I love the idea of plastic-free shopping.
It looks blissful from what I see on social media - beautiful young hipsters wafting through their local zero waste store with their mason jars and cotton bags at the ready.
There's not a child, or a queue, or a single piece of plastic in sight.
I want me a piece of that.
But sadly, I am not a beautiful young hipster. My default setting is 'rush' rather than 'waft'. And even if I did waft I don't have a local zero waste store to waft around.
So what are the rest of us to do if we want to reduce plastic when we're doing our weekly trawl round the supermarket, with or without whining children in tow?
Here's 9 ways to shop plastic-free(ish) at your local supermarket:
Go for the loose fruit and veg wherever you can and take your own re-usable bags.
Onya do a great set of really thin mesh bags, or if you're a whiz with the sewing machine you can knock some up from something like an old net curtain.
If all else fails, use the plastic bags they have at the supermarket, but re-use them again and again until they fall apart.
Take your tupperware to the deli counter for things like meat and cheese.
Morrisons have now made it policy to accept these, and I think Tesco are also introducing it, so I promise you it won't be as scary as you might think!
If you're into beautiful zero waste stuff you can get some gorgeous metal tiffin boxes, or if you're like the rest of us you can wrestle with your mess of a tupperware drawer to find the lid that fits the box.
If your local supermarket has an in-store bakery, use it!
Take re-usable bags (old pillowcases work well) and use them for bread, rolls, pastries etc.
If you've got the time and you enjoy baking, how about making your own? Either by hand or using a bread machine - flour is almost inevitably in a paper bag, so that's a winner.
Last resort - re-use the plastic bags that your bread comes in for packed lunches and sandwiches etc.
Ditch the plastic tubs of margarine and go back to butter.
If you can find butter in foil packs, you should be able to peel the foil and the greaseproof paper apart and recycle both separately. Simply chuck your empty butter wrapper into the washing up bowl after doing it and leave it to soak until the two layers magically float apart.
Look for the things that you can find easily in paper - you might be surprised just how many there are!
Flour, sugar (caster sugar, granulated sugar, and icing sugar) and porridge oats can all be found relatively painlessly in paper bags.
Biscuits are always going to be a struggle - but if you can buy the ingredients (flour, sugar, butter) plastic-free then this recipe here is super quick and super reliable!
Sometimes there are alternatives in cardboard rather than plastic that you just don't notice as you're so 'in the zone' and just grabbing your usual brand.
Lots of washing powders are now available in cardboard boxes - how about trying one of them instead of your usual liquid?
Several of the major supermarkets also do dishwashing powder in a box, so it's worth looking.
Pasta is a BIG staple in our house - Barilla pasta is available in a cardboard box with just a small plastic window and you should be able to find it in some of the larger supermarkets.
Waitrose do a gluten-free pasta that is available in a box made from food waste - more of this please supermarkets!
Rice is another one that can sometimes be found in cardboard boxes - just be sure to do the squidge test (see below).
Sometimes you can buy a product in paper or cardboard, full of excitement and the very best of intentions, only to get home and find there is a sneaky plastic bag inside.
To try and avoid this, do the 'squidge test' - simply hold said product up to your ear and give it a gentle squidge, listening out for the tell-tale crackle of plastic inside (ignore any strange looks you might get from fellow shoppers - superman didn't care about wearing his pants outside his trousers, we can't let looking a few strange looks stop us on our mission...)
If you can't find a plastic-free solution that suits you and the family, buy the largest size that you can.
We get the big share packs of crisps and then
scoff the lot portion them out into plastic bags that we re-use for lunch boxes. And do the same for yoghurts too - get the 500ml pots and scoop it into little tupperware pots for the kids to have at school.
Totally not a perfectly plastic-free solution, but plastic-free(ish) and it keeps the kids vaguely happy, so it's a win in my book.
If you have a sweet tooth like
me my kids you'll be pleased to know you can still get your sugar fix plastic-free.
Most of the supermarket own brand bars of chocolate come in paper and foil, and work out way cheaper per 100g than the plastic bags of chocolates. Brands like Divine are also a pretty good bet (and very yummy and ethical too).
