10 simple swaps for plastic-free products around the house

Picture of beeswax wraps for my post on simple swaps for plastic free products around the house

Cling film, but not as you know it

 

It’s only when I tried to stop buying plastic that I realised how much we have around the house.

I’ve been taking part in Plastic Free July, and tackled our food shopping first (previous post).

But single-use plastic explodes out far further than the kitchen.

Here are 10 simple swaps I’ve made, looking for plastic-free alternatives around the house – and a sense of how much they cost!

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Picture of a cream Lush shampoo bar and green Lush conditioner bar in a soap dish

Looks like soap, actually Lush shampoo & conditioner

Swap 1: Shampoo and conditioner in bars not bottles

I’m not the biggest buyer of beauty products and toiletries, but our bathroom is still packed with plastic.

Rather than buy more plastic bottles of shampoo and conditioner, I put out a plea on Twitter, asking for recommendations for solid forms in bars. I got recommendations for shampoo bars from a bunch of small suppliers, including:

  • Cole & Co, in Wales
  • Acala, for zero waste personal care
  • Babassu shampoo bars from Anita Grant
  • Lamazuna solid shampoo, stocked by Babipur
  • Ethique shampoo and conditioner bars, now stocked by Holland & Barrett
  • Argan oil shampoo bars from Snooty Catz
  • Procoal shampoo bars
  • Superfly soap on Etsy
  • Apple cider vinegar and water in a spray bottle
  • Beer (!)

In the end, I nipped into Lush after a meeting in London, where a really helpful assistant talked me through the options and demonstrated how to raise a lather. (Sample conversation – Assistant: what kind of shampoo do you use now? Rich shampoo, moisturising version, something else? Me: I don’t know, I just buy whatever is on offer for £1 in Morrisons)

These bars are meant to be good for a 100 odd washes – but only if they dry out properly between uses. The shampoo bar doesn’t last anywhere near so long if you leave it to dissolve in a puddle in a soap dish. Leaving the bar to dry on the upturned bristles of a nail brush has helped. Policing the children to make sure they do the same is harder.

Cost: Given I’d normally spend £1 each on shampoo and conditioner, forking out £8 for a Honey I Washed My Hair shampoo bar and £7 for Jungle solid conditioner was somewhat painful.

Picture of the contents of a trial box from Who Gives a Crap

Trial pack of loo roll in pretty paper packaging

Swap 2: Loo roll packaged in paper not plastic

I’ve long bought loo roll made from recycled paper, but it still comes wrapped in plastic.

For Plastic Free July, I paid the £3 postage for a ‘free’ trial pack from Who Gives A Crap. For that, you get two of their extra long 3 ply loo roll, one fancy bamboo loo roll, a box of tissues and one kitchen towel – all wrapped in paper. Plus the cardboard box said ‘nice bum’ in big letters (how did they know??).

Just remember, if you don’t like the trial, make sure you cancel your subscription, or you’ll end up with a huge box of loo roll!

Cost: I’ve been scratching my head over the Morrisons website, and reckon less fancy versions of the £3 trial box would normally cost me £2.17, so this isn’t a bargain, but might help if you’re trying to avoid plastic.

Otherwise you’re looking at £24 for 24 rolls of 3 ply recycled paper, or £36 for 48 rolls. Each Who Gives A Crap roll has 400 sheets, so the bigger box works out at 18.8p per 100 sheets.

Normally, I buy big packs of 2 ply loo roll from Morrisons, at £8 per 24 rolls. With 220 sheets per roll, the Morrisons plastic-wrapped version works out at 15p per 100 sheets, making the fancier Who Gives a Crap a quarter more expensive.

If you did want to go straight for a big box, Who Gives a Crap run a refer a friend scheme so you can get £5 off a first order of at least £36 (and I’ll get £5 off too). Just use the code NICEBUMR2C6MX.

 

Picture of TOTM plastic free period products for my post on Plastic Free July

Think cotton not plastic

Swap 3: Plastic-free period products

I’m not ready to go full on moon cup yet, but I was glad to be given samples of some plastic-free period products by Mondays.

