How to use less plastic and cut costs

Picture of a red cloth bag instead of a plastic bag, as one way to use less plastic

Use cloth bags to cut plastic AND cut costs


Want to save the world while cutting costs?

Using less plastic is a good place to start.

The horrors of plastic have been all over the news recently, criticising plastic coffee cups and plastic food packaging that can’t be recycled.

If you’d like to start closer to home, here are my suggestion on how to use less plastic, without blowing your budget. I once took part in a project where I tried to reduce the amount I chucked in the bin for a week, and it was a real eye opener.

The main principles about cutting waste are to reduce, reuse and recyle – and in that order!

Recycling should be encouraged, but best to reduce the amount you consume in the first place, and resuse stuff where possible, so you have less left to recycle.

Reducing what you consume and reusing what you already have both help towards saving the planet AND saving money. It’s a win:win situation!

So on the plastic front, start by thinking about where you use plastic, and therefore where you might be able to cut down.

Ask yourself:

  • What plastic do I throw away? Take a quick look in your bin and rifle through your recycling.
  • What did granny do? In a pre-plastic age, she wasn’t using make up wipes, handwash in plastic bottles or buying takeaway coffee in plastic cups!

Key areas to watch out for include:

  • Disposable items, like plastic carrier bags, cups and cutlery
  • Packaging, like food on plastic trays wrapped in layers of yet more plastic
  • Containers, like bottles for cleaning products and toiletries

How to save money by using less plastic

Here are my top tips on how use less plastic while spending less at the same time.

Banish plastic bags

  • Carry a couple of cloth bags in your handbag. Then you can avoid both the 5p plus cost and the environmental impact of plastic carrier bags.
  • Keep a whole stash of cloth bags in the boot of your car, to use for food shopping. Top tip: make sure you put them back in the boot after you’ve emptied the shopping!
  • Reduce the number of plastic food bags, plastic containers and cling film you use at home, by switching to glass or metal containers. As a frugal option, I wash out and reuse jam jars for storing smaller quantities, and they go in the freezer too.

Free food from plastic

  • Avoid excess plastic packaging at the supermarket, by buying loose fruit and veg, and buying from deli, fish and meat counters with less wrapping. Admittedly, bigger plastic-wrapped packets can sometimes be cheaper by weight. However, if you only buy exactly what you need from the counter or fruit and veg sections, you could save money if you throw less away.
  • Better still, support local shops like greengrocers, bakeries, butchers, fishmongers and markets that still wrap food in less packaging or (ideal world) brown paper bags. I went along to Hadleigh market on Friday. It meant I could buy fruit and veg in brown paper bags, and the smoked mackerel from the fish van didn’t come in a plastic tray. Ideal world, take your own glass containers and cloth bags, and ask to use them as packaging.
  • Search out your local health food shop. Many let you fill your own containers with bulk goods like cereal, and even cleaning products and toiletries.
  • Cook from scratch rather than buying ready meals or ordering takeaways, to avoid plastic containers and save a ton of money.
  • Take packed lunches to avoid the expense and packaging of pre-wrapped sandwiches.
  • Aim to buy bigger quantities of non-perishable food – think a big bag of rice, rather than lots of individual bags.
  • Cut out tiny snack packs: think a big tub of yogurt dished out in bowls, or a massive bag of raisins rather than lots of little packets. Buying in bulk is often cheaper too.

Drop plastic fron your drinks

  • If you are a takeaway coffee fiend (which offends my frugal soul, but there we are), get yourself a reusable cup, perhaps in bamboo, and then actually use it. Some coffee chains will now knock money off your bill if you take your own cup. Pret a Manger has doubled the discount to 50p, and Starbucks and Costa will both cut the price by 25p.
  • Save more money by making coffee and tea at home, and taking them in a vaccuum flask.
  • Turns out some teabags contain plastic, and can’t be composted. If in doubt, buy large quantities of loose tea and get wrestling with a tea strainer.
  • Get the whole family reusable water bottles and refill from the tap. Compared to buying drinks when out and about, this can be a massive saving.
  • In the office, don’t use plastic cups for water or hot drinks, but find yourself a glass or mug that can be washed up. Drinking tap water rather than water from a cooler will also reduce the need for plastic water containers.
  • Look out for drinks that come in glass rather than plastic bottles, especially if you can return the glass versions and get your deposit back.
  • Check if you a) have a local milk man b) if they deliver milk in glass bottles and take away the empties.
  • Reject disposable plastic straws in drinks. If you really fancy a straw, choose a metal reusable one.
  • Carry a knife, fork and teaspoon in your bag, so you don’t have to use plastic cutlery when out and about.

