Category Archives: Cleaning

ONE YEAR – ONE BAG OF PLASTIC

We have just reached our first anniversary of creating a plastic-free household. During the past year we concentrated mainly on unpackaged food, cleaning materials, toiletries and plastic-free clothing. We have collected every scrap of plastic packaging that we have accidentally, or otherwise, brought into the house. This has amounted to roughly one large bagful of plastic packaging from medical supplies, items that we bought which had hidden plastic packaging inside, presents that were given to us, and also from items that seemed unavoidable. Considering that UK households produce an average of 56kg of plastic packaging waste a year, our one bag weighing no more than a couple of pounds represents a great achievement.

In reality, our single-use plastic footprint is much larger than the household figures measured by Defra and in our case, it is bigger than the single bagful collected over the course of a year. Much of our plastic waste is created outside the home, for example in the workplace, at school, in restaurants, at the petrol station, at the hairdressers, at the gym, and by pursuing hobbies and other pastimes that take us outside the home. In the supply chain of the goods I conscientiously buy ‘unpackaged’, there are unknown quantities of plastic packaging. We are not the only ones in the dark: at a recent talk given by Tesco on food waste, which I attended in Oxford, I learned that all of the large supermarket retailers “currently don’t understand or know enough” about the plastic packaging waste in their supply chains. This means that the plastic packaging that each of us is ultimately responsible for is not just in our bins at home.

Over this past year I have read report after report, attended events, talked to many people and the story is the same everywhere. Most people think there is too much plastic in their lives and that we should recycle more and develop new materials to replace plastic. However, few talk about the one solution that is surely staring us in the face. The one solution that could prevent further environmental crises and help restore local communities is ethical consumption. Ethical consumption means that you choose only what you need, what has been paid for fairly, what has been made to last, and what has been produced sustainably without hurting people, animals or the earth. I might not be a shining example of the perfect ethical consumer yet, but I am immensely interested in becoming one. It seems to be one of the few things in life that is actually within my power!

Read More:

  • Waste and Resource Statistics_2016 by the Department for Rural Affairs (Defra)
  • Plastics_Market_Situation_Report_2016  by UK based WRAP, the world leaders in helping organisations achieve greater resource efficiency. Between 2010 and 2015 in England alone, WRAP initiatives reduced greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 50 million tonnes (Mt), which is equivalent to the annual carbon dioxide emissions of Portugal.
  • How did I calculate 56kg of plastic packaging per UK household? I used the most up-to-date figures provided in the two reports above which are for 2014 (new data is collected every two years, so the data for 2016 should be available soon). I applied this to the total number of households in the UK in 2014 as provided by the Office for National Statistics.
  • Article on Ethical Consumerism by Tania Lewis first publishd in 2012

FAITH IN NATURE BEAUTY PRODUCTS

For some time now we have been using soap bars to replace a never-ending supply of plastic bottles of shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, bubble bath, shaving foam and so on. The soap bars we use are natural and handmade but you do end up with a lot of them and have to remember which ones to use for which purpose. I have found an interesting alternative, but bear with me on this one because it does involve a single bottle made from bioplastic (sugarcane).

Shiny Goodness, a small health food shop in nearby Nailsworth has a refill station for Faith in Nature beauty products. There is a whole row of natural products to choose from and all that shop owner Gail asks is that you bring an empty Faith in Nature bottle for refilling. For this purpose I have bought a single bottle (*gasp*) of Lavender and Geranium shampoo and decanted it into a blue glass bottle at home. I will use the Faith in Nature bottle to get shower gel, conditioner or maybe even liquid hand soap next time I’m in town. I am already collecting pretty vintage glass bottles to put these lovely products in.

Faith in Nature is a multi-award winning, UK based company that has been making natural beauty and cleaning products for 40 years. All their products are made in the UK, using only plant-based ingredients that are locally sourced wherever possible. The catch is that Faith in Nature use bioplastic (made from sugarcane instead of petroleum) as well as recycled plastic rPET bottles (no BPA though). But with refill stations there is no need to keep buying single-use plastic bottles and in my book this makes it a good alternative.

Faith in Nature:
https://www.faithinnature.co.uk/

About sugarcane bioplastics:
http://sugarcane.org/sugarcane-products/bioplastics

What you won’t find in Faith in Nature products:

  • No Genetically Modified ingredients
  • No synthetic colouring or fragrances
  • No SLES, SLS or Parabens
  • No artificial preservatives
  • No BPA plastic (they use rPET bottles wherever possible)
  • No Methylisothiazolinone (MI)
  • No animal tested products. No animal ingredients. No ingredients tested on animals (with a cut off date in accordance with BUAV (Cruelty Free International) requirements of 1988, and for their Household Cleaning range, a cut off date of 2003). All products are Vegetarian, and most are Vegan

CLEANING WITH A CLEAN CONSCIENCE

The producers of cleaning products, like the producers of toiletries and cosmetics, cash in on our unquestioned belief that we need a hundred different products to do the job properly. The Ethical Consumer Research Association says that we spend about £1billion a year in the UK on cleaning products, with supermarket shelves and kitchen cupboards dominated by products from multinational giants. The majority of products are packaged in plastic and put a burden on the environment in many ways (chemicals, palm oil, animal testing, plastic waste). I decided to go back to basics and try a simpler way of cleaning.