Mondays sells plastic-free period products, made from organic cotton and compostable Mater-Bi. This all sounds great, but my sticking point is the price.

Cost: It’s a subscription service that charges around £13.50 a box, for your choice of 25 products. (It’s a Swiss company, so prices are quoted in Swiss francs).

At 54p per tampon or towel, that’s more than 10 times as much as buying an ordinary box of own-brand regular tampons, which, at 95p for 20, work out at just 5p each. Even a trial box of 25 products from Mondays, at around £4 using the code FIRST, is still pretty pricey.

However, I did also order from TOTM, which charges less for organic, biodegradable period products.

Working out the cost per item, prices start from 21p each for non-applicator tampons, 27p each for applicator tampons and 37p each for towels. Still four or five times more expensive than ordinary own brand products, but not quite so steep as Mondays. Delivery is free when buying more than one box, and you can convert your order into a subscription if you wish.

Ideal world, I’d prefer to avoid single use packaging altogether. The other product I’ve seen recommended, but haven’t tried, is Mobibodi period pants, which can be washed and reused.

I’ve also seen pics of handmade reusable towels but haven’t tried those either.

 

Picture of a trial pack of Smol laundry liquid capsules in a box

Smol laundry liquid by post

Swap 4: Washing liquid in tabs not plastic bottles

Normally, I buy plastic bottles of Persil Non Bio liquid to do our washing.

In an attempt to avoid plastic bottles, I signed up for a couple of the new subscription services that post out laundry capsules in recyclable packaging. However, I just ended up with different plastic packaging, even it is made from recycled materials and supposedly recyclable in turn (see below).

Smol, for example, sends out very concentrated laundry capsules in bio and non bio versions. I’ve tried some before and they seemed to work fine and smell fine too.

Cost: Smol normally costs £3.85 for 24 capsules (16p per wash), but you can get a ‘free’ trial, if you pay £1 postage for a box of 9 (so 11p per wash).

Smol reckons the normal 16p per wash cost can save up to 50% compared to normal brands.

Trouble is, I only buy big bottles of Persil liquid when it’s on offer. Most recently, for example, I got two big bottles for £6.50 each. They’re advertised as containing enough liquid for 53 washes, which at only 12p a wash, actually makes Smol a third more expensive.

Unilever is also trying to muscle in on the subscription-laundry-liquid-by-post act, with the recent launch of Homey. Again, Homey offers bio and non bio versions delivered in 100% recyclable packaging, which is made from 80% recycled materials. Homey also bungs some money at St Mungos, the charity for the homeless.

Cost: Homey cost £3.10 for 19 tablets (16.3p per wash). Again, you can get a ‘free’ trial by paying £1 postage – but the bigger trial box of 19 works out at just 5.3p a wash.

With both Homey and Smol, do remember to cancel after the trial if you don’t want to continue with more expensive boxes.

PLASTIC CAVEAT: I signed up hoping to avoid plastic. Trouble is, the Smol capsules come in a small plastic box, and the Homey capsules come in a large plastic tray inside a blue plastic pouch. These trays/pouches/boxes are advertised as being made from recycled material, and supposedly widely recycled. That’s all fine and dandy but I was hoping to ditch plastic altogether, especially with concerns that some plastic put in recycle bins doesn’t get recycled at all #plasticfail.

So looks like if I actually want to cut out plastic packaging, I either need to head to a refill store with my own containers to stock up on laundry liquid, or abandon laundry liquid in favour of trad washing powder in cardboard boxes.

Suspect the most eco friendly move would be to wash laundry less often, and only when it really needs it.

 

Picture of the bamboo swabs, deodorant in glass jar and loofah washing up sponge from the REco store

Swaps, deodorant and sponge from the REco Store

Swap 5: Deodorant in a glass jar instead of plastic packaging

I’m not overly keen on the idea of smelling to high heaven in pursuit of a plastic-free planet.

