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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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!