Written by Katy Graham
It was April 2020; we were a few weeks into the first UK lockdown, and I suddenly found myself with nothing to do after being furloughed from work. Twiddling my fingers, I started a few lockdown hobbies such as making candles and earrings, but ultimately this time to stop let me reflect on the world and how the environment is taking a huge hit for the way humans live their lives. I’ve always been aware of the impacts humans are having on the planet but I didn’t know what I could do to help as an individual, especially where to start.
All of this free time in lockdown meant a lot more time on social media but despite the negative connotations, this was the real beginning of my plastic free journey. I started off with following a few accounts on Instagram such as environmental advocates or small eco-friendly businesses, and from there it grew and grew. By the time Plastic Free July came around, I was totally consumed in making plastic free swaps in my life, from the kitchen to my beauty regime; my internet history was purely searches for plastic free products, and DIY creations to help reduce my waste.
Despite my newfound interest in cutting out plastic, it wasn’t as easy as I thought. I live at home with my parents, so every new product going into the kitchen or the bathroom had to be pitched and approved for family use, and not all items I wanted had a plastic free alternative. It doesn’t help that I have very sensitive, eczema-prone skin, so a lot of plastic free beauty products aren’t suitable for me. And there’s also the huge issue of plastic being absolutely everywhere and in absolutely everything. Because of this, it’s very important for my sanity that I don’t beat myself up and feel guilty every time I buy something that contains plastic.
In my opinion, it’s better to be imperfect but try, than worry about not being perfect and end up not trying at all. Every small change to plastic free is better than nothing, and it’s like the butterfly effect: one swap to plastic free will decrease demand in the plastic alternative and eventually it’ll completely phase out (just a touch of wishful thinking).
So, to make sure that I’m not riddled with guilt every time I buy a bag of crisps, I have a list of exceptions and other things to look out for in products to help me sleep at night without my eco-anxiety going crazy. From my research, food and beauty are very hard areas to cut out plastic without spending a fortune on bamboo mascara or go to five different shops in one trip just to find biscuits in cardboard packaging instead of plastic. There’s a fine line between saving the planet and being a bit ridiculous. So instead of going completely out of my way the other factors I look out for include:
- cruelty free
- sustainably and ethically produced
- natural and organic ingredients
- fair trade and fair pay to all workers
A product with ANY of these factors even if it’s all made of plastic, is better than buying something with zero positive impacts on the world.
Having spoken about all of my exceptions that I take; I also take many steps to try and be as plastic free as possible. I have a list on my phone of all of my favourite eco-friendly shops that I go to first and I try to make as many plastic free swaps as I can. So far, I’ve switched to shampoo bars, a bamboo toothbrush and I don’t go anywhere without my reusable water bottle, the list goes on. Having these lockdowns over the past year has been the perfect opportunity for me to find out what’s out there and really get into the eco-friendly lifestyle. I won’t lie, it does take a lot of commitment to start off your plastic free journey, but the sense of accomplishment you feel when you find and use a plastic free product makes it so worth it. I’ve also experimented with a lot of DIY to help cut down on waste and cut out plastic even more – I’ve attempted to make houmous, cleansing facemasks and soap, and despite needing a few adjustments to recipes, I’ve really enjoyed making things myself.
Starting your own plastic free journey can seem quite daunting, especially with me waffling on about how much of a commitment it is, but I promise you it’s not as difficult as it seems. You just need to know where to start off and soon you’ll be flying. So, to give you a head start, I’ve compiled some of my top tips to help set you off in the right direction.
- Do your research – find what plastic free shops are local to you, which products you want to try out and read up about why going plastic free is so important to give you a bit of motivation
- Find what works well for you - everyone’s plastic free journey will be different, because not everything is accessible, and some people will have plastic must-haves (e.g., shampoo in bottles instead of a bar), it’s important not to compare yourself to other people, just like in everyday life
- Take baby steps – start small and keep adding little bits at a time, and before you know it, you’ll be halfway there! Some great ways to start are say no to plastic straws, carry a reusable shopping bag with you just in case, say no to receipts (they’re covered in plastic) and invest in a reusable water bottle
- Be open minded – you’re not going to like every single plastic free alternative there is because we’ve grown up with plastic, so it takes a lot of adjusting to try and cut it out. If you’re not a fan of one product, see if there’s anything similar that you can try instead, or maybe add it to your exceptions list. For example, I bought coconut scourers for the kitchen which my mum didn’t like at all, but then I found a biodegradable natural sponge instead and it’s her new favourite thing. It’s all about trial and error!
- Have fun with it – despite the huge impact plastic is having on the environment, going plastic free doesn’t have to be a chore or a nagging thought in the back of your mind every time you go shopping. By just thinking about going plastic free you’re already better than everyone else who hasn’t given it a second thought. And let’s be honest, it’s the huge corporations that need to change their ways the most, not us individuals, but every little helps!