25: Plastic-free beauty?

pink lipstick with green case

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Some things are easier to replace than others. Some products have become so enshrined in the plastic stuff that finding alternatives is almost impossible. Last week I set myself a challenge to fill a make-up bag with products that were totally free of single-use plastic. I made it even more difficult for myself by limiting the products to ones that were not tested on animals…I failed!

I live near a small town in England. Luckily it still has a thriving town centre with lots of shops – both chains and independents. I visited three chemists (pharmacies, for our American friends), two department stores, the Body Shop, a health food shop and a couple of clothes shops that sell cosmetics. All I could find were a small selection of pencils (for eyes, brows and lips), nail varnish in glass bottles with plastic tops (as most of them are), and a handful of make-up kits/palletes that were in cardboard boxes with metal liners.

Although I’m sure they exist, I didn’t find any lipstick, mascara, face powder, concealer or bronzer/blusher that wasn’t contained in plastic. Standing in front of a wall of make-up in Boots the chemist, I was staggered by just how much plastic was sitting there, all shiny and new, and all of it destined to float around our planet for ever. I must admit, it was pretty depressing.

So, what can we do? Well, we can start by choosing the few non-plastic options that do exist; for example, pick a wooden kohl pencil instead of a plastic-sheathed eyeliner and look for make-up kits in the cardboard boxes when you want to treat yourself. I found lovely sets made by Urban Decay, Bleach London, and Marks & Spencer, all of them cruelty-free and none of them very cheap. Alternatively you can stop wearing make-up altogether! Too much?…Yes, fair enough. For some of us that is a step too far.

There is one other thing we can do. Talk to the shop assistants. If you have time, write to the manufacturers too and ask them to do something about it. There was one bright spot on my almost failed mission. When I went into the Body Shop – where everything was pretty much all plastic except for some sponges and hair brushes – I asked if they sold solid bar shampoos. The lady behind the counter said they didn’t but they were currently in the process of developing them. She said I was the third customer who had asked her for some that day, and it was the same around the country. She said the company can’t ignore what the customers want. Of course they can’t! They’d be crazy to! So, the next time you’re passing your favourite make-up supplier, ask them when they’re going to change the plastic packaging; when they’re going to sell bar shampoo or mascara in metal containers, or whatever else you’d like to see. The more we ask the more it will change. And it just has to, doesn’t it?

Finally, if you want to make sure your make-up is also cruelty-free and/or vegan, you can search for your favourite brand on the PETA website at https://features.peta.org/cruelty-free-company-search/index.aspx


24: A very British plastic problem!

drink tea green natural

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Did you know that almost all of the big brand tea bags contain plastic? Yes, plastic in your tea bags! When did that happen?

That means that, even if you’re eco-conscious and putting your tea bags on the compost heap, you might be adding to the little bits of plastic that are getting into the soil and eventually even into the food chain.

There is, of course, a simple solution to this problem if you’re a person who likes a regular brew (I’m a coffee drinker myself), and the solution is…go old school! Buy your tea loose, find that teapot lurking in the back of the cupboard, and brew it the old-fashioned way. Buy yourself a little metal tea strainer and off you go. It might not be quite as convenient, but it is ‘proper!’ Look for boxes or packs that are self-sealed rather than covered in cellophane, of course.

Not all the tea bag manufacturers use plastic (most of them do), and some supermarkets, like the Co-Op, are planning to de-plastic their own brands. PG Tips, one of the UKs biggest brands) have said they are changing to totally biodegradable bags with no plastic. Check if your favourite brand uses plastic by looking on their websites. If their websites don’t tell you – ask them. Email them, tweet them, ask in your local supermarket and, if enough people make a fuss, they’ll stop doing this.

Time to put the kettle on…

23: Don’t bag it – grow it!

food salad healthy red

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This one is inspired by my good friend, Andrea, who has just grown her first ever tomatoes!