However, a quick scan online revealed recommendations for Fit Pit, which I then spotted on our trip to the REco store in Tiptree. It comes in a glass jar with a metal lid, instead of plastic packaging. Seems to be working just fine faced with the summer sunshine.

Cost: again, I normally spend about £1 when something like Sure or Nivea is on offer. A teeny trial jar of Fit Pit cost £4 at the REco store, but bigger 100ml jars are more cost-effective at £10.

Swap 6: Bamboo cotton swabs instead of plastic cotton buds

To avoid ordinary cotton buds with plastic sticks, I opted for ‘eco-friendly & socially responsible bamboo cotton swabs’ from The Humble Co.

Cost: I spent £1.99 for a box of 100 from the REco store. Normally, I spend half that for twice as many plastic cotton buds in a box with a plastic lid.

Picture of Reco plastic free starter shaving set with razor, blades and shaving soap

Go forth and shave

Swap 7: Metal safety razor instead of disposable plastic

Suddenly my multi packs of disposable plastic razors didn’t seem such a great idea. I’ve since braved using razor blades in a metal razor, thanks to the plastic free shaving kit I was kindly given by Reco.

Cost: The Reco shaving starter set includes a metal safety razor, box of 5 blades and a bar of handmade shaving soap, all for £25. One you invest in the safety razor, replacement packs of blades are pretty cheap.

Elsewhere, you can pay less for a safety razor if you’re willing to accept a second. For example, The Razor Shack sells a safety razor with minor blemishes on the handle, plus a pack of 10 blades, for £9.99 plus postage.

In comparison, the last time I bought plastic razors, I paid £5.99 for a bag of 18, which works out at around  33p each.

Swap 8: Loofah kitchen sponge instead of sponge scourers

Another product picked up at the REco store – a washing up pad made out of loofah, from LoofCo. I’ve been feeling guilty about buying plastic washing up sponge scourers that we bin once a week. In theory, the plant material should gradually disintegrate through use. Working well so far!

Cost: £3 from the REco store. Do wonder whether buying one big loofah and cutting it up would be a better bet. Normally, I buy packs of 8 plastic sponge scourers for £1.33, which is 17p each. The loofah version would need to last 18 weeks to break even, which seems both unlikely and unhygienic.

 

Picture of a newspaper parcel containing our rubbish that wasn't food, plastic or recycling

One week’s rubbish for a family of four

Swap 9: Newspaper instead of bin liners

I’ve been confusing the hell out of my husband since starting Plastic Free July. Before, we just had a kitchen bin and a recycling bin. Now, I’ve introduced a separate bag for plastics, plus separate boxes for food waste that can and can’t go into compost.

The main result is that only stuff that can’t be recycled, isn’t plastic, and isn’t food waste goes in the kitchen bin. As that’s almost entirely dry rubbish, I’ve been able to ditch plastic bin bags in favour of lining the bin with a couple of sheets of newspaper. I was also surprised at how little rubbish we produced, once recycling, plastic and food waste was removed. The picture shows a paper package with a week’s rubbish for our family of four.

Cost: Zip all as I already have a once-a-week newspaper subscription.

 

Swap 10: Beeswax wraps instead of cling film

I was kindly given a pack of 3 beeswax wraps from Oxfam when I went to the Christmas in July festival last week. Beeswax wraps can be used instead of clingfilm. The warmth of your hands moulds the wrap around whatever you’re trying to cover. Afterwards, they can be washed in cool water and gentle washing up liquid, then reused for up to a year, and eventually bunged in the compost.

For many items, I’ve switched to using boxes or jars to store them in the fridge. The beeswax wraps come in particularly handy if there’s a bowl I want to cover that doesn’t have a lid.

Cost: This particular kitchen pack of 2 midi wraps and 1 small wrap from The Beeswax Wrap Co normally sells for £13.99 in Oxfam. Elsewhere, packs of beeswax wraps seem to start from about a tenner. It’s quite a lot more than £3 odd I’d normally spend a year on clingfilm.

