We spent the afternoon of my daughter’s birthday at an aquarium, escaping the heat of the sun in an underground cavern bursting with aquatic awesomeness. The moment that stamped itself most clearly on my memory was however not the exhibits, nor the looks of wonder on my children’s faces and the squeals of delight as we explored the place and all it had to offer, as delightful as all of that was. It was when I spotted a fact, spelled out in a simple installation about pollution – that plastic takes anything from 800 to 1000 years to decompose.
I am not and never have been much of an environmental activist or green queen. I am more interested in matters of the home and heart, as the contents of my blog will testify. But the plastic stat really bothered me. Perhaps it was because we were in Malta at the time, the beautiful island in the Med where I was born and bred, swimming daily in the bright blue sea of my youth, at the the beaches of my childhood. And while we were so enjoying all the sun, sea and sand fun, we were not enjoying having to buy water in plastic bottles at alarming rates to keep us and our young kids hydrated. It seemed to be the only option available on the island. This was quite a step change for tap drinking Londoners. Whatever the reason, for the first time ever, I felt personally responsible for the effect my reliance on plastic was having on the environment. And I decided to commit to doing my bit to minimise the damage.
It is not my task nor intention to convince you about the health and environmental merits of living with less plastic. Google the issues, and draw your own conclusions. Needless to say, I am making mine, and am working to address them within the limitations of budget, a busy life with young children, and the resources and options available to us.
Instead, I have tasked myself with documenting the little changes we are making to our lifestyle to reduce our reliance on plastic and try to be more environmentally and ethically minded. Much like motherhood, I see this as a marathon, not a sprint. So as such, I have given myself permission to take things slowly, make mistakes, and only do what I can do without hideously over-complicating my life or breaking the bank in the process. I find encouragement in remembering that little choices can snowball into big improvements over time.
Here are the 11 baby steps we have taken so far.
Kindly note that this post contains affiliate links. It also contains a discount code from The Wise House, a gorgeous independent online shop I stumbled across when researching plastic alternatives for my own family. Lucy, the Wise House Guv’nor has offered My Everyday Matters readers 12% off some of their products to help you take your first steps to living with less plastic should you so choose. Scroll all the way to the bottom to grab it.
- Kids stuff. Plastic is utterly inevitable in a house full of little ones. I genuinely do not think it is possible to do without it entirely. Nor would I want to truthfully. My elder two’s favourite toys are Duplo blocks and Schleich animals, both of which are plastic but also wonderfully open ended play things and built to last. My real issue is with the stuff that is played with today and binned tomorrow, and with the plastics that are detrimental to our health when used to store or serve food. So I just try to do the best within the confines of our life stage, as and when decisions need to be made about new purchases. Thinking ahead, I have decided that birthday party bags are an obvious place to cut down on plastic. To date I have always given out a tiny tonne of plastic trinkets -bubbles, balloons, bracelets, the usual kiddie delights that are loved today and broken or forgotten about tomorrow. Next time one of our girls has a party, I’ll be stocking up on books via someone like The Good Book Company and popping one of those in a paper bag for their little buddies. Or something along those lines. When it comes to my baby, I have decided to pass on any plastic teethers in favour of the wooden ones she already has and enjoys. Mainly because I’d prefer anything that she gums on to be made of natural materials if possible. My fave plastic free baby trinket is an ivory and silver one that was a hand me down from my grandmother, which she absolutely loves. At meal times, I barely use our set of ikea plates, bowls and cups any more. Our two and four year old eat on a lovely Beatrix Potter china bowl and plate set they were each given, drink smoothies out of their matching mugs and water out of their new stainless steel bottles (see below).
- Shop the house. This is a term I picked up from a few helpful home decor blogs when working on turning our new house into a home. It basically means that you should look around your own home and possessions or something to repurpose for whatever new need has cropped up, before looking to buy something new instead. This means less packaging to chuck away, plastic or otherwise, and less resources spent on getting something new to your home. It also has the indirect benefit of saving money, and encourages you to think outside the box a little bit. I am a total convert. When we needed something to chuck our dirty laundry into in our new home, I bought a laundry basket from John Lewis, only to return it promptly because it was too big. We made do with all sorts of random interim solutions for a while. In the end, I remembered a set of small paper baskets I had picked up from Home Base a few years ago, simplified and adapted our laundry routine to use them, and haven’t looked back since. No money spent, no packaging required or binned. One happy wife.
