Plastic Free Living: Tips, Products and Services

January 27, 2019

'Single-use' was named as the word of 2018 which is unsurprising after disposable products have featured heavily in the news, particularly ones made of plastic. Although attitudes are changing and more people are pledging to reduce their plastic, we still have a long way to go! Read on for some tips, products and services you can use to help with your plastic free journey.

It's not the fault of the plastic. It's what we do when we're through with it. And not thinking about start to finish. We often use it once and then throw it away! We're just starting to discover that there is no away. It's all still here.  
- Sylvia A. Earle

The first steps

At a minimum, you should aim to have:

- A reusable water bottle, which although will cost you at first, in the long-run you will save money on buying plastic bottles from shops. Try to get the best bottle that you can afford which will hopefully ensure it lasts longer, and decent brands will often replace it if you face any issues with it (we both really like Chilly's, but there's loads of brands to choose from). Most restaurants, cafes and bars will refill it for free, or you can use the app Refill to find the closest place to top up your bottle.

I know people that still buy bottled water to drink in the house because they don't like tap water. If this is you, why not buy a filter jug and keep it in the fridge to avoid all of the unnecessary plastic.

Going on holiday doesn't mean that you have to use bottled water to avoid unsafe drinking water. Most hotels and hostels have filtered water which is safe to drink, or water stations in the street where you can top up your bottle. Of course if there is ever no suitable alternative to potentially contaminated water, don't feel guilty if you need to purchase the odd bottle.

Straws aren't necessary and most people can easily go without. However, if you need or prefer to use one, you can buy inexpensive metal or glass ones. 

Regulars to take out teas or coffees should ideally have their own cup for hot drinks. A lot of cafes will give you a discount if you take your own cup, so you will eventually make your money back on investing in one. If you can't justify buying one, just use a mug from home - I've seen a few people do this! When sitting inside, make sure you ask for a mug as some shops will automatically give you a disposable cup.

If you're travelling or a fan of take out food, it's handy to have your own cutlery and tupperware. Takeaway shops should happily fill your tubs for you. Glass ones are a better option, but plastic ones you can reuse is better than nothing - we are currently long-term travelling so have been using a plastic one as our bags often get thrown around!

Reusable bags. Preferably fabric ones as the plastic ones don't last and eventually end up in the bin.

Toiletries & personal care products

Now we've covered what I found to be the easiest part, toiletries can be a bit trickier. Will has found it easy to switch to using shampoo bars, but my hair has never reacted well to them. Similarly, any soap bars that I've used on my face has left my skin irritated and spotty. Although 'naked' products are preferable, other options are to opt for brands that will refill your plastic bottles, such as Faith in Nature, or who will recycle your packaging when you're finished with it like Lush. If there's a product that is essential for you that comes in plastic packaging then send the brand a friendly e-mail to explain your concern and see if they have any intention of updating their packaging. I recently did this with Salt of the Earth and got a thoughtful message back. Showing brands that environmentally friendly packaging is important to their customers is an essential step in encouraging them to make the change. 

Any medication should obviously be taken guilt-free regardless of plastic packaging. Alternatives are hopefully coming in the near future, especially after a recent exciting launch of the the UK's first contact lens recycling scheme.

Tampons, pads and their packaging all contain plastic and pollute the environment - generating over 200,000 tonnes of waste every year in the UK, with the average woman using over 11,000 menstrual products in a lifetime. This all ends up in landfill, the ocean and beaches. The Marine Conservation Society have removed more than 20,000 tampons and sanitary pads from beaches in the UK. Luckily, there are now several plastic free alternatives to using pads and tampons which are worth looking into.

Who Gives A Crap make toilet roll that is made from 100% recycled material, comes in recyclable packaging AND they donate 50% of profits to building toilets for people who don't have access, so is a great switch from normal loo roll! They even offer a free trial on their website and will give a full refund if you're not happy with the product.


Plastic in your clothing isn't something that immediately comes to mind. Try to avoid buying clothing made of synthetic materials such as polyester, nylon and acrylic, which are all forms of plastic. The plastic can eventually end up in the ocean after washing. See Vox and Stop Micro Waste for more information.

Small changes are better than none

No one can do everything that is needed to turn from the current mode of planetary decline, but everyone can do something. 
- Sylvia A. Earle 

In an ideal world, everyone would be living plastic free. Unfortunately it isn't that simple but small changes are better than none. The most important step is to cut out the single use plastics and to do as much as you're able to and can afford, without getting frustrated at not being perfect. 

It’s not about feeling bad about what you’re not doing, it’s about feeling good about what you do do.

Sometimes purchasing products in plastic is unavoidable, such as if you're on a budget or need to buy products in bulk, which often involves plastic. Similarly, I read an article a while ago which highlighted that although baby wipes and tampons are terrible for the environment, not everyone has an available alternative, concluding that "the only way to vote is with our wallets, on behalf of those who can’t."

Further ways to help

Donations to marine charities are one option, but it doesn't have to involve money. One option is to volunteer at beach, river or city clean ups. The Marine Conservation SocietyThe Ocean Conservancy and Surfers Against Sewage often have events listed. If there isn't one in your area you could even organise your own. Follow the lead of the 2 Minute Beach Clean and Take 3 For The Sea and pick up some rubbish every time you visit the beach. If you want even more responsibility, why not lead your area into becoming a Plastic Free Community with the help of Surfers Against Sewage?

Success so far

Following plastic news can be pretty depressing, especially seeing photos of animals trapped in it. There is reason to stay hopeful as so much has already been accomplished! 

- Surfers Against Sewage had a huge success with encouraging a Plastic Free Parliament.

- Implementing a 5p charge on plastic bags in the UK has apparently saved 15 billion plastic bags from being used. The policy is due to increase to 10p and smaller retailers will be expected to comply.

- Lush have opened three 'naked' shops in Berlin, Milan and England. The stores only sell products with no packaging.

- Many countries are seeing bans and charges implemented on plastic bags. Figures available here.

- In October 2018, the European Parliament voted to ban a wide range of single use plastics that most often end up in the ocean.

- Awareness around the danger of plastic straws has spread all over the world and it's not uncommon to see cafes, restaurants and bars refusing to provide them.

What changes have you made to go plastic free? Share it with us in the comments!

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