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How to go plastic-free in 2021: eco tips for the whole family

Now more than ever, families are starting to seriously consider their impact on the environment. If you’re looking to make some small, but mighty, changes to your lifestyle to reduce (and eventually eliminate) the amount of plastic you use, here are some handy tips on how to be more sustainable as a family.

By Mumsnet HQ | Last updated Sep 21, 2021

Plastic-free kitchen utensils

Whether you've been spurred into action by pictures of the plastic that's clogging our oceans or inspired by Greta Thunberg's climate strike, there are plenty of small changes you can make to reduce the impact your family has on the environment.

If you've only recently caught the eco-friendly bug, you might find yourself itching to replace everything in sight with a plastic-free alternative. However, no matter how enthusiastic you are, the most important thing to remember is that it's all about the first 'R' – reducing. Use what you have, plastic or otherwise, until it breaks or has to be replaced.

How to easily reduce your plastic consumption

1. Invest in reusable water bottles

Pack reusable water bottles for you and the kids when out and about so that you never go thirsty. If you’re a fan of takeaway coffees, bring a reusable coffee cup with you so that you enjoy your beverage completely guilt-free.

Mumsnetters say:

“I absolutely love mine. Everyone in the family has one and some even have two. Would definitely recommend!”

2. Eliminate baby wipes that contain plastic

Baby wipes are handy in almost all eventualities, but 90% of UK wipes contain polluting plastic, including plastic resins that don’t fully biodegrade.

100% plastic-free, 100% biodegradable and 100% compostable baby wipes will ensure your baby’s bum and the environment are kept clean at the same time. 

3. Ditch the plastic bags

Ditch single-use plastic produce bags in favour of totes or reusable bags which are light enough to keep in your handbag, yet sturdy enough to last for years.

Made from breathable, BPA-free nylon, reusable bags will also help keep your fruit and veg fresher for longer, meaning less food waste too. You’ll now find reusable vegetable bags available to buy in most supermarkets.

Mumsnetters say:

“I'm a big fan of mesh bags. I use mesh bags for fruit and veg, bread, pastries, loose nuts, and loads of things you would use a single-use paper or plastic bag for. I must have saved about 400 plastic bags with them by now.”

How to use less plastic in the kitchen

Tea cups

4. Use beeswax wraps

Beeswax wraps are a great alternative to clingfilm when wrapping sandwiches or covering half-eaten snacks. If you’re feeling crafty, you can make your own in next to no time too.

Mumsnetters say:

“Wax wraps are easy to make – just cut a square of cotton fabric of the right size and iron on wax (from an art supply shop or grated unscented uncoloured candle). It took about 10 minutes to do three large and six small.”

5. Check your tea bags

It's rare to come across a British household that doesn't feel a fierce allegiance to their preferred brand of tea bags. You may not realise it, but your daily cuppa could contain billions of microscopic plastic particles, which likely won’t degrade for hundreds of years. Use compostable loose leaf tea or look out for plastic-free tea brands such as:

  • Teapigs – made from plant starch and don't contain any microplastics. The inner pouch and outer box are both completely recyclable too.
  • Pukka – although each tea bag comes individually wrapped, the envelopes are completely recyclable. The tea is also 100% organic and ethically-sourced.
  • PG Tips – ideal if you're looking for a reliable, and inexpensive, brew that's free from microplastics.

It's worth bearing in mind that some brands (with the exception of Teapigs) might use plastic in the exterior packaging so it's best to buy in bulk, where possible.

Mumsnetters say:

“I've gone to PG Tips now they're using plant-based plastic-free bags.”

6. Opt for refillable cleaning products

If you don't have time to make your own cleaning products, it can be hard to avoid plastic altogether. But there are other things you can do to reduce the amount of plastic waste associated with keeping your house in order.

Refillable cleaning products are an increasingly popular way to cut down on the number of plastic bottles you're binning. Mumsnetters like Splosh, a vegan-friendly company which will deliver starter bottles and eco-friendly refills directly to your door.

Mumsnetters say:

“I just ordered a starter box of eight and I've cleaned the bathroom, the loo, washed up and wiped down the kitchen with the kitchen cleaner, and used the hand wash, and I have to say I'm really really impressed. I think I've found a set of products for life.”

“I bought a large five-litre plastic bottle of washing up liquid two years ago. I decant a small amount into a glass bottle to keep near the sink. I think it will last another two years before I buy another one.”