- Shop with an eye to a company’s ethical and environmental credentials. As I work hard to lessen our home and family’s reliance on plastic, I am also interested in supporting companies that do the same. This means doing a little bit of research before buying something (having exhausted the “shop the house” route first) from the usual suspects. Recently, it became apparent that I needed a backpack to replace my beloved Storksak Noa nappy bag. I sometimes find myself pushing a double buggy with our two and four year old in it plus the scooters and helmets they are too tired to ride anymore, while wearing our eight month year old in a sling, making my over the shoulder number an uncomfortable option. After researching eco backpacks within my budget, I opted for a Fjallraven Re-Kanken bag in bright yellow. It is made entirely from polyester recycled from 11 plastic bottles, and dyed with a technology that radically reduces the amount of water, energy and chemicals used. I have ended up with a super fun everyday mummy backpack that reminds me to try to shop green whenever I look at it. Win win.
- Food Wrap. I weaned myself off using cling-film for a good few months before taking the plunge and investing in some Bees Wrap. It is an eco-friendly, reusable alternative to food wrap made from organic muslin cloth steeped in beeswax, jojoba oil and tree resin, the brain child of a mama who wanted a sustainable and toxic free alternative to plastic wrap for storing leftover food. I got mine from The Wise House .The product itself looks lovely, does the job, but does take a bit of getting used to. I think I may need a few more pieces to have enough for an average week in our kitchen, or possibly something like these bowl overs.
- Food Storage. Another “shop the house” solution. I re-use jars for storing leftovers, nuts and dried fruit. I’ve found I am less likely to throw food in the fridge away because I can easily see the contents of clear jars, which is a great unintended benefit. Larger plastic containers have been repurposed for toy storage and corralling food stuffs in kitchen cupboards. Smaller ones that we no longer needed were passed on to charity shops. Going forwards, I am looking out for a set of freezer friendly glass containers to use for leftovers. (any recommendations?) I also try to buy food stuffs in jars vs. plastic if there is an option (e.g. ketchup).
- Cookware: I am determined to get rid of all of our non stick cookware by the end of the year and replace them with stainless steel, but as it is a big outlay we are having to do it in stages. I did get rid of a few of the larger pans and pots that we weren’t using. Since then I mainly use two things. (1) A lovely Le Creuset casserole dish we were given at our wedding is my go-to for sauces, stews, pasta, porridge, and all sorts. I also bought (2) a Lodge cast iron pan off the back of a recommendation on one of my favourite blogs TheWholeFoodDiary.com. The pan requires a little bit more care than our non stick ones, but if it is better for our health than it is worth it. They can last a lifetime if well taken care of, which means one less thing to hit the tip in future
- Water bottles. We never leave the house without a water bottle each, a hangup from three hyper thirsty pregnancies. We used to use Sistema (BPA free) plastic bottles, but they would always start to smell and feel pretty horrible after a while, so I wasn’t a major fan. After a fair bit of research I invested in a Chilly’s Vacuum Insulated 500ml bottle for myself, two One Green Bottle stainless steel 350ml bottles for the girls, and a Klean Kanteen Classic Sports Bottle 800ml for my husband. The kids LOVE theirs. The bottles are a great size for little hands, they don’t leak at all, and the sports spout is easy for them to open and close without my help. My 8 month old can drink from it quite comfortably too with my help- major bonus – so I will be getting a bottle for her soon. I like that my own bottle fits in my bag, and can keep liquids hot or cold as needed, although it does need to be kept in a little sleeve to prevent scratching. Hubby was set on a sports lid and more volume, which is why we went for the larger Klean Kanteen one. He has no complaints to date. So thumbs up all round on the swap.