Some of us are lucky enough to live near a street market, farmer’s market or ‘proper’ greengrocer that still sell our 5-a-day by weight and without the plastic. Of course, by now you’ll be taking your own reusable bags when you go shopping, so buying fruit and veg loose makes it easy to go plastic free.

BUT we don’t all live close to a fresh produce vendor like the ones described above, so instead of buying the cellophane-wrapped stuff from the supermarket, why not grow your own? I’m not suggesting that we all go out and buy an acre of land – some of us don’t even have gardens – but there’s lots of ways to start growing your own food. Even if you just grow one or two items, it’s a good start, and think of all that packaging that you’re not putting into landfill.

Tomatoes are very easy to grow in containers – I know because I’m useless at gardening and have still managed to grow them successfully lots of times. You can even grow them on windowsills if you don’t have outdoor space. Herbs too grow perfectly in containers, as do lettuces, and these are almost always sold in plastic packaging.  Start with one thing that you know you’ll eat and that will give you the confidence to try more. Most fruit and veg can be frozen too if you have a surplus.

To go completely plastic-free, buy seeds rather than young plants in plastic pots, but if you do have to buy young plants, keep the pots to grow more things from seed next year.

So far, with very little prior knowledge, I’ve managed to grow (and subsequently eat!) tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, courgettes, blueberries, strawberries and even sweetcorn in containers on patios and roof terraces along with all kinds of herbs like mint, rosemary, thyme, oregano…and all of them taste so much better than they do from the supermarket. A big bonus is that I know exactly what’s gone into the soil – and no pesticides! Of course, that’s perfect for vegans too.

I’m no gardening expert so I hesitate to give you lots of growing tips, but get yourself a beginner’s guide to growing fruit and veg or just look for advice online. There’s lots of it.

Have a go. Remove one plastic-clad item from your regular shopping list this year. Next year it might be two or three. And here’s an idea: get together with a couple of friends and all grow different things that you can swap with each other. You can have one of my peppers for a handful of tomatoes, Andrea!

22: Water shouldn’t cost the earth.

nature water blue abstract

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Today is forecast to be the hottest day of the year in the UK – for the fourth day running! Yes, it’s hot. Way hotter than us weather-obsessed Brits are used to. But it’s not just here in England. It seems like the whole planet is catching fire this year.

One of the most important things to remember in this heat is water – keep hydrated and drink more water than you normally do. And here’s a dilemma. While you’re out and about, travelling to work or out enjoying the sunshine, it’s easy to stop off at a shop or cafe and reach for some water in a shiny, new, plastic bottle. And the chances are, that plastic IS new because those bottles are often not recycled at all – even if you put them in your own recycle bin.

Now, let’s get sensible about this. You know it’s going to be hot out there; you know you’re going to get thirsty, so either leave the house prepared or find an alternative to that plastic bottle that will take you minutes to drink from and forever to lie around on the planet causing trouble. Here are other things you can do:

  • Invest in a reusable water bottle that you can fill up at home and can keep in your bag when you’re out. Lightweight metal ones keep your drink colder than plastic ones and will last for years – and they’re easy to recycle. Bamboo reusable coffee cups are also good for keeping liquid at the right temperature and are very environmentally friendly.
  • If you must buy bottled water when you’re out, choose one in a glass bottle rather than a plastic one. Did you know that glass can keep being recycled for ever and ever? It’s also much easier to wash and re-use it yourself.
  • When it’s hot like it is right now, most cafes, pubs, restaurants, eateries in the UK (and probably anywhere else in the world) will oblige you with a glass of free tap water, even if you don’t buy anything else, and especially if you have children with you. Just make sure you ask politely. I’ve asked plenty of times and have never been refused. It’s actually good for business, because the chances are I’ll go back there when I want to buy something.

And remember, we are extremely fortunate in the so-called ‘developed’ world to have drinking water on tap – literally! – so fill up at home before you go out. Plan ahead, just a little, and you’ll never have to buy bottled water again…unless it’s an emergency, of course. Anything other than an emergency is laziness. Was that a bit harsh? It’s true….and it’s hot!