When it comes to the pure sugar rush of sweets, think pick 'n' mix if you still have a good old fashioned sweet shop or newsagents near you. An alternative that I was perhaps a little over-excited to discover over the summer was 1kg tubs (oh yes!) of Haribo in Morrisons - I won't tell you how long 2 tubs lasted us...
In this episode I'm chatting to Amy Robinson who is the business development manager at Triodos bank.
For those of you who haven’t heard of them, Triodos are the UK’s most ethical bank and have a tagline that is “money as a force for good" which I totally love!
The banking industry as a whole isn’t one that I think would be seen as ‘ethical’ – we all have images of rich nanker types making their fortunes and only really caring about the financial bottom line.
At Triodos they do it diferently, and as well as making sure they are making sound financial investements they look very carefully a the impact of the projects and organistions they are funding on both people and planet too.
Duing this podcast I talk about how I have long recognised the power of my money in terms of using it to cast a vote for the kind of world I want with my buying deciosns, but how I hadn’t really joined up the dots to wonder about what my money might be funding when it was locked away in the bank, and I think that that’s probably pretty common.
Find out more about the power of your money in this episode and the things that you can do to ensure that it’s being used as a force for good – enjoy!
I don't know about you but when I think about a 'green family' or a family living 'sustainably', I would expect to see lots of muted colours, wooden toys, maybe one of those bikes with a trailer, and the odd dreadlock or two. I know, I like to buy into stereotypes...
But do you know what? My family is so NOT like that. The kids wear the same jeans and hoodies as their mates (although most of my kids is second-hand!), we have ALL the plastic toys in our house (the people at Lego appear to have asked if they can use us a depot unbeknown to me...), and we are a two car family.
So on many levels I feel like a failed eco-warrior.
But that's the point. You don't need to be an eco-warrior hippy family to make a difference.
This is stuff we can ALL do. And we can do it without needing to radically overhaul our lives and make them any busier or crazier than they already are.
The secret is...the 'ish'.
OK, let's start by addressing the elephant/cat/dog/hamster in the room...
Owning a pet is not in itself a sustainable thing to do. A book written by some sustainable living peeps in New Zealand in 2009 suggested that a medium sized dog has the ecological 'pawprint' equivalent to twice that of an average SUV (think people-carrier). Now I'm not sure how robust the science is on that one, but I think it's still worth bearing in mind that our pets create their own emissions (not just the smelly ones!) and that by making different choices we can limit their 'paw print'.
Having said that, owning a pet by and large brings happiness, laughter, and adds to the quality of our lives - sustainable(ish) isn't about depriving ourselves that bring us joy, it's about making the best choices we can and living the best lives we can whilst looking after the future of the planet.
Here are some tips for plastic-free(ish) pets to help you to do just that!
We've all got to eat, and pets are no different.
While at first glance it might appear impossible to find food that isn't encased in plastic, it's easier than it might seem:
It's unavoidable. Pet's make poo. And we have to deal with it.
Here are some plastic-free(ish) options:
As with food, pet treats now seem to all come encased in plastic. Here are some alternatives:
See what you can find second-hand. Bowls, beds, crates, even leads can be picked up secondhand - check out your local charity shops (the pet charity shops seem to do quite a good line in secondhand pet stuff, perhaps unsurprisingly!) or post a WANTED in your local Freecycle/Feegle group.
If you're buying new, buy to last.
Metal and ceramic bowls will last longer and age better than plastic (as long as you don't drop them...). You can also get 'eco bowls' made from bamboo and rice husks from Beco which might be worth looking at.
And buy ethical - there are some amazing ethically made collars and leads out there - I love these ones from Koko Collective, ethically made in India from old bike inner tubes and discarded saris!
When it comes to beds, think about how often you might need to wash it.
There are lots of beds and blankets now made from recycled plastic bottles, which sounds great, but unfortunately each time you wash them, they will release microfibres of plastic into the waterways.
For toys, again you can buy 'eco' toys' which are often stuffed with recycled plastic bottles, but these tend to pose less of a microfibre risk although that depends on how fanatical you are about washing your pet toys (I am not.)
Remember with pets that less is often more. Cats love a good old ball of scrunched up foil, or better yet, a scrunched up ball of foil in a cardboard box..! And for dogs you can make great pull toys by plaiting old bits of fabric together.