- Lunch boxes. I make lunch-to-go for my kids most days so i am not under pressure to get back from wherever we are. (It also means I have one less post-meal tornado to clean up every day). I also try to make 3 out of 5 of hubby’s work lunches each week to save on cash, which indirectly also saves on plastic wrapping of shop bought food. We had been using these 3 compartment bento plastic lunch boxes for about a year. They served their purpose, but I found them too bulky, particularly on weekends when I also pack food for my husband and I. So off to the charity shop they went. I replaced them with these Stainless Steel Food Containers from The Wise House. Yes the lid and removable divider is plastic, but the main body of the box is stainless steel, and the overall size was smaller than ours, which was enough for me. These have all gone down a treat, and I won’t be looking back.
- Baby Food. I’ve cut back on my reliance on baby pouches (I know they are recyclable but every bit helps) when we are out, and mix up our little one’s lunch box with finger foods and home-made mush instead. I already had this stainless steel thermos which is helpful for keeping spoon feeding lunches warm. But an unexpected brilliant baby-led feeding piece of kit has been this trio of round food pots, again from The Wise House. I sit my eight month old down with the biggest one in front of her and she picks and chooses what to chew on. I tend to pop her spoonable pudding in one of the smaller ones too.
- No more straws. Our kids are morning smoothie fiends, and they love them even more when a straw is involved. But straws get wrecked around here pretty quickly (chewing toddlers) and wind up in the bin even quicker. We don’t really need them, so we are doing without them going forwards.
- Greener cleaning products. I started looking into my own cleaning products for health reasons. I didn’t like the idea of being in regular contact with chemicals, and exposing my kids to the same. It turns out you can go a long way with some citrus acid, bicarbonate of soda, and white wine vinegar, all of which are super cheap, packaged in glass and cardboard and easily recycled. Google your own cleaning recipes if you would like to too. I use a one part white wine vinegar to two parts water and essential oils mix that I picked up from this super helpful book. It cuts through kitchen and bathroom grease and limescale beautifully. Refilling my spray bottle and not chucking away empty ones each time means less plastic in the bin, making it a double win. I have also taken to using Method’s refills for hand gel and washing up liquid because they use natural ingredients and somehow make a 78% packaging saving. We had an epic fail with home-made dishwashing powder, so I admitted home-made defeat and swapped our old brand finish for Ecover tablets instead. Like I said, do what you can in the context of real life and your limitations.
So there you have it, our 11 baby steps to cutting out plastic thus far, or in the very least reducing it. This is definitely a journey for our family, so no doubt we’ll be adding to the list as life evolves and opportunities arise. I’ll keep you posted.
These things are on my radar to think about or try sometime soon:
- Bamboo toothbrushes for our kids. Not as cute as their preferred plastic-fantastic animal figurine ones, but better eco credentials.
- Investing in a Soda stream instead of buying fizzy water (we love it!) in plastic bottles.
- Buying toilet paper that is wrapped in paper, not plastic. I hear on the online grapevine that WhoGivesACrap are a good option.
- Buying a travel coffee cup so that we don’t need takeaway cups in cafes. Any recommendations?
What are you doing to cut out plastic in your own homes and lives? Please let me know via the comments box below, I would love to hear from you! And if you enjoyed this post, please do sign up for our newsletter.
Special offer for My Everyday Matters readers from TheWiseHouse.co.uk!
The lovely Lucy from The Wise House has kindly offered My Everyday Matters readers 12% off Lunch Bags & Boxes, Bottles, Food Containers, Snack Bags, Bee’s Wrap and Thermos Flasks from her gorgeous independent online shop, of which I am a genuine fan.
The discount code is also applicable for their lunch-to-go kits, which is a simple and fun way of stocking up on everything you need for lunch when out and about. The bottles, lunch boxes and snack pots that we picked up from her shop have been a big win for us in our transition to using less plastic. I hope you can find something that works for you through her too if you find yourself wanting to do the same. Simply type in the code EVDAYWISE at checkout to claim the discount. Enjoy!
PS: I am not reimbursed for any purchases made from TheWiseHouse. It’s just something special for my readers to enjoy.