Plastic Free July is coming to an end, but it’s been great to hear from people throughout the month about the changes they’re making. I think everyone who has taken part has embraced the challenge in the way it was intended: not as something to be done for a few weeks then forgotten about, but as a starting point to make lifestyle changes. Step by step, one change at a time, and it is possible to significantly cut back on the amount of waste that’s produced in the average household—all without adding much additional effort or expense.
There is always room for progress, and I’ve used the month to see what else is out there. In the bathroom, I have found some new possibilities for products …
- Hair conditioner has been something that people have mentioned struggling to find, but I’ve come across a few new options. Just Because (You Love It), a new shop in Chippenham, stocks solid conditioner bars from Devon-based The Natural Spa, and so far it seems to be working like it’s supposed to. You don’t need to use much and the smell is incredible. The Funky Soap shop is also starting to do liquid conditioners in Kraft containers; I haven’t tried it yet so I can’t speak for the effectiveness of the product or robustness of the container, but it’s definitely one to look into if you’re not having any luck with bars.
- Dental care is a big area I’ve had trouble finding products for, but there are a number of possibilities on the horizon. The Wild Food Company in Malmesbury stocks dental tabs (which replace toothpaste), and I just need to get over there with my own container to fill up and try. I found that The Humble Co. do dental picks, and I’ve also discovered that there are recyclable toothbrush heads for electric brushes that come in a cardboard box; I haven’t tried them yet, but they look promising!
- I also gave Fit Pit for sensitive skin a try. This is a lotion-like deodorant that comes in a glass jar; you just rub a pea-sized amount on your underarm and it starts to work. And it does work—I had no problems with its effectiveness, but I am convinced that bicarb and I just don’t agree as my armpits start to itch soon after application. The Wild Food Company stocks a variety of other deodorants, so I’ll check them out next time.
- Another known skin irritant is sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS), a common ingredient in some Lush products. From an environmental point of view, SLS has another strike against it as it is made from palm oil. Lush is working to phase it out, but I wanted to flag this and many thanks to the reader who highlighted it to me!
It is a good example of the minefield associated with living more sustainably and ethically—beyond packaging, it is worth considering the ingredients, the manufacturing process, who is doing the manufacture (sweat shop labour vs. someone earning a living wage), and the eventual disposal of the product. When looking at all of this, it is easy to feel overwhelmed and discouraged, but the key is small changes and forward momentum.
- Because it was a tea party, we purchased mugs from local charity shops; Dorothy House on Station Hill in Chippenham do them at three for a pound, which is the best price I’ve ever seen. We then gave them to our guests to take away, and leftover mugs will be used at future gatherings.
- For plates, we used ones made from palm leaves that compost in our garden composter and wooden cutlery that likewise decompose. For future parties, however, we are going to stock up on cutlery and plates from charity shops to further cut back on waste. After a garage declutter, we are fortunate to have the storage to do so, but it also brings up an interesting point: cutting back on waste shouldn’t just be about finding better disposables, but about using things that are already in existence.
Like with SLS, one of the problems with disposables is the wider implications from their manufacture and disposal. For example, products made of corn starch may appear better than plastic at first glance, but how much new land will be given over to corn production? Will pesticides be used? How does this potential monoculture affect biodiversity? Greenwashing and unintended consequences continue to lurk behind many products, and digging a little deeper is always helpful, whether it’s about an item’s environmental status or the latest piece of viral news.
- One of my favourite memories from the party was chatting with friends about reducing plastic; one thing led to another and before I knew it I was giving a show and tell demonstration extolling the virtues of the EuroScrubby and the Safix coconut scrubber. On the kitchen cleaning front, I’ve also seen shops carrying the Squidgy Thing, a silicone sponge that is supposed to replace the traditional disposable variety. The eco-credentials of silicone are a little in the grey area but this may be worth looking into if you’re trying to replace your traditional disposable sponge.
For products that can be used on the go, I wasn’t really looking for anything new, but I was overjoyed to learn that my beloved Onya just launched a new UK website. They were one of the first products I purchased over a decade ago when I started to reduce my wasteline, and I’ve found their bags to be almost indestructible. There’s also no faffing about trying to fold it back into shape: just stuff it into the attached pouch, shove it in pocket or clip it to a rucksack, and go. Oxfam teaming up with I Was a Sari to produce a beautiful line of unique shopping bags was also a nice discovery; family and friends, please pretend to act surprised if you get one for Christmas!
In the wardrobe, we took one of the new Rs to heart and sought to repair a few pairs of Jon’s trousers that had broken zippers. Neither of us can sew (or know the first thing about replacing a zipper), so we popped into a tailor’s shop in Chippenham. A week later, Jon collected his mended trousers, all for the investment of a few minutes of time and £20.00. If your clothes are otherwise in good condition, then it is definitely worth seeking out repairs rather than buying new, especially when you factor in the time it takes to find something in a size and style that works for you.
And for everything else:
- In the garden, I discovered that my previous purchase of fatballs for the birds was through the wrong company. Twootz supply them without netting or plastic bags.
- I forgot to mention a simple way to save money on stationary and reduce waste at the same time: reuse envelopes. If you end up with padded envelopes from online shopping, open them carefully and they can be saved for sending onward or returning items.
- I am kicking myself for not converting to eCloths sooner. So far they clean far better with just water than wipes or traditional microfibre cloths, so this is one switch that is saving me both time and money in the long run.
I also think it is a good example of why it’s important to challenge the traditional way of doing things: of course companies want you to buy disposables—you will just buy more of product X when you run out. For cleaning, it’s easy to fall into the mindset of needing a separate spray cleaner for every room of the house and every surface in it. While eCloths do divide their products by surfaces, the main difference I’ve seen is in size: window cloths are bigger than bathroom cloths, but all seem to do the same great job at removing stains and streaks.
- I also can’t believe it’s taken me this long to stumble upon the website Buy Me Once. I will definitely be checking it out further when I need something I can’t find at a charity shop.