HAPPY NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS

Last year saw a surge in people demanding better packaging solutions and more options to buy unpackaged at their local shops. As we navigate the difficult transition of understanding the environmental impact of alternative solutions to plastic, our top tips still are these: reduce the amount of products you buy that need packaging in the first place, buy local & seasonal food and get into the habit of taking small fabric bags and containers to the shops. Even supermarkets are now fully prepared to accept your containers at the deli counter to avoid plastic bags. Buying unpackaged, making things from scratch and switching to simple non-plastic solutions such as wooden toothbrushes and refillable water bottles are vital first steps to eliminating single-use plastic from your home.

Here are some ideas for your 2019 new year’s resolutions:

1. Buy only unpackaged fruit and vegetables in your own small fabric bags
2. Give up plastic bottles
3. Use your own containers to buy cheese, meat, fish & deli items
4. Give up Tetrapak and make your own nut milks or orange juice – it’s so easy!
5. Invest in beeswax or vegan food wraps to replace cling film and foil
6. Give up plastic-wrapped snacks and sweets
7. Make your own packed lunches and hot drinks in thermos flasks
8. Cut down on milk and have it delivered in glass bottles
9. Buy bread loaves in paper bags or in your own fabric bags
10. Switch to bamboo toothbrushes and try out a simple toothpaste recipe
11. Find your nearest refill place for laundry & washing up detergents
12. Try out shampoo bars and use nice soap instead of shower gels
13. Switch from tea bags to tea leaves – most tea bags contain plastic
14. Give up ready-made meals
15. Make your own hummus, dips, snacks, biscuits, crackers… get creative!
16. Find out if there is a shop near you that sells unpackaged pasta, rice, lentils, nuts & seeds. Check this map of zero waste shops near you.

The way to make it easier is to simplify everything and at the same time to invest a little more time in shopping and preparing food. This is an opportunity for doing things together with family and friends, to be mindful of how we shop and eat, and to connect with the seasons and with nature. You’ll feel great – I can guarantee that.

DIY & GARDENING WITH A SMALL FOOTPRINT

We live in an old house with a garden, both needing regular maintenance and constant care. We enjoy making home improvements and gardening, but we found it surprisingly difficult to switch to doing it plastic-free. Plastic has a necessary place in many permanent fixtures in the house such as electric cabling, to give but one vital example, but the proliferation of polymers, non-recyclable plastic and unnecessary packaging associated with products for the home and garden is truly staggering. Everything from paints and varnishes to fertilisers and weed control is subject to highly industrial production methods and much packaging. Regardless of whether you garden organically and take pains to choose natural DIY products, single-use plastic prevails in the shape of bottles, buckets, pots, trays, tubes, bags, handles, liners and labels, most of which are probably heading to landfill or incineration.

The big DIY chain stores and garden centres tap into our innate desire to make our homes and gardens beautiful and productive, whilst at the same time maximizing on our hapless fixation with convenience shopping. For years, I’d bundle the kids into the car to buy plants and garden accessories whenever the fancy took me (usually at the point of Spring having arrived) without much planning or thought about the environmental impact of the items I would buy. I might have fooled myself into thinking that I was making good choices by selecting the more natural sounding ‘seaweed fertiliser’ over ‘miracle grow’, but I didn’t think about the burden of industrial production and the problematic disposal of the packaging of either of those two products. And it was so easy to buy cheap things when I wanted them, rather than save up, plan ahead and wait. Which seemed fine until it dawned on me that plastic packaging and transport of cheap, mass produced products from far away countries is a problem and that I was supporting it.

I am thinking that not so long ago, people swapped seeds with each other, took plant cuttings, lent each other tools, grew their own fertiliser, controlled weeds by hoeing and made their own soil by composting. Not so long ago, building materials were sourced locally, carefully preserved, repaired and reused, tools were chosen for quality and durability and packaging was not really a thing. In short, there was little waste and probably not much of a carbon footprint. All of this is still available to us now if we can care enough to say no to convenience and yes to things that take time and effort. The reward is huge!

One of us is a capable DIYer and the other an enthusiastic gardener and so we keenly set out to find less wasteful ways to tackle home and garden. We had to research, learn, plan ahead and apply a little more ingenuity. We had to be willing to forgo some things and spend more money on others. This year we bought brass fittings for the water hose instead of the cheap plastic fittings which break so easily. We bought well-made, used tools at jumble sales. We discovered a local seed swapping scheme. We exchanged plants grown from seed with friends and neighbours. We built a small porch from recycled materials and refurbished the kitchen with cupboards made by a local artisan. It took time and effort but we accomplished it with very little waste and on budget. We live in an area that teems with light industry – when we need a sheet of metal, a pane of glass or planks of wood, we can go downtown and buy directly from the supplier. The same goes for unpackaged loose top soil, sand, gravel, paving stones and many other items. Once we stayed away from the big chain stores we were free to discover much better ways to do the same things. Occasionally the new ways were irritating (such as losing all cabbage plants to insects and all soft fruit to birds one year) but most of the time they are incredibly satisfying.