How to use less plastic in the bathroom

Plastic-free toothbrush

7. Shop shampoo bars

Fancy a shower with a side of smugness? Shampoo bars could be your new best friend. A zero-plastic haircare option, they are easy to use – you can lather them up between your hands or just rub directly onto wet hair – and last for ages. You’ll find bars for both adults and kids as well as from well-known brands like Lush.

Mumsnetters say:

“Lush. Their naked range includes shampoo, conditioner, shower gels and body conditioners. All last an absolute age if you keep them dry, smell amazing and are ethical.”

“I get my shampoo bars from Pure Nuff Stuff, which also does loads of refill products and non-plastic alternatives for things like toothbrushes. It's an amazing little company.”

8. Try plastic-free toothpaste

Toothpaste was a stumbling block for many Mumsnetters on their plastic-free mission. It used to only be sold in supermarkets in plastic tubes and was very difficult to buy in bulk.

Luckily, nowadays, there are a few more options. From toothpaste in glass jars to solid jelly toothpaste and chewable Toothy Tabs, there's sure to be a plastic-free option to suit your family.

Mumsnetters say:

Georganics sell tooth powder and toothpaste in glass jars. The whitening charcoal one is very good.”

9. Choose a plastic-free toothbrush

Dentists advise that you change your toothbrush every three months (and sooner if it's visibly frayed) for optimal plaque removal. That's a lot of plastic toothbrushes. As a more eco-friendly option, opt for recyclable bamboo toothbrushes. The brushes tend to be made from biodegradable nylon which, while far from ideal, is a step in the right direction.

Mumsnetters say:

“I’ve also switched to biodegradable toothbrushes (bamboo).”

“I use a Yaweco toothbrush which is made from bio-plastic, but you only replace a small part of the head. Comes in medium and firm.”

10. Do away with disposable razors

Ditch disposable razors in favour of a long-lasting steel handle with replaceable blades. Friction Free Shaving offer a subscription service where they supply you with replacement blades depending on how frequently (or infrequently) you shave. They also offer a blade recycling scheme and ship all of their razors in recyclable packaging.

Mumsnetters say:

“I'm on my last disposable razor head so I'm switching to a stainless steel razor next month.”

11. Consider eco-friendly sanitary products

Sanitary pads can contain up to 90% plastic and tampons are typically made from plastic too. Several brands have now created sustainable alternatives to plastic tampons and sanitary pads.

Reusable sanitary towels are actually more absorbent than disposable alternatives and less irritating to sensitive skin. Cheeky Wipes offer pads made from either bamboo or cotton and recommend the bamboo option for heavier periods.

Menstrual cups are also a convenient and reasonably-priced way to make your period plastic-free. The most popular menstrual cup brand, Mooncup, makes their cups from medical-grade silicone, meaning they are latex-free, hypoallergenic and contain no dyes, BPA, phthalates, plastic, bleaches or toxins.

Mumsnetters say:

“I love my menstrual cup – best decision I ever made. I used to dread every month, but the cup is so liberating. I practically forget I’m on my period.”

“I've been using washable pads for a couple of months now and absolutely love them. I've got the bamboo and charcoal ones from Cheeky Wipes – they're way more absorbent than any disposable pad I've ever tried so I would also say that you'd need no more than four a day.”

How to avoid food waste

12. Plan ahead

Meal planning may well revolutionise your week, allowing you to choose recipes that use the same ingredients. Not only will you feel more organised and spend less time cooking, but you’ll be able to eliminate food waste, use up leftovers and potentially save some money on your weekly shop. Make sure that you’re also using food right up to its Use By date (this differs from the Best Before date).

Mumsnetters say:

“My advice would be to meal-plan. Make a list and stick to it when you shop. That way, you buy just for the meals you are making, not for things you fancy making, which will then go off.”

13. Don’t forget your freezer

To make your food last longer and eliminate waste, consider freezing your leftovers. This also includes bread which can be toasted straight from frozen.

14. Embrace imperfection

There’s nothing wrong with ‘wonky’ fruit and veg and it’s often cheaper to buy too. Embrace ‘too small,’ ‘too big’ or blemished food by opting for a veg box subscription. Or keep your eye out for Imperfectly Imperfect ranges at your local supermarket.

Mumsnetters say:

“I’m really glad they’ve started selling imperfect fruit and veg. It’s much more affordable.”

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