Cost comparison of swaps for plastic-free products

I’m beginning to think that the words ‘plastic free’ are like ‘wedding’, in adding pounds to prices.

I expected to pay a bit more for products packaged in paper or cardboard. Plastic wouldn’t be so ubiquitous if the production and shipping costs weren’t so much cheaper. Smaller independent suppliers also won’t benefit from the same economies of scale as massive firms and big supermarkets.

However, I didn’t expect to pay quite so much more. My only money-saving measure was ditching bin bags. Otherwise I’m looking at 4 times as much for deodorant and cotton buds, 5 times as much for plastic-free period products and beeswax wraps, and 7 or 8 times a much for shampoo and conditioner. The loo roll (25% more) and laundry liquid (33% more) look like bargains in comparison.

Admittedly, I normally buy budget or own brand options. Anyone who usually buys branded or premium products wouldn’t notice quite such a difference.

Potentially, pursuing home-made alternatives may yet save some cash, even if it’s less convenient.

But right now, choosing to shop plastic free seems like an expensive luxury. It really shouldn’t cost the earth to do a tiny bit to save the planet.

 

Now – over to you. What swaps do you recommend to go plastic-free around the house? Have you noticed a price difference? Do share any budget options in the comments, I’d love to hear!

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12 Comments

  1. Caroline
    22nd July 2019 / 9:43 pm

    I used to buy make up removing cleansing wipes at £2-£3 a time, slow degrading wipes in a plastic pocket. Now I have a stack of fabric squares from old T-shirts which I use for make-up removal and as tissues. Wash and reuse, cost £0 in with main washing. Lush Tea-totaller cleansing balm for £8.50 is an unpacked bar which lasts me a month. I’d get through 2-3 cleansing wipe packs a month so not cheaper but more soothing to the conscience!

    I’m using WUKA leak proof washable period pants. Expensive at around £25 a pair but they do the job and I reckon, over time, will repay the investment.

    Lush sunflower deodorant, solid bar, is great value at £6.50. It lasts a couple of months! I was using Sure Maximum for £3.50 which was lasting me under 2 weeks. I am BO free and though not quite so dry am very pleased with this very effective deodorant.

    • Faith
      Author
      23rd July 2019 / 7:24 am

      Great swap for the cleansing wipes. We have a white sheet that got torn, and I was wondering if I could cut that up in a similar way to your T shirt, and make squares as substitute kitchen towel. Brilliant to have the recommendations for specific cleansing balm, period pants and deodorant – so difficult knowing which products actually work without recommendations!

  2. 23rd July 2019 / 7:14 am

    For washing up I use cotton dishcloths, knitted from charity shop cotton yarn. They don’t need to be fancy unless you want them to be, just plain knitting or crochet is fine. Throw in the wash whenever needed. I also have a wooden scrubbing brush with a replaceable head with natural bristles and a stainless steel scrubby thing that lasts for ever and can then be recycled.

    Really really consider using a mooncup. I love mine. I bought it maybe 12 or 15 years ago for £19 so it’s saved me a fortune. I have a few washable pads as well but I mostly use my cup. Like when you first try tampons there’s a slight knack but then it’s great.

    I thought all cotton buds were supposed to be paper now? They’ll be sold in plastic tubs still but the stick bit should be paper. There are environmental issues around the growing of bamboo so as a straight disposable swap I’m not sure they’re worth the extra money but I could be wrong.

    Deodorant is really simple to make yourself, just melt, mix and pour into a glass jar. The ingredients aren’t expensive either.

    I’d say the main thing to remember (which I fear is getting slightly lost in everyone’s admirable haste to ditch plastic) is that Refuse should be the first action, followed by Reduce- Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot. Do we actually need that product, or as you said with the detergent, do we need to use as much of it?