Depending on where you live, your challenges and needs may be different from ours. We don’t all need the same solutions, but everyone benefits from cutting down plastic waste and avoiding chemicals that burden our environment. We found that it was a matter of taking time over finding the alternatives which often stared us right in the face. Oh how I wished we had started this journey years ago!

Download our lists of ideas and tips:

31 BENEFITS FOR PLASTIC FREE JULY

There is a lot of practical advice and information about going single-use plastic free on the internet and on social media. But whether you are a plastic-free veteran or virgin, you can probably do with some encouragement to help you get started and to keep you motivated on your journey. For this reason, we have highlighted the benefits of living without plastic from our experience and perspective and we hope these will resonate with you! ♥ To read a short paragraph on each, please see our Benefits page.

  • Benefit #1: Reducing stress and developing a mindful approach
  • Benefit #2: Watching your rubbish diminish dramatically
  • Benefit #3: Spending very little time in supermarkets
  • Benefit #4: Getting to know the fabric of your community
  • Benefit #5: A lot less clutter in your home
  • Benefit #6: Learning how to make and grow things
  • Benefit #7: Getting rid of the dilemma of plastic recycling
  • Benefit #8: Discovering more sustainable solutions
  • Benefit #9: Less consumption overall
  • Benefit #10: Our purchase is a vote
  • Benefit #11: Less food waste
  • Benefit #12: Discovering second-hand shopping
  • Benefit #13: Reconnecting with nature
  • Benefit #14: Fewer chemicals in your home
  • Benefit #15: Being part of the tipping point
  • Benefit #16: Enjoying simple cooking
  • Benefit #17: Being stylish and vintage chic
  • Benefit #18: Intellectually stimulating
  • Benefit #19: Fewer food miles needed
  • Benefit #20: Making celebrations more enjoyable
  • Benefit #21: Shifting away from a throw-away attitude
  • Benefit #22: A healthier lifestyle
  • Benefit #23: Cheaper cleaning products & toiletries
  • Benefit #24: Boosting creativity
  • Benefit #25: Giving items a new lease of life
  • Benefit #26: Joining forces with others
  • Benefit #27: Happiness from experiences vs material things
  • Benefit #28: Feeling better about our accountability
  • Benefit #29: Building awareness and joint-up thinking
  • Benefit #30: Save time by simplifying
  • Benefit #31: The more you do it, the simpler it gets!

TRAVELLING WITHOUT PLASTIC

Whether you are going on a holiday, a weekend away or a business trip, there are lots of ways to keep down your plastic footprint. Some are just simple common sense and others are a little more creative. The idea, as always, is to make it fun and rewarding rather than a chore. Don’t judge yourself harshly if it doesn’t all go according to plan, but on the other hand, planning ahead will help a lot. In my experience, there are three main points to consider when travelling, regardless of whether your journey is short or long, whether travelling by car, public transport or on foot, and whether you are self-catering or in a hotel:

  • putting together a basic travelling kit
  • preparing food for the journey
  • shopping cleverly at your destination

Putting together a basic travelling kit

Whenever we leave the house (even for a quick trip to town) we take our water bottles, a set of bamboo cutlery and at least one reusable shopping bag. The last two items are always in my handbag or backpack anyway, so I don’t even have to try and remember to take them. With the help of these three items alone we must have saved hundreds of plastic bottles, carrier bags and cutlery over the years. Here is a list of items that might form part of your basic kit when travelling – which looks long but is really just a few items:

