Have we all started to be a bit more eco-friendly?
With everyone spending far more time at home nowadays, it seems that people have been going greener since lockdown. According to the Metro, new research (commissioned by Princes Fish) shows that a third of UK households have become more eco-friendly since the global pandemic hit; simple things like turning the lights off when they leave a room, recycling more often and more carefully and showering rather than having baths.
What more could I do?
Could it be that since life has slowed down we’ve found the time to think about the big stuff? Or maybe that we’ve come to appreciate the world and the impact we’re having on it thanks to spending a lot more time outside walking? Whatever your reasons, it’s great that you want to take the step to be more eco-friendly, and if everyone does a little bit to be greener the results will be really positive.
With this in mind, and for those of us who know we can do more but aren’t quite sure where to start, I wanted to look at some easy eco-friendly swap outs for household essentials which you could make in your own home, and which won’t cost the earth (excuse the pun!)
Please bear in mind, the most eco-friendly practice isn't to throw away all your plastic items, but rather when the time comes to replacing the items, opt for more eco-friendly alternatives.
How can I reduce my plastic in the kitchen?
I appear to be able to go through a kitchen roll like there is no tomorrow, a little mop up here, a big spill there- my first instinct is always to grab some paper. As a staple in my kitchen, the fact it is single-use, disposed of immediately and comes packaged in plastic means it isn’t a particularly green option.
There are a couple of more eco-friendly options when it comes to kitchen roll:
- You could of course go roll-less altogether
- You could switch to reusable cloths such as these UNpaper towels from Marley's Monsters which are washable and a great alternative to disposable paper towels.
- Or if like me you’re not quite ready to rid your kitchen counter then you could opt for an eco-friendly kitchen roll such as this one from Who Gives a Crap. It is made from a blend of bamboo and a sugarcane by-product called “bagasse”, so no trees have been cut down to produce it and it is sustainable whilst being super strong and absorbent. It comes wrapped in tissue paper which eliminates the plastic wrapping issue and for every product sold, Who Gives a Crap donates 50% of their profits to charity partners who do the vital work of building toilets and improving sanitation in developing countries.
Kitchen scrubbing brush
You can’t scrub your dishes with just washing up liquid alone, but did you know that most scrubbing brushes are made from plastic and have nylon bristles which break down into micro plastics and contaminate our water?
Thankfully, there’s a vast assortment of plastic-free options out there, and wooden ones are a great alternative to plastic scrubbing brushes, such as this one from Zero Waste Club. It has a long-lasting aluminium handle and a bamboo head with natural sisal plants, and like many others on the market, you can buy replaceable heads which you can change once the one you are using has worn out.
Just like the scrubbing brush, kitchen sponges contain micro-plastics. The different coloured top layer of the sponge is made from materials such as polyester and nylon which are non-recyclable and fall off almost every wash. The micro-plastics then get rinsed down the sink and into our water systems, sadly ending up in oceans often being digested by marine life.
The draw to them is they are cheap, and they get the job done, but they aren’t easily biodegradable and they only last a short amount of time before they are thrown away, ending up in landfill.
Luckily, there are some great plastic-free options out there which are both compostable and kinder to the environment to produce, such as these Zero Waste Club kitchen sponges which are made from wood pulp, they also have coconut husk scourers for tougher cleaning.
When picking an eco-friendlier sponge, have a think about the materials they are made from- are the materials natural such as coconut or plant fibres, are they renewable? At the end of its life, can you recycle it or place it on your compost rather than putting it in your rubbish bin? Does it come packaged in plastic?
Washing up liquid
Sticking to the theme of washing up- now you’ve got your plastic free, compostable utensils, what about your washing up liquid? Some of the high street options can contain harmful toxins which cause serious damage to species living in our waters.
The best eco-friendly washing up liquids are ones which are plant-based; they won’t harm the environment, are gentler and are often scented with essential oils rather than perfumes or fragrances so are perfect for anyone with sensitive, or eczema prone skin.
Eco-friendly washing up liquid often comes in packaging which is kinder to the environment too. You could even buy it in bulk and use your own refillable bottles such as this screw top one from Ampulla, or you could look into switching to a washing up soap block such as this one from Zero Waste Club, which you lather up like you would bathroom soap. The eco-friendly options are luckily plentiful!
Washing up gloves
There are some great options available nowadays for eco-friendly washing up gloves such as these natural rubber gloves from If You Care. They are made from Fair Trade FSC certified natural rubber and contain no plastic.
At the end of life they are compostable, so once you’ve used them for cleaning, doing the dishes or even gardening, they are completely zero waste.
Cling film & plastic food bags
Alongside plastic bottles and shopping bags, plastic sandwich bags and cling film make up another big proportion of plastic waste and whilst they are both quick and easy to use, they are very hard to recycle and they are terrible for the environment. Luckily there has been a big push over recent years to come up with eco-friendly alternatives which keep our food just as fresh.
Beeswax wraps from the Beeswax wrap company are a brilliant alternative, they are easy to use, flexible, reusable and self-sealing. The perfect alternative to both sandwich bags and clingfilm. If you’re looking for a vegan option, they have those too. At the time of writing this blog piece they have a seconds & samples sale so you can enjoy up to 40% off.
For freezer bags, see if you can find any silicone options which will be better for the environment than plastic ones, such as these from Reusabag.
Dishwasher tablets are generally quite chemical-heavy, often contain bleach and are nearly always packaged individually in plastic wrappers.
There are now several eco-friendly options on the market which are kinder to the planet and contain more plant-based ingredients, which is great given that the contents of the tablets always end up in our waterways.