    • Faith
      Author
      23rd July 2019 / 7:28 am

      Top tip about the dishcloths. I will get knitting. Any recommendations for DIY deodorant? Bicarb of soda seems to be a major ingredient in Fit Pit.
      Really good point about focusing on Refuse, Reduce and Reuse before getting anywhere near buying new products. Plastic Free July has finally prompted me to start a compost heap, so at least I’m having a go at the ‘Rot’ part too!

    • JOYCE
      8th September 2019 / 11:38 pm

      Look at Plastic Freedom. They have washing up liquid in bars, deodorant in a tin, sunscreen in a card tube, rubber gloves,plastic free toothpaste & brushes as well as the other things you mention. I have found the shampoo & comditioner bars last a lot longer then a bottle.

  3. Rebecca
    23rd July 2019 / 2:36 pm

    I agree with everything you’ve written! I have been trying to make small changes for a few years now. Here’s a few things that have worked for me so far: I have used apple cider vinegar and baking soda for a few years now and it does work to clean your hair. I think it works better for straight or wavy hair than curly though. I also like buying Castile soap in bar form. One bar lasts ages! But you can grate the bar, add some water, heat on the stove and make liquid soap which is super versatile and doesn’t require buying a big plastic bottles. Here in the States, a bar of Dr. Bronner’s Castille Soap costs $3 and a large bottle of liquid $15 so I think the DIY method is a better choice here. My family has switched to using cloth napkins (or towels) at meals instead of disposable too.

    Overall though, it is a shame that non plastic convenience products do cost so much more! It seems quite a disincentive to switch.

  4. JJ
    24th July 2019 / 11:04 am

    Hi

    Companies like Big Green Smile and Natural Collection are well established and haven’t just jumped on the Zero Waste/Plastic Free band wagon. They often have 20% offers on laundry products such Bio D, Ecover etc which can be bought in 5 litre containers if you prefer liquid to powders. Powders are in card or paper sacks. Buying in bulk does help to reduce the cost. Also consider starting a small cooperative with a company such a Suma.

    Do try a Mooncup. Easy to use even during my menopausal years! Saves a fortune and prevents unnecessary land fill. They last for years and the website has clear and concise instructions for care.

    Earth Conscious have deodorants in tins or card board tubes and they work!

    Even with very short hair I really don’t like shampoo bars. I just feel that I try really hard with other products so I am allowed one “failure” If you can find a Zero Waste shop they often offer refill services for liquid refills.

  5. Helen
    1st August 2019 / 3:06 am

    A bit late to the party but one of the biggest things I have done is to reintroduce a milk man, it is more expensive at 88p for a pint but this is delivered in a glass bottle which is then collected and re-used and I feel good as I am also supporting a local business and dairy farm. Having 4 of the small people at home meant a lot of large plastic milk bottles in the recycling bin and this is reduced massively. The other change I made was to go back to a good old fashioned wash powder in a cardboard box for laundry rather than liquid or liquid tabs. It works out much more cost effective as well which makes me feel better about the additional costs for the milkman. So swings and roundabouts

    • Faith
      Author
      1st August 2019 / 6:55 am

      Good idea weighing up the swings and roundabouts on where you spend and save. I’ve been enjoying the milk deliveries in glass bottles, and also glad to support a local milkman. Must try switching back to laundry powder, thanks for the tip.

  6. 29th August 2019 / 10:52 am

    Faith – this is a great article and I love some of your ideas.

    I have been a Mooncup user for 15 years, and LOVE it! I have started also using washable sanitary towels, which are awesome. One of my teenage daughters is also a huge fan. We tried numerous brands, but these are our favourites. https://www.earthwisegirlsuk.co.uk/earthwise-starter-bundle-p-794.html

    Another suggestion that you might like is the Eco Egg. I have been using it for a couple of years and really love it too https://www.ecoegg.com/

    Eileen x

  7. JOYCE
    8th September 2019 / 11:35 pm

    Look at Plastic Freedom. They have washing up liquid in bars, deodorant in a tin, sunscreen in a card tube, rubber gloves,plastic free toothpaste & brushes as well as the other things you mention. I have found the shampoo & comditioner bars last a lot longer then a bottle.

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