Back in the summer when I stumbled on my first zero waste shop, we were living a pretty normal life – consuming plastic toothbrushes and disposable razors, buying packaged food from the supermarket. I also had a long commute that was racking up my carbon footprint to seven people’s worth of car journeys a year – even though I have a small, low-emission car.
At first, I thought it would be easy to go plastic-free – and I also thought I could bring down my carbon footprint with a host of other lifestyle changes while I was at it. I’d shop locally, eat a plant-based diet, drive less, replace wasteful household items with plastic-free alternatives, and basically *go eco* overnight 🙂
We already use natural products – toothpaste, shampoo, soap, washing up liquid… so at least we had some kind of head-start. Even so, completely changing our lifestyle overnight wasn’t as easy as I had thought.
At first it was downright depressing just how difficult everything was. I couldn’t find a shampoo, toothpaste or deodorant that worked, so I was going to work with bad hair, coffee breath and rashes under my (still smelly) armpits. This did not make me happy.
I also found that I’m not really tolerant of high-carb diets – I was bloated, sluggish and perpetually hungry.
I realised that this kind of change has to be (no pun intended) sustainable. You can’t do it overnight without decimating your bank balance and your sanity.
The trouble was, I was trying to do everything at once, instead of getting one thing nailed at a time. I was trying product after expensive product, and I resented paying more for things that worked less well.
I felt like I was paying a green tax.
Now, a few months on, things are a lot easier. We’ve managed to source almost everything we need without plastic, and we’re working on the rest. Knowing where to go helps, even if it’s not always easy to get to 8 or 9 different places for groceries every week.
We’re still not completely plastic-free, but we’ve taken some important steps.
Here’s what we’ve achieved so far:
1. We’re buying a lot less plastic, and producing a lot less waste
We’ve halved the contents of our recycling bin every week, and we now produce a lot less waste for landfill each week – enough to fill about half a carrier bag. There’s still a long way to go, but hey, it’s a start.
Among the first things we bought were reusable coffee mugs, and we use them everyday. We also stopped buying bottled water and carrier bags. It’s just a case of getting organised before we leave the house.
2. We’ve built good relationships with local stores
Our butcher knows the drill when we come in – the meat goes into an old Jacob’s crackers tub – the biggest plastic tub we have. We just wash this and reuse it next time. We’ve also bought bacon in a paper bag when we’ve forgotten our tubs. D’you know what? It was absolutely fine.
We wrap meat in greaseproof paper and secure it with string if we want to store it in the freezer, or we wash and reuse a salad bag.
3. Shops are becoming more aware of our journey
Lovely shopkeepers and staff have been thinking of alternatives for us – and all the other customers who also want to shop plastic-free (we’re not the only ones!).
At the organic farm shop, they tell us if they’re midway through bagging up salad or green leaves (these are among the hardest things to find loose, as the leaves tend to wilt) so that we can stock up. They’ve sent me into the polytunnel to pick my own basil, and put organic meat aside for us in our own tubs until we came to collect.
4. We’ve changed a lot of our habits
We’re using wood for heating more often than gas. Last winter our gas bill was about £150 a month (gas bottles – not mains). This year, we’re being more mindful, avoiding central heating, wearing more jumpers, and making good use of the log-burner. A huge pile of wood cost us £70.
We’re hardly shopping at the supermarket. Virtually all our food comes from local shops – farm shops, butchers, health food stores, a zero waste market stall and zero waste shops, with some online shopping. Worthwhyle is our favourite online store.
We now use solid shampoo, wooden toothbrushes, and low-waste toothpaste. We’re making more of an effort than ever before to avoid buying plastic. I have a safety razor, which I love, and I’ve found a product that means I never have to buy those awful synthetic washing up sponges (or their ineffectual recycled counterparts) again.
If we do buy plastic, we try to reuse it. I’ve been washing salad bags and pegging them up to dry (I also peg out the muslin I use to strain almond milk, and Jim hangs herbs up to dry so that he can make his own herbal remedies). This way, we gain reusable bags for sandwiches, leftovers or freezer storage.
I dabble with henna, and I’ve switched from single-use cellophane cones to reusable syringes. I also wash and reuse the latex gloves I need to keep the henna from getting all over my hands when I’m creating my designs.
5. Finally – and most importantly – we’re moving!
Although we’ll be sad to leave our little cottage, we’ve found another place that cuts my commute in half, and I’ve already found a lift-share buddy. I can’t tell you what it’s going to mean to me to get rid of my 3-hour daily commute. It’s been a ridiculous drain on my time and resources, and a source of climate guilt (is that a thing?). Now, I’ll have more time to meal-plan, shop-wisely, and focus on this blog.
Moving house will be an opportunity to detox from plastic even more. One of the next steps I want to take is to wash and dry any unavoidable plastics (such as food packets and film) and stuff them into plastic bottles to form eco bricks.
I also want to keep finding great alternatives. As each thing runs out, we replace it with a plastic-free version. You can read about everything I recommend in the reviews section of the blog.
We need to find a good source of fish, berries (I miss you, fruity smoothies!) and snacks like crisps. Our friends have asked us to help set up a communal veg patch on their land – one that can feed both families, so we’ll be growing our own veg soon.
We’re eating less meat and fish, but this is something I hope to work more on in the future. To start, I’m getting my digestion in order so that I can tolerate more pulses, lentils and grains.
Finally, I’m trying to lead a more authentic, low waste life. It’s probably never going to be perfect. But spending more time in nature helps. Being with friends and family reminds me what’s important.
I try to be patient when things aren’t working – and persist.
My advice? Honour the seasons. Don’t beat yourself up when it goes wrong. Forgive. Eat well. Spend more time talking and less time scrolling. And find joy in simple things, like eco washing up sponges (honestly, I’ve been looking for years) and dry shampoo that works.
How’s your plastic free journey going? What alternatives have you found? Let me know in the comments below, email me, or find me on social media. I’d love to hear from you.