  • Fabric shopping bags and small produce bags: these take up very little space and are essential when going shopping as many shops and supermarkets don’t have paper bags, even for fruit and veg. Small fabric produce bags are great for buying things like apples, tangerines, tomatoes, potatoes, bread rolls and so forth and they also have many other good uses whilst on holiday.
  • Refillable water bottles: don’t be shy to ask for a refill – access to drinking water is a basic human right. You can download the handy refill app to your phone so that you can easily check where you can refill at participating cafés, pubs, restaurants, shops and venues. Many airports and train stations now have water drinking fountains. I love my stainless steel water bottle which is double-walled like a thermos, so it keeps cold drinks cold and hot drinks hot. It doesn’t have to be a metal bottle, but I find them very durable and I enjoy drinking from a non-plastic bottle.
  • Lunch boxes: whether metal or tupperware, lunch boxes come in handy for packed lunches on your journey and for shopping for loose produce at your holiday destination. I often bring an empty glass jar with me as well so that I can buy olives and such items at local markets.
  • Bamboo cutlery and straws: we each have a small and reusable set of bamboo cutlery which is great for take-away food from cafés and street food on the go. Instead of buying bamboo you could just take normal cutlery or camping cutlery. I might also take some metal drinking straws. This way you can refuse plastic cutlery and plastic straws and even save on compostable cutlery which nowadays is offered in many places. Compostable packaging is still a single use plastic which is made from plant crops and requires industrial composting to break down.
  • Flannel, tea towel or handkerchiefs: avoid shop-bought moist wipes and take a flannel, tea towel or cotton handkerchiefs on your journey instead. Moist wipes are made with plastic and are a real scourge on the environment. They are on the list of things that will soon be banned in the UK and the EU. There are brands of paper kitchen towel and tissues that are not wrapped in plastic (Greencane), but why not take a flannel or handkerchiefs that can be washed and reused?
  • Beeswax wraps: if you haven’t come across this brilliant alternative to cling film and foil then you are in for a treat. Beeswax wraps are reusable and natural. They come in handy for wrapping sandwiches, cheese, snacks and anything that needs to be kept fresh, like half a left-over avocado, cut fruit and carrot sticks. They make a great napkin for eating on your lap and for wrapping up banana peels and other bits & bobs until you can get to a bin.
  • Toiletries and sun cream: some other items I will take with me include homemade toothpaste in a small jar, homemade deodorant, soap and a shampoo soap bar. Soap bars are also useful for business travel as most hotels package their individually portioned toiletries in plastic, creating an enormous amount of single-use plastic waste every day. Even if you abhor the smell of a Lush shop, I recommend that you buy their shampoo soaps and matching metal tin – superb for travelling with. Finally, I take a fantastic sun cream made in the UK which contains just four organic ingredients and comes in a metal container.

Preparing food for the journey

Because it is so hard to buy ready-made lunches and drinks without plastic packaging whilst travelling, we are in the habit of taking our own packed lunch and drinks. It’s not as much work as you’d think if you keep it simple – sandwiches or filled baguettes, cold sausages, coleslaw, hummus, cheese, carrots, cucumber or radishes, fruit, as well as flapjacks, nuts and chocolate for something sweet to nibble on. Bring lots of water, which is also useful for washing sticky hands, and maybe a flask of hot tea. You could even buy a thermos made especially for taking soup if you fancy something homemade and hot.

When travelling by plane, remember to empty your water bottle before you go through security. You can refill it at a café or drinking fountain once you’re in the departure lounge. You are allowed to take your own food on to a plane. Don’t rely on expensive airport cafés or train and airplane food trolleys for your sandwiches and drinks – it’s a plastic nightmare.
Ironically, if you are on a long motorway journey, fast food chains such as Burger King can be useful for an emergency paper-wrapped meal that doesn’t break the bank (avoid the plastic  sauces, plastic cutlery and plastic toys for kids though). If you are able, stop for a civilised restaurant meal to break your journey or find a chippy that uses paper for wrapping fish & chips.

Shopping whilst on holiday

Markets are a great way to shop plastic-free on holiday, especially on the continent. Before you set off, find out about local markets near your holiday destination and make sure you know what day it is on.

Shop at local grocery shops such as butchers, bakers and greengrocers instead of supermarkets. Here you can make good use of your lunch boxes when shopping for meat, cheese, olives and freshly made food such as quiche and pasties. If you are bold enough, you could take a big lidded pot from your holiday kitchen to the market or to the butcher’s to buy a whole chicken, for example. As always, choose unpackaged items over packaged ones, then cardboard and paper, then plastic if there is no alternative and you really can’t do without the item.

Instead of buying everything from sliced bread to ice cream in the supermarket, make a special trip each morning for fresh bread, cook the simplest of meals with local ingredients and try out local street food or inexpensive restaurants where the locals go to eat. It’s fun to have tapas in Spain, or pizza from street vendors and the most amazing ice cream at the local gelateria when in Italy. You must try chips with mayo in the Netherlands – they are the best!

Watch out for extra bits of plastic when you eat out or take your meals in a hotel. The list is long and includes items such as individual plastic milk pods and individually wrapped biscuits with your coffee, fizzy drinks in plastic bottles, plastic straws and cocktail stirrers, a plastic wrapped hot towel after an Indian curry, take-aways in Styrofoam boxes, plastic cutlery, juice in tetrapak cartons… There are so many plastic items that we don’t even think about until they are given to us and even then, we forget that we can simply refuse them and give them back. If you need something to nibble on with your evening drink, get a small starter instead of crisps and peanuts which are inevitably wrapped in plastic foil.