21: File it under ‘less plastic.’

For those who work in offices, or in home offices like me, you’ve probably noticed just how much plastic you’re surrounded by every day. If you haven’t noticed…why not?

Much of the plastic in offices is more than single use, so don’t chuck away things that are going to be perfectly useful for a long period of time. But when those things do need replacing, consider buying non-plastic versions next time. In fact, don’t just consider it – do it!

Here’s one to start with: Despite what we were promised in the 1970s by Tomorrow’s World (for those who are old enough to remember it!), the rise of the computer has not resulted in a paper-free office. Most of us probably have tons of paper tucked away in box files and ring binders. Paper and cardboard filing solutions are usually much cheaper than plastic ones and do exactly the same job. They might not last quite as long as plastic ones (which, unfortunately for the planet, last for ever!), but they will last for many years if you don’t make a habit of chucking them at your colleagues.

So, the next time you’re at the stationers looking for filing solutions, choose the environmentally-friendly ones and file that under ‘A Little Less Plastic!’

20: A little less plastic on your holiday

beach blue car combi

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Summer is here and the thoughts of many are turning to holidays. As the planet warms up (and the evidence for global warming is just mounting and mounting) thoughts might also be turning to our environment and what we can do to protect it – hopefully. Don’t let it spoil your holiday. Incorporate a little thought for the environment into your holiday instead. I’m talking about your travel toiletries!

This year, instead of buying those little plastic travel versions of the stuff you normally use (shampoo, shower gel, etc.), which you’ll probably leave behind at the hotel / b&b / campsite / friend’s house anyway, make a decision to replace as much as possible with non-plastic alternatives.

  • A bar of soap (as cheap or luxurious as you like) instead of liquid soap and shower gel. Wrap it in a face flannel and you won’t even need a plastic soap dish. You can cut slices off as needed so one bar will easily do a whole family.
  • Some bar deodorant instead of plastic bottles and sprays. Again, you can slice off as much as you need. It lasts longer than liquid deodorant too.
  • Bar shampoo and conditioner, same as above.
  • A bamboo toothbrush – which weighs about half that of a plastic one! And some powder toothpaste, of course.

All of the replacement toiletries above are non-liquid, so it means that nobody will take them off you at the airport. This is a great way to save money, as so many holiday resorts will charge you ridiculous prices for shampoo, deodorant, shower gel and all the rest.

Happy holidays!


19: Softly, softly, plastic-free!

white textile

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Today the sun is shining, there’s a gentle breeze in the air, and it’s a perfect day to get some washing out on the line (I know – I should really get out more!).

I recently swapped my laundry liquid for washing powder in a cardboard box (a little less plastic), but nowhere on my local supermarket shelves could I find fabric softener that wasn’t in a plastic bottle. I live in a very hard water area, and if I don’t use some kind of softening agent in the washing machine, we end up looking like cardboard cut-outs in our clothes.

According to the Plastic Free July website, you can use white vinegar instead of fabric softener in the washing machine. Really?…surely not. Unless you want to smell like you work in a fish and chip shop. Well, I ran out of fabric softener yesterday and duly put the plastic bottle in the recycling bin. What have I got to lose? And there’s all those sheets to wash.

I can now report that I have just done my first wash with white vinegar in that little compartment where the fabric softener liquid usually goes. You only need a capful…..and it works! Not only do my sheets smell fresh (not a whiff of chips about them!) but the white vinegar is descaling my washing machine at the same time. It goes without saying that you will buy white vinegar in glass bottles and not plastic ones. Most supermarkets stock it as well as some hardware stores.

As a bonus, white vinegar is not usually tested on animals (unlike a lot of fabric conditioners), perfectly fine for vegans and vegetarians to use, and is great for people with sensitive skin. AND it’s a whole lot cheaper than fabric softener to boot….although don’t put your boots in the washing machne. I learnt my lesson.