I'm not a big fan of the excessively groomed look and have a suitably scruffy mutt as testament to this. However she does love a good old roll in whatever poo she can find on walks - the smellier the better.
Instead of reaching for the plastic bottles of designer looking pet shampoos, see if you can find a bar soap. Yes, you can buy special pet shampoo bars, or just find a mild baby soap and use that.
Parasite wise, I know that some people swear by the use of garlic or garlic powder as a flea treatment or deterrent, and if that works for you, then that's fab and an easy plastic-free solution, but bear in mind that in high doses garlic is toxic for dogs, and GARLIC SHOULD NEVER BE FED TO CATS!!
It can be hard to find a licensed flea and worm treatment plastic free - the best plastic-free(ish) option I've found so far is Bravecto - available as a tablet for dogs and a spot-on for cats. Still in plastic BUT it gives you 12 weeks worth of treatment in one go vs only 4 weeks for other licensed alternatives.
In September of this year (2018) this article by George Monbiot appeared in the Guardian.
It's entitled "We won't save the Earth with a better kind of disposable coffee cup".
I agree wholeheartedly with that sentiment and I love George Monbiot’s writing.
How he’s not afraid to tell us how it is, and never feels the need to sugar coat or skirt around the big environmental issues.
And I started reading his latest piece thinking “YES!”.
But that quickly turned to “Noooooooo”.
Mr Monbiot (I’m sorry I can’t refer to one of my environmental heroes by surname alone) is 100% right when he says that “the problem is not just plastic: it is mass disposability”.
We spent a year buying nothing new as a family a few years ago, and this experience opened my eyes to the disposable society we now find ourselves in. I thought it would be a struggle to find the things we needed second-hand, but the charity shops are bulging with cast-offs, all bought and disposed of with very little thought as to their impact on the planet.
Convenience is now King, and the plastic pandemic we are now faced with is the very visual evidence of that.
But I would challenge the premise of the rest of the article which seemed to be that as individuals we can’t do anything to make a difference.
That as consumers “we are confused, bamboozled and almost powerless”.
Maybe that was once the case, but I see a new breed of consumer that are waking up to the power that I truly believe we all have. That are getting informed, that can see through green-washing and are demanding better of retailers and manufacturers.
George Monbiot challenges David Attenborough (in itself surely a treasonable offence?) for telling us in that seminal episode of Blue Planet II (the one we all cried at with the dead baby whale) that we could “do something” and then not telling us what, but goes on to do exactly the same thing.
We’re told we need to challenge consumerism, and capitalism.
But for the average Jo, or Joanna, people like me - work at home mums with school runs, and packed lunches and snotty noses to contend with, short on time, energy and headspace, to be told that the only way we can effect change is to “fight corporate power, change political outcomes and challenge the growth based world consuming system we call capitalism”, that’s a pretty big ask!
I consider myself a pretty ardent environmentalist, but I find myself overwhelmed at the thought of that.
Where do I even start? What can I actually do?
Finding an alternative to clingfilm for school lunches, or pasta that doesn’t come in plastic bags feels like a pretty herculean effort some weeks, and now you’re telling me I’m not making a difference unless I’m single-handedly working to create a new economic system that doesn’t put profit above all else?
The public reaction to Blue Planet II has already led to some massive changes that would have hitherto been unthinkable – Iceland committing to phase out plastic packaging on all it’s products, Teresa May vowing to eradicate all avoidable plastic waste over the next 25 years. These are big things. Yes, we need more change, we need faster change. But plastic and the environment is finally on the agenda, and in the pubic consciousness.
Please don’t tell those of us who are trying to make a difference, to make better, more informed choices, to wean ourselves off consumerism that we are powerless. That each of our choices don’t matter, because they do.
If you tell people they are powerless, they are powerless.
If you tell them that whatever they do, it will be the wrong thing, or it won’t make a difference, they will give up trying.
We don’t have all the answers. Yet.
Some of the ‘solutions’ are actually no better than the current situation (corn starch cups as a great example), but they are starting conversations. Ordinary people on the street, mums on the school run, commuters on the train are starting to look up and challenge the status quo. To actually stop and think about the impact of their lifestyle and their choices on the planet and on their kid’s futures for what may well be the first time.