If you are on a self-catering holiday and travelling by car or by airplane with a big suitcase, you could take any of these basic items with you: coffee, tea, sugar, salt, spices, pasta, rice, lentils, tinned food, olive oil, soap, laundry powder, tea lights, etc. This is particularly nice if you shop unpackaged or at zero waste shops at home and so it makes sense to take these items with you in small quantities. My basic travelling kit includes loose tea and a tea strainer as well as ground coffee, all of which I am able to buy by weight and unpackaged at home. If you don’t already shop in this way you might find that, conversely, you would like to stock up on some plastic-free items abroad and bring them back to the UK with you: in Holland and France I found pasta, rice, salt, soya sauce and other non-plastic packaged items I had long been looking for and so I came home laden with a stack of these. In the UK you can check this list for zero waste and refill shops near you.

On the way from the UK to the Switzerland recently, we shopped at an outdoor market in the South of Germany. Having brought our fabric bags and lunch boxes, we were able to buy enough fruit, veg, fresh herbs, olives, bread and cheese to last us for the entire first week of our holiday. The market was the best I’ve seen. Every single item was sold unpackaged or in carboard punnets, including lettuces, cucumbers, spinach and blueberries – all items that are hard to find without plastic packaging in the UK. Most of them were ‘bio’ which is the German word for organic. Once we arrived at our destination, I knew that some food in plastic packaging was unavoidable, for example milk. Ironically, all around us we could see cows with great big swinging udders, sounding the beautiful bells that are hung on soft belts round their necks. But with some planning and armed with our basic travelling kit we managed to keep our plastic rubbish down to a bare minimum.

Lastly, a top tip on dealing with your rubbish whilst on holiday: collect food scraps and anything moist like coffee grounds and egg shells etc. in one of your lunch boxes or wrap it in newspaper and take this out to the bins at the end of each day. Recycle glass and cardboard in the usual way and put all other rubbish (dry only) in a paper shopping bag. That way, you will avoid plastic rubbish bags altogether!

DAIRY PRODUCTS SIMPLIFIED

For years a lot of plastic packaging in our household came from a range of dairy products. In addition to the staples of milk, cheese and butter there were pots of yoghurts, crème fraiche, soured cream, double cream, cream cheese, soya milk, goats milk products, dips, individually wrapped cheeses for school lunches, spreadable Lurpak and margarine for baking. There was a vague sense of a lot of packaging and things going past their best-by-date, but I’m not sure it ever fully surfaced into my consciousness as wasteful. My focus was on catering for everyone’s tastes and preferences and having everything available, all of the time. It all sounds a bit mad to me now.

I now put the emphasis on non-plastic packaging and local availability and that’s it. Milk is delivered by the milk man and unpackaged cheese is bought straight from a local cheesemaker or the farmers market – and boy, is it delicious! I also learned how to make non-dairy milk such as oat and almond milk which is easy and inexpensive.

When Waitrose recently stopped wrapping their butter in paper, it forced me to go out looking for an alternative. I realised that there are three local producers of butter wrapped in paper. I keep the butter in the fridge and portion it into a lovely Cornish butter dish on the counter which keeps the butter just the right side of soft for easy spreading on toast and sandwiches. I would prefer to buy butter unpackaged as I have learned (from a reader commenting below) that the paper butter is wrapped in is usually impregnated with microcrystalline wax or other petroleum products. The same is true for the packaging of an excellent Breton cream cheese I buy and have many excellent uses for, such as spreading on toast, making dips, adding to soups, making carbonara sauce and more. The pots look like they are just cardboard with a little silver foil to cover the cheese. It is still better than a plastic tub, but it is just as well to know that things that look like cardboard, like Tetra Pak for example, are not all that innocent.

You can buy little glass jars of clotted cream in some farm shops, but again, you have plastic inside the lid and the glued on labels are printed in polymer colours and ‘gold’. A dairy shop near me that also does milk refills in glass bottles will take orders for cream in glass jars. It means phoning ahead and picking up. It makes double cream a rare and special commodity in our household but maybe that’s ok!

For those eating a lot yoghurt, making your own is probably a really good discipline. You can buy yoghurt making kits and build it into your daily routine. There is a recipe for yoghurt and for making crème fraiche in the comments from readers below.  But if none of this appeals to you and you have no sources of unpackaged food where you live, then consider cutting down on the number of products you use and simplify so you can save on plastic packaging and avoid food waste.