There’s been a lot more conversation around reducing waste of late. Supermarkets are selling wonky fruit and veg at reduced prices, instead of throwing it away. It’s no longer unusual to see someone queuing in Pret with their KeepCup in hand. Even my workplace is getting in on the act, with swish, branded, reusable water bottles replacing the old plastic ones in the fridge.
Generally, this is a good thing; I believe we should all try and do what we can. But I’ve also seen two issues emerge from this new state of affairs:
- Items that are meant to be one-off purchases are being presented as trends. For example, new, patterned reusable water bottles are being released each season. I understand the need to keep a business current and, well, in business, and I can also understand the appeal from a customer perspective. (Would I have been one of those kids who wanted to drink from their very own, mermaid-print bottle and nothing else? Of course. So I can imagine this being a bribery of sorts for parents who just want their children to stay hydrated.) But this also makes it easy to forget the whole point of zero-waste items: you buy one product and use it in place of disposable versions for as long as it works. You don’t update it seasonally.
- The onus is being placed on individual customers, rather than big corporations who can make significant changes. Freelance writer and stylist Sophie Benson wrote an excellent post about this last month, entitled I’m Sick of Taking the Blame.
And with these kind of conversations coming to light, it’s easy to feel frustrated, and tempting to sit back and do nothing. Zero waste, low waste, sustainability, whatever you want to call it—it can be a minefield once you start looking into it.
That’s why I’ve started small small. Yes, the big corporations should be doing more. But that doesn’t mean we can’t still try, something Sophie mentions herself (“Those people clearly haven’t seen me leaving the house laden with a million different reusable receptacles or diligently separating my recycling.”)
I began with my Eco-Friendly Beauty series (still a work in progress), and slowly, slowly, I’ve been looking at more general lifestyle items and how I can change my approach to everyday things. The actions on this list of simple switches are all things I found straightforward, and hopefully you will too if you’re just dipping a toe into low waste living. (As always, it’s important to recognise that not everyone can take the same actions.)
Swap plastic bags for canvas bags
An obvious one, maybe? But it’s been a long time since the 5p charge was introduced, and I still see plastic bags littering my local area. (The corner shop gives them away.) Canvas bags are more durable, easy to store, and always come in handy when you’re out and about. They don’t disintegrate and they won’t break, unless you put too much in them.
They are also relatively inexpensive—last time I looked, Primark were selling them for £1. If you want to invest, Lush’s Fighting Animal Testing bag is thick, sturdy, and can carry tonnes of tinned food without the slightest strain.
Replace plastic sanitary products with cotton ones
Not ready to try reusable pads or a menstrual cup? Look out for a different brand when you’re shopping for sanitary products. Many pads and tampons contain ingredients like plastic, perfumes, chlorine, dyes, and residue from pesticides—not what you want in your body, let alone in or near your vagina.
Natracare were kind enough to send me some of their sanitary products to try. Their pads and tampons are plastic-free and made from renewable, biodegradable, and certifiably compostable materials. They’re much softer than those by the brands we’re more used to seeing on the shelves, and they don’t have any freshening (read: irritating) fragrance added, which makes them a lot more comfortable as well. The pads are thinner without being any less absorbent, which means it doesn’t feel like you’re wearing a gigantic nappy.
Natracare’s products are also vegan. I didn’t realise tampons and pads could not be vegan, but apparently they’re not always animal-friendly—some are tested on animals, and some contain animal-derived ingredients.
You can find Natracare products at:
Try using a bamboo toothbrush
Plastic toothbrushes are easy to find and cheap to buy from your local supermarket, so it’s no wonder they’re so many people’s go-to. But they’re also meant to be thrown away every three months, which means they end up in landfill, get washed into oceans, and can’t be burnt for fuel. I ended up saving my last plastic toothbrush to use as a scrubber for cleaning small, awkward spots around the house.
Bamboo toothbrushes are an eco-friendly alternative. You can find them in independent health food shops, Holland & Barrett, and online (although from the look of the Holland & Barrett website they sell theirs in plastic, which defeats the point).
They cost a little more than your average plastic brush, but they’re biodegradable, I’ve found they last longer, and they do just as good a job at cleaning your teeth. Zero Waste Club even do a version where you just need to replace the brush head, so once you’ve bought your first brush, you’re sorted. (They also do regular versions if you’d rather pay less upfront.)
Clean out your jars
Rather than throwing glass packaging away, think about how you can use it for storage. I use old food jars for storing nuts, seeds, and baking ingredients, for example, while my glass bottles from Bloomtown have become vases for the £1 bunches of daffodils I like to buy each week.
Unfortunately I don’t live in an area with a zero-waste store nearby, so I can’t take my jars along to fill them up with produce. (This might be an option if you live in a bigger city.) But by saving them, I don’t need to buy any plastic tupperware to keep my cupboard staples fresh.
Change the way you read
I’m not about to go all Marie Kondo and say I only like to keep 30 books in the house (although, for the record, just because she only keeps 30 doesn’t mean anyone has to do the same, and I wish people would leave her alone). But you can still find a way to change how you read.
Buying a digital copy of a book is often cheaper if you already have an e-reader, and it doesn’t take up any extra space, which makes it especially useful for travel (whether that’s a holiday or your daily commute). You could also check out the selection in your local library, or make a reservation if there’s a particular book you really want to read. There’s nothing like reading and owning a physical copy of a book, but these days I try and only buy them occasionally, instead of by default.
This list is hardly groundbreaking, but I hope it’s given you some ideas for ways you can switch up your everyday habits.
What do you do to try and be more eco-friendly? Let me know in the comments.
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Beth, 26, South East England.
Lover of books, dogs, yoga, travelling, and gin.
I write about ethical & eco-friendly living, minimalism, and mental health, as I muddle through one step at a time. Enjoy!