic-free for free

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