This is huge.
“Defending the planet means changing the world.” To quote Mr Monbiot once more.
Yes it does.
But that’s a pretty scary and intimidating prospect when I’ve got to pick the kids up at 3pm.
So I’m working on changing my world. On taking responsibility for my choices, for making my voice heard – via the choices I made and also through the conversations I have. Whether those are with my next-door neighbour when we put the wheely bins out, or my local MP.
I don’t know how to change our economic system, but I do know how to make sure that my choices count.
Please don’t dismiss that.
This is another 're-purposed' interview from last year that I recorded with Lisa Stanley, co-founder of Good with Money - a website about "helping you become good with money while doing good with money too".
I don't know about you, but it took me far longer than it should have done to realise that the money in my bank might be being used to fund all kinds of businesses and organisations that didn't align with my values. And that my money might not be working as hard as I am for a fairer, healthier world.
Lisa and I dive into this, and Lisa shares some top tips for how to really harness the power of your money.
The annual 'rubbish-fest' that is Zero Waste Week is nearly upon us once more!
Now in it's 11th year, Zero Waste Week is an amazing event that utilises the online space to promote awareness of all things rubbish, and more importantly the things we can do to reduce ours!
But "Zero Waste Week" can sound a bit daunting to the uninitiated can't it?
I was put off joining in for years under the mis-guided assumption I would be apprehended by the bin police if put so much as a morsel in the bin. But fear not, it's really not daunting, or scary. At All. It's a wonderful celebration of all the amazing people, initiatives, and organisations that are taking action to reduce the amount of rubbish ending up in landfill.
Here are some easy ways to get ready to join in!
This is all about the -ish.
It's Zero-Waste(ish) Week really.
The whole idea is to raise awareness, and to encourage people to just get started, to make one small change.
And realise it's not that bad, or that hard. So they make another, and another.
No-one is expecting you to end the week with an empty bin. If it's got one or two less things in it, that's AWESOME. Even if it hasn't, you'll hopefully have inspiration and ideas, and a plan for it to be emptier very soon!
I bang on about this a lot. It's got a whole chapter in my Essential Guide to a Plastic-free(ish) Home, and I anticipate it being in many more of my e-guides (coming soon!).
It's so important to know why you want to create change - it's a great motivator and will keep you going during those times when you just can't be bothered and would rather take the easier, possibly more convenient route (we've all been there. And believe me, my conscience doesn't win out all the time!)
For Rachelle, founder of Zero Waste Week (see below) it was being in Boscastle in Cornwall when it flooded, and realising the effects of climate change where here. Now.
For her husband it was seeing that iconic picture of a turtle with a carrier bag in his mouth and realising that could have been his carrier bag.
Ahead of last year's Zero Waste Week I interviewed Rachelle Strauss who founded this annual zero waste celebration.
Find out more about Rachelle's Zero Waste journey, how and why she got started, and the impact that Zero Waste Week is having around the globe!
If you are ever in any doubt that ONE person can have an impact and make a difference, you NEED to listen to this one.
Last year the #zerowasteweek hashtag had over 56 MILLION 'impressions' on Twitter (that's Twitter speak for how many accounts/people the hashtag reached.)
It's used by businesses, local councils, organisations, and ordinary people like you and me. Even Jamie Oliver has joined in before!
Take a look and get inspired by all the different, amazing things that people are doing for their very own Zero Waste Week.
You don't need to 'officially' sign up to Zero Waste Week to be part of the action, but if you do you'll get daily e-mails during Zero Waste Week with inspiration and ideas for actions you can take.
I'm a Zero Waste Week Ambassador and I've seen the itinerary for this year - it's going to be a good one! You can sign up right here.
Tell all your friends!
Share on your FB page, or on Twitter or IG if you're on there. Let people know about Zero Waste Week and why you're taking part. And then invite them to join in too!
Zero Waste Week isn't really just for one week a year.
It's like a puppy - it's for life, not just for Christmas!
There is absolutely no point in joining in and being evangelical about rubbish for one week of the year and then going back to your regular routine the moment it's finished.
And I think in reality it would be hard to do this - once your eyes have been opened to the impact of your waste on the planet, and the huge potential there is for positive change, there's no going back!
