How to go plastic-free: Mumsnetters' advice on using less plastic
12 November 2019
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. Read on for eco-inspiration aplenty
How to use less plastic in the kitchen
Plastic-free tea bags
It is rare to come across a British household that doesn't feel a fierce allegiance to their preferred brand of tea bags. However, many tea bags are sealed shut using a small amount of plastic. If you want to give your kitchen an eco-friendly overhaul, you might want to consider opting for one of the following brands:
- Teapigs – admittedly not the cheapest brand you could opt for, but their tea bags don't contain any microplastics, and are instead made from plant starch. The inner pouch and outer box are both completely recyclable, too. You can buy 50 bags for £10 (and save up to 15% when you subscribe to regular deliveries) from Amazon. Buy now.
- Pukka – although these tea bags come individually wrapped, the envelopes are completely recyclable. The tea is also 100% organic and ethically-sourced. You can get four boxes of 20 bags (so 80 bags in total) for £14.30. Buy now.
- PG Tips – looking after the earth doesn't have to cost a fortune. For a reliable, and inexpensive, brew that is free from microplastics, opt for PG Tips. You can get a whopping 480 teabags for £11.45 – that's less than 2p per bag. Buy now.
It is 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.
Alternatively, you could use loose leaf tea and a teapot. Mumsnetters like the Brew Tea Pot:
“Brew Tea Co teapots! Very easy to clean, which was always the main problem for me – can't be bothered with fishing tea leaves out of a spout. The pot is big enough for two small teacups, or one big mug.”
Related: The best reusable coffee cups according to Mumsnet users
Reusable produce bags, £6.36 for nine
Ditch single-use plastic produce bags in favour of these reusable bags which are light enough to keep in your handbag, yet sturdy enough to last for years. Made from breathable, BPA-free nylon, they'll also help keep your fruit and veg fresher for longer, meaning less food waste too.
“I've always taken my own shopping bags with me, but have recently bought RYBit bags for fruit and veg (and sometimes use them for bread too).”
“The RYBit bags are really good. They're a bit thicker than the Onya bags but I find you can do them up more securely, plus they come in bigger sizes too.”
“I'm a big fan of mesh bags. I use mesh bags for fruit and veg, bread, pastries, loose nuts, 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.”
Buy in bulk
If you don't have time to make your own cleaning products, it can be hard to avoid plastic altogether. In which case, your best option is to buy products in bulk. You can always investigate minimal-packaging refills later down the line.
“I bought a massive catering-sized bottle of washing up liquid which I keep in the understairs cupboard.”
“Buy all cleaning products in 5L containers where possible.”
“I bought a large 5-litre plastic bottle of Bio D 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.”
Related: The reusable water bottles Mumsnetters love
Refillable cleaning products
If buying cleaning supplies in bulk just isn't viable for you, there are other ways you can 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. What's more, you can even return the refill pouches to them for free, and Splosh will recycle them on your behalf.
“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.”
Eating seasonally is important. The fruit you eat in the winter should be apples and stuff that stores or ships without air freight. That way you can reduce the amount of packaging needed.
I use plastic food bags for storing food, but wash and dry them and they last for ages – one lasted over three years of constant reuse.
I have just bought some completely amazing metal clothes pegs after decades of picking up broken pegs from my lawn. Apparently they last forever. The joy I've had pegging my laundry is quite ridiculous!
How to use less plastic in the bathroom
Toothpaste was a stumbling block for many Mumsnetters on their plastic-free mission. It's an essential, only sold in supermarkets in plastic tubes, and very difficult to buy in bulk. Luckily, nowadays there are a few more options. From toothpaste in glass jars – Georganics is popular on our Talk boards – to solid jelly toothpaste and chewable Toothy Tabs from Lush, there's sure to be a plastic-free option to suit your family.
“Georganics sell tooth powder and toothpaste in glass jars. The whitening charcoal one is very good.”
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. Alternatively, Mumsnetters also like Yaweco brushes. They're made from bio-plastic and, rather than throwing away an entire brush, you only replace the head, minimising waste.
“I’ve also switched to biodegradable toothbrushes (bamboo) and have ordered some Toothy Tabs from Lush instead of toothpaste and mouthwash.”
“I use a Yaweco toothbrush which is plastic but you only replace a small part of the head. Comes in medium and firm.”
Plastic-free sanitary products
Menstrual cups are a convenient and reasonably-priced way to make your period plastic-free. The most popular 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. Although you have to pay about £20 upfront, your cup should last for years. Because they are undyed, they do tend to get a little discoloured over time. This is perfectly normal and doesn't affect the hygiene of your cup
“I love mine – best decision I ever made. I used to dread every month, but the cup is so liberating. I practically forget I am on my period. I am more comfortable, have less pain and it saves money. I just wish I'd switched years ago.”
“I love my Mooncup. It took a couple of months to get familiar with it, but it has never leaked, my periods seem lighter, shorter and less painful, and best of all I don't get the week of severe thrush that used to happen after every single period when I used tampons.”
For more information on different types of cup, plus answers to FAQs and advice on how to use them properly, head to our menstrual cup guide.
If you don't like using tampons, you might not feel comfortable with a menstrual cup either. That doesn't mean you're stuck using single-use plastics every month. Reusable sanitary towels are an increasingly popular on our Talk boards. They're 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. A starter kit, including 10 pads, a box for soaking used pads, essential oils and a mesh laundry bag will set you back £54.95, so it's definitely an investment, but one worth making if you're committed to cutting down your single-use plastic consumption.
“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 4 a day.”
Shampoo bars are a great zero-plastic haircare option. They're easy to use – you can lather them up between your hands or just rub directly onto wet hair – and last a surprisingly long time. Mumsnetters like Lush's Naked range, which contains shampoos, conditioners, skincare and more, as well as the haircare options from small business Pure Nuff Stuff.
“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.”
“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.”
While they're not entirely plastic-free, Neal's Yard products are popular with Mumsnetters thanks to their ethically-sourced, sustainable ingredients and completely recycled and recyclable packaging. You can also buy their bath and body products in litre containers so you're using less plastic overall. Most of their skincare products are packaged using glass.
“I use Neals Yard 1 litre bottles of bath and shower gel. They're fully recyclable. Not the cheapest but they last for months. The Orange and Geranium scent is my favourite. I'm having to cut costs recently, but these are products that I just won't replace.”
“I use a lot of Neals Yard stuff. It's organic, ethical, and most of it comes in glass jars and bottles – although they do still have plastic lids.”
Related: Chat with like-minded people over on our ethical living Talk board.
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. Their optional extras include cruelty-free shaving cream and scrubs. Your handle and first four replacement heads will set you back £9.
“I'm on my last disposable razor head so I'm switching to a stainless steel razor next month.”
“I've also just bought an old fashioned shaver that takes blades so no more plastic disposable heads going in the bin.”
All my cleaning products and toiletries are bought in 5L containers where possible.
We don't use mouth wash, and have bars of soap in cardboard or paper wrappers instead of shower gel.
Buy coconut oil in a glass jar and use it as a body moisturiser (it has other cosmetic uses too eg lip balm) to save on plastic cosmetics packaging.
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: "It isn't environmentally friendly to replace plastic things that you already have and work perfectly fine with non-plastic things. It is all the first R – reducing. Use what you have (plastic or otherwise) until it breaks or has to be replaced.”
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