I found that most of the time these four basic ingredients suffice:  vinegar, bicarbonate of soda and citric acid or lemons. With just these few simple items you can clean, scour, descale and odorise your toilets, bath tubs, tiles, ovens, work surfaces, sinks, windows, shower doors, mirrors and more. They are all available to buy in shops, indoor markets or online – although it took me a while to source bicarbonate of soda in sufficient quantity and packaged in paper bags. The citric acid reacts with the alkaline bicarbonate of soda to produce a satisfying fizz and you should be careful with skin and breathing it in. But all of these ingredients are used in food production too which I find reassuring.

I have replaced plastic sponges and brushes with natural loofahs and coconut fibre scouring pads and I still have many e-cloths from my days before I ‘saw the light’ which will be replaced by cotton cloths over time.

For doing the laundry and for washing the dishes I refill the same plastic bottles at one of three local refill stations for Ecover, Ecoleaf and Bio-D. Refills are cheap and help save on buying new plastic bottles. You could just as easily use glass bottles. For now, I want to make my plastic bottles last for as long as possible before I relegate them to the recycling bin. Bio-D is an independent company that make all their products in the UK from naturally derived or plant-based ingredients. Bio-D is available in every Oxfam shop and also supermarkets and health food shops. If refilling is not an option for you, try switching to washing powder in cardboard boxes or paper bags. I also recommend concentrated organic cleaning products which can be diluted with water and can dramatically reduce the number of plastic bottles you need to buy.

I’d like to encourage you to have look at what is in your cupboard and start switching to a simpler, cheaper and healthier way of cleaning. Start with vinegar and water for your windows and mirrors and see how easy and efficient it is. Oh, and stop buying wet toilet wipes or any kind of wet wipes straight away. They are made of plastic, clog up our sewage systems, cannot be recycled and ultimately end up as microplastic!

More information and where to buy:

DISHWASHING WITHOUT PLASTIC

Here is an ingenious alternative to plastic washing-up brushes, the ubiquitous yellow sponge, green scourers and metal scrubbing pads. I give you Michael’s Original washing-up pads and scourers for kitchens and bathrooms, made from the loofah plant, or the Safix scrub pad made from natural coconut fibre. 100% compostable, non-toxic, hygienic, effective and long-lasting. Only a click away on Amazon for a multipack of five wrapped in cardboard. I can buy them from The Green Shop at Bisley or the Stroud Valleys Project Shop in Stroud. We have used them for several months and husband Pete is delighted: “These are tougher than the yellow plastic sponges and plastic brushes, they do a better job, they don’t gunge up and they last so much longer.”  The coconut scourer is tough but doesn’t scratch pots and pans. The loofah is soft and squeaky when wet and is brilliant for cleaning dishes, cutlery and glass. I’m happy too, because Pete is doing the dishes!

Yellow kitchen sponges with the green or white scouring pads are made from petroleum and are 0% biodegradeable. They shed microplastic into the water as they deteriorate and at best they last a few weeks. Basically they are a complete nightmare for the environment and everyone uses them. I still have some lurking under the sink because we used to buy them in spades. I look at them suspiciously now that I have my new loofah-friend – not quite sure what to do with them… If I’d known how easy it is to find an alternative, I would have surely switched years ago.

Why not give them a try: http://www.greenbrands.co.uk/michaelsoriginals.html – they don’t cost the Earth!

NB: also available as bathroom scourers:

Michael’s Bathroom Scourer

 

STROUD VALLEYS PROJECT

Early one morning in down town Stroud, I bumped into my friend Jemima who was standing outside a shop waiting for it to open. I had never consciously noticed this shop before so I followed her in as we were chatting. It was the Stroud Valleys Project shop and I couldn’t believe I had never been inside it (neither could Jemima). The shop is filled with ethically sourced household items, bird feed in paper sacks, books, gardening supplies, stationery and more – mainly made from natural and sustainable materials. I was ecstatic to find a roll of British made compostable bin liners made from 100% natural materials (they smell like vegetable broth).

Jemima handed her empty refill bottles of laundry and washing-up liquid to a friendly looking chap who asked “Ecover or Bio D?” I was curious to learn what ‘Bio D’ might be and was shown into the back room where an Ecover refill station was dwarfed by a row of unbranded containers with various grades of locally made laundry detergents and cleaning liquids. Here you can fill up your glass bottles if you’d prefer that to a plastic bottle. Apparently ever since Ecover the company was sold, their products have contained GM ingredients and other objectionable components and many people are looking for a greener alternative. How is it that I drive miles to an Ecover refill station when I have this gem of a shop right at my doorstep? Why did I never notice it before or take the time to investigate what Stroud Valleys Project actually is? I think the reason is that these small community initiatives are overshadowed by the glare and dazzle of the big brands and high street shops. You have to take an interest and make a real effort to look for the small but beautiful things in life!