But once the excitement and social media buzz of Zero Waste Week is over, it can be easy to feel a bit lonely and like you're the only person you know trying to make a difference.
But fear not! Help is at hand.
The Zero Waste Week Facebook group - Zero Waste Heroes - is like Zero Waste Week all year round.
And my own FB community is another great place to connect with like-minded people and to realise you're not alone.
This is such a powerful thing to do, and one of the things I really urge readers to do in The Essential Guide to a Plastic-free(ish) Home.
It's not glamorous, but it WILL help!
Don your (re-usable!) rubber gloves and dive deep into the contents of your bin - Rachelle has put together a handy pdf here for you to use to record your findings.
I guarantee this will be a real eye-opener. We throw stuff 'away' and then it's out of sight, out of mind. Once it's in our bins we don't really think about it anymore. Having to get up close and personal with what we've discarded lets us 'see the rabbit', so we know what we're tackling.
Once you are faced with the reality of what's in your bin, it can be easy to get overwhelmed and not even know where to start.
For Zero Waste Week, pick ONE thing.
One thing you want to tackle and that you WILL take action on.
It could be clingfilm, or packaging from fruit and veg, or bottles of water.
If you're all fired up to tackle your bin but struggling to know where to start, I've put together a FREE 7 day e-mail course, which will help you to easily reduce the amount of single use plastic you're throwing away. It's called Plastic-free(ish) in a Week and is packed with ideas, suggestions and tips to help you to get started and really make a difference! You can sign up here, or by clicking on the picture below.
This is an interview I recorded with Rachelle, the founder of Zero Waste Week in 2017, just before the 10th annual Zero Waste Week.
In it Rachelle shares how she got started on her own zero waste journey, as well as 'fessing up to the fact that her own bin is possibly not be as "zero waste" as we might expect! There's so much great stuff in here, that it seemed ridiculous to keep it gathering dust on my computer rather than being out there in the world inspiring people. So I'm re-publishing it here on the new site and the new podcast just in time for the 2018 Zero Waste Week campaign (3rd-7th September 2018).
Clingfilm, or plastic wrap, or cling wrap, or saran wrap, or whatever you like to call it - the thin stretchy stuff that sticks to itself food wrap that has become a ubiquitous part of packed lunches and fridges everywhere.
In fact, unwrapping sandwiches wrapped in clingfilm is now a compulsory part of the pre-school curriculum*.
Although as a stretchy plastic, it is technically recyclable in some parts of the world, it very rarely is due to contamination with food. So the vast majority of it ends up in the bin.
Not what we want.
So what are the alternatives for keeping leftovers fresh, and sandwiches all in one piece?
Yes, still plastic, but not single use, which is the key!
Pack your sandwiches carefully, maybe keep them wedged in place with a bit of fruit, and off you go.
Just don't give them any space to move around or you'll end up with bread and filling in different areas, which isn't really what a sandwich is all about.
The biggest challenge you may face is finding the right lid for the right tub...
More readily and easily re-used and recycled, this is a better option than clingfilm, but isn't idea in terms of resource use etc. However if you're looking for baby steps to wean you and the family away from the sticky plastic stuff, this is a good one to take.
Wipe off any for residue after using, fold and stash away again until it starts to become full of holes, and then pop it into your recycling bins with the tin cans.
The internet is going crazy for beeswax wraps..
You can buy them from somewhere like this, or you can easily make your own - my lovely friend Wendy at Moral Fibres did a great how toand it looks super easy!
You can use them to wrap sandwiches, cover bowls of leftovers, or even make little pouches for things like crisps or chopped up veg.
Produced by Eco Snack Wrap, and ethically made in India from 100% cotton, these can be put in the freezer, re-used infinitely, and washed in the washing machine. And the wrap opens up to make a handy little placemat too!
Made of food-grade silicon these sheets act like clingfilm but can be washed and re-used, and then recycled at the end of their life.
This is one of my favourite things to make for gifts - it's really easy to adapt, and one batch can make quite a few gifts!
I like to package it up into old jam jars for the ultimate in plastic-free(ish) gifting. I say plastic-free(ish) as I have yet to find cream in a non-plastic container - if you know of some, do let me know!