This year’s Earth Day campaign is all about “ending plastic pollution” – a theme which is more than fitting given the surge in interest in the topic, spurred on in part by the BBC documentary Blue Planet II.
Since watching the documentary, my husband and I have actively been working towards living a more environmentally friendly lifestyle. Whilst our primary focus is to cut out as many single-use plastic products as possible, we’ve also been trying reduce the amount of waste – both recyclable and non – we produce as a whole.
In this article, we’ve drawn up a list of the ten most significant green changes we’ve successfully made so far. Some were quite easy to tackle, whereas others were admittedly more of a challenge.
How about you? Have you made some #greenchanges that we haven’t mentioned here? We’d love to hear about them!
1. Buying loose fruit and vegetables
One of the easiest ways you can significantly cut down on your waste is to choose loose fruit and vegetables in lieu of the packaged equivalents. Admittedly some products such as spinach or lettuce are more likely to be packaged in plastic than, say, apples or peppers, but if you can make a point to buy loose whenever possible, you’ll notice a significant reduction in the packaging you have to throw away and recycle.
In our case, for example, we’ve gone from putting out our plastic recycling every week to every fortnight, and a small bag of general rubbish only goes out once per month.
2. Reusing the same carrier bags
This second point ties in closely with the first. After all, how are you going to get all those loose apples and potatoes home if you don’t have a bag to put them in? 🙂
We already had a number of cloth carrier bags lying around the house, so all we had to do was to train our brains to remember to bring them on every outing, regardless of whether we intended to shop or not. We did forget the first few times but it’s now become second nature. The result is that we haven’t asked for a single plastic bag from the supermarket since the middle of last year.
3. Reusing glass bottles for water
Plastic bottles are problematic for a number of reasons, not least because many of them wind up in landfill, the sea or the environment. A recent study also revealed that nearly all major brands of bottled water contain tiny particles of plastic which could potentially be harmful to human health.
The simple solution is to find a water bottle you like and stick with it. Flasks are a popular option but we’ve found it just as easy to fill a used glass drink bottle with filtered water (and a squeeze of lemon for taste!) and carry it around. Just remember to wash both bottle and cap with soap after use so that mould doesn’t build up.
4. Bringing our own containers to shops
If you’re really keen on reducing the amount of packaging that ends up in your home, you can always bring your own containers with you when you shop. For example, we always bring our own bread bag (this one here) to the bakery so that we don’t have to use their plastic bags. Likewise, whenever we buy loose tea and coffee, we ask them to fill up one of our metal containers.
I admit that I’ve found this particular green change a bit more challenging, not because shops are unwilling to let you use your own containers, but because in some cases they have to use a sheet of single-use plastic to weigh the product anyway. (Think of raw meat and fish for example.) What’s more, it can be inconvenient to carry around multiple containers at the same time when you do a big shop.
5. Buying glass milk bottles
As a response to the plastic crisis, a number of local shops have gone back to selling milk in glass bottles, and many areas in the UK are seeing a resurgence in demand for milkmen.
The great thing about glass bottles is that you can often take them back to the shop after you’ve used them. From there, they are brought back to the dairy, cleaned, refilled and reused. According to Cotteswold Dairy – one of the manufacturers that supplies glass bottled milk to this part of Wales – each glass bottle has the ability to be reused 30-50 times.
The only caveat, besides the fact that they aren’t yet widely available, is that they tend to be more expensive than milk in plastic containers. This is obviously a problem if you go through a lot of milk every week – say, on cereal for example – but can make sense if you mostly use it for tea and coffee.
As of now, the closest shop to Tywyn that sells glass bottled milk is Aberdyfi Village Stores, but hopefully some local shops will get on board in the future too.
6. Using bars of soap
A few months ago, our bathroom was overflowing with plastic soap and shampoo bottles, half of which we rarely used. Since then, we’ve ditched our liquid hand soap, shower gels and most shampoo bottles for traditional bars of soap, and couldn’t be happier.
The only product I haven’t been able to give up is my liquid shampoo, much to my chagrin. As much as I’d like to switch over to a shampoo bar instead, my extremely thick hair just doesn’t seem to want to cooperate. (My husband, on the other hand, seems to be getting along just fine with his shampoo bar – oh, to have short hair!)
7. Using bamboo toothbrushes
We started using bamboo toothbrushes around six months ago and after trying a number of brands, we settled on Georganics since the entire brush, including the Nylon-4 bristles, is compostable.
The sensation of using a bamboo toothbrush for first time is a bit strange but you soon get used to it – and I actually find they last much longer than the plastic ones we used to buy. Talk about a win-win situation!
8. Buying organic deodorant in tins
Changing our deodorant was definitely lower on our list of priorities since aerosols are widely recycled in household collection schemes but we liked the idea of switching to something organic, or perhaps even making our own homemade concoction at some point.
At the moment, we’re using a wonderful UK brand called Earth Conscious which is 100% organic and comes in easily recyclable tins and compostable cardboard sticks.
9. Buying toilet roll wrapped in paper
“Who gives a crap?” No, I’m not being rude – that’s actually the name of a toilet roll brand we started using a few months ago!
According to the WGAC website, all their products are made with 100% post-consumer waste paper such as text books and office paper and 50% of all profits go towards building toilets for those in developing countries. The rolls come shipped in cardboard boxes and are wrapped in paper, all of which is of course recyclable.
Because you can get a discount by buying in bulk, we recently bought ten boxes and split the cost with some friends. If more people show an interest, we may get twenty next time! 🙂
10. Washing clothes in cold water
This particular change isn’t related to plastic but we felt it was worth adding nonetheless. Contrary to popular belief, you can get your clothes just as clean with cold water as with warm, especially with today’s detergents and washing machines. So whereas we used to wash all our fabrics at 30 degrees, we now wash everything except for towels on cold. The result? The same fresh-smelling clothes we’ve always been used to … and an ever-so-slightly clearer conscience!
I should also mention that in addition to reducing your carbon footprint, washing on cold is also cheaper and will help your clothes last longer. What’s not to like?
Though we’ve made a lot of positive changes this past year, we realise that living a sustainable lifestyle goes far beyond simply reducing single-use plastic and unnecessary waste from our lives.
However, it’s also important to remember that “going green” is a process, not something that happens overnight. After all, it’s never easy to break out of your comfort zone and question those habits you always assumed were the norm. (Just ask my husband how grumpy I was when I first gave up my beloved packaged cereal for breakfast!)
If you want some quick ideas for green changes you can start making today, we highly suggest checking out this helpful list from which we derived much of our inspiration. Before you know it, you’ll have come up with your very own list of changes to share on Earth Day 2019! 🙂