Cut down on plastic when cleaning

  • Buy soap rather than plastic bottles of shower gel and handwash. Plain soap will be loads cheaper too.
  • Try a shampoo bar, rather than from a bottle. Jane over at Shoestring Cottage has tried versions from Lush and Amazon.
  • Use razors with blades you can replace, rather than disposable versions
  • Switch to cloth flannels, not cleansing wipes or bottles of toner.
  • Similarly, use cloth tea towels and cleaning cloths, rather than relying on wipes.
  • Switch to washing powder in cardboard boxes, rather than washing liquid in plastic bottles. Alternatively, Eileen from Your Money Sorted recommended Ecoegg Laundry Eggs* as a low cost way to get your clothes clean.
  • Use alternative cleaning products. Explore using more natural cleaners, like white vinegar, bicarbonate of soda and washing soda crystals, rather than grabbing yet more plastic bottles from the shelves. Some ideas here from Sue over at The Cottage At The End of a Lane.

Reduce plastic for your children

  • Inflict wooden toys on your children. They will naturally prefer all plastic super colourful all singing all dancing noisy toys. Resist the temptation.
  • Alternatively, if you are a less cruel parent, at least buy second hand versions of plastic toys, potentially from charity shops, boot sales and Facebook selling pages. This cuts down on extra packaging, extends the life of existing toys, and saves money at the same time.
  • Party bags are known for being a fiesta of plastic. Start by using paper rather than plastic bags, and then consider the contents. Add items like home-made cake and cookies, pencils, notepads and books to read. (Shame this sounds quite so worthy).
  • Reusable nappies. If you can face it, a set of reusable nappies will cut costs and environmental impact compared to buying disposables. See if there is a nappy library or council support in your area, or a parenting group that might lend you a starter pack to try. You might still choose to use some disposables, for example when out and about, but switching even some nappies to reusable versions can make a difference.

Hopefully, you have now got some ideas on how to use less plastic while saving money at the same time. Why not take on a challenge, like Zoe at EcothriftyLiving, to cut down on plastic in your life?

Now over to you – what are your top tips for reducing plastic waste, while saving money at the same time? Do share your ideas in the comments, I’d love to hear!


*indicates an affiliate link, so anything you buy through it will help support the blog, as I will get a small commission at no cost to you. Many thanks!

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  1. 21st January 2018 / 2:23 pm

    Great post! I hope the tide is turning. Thanks for the mention.

  2. Eloise
    21st January 2018 / 5:25 pm

    I’ve been storing, freezing and cooking in glass for years. I hate the way plastic taints food. I used to buy Pyrex storage but Asda now go great containers for £2-3.
    Buying with our plastic is harder but hopefully manufacturers are getting the message.

    • Faith
      23rd January 2018 / 7:51 am

      Top tip about the Asda glass containers, thanks Eloise. I use a lot of Pyrex for cooking, but haven’t tried it for storage.

  3. Gill
    21st January 2018 / 8:50 pm

    You can make plastic freezer bags last indefinitely by re-using them time after time. The most obvious way is to wash them after use but they are a faff to dry. I find it easier to wrap the food in foil first then put the foil parcels into the eternal freezer bags. Foil is more convenient to wash and dry and when it gets too tatty to use any more it goes in the recycle bin

    • Faith
      23rd January 2018 / 7:54 am

      Interesting solution to the issues for washing plastic freezer bags, thanks Gill. Right now, I mostly reuse glass jars fand plastic boxes rather than freezer bags or foil. Some of my plastic food storage boxes are showing signs of wear after nearly 20 years! Could do with finding a non-plastic alternative when I do replace them.

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