They range in prices, and if you are interested in reading more about the options available, the good food guide has put a number of them to the test which you can read about here.
Have a think about your kitchen cooking utensils- although we will all have a classic wooden spoon around somewhere, try and opt for all your utensils to be made from 100% wood or bamboo. Not only will they last longer than plastic ones, but they are a more sustainable choice too.
Ice cube tray
If you’re lucky enough to have an ice dispenser on your fridge then skip to the number 10, but for those of us who don’t, it's quite common to have either a bag of ice or plastic ice cube trays in the top drawer of your freezer. One way to get rid of the plastic when it comes to ice is to opt for a stainless steel ice cube tray, or the cheaper alternative is to get a silicone one.
Silicone is made from silica found in sand and is more ocean friendly than plastic, and although it doesn’t easily biodegrade or decompose, it doesn't break down into dangerous micro-plastics which can then be digested by wildlife.
How can I reduce my plastic in the bathroom?
No doubt you’ve had enough toilet roll talk in the last year to last you a lifetime, but as the panic buying increased- so did the number of trees needing to be cut down to meet the demand. Although growth has since slowed, toilet tissue volume grew by 6.6% over the year. That’s an extra 186.4 million rolls! (the grocer)
There are multiple companies who are now creating and selling more sustainable toilet roll, such as Who Gives a Crap who have 2 great options - recycled paper toilet roll and bamboo toilet paper both of which are “good for your bum, great for the world” and they come individually packaged in funky patterned tissue paper rather than plastic. To give back, 50% of the profits go to charity partners who do the vital work of building toilets and improving sanitation in developing countries.
Another option is Bumboo who also offer bamboo toilet paper, they have partnered with the eden project and they plant a tree for every box bought.
Hand soap / body soap
At nookary, we are big fans of UpCircle products- they source and use by-products from other industries to create zero waste skincare such as this mint and lemongrass hand soap. It is made in the UK supporting a lower carbon footprint and it comes in 100% recyclable packaging; and whereas hand soap usually comes in a plastic bottle, this bottle is glass and once you place a repeat order you will automatically be sent an aluminium cap refill after your first delivery, just keep the pump from your original bottle.
An even more eco-friendly option is to buy a soap bar rather than in a bottle- Friendly Soap have some great options. Their ingredients, processes and packaging are all designed to create products which are as ethical and sustainable as possible and they use the ancient cold-process method to create the soap, meaning they are free from by-products, and there’s absolutely no waste.
Did you know that a lot of shampoos and conditioners not only come housed in plastic, but they can also contain plastic which gets washed down the plug and into our waterways? Shampoo / conditioner bars are a great eco-friendly option to avoid plastic altogether- and it will also get to work ridding your hair of any toxins from previous hair treatments, or any traces of plastic left behind from your traditional shampoos.
Shampoo bars aren’t for everyone, and it can take some getting used to to lather it up like hand soap, so another option is more traditional Moo Hair shampoo which comes in a bottle. It is made using all-natural ingredients from sustainable and renewable sources and is housed in glass with recyclable packaging, it is also palm oil free and cruelty free. They have other great hair care products too, such as their Moo Hair conditioner.
Have you ever thought about how many disposable plastic razors you go through in a year? Scary thought! The problem with disposable razors is that they are usually made from mixed materials so they can’t easily be recycled, the result being that a shocking 2 billion plastic razors a year ending up in landfill or incinerators which has a major impact on the environment.
Plastic free shaving is widely becoming more and more popular, this striking plastic free safety razor from Zero Waste Club is made from stainless steel, and one purchase means you are set for life as the razor itself never needs to be replaced- it comes with 10 replaceable blades which are fully recyclable. Whilst writing this blog piece I came across this handy razor blade disposal tin from Zero Waste Club which you could safely keep your used blades in.
To accompany your new safety razor, you could have a look into eco-friendly shaving soap bars such as this one from Friendly Soap. Whereas your more traditional shaving foam usually comes housed in plastic and can be full of plastic in the shaving foam itself too, this one is entirely plastic free on the inside and out, and contains no palm oil, preservatives or sulphates either.
The beauty industry as a whole generates a lot of waste, whether it's the ingredients used in the products themselves or the sheer amount of plastic used as most come in plastic bottles surrounded with plastic packaging, none of which is easily recyclable. The challenge to cut back on, or to eliminate the use of plastic entirely is a big one, but it can be done.
UpCircle is a great example of a company who are paving the way to zero waste beauty products. Their focus is on reusing, repurposing and reloving- they elevate leftover ingredients from the food and drink industry by bringing them back to life as beauty products which your skin will love.
Their natural face moisturiser is made with Vitamin E rich finely-ground powder of discarded argan shells (a natural by-product of the argan oil industry). It is housed in a glass jar with an aluminium lid, and the jar comes in a cardboard box which is 100% recyclable.
Their coffee and cacao body scrub is made with top-quality Arabica coffee grounds sourced from artisan coffee shops in London.
When it comes to skincare products- look for ones which come in glass jars and have natural ingredients in.
Toothbrush & toothpaste
A plastic item we use twice a day, every day, and are meant to dispose of every 3 months is our toothbrush. The British Dentist Association stated “if we each use one toothbrush every three months in the UK, we are disposing of approximately 200 million brushes each year” which is another huge contributor to plastic in landfill.
There are a few different options for a plastic free toothbrush, such as this one from Georganics. It has a handle made from sustainable FSC beechwood and has BPA free nylon bristles.
If you are looking for an option for a baby or young child, I personally recommend these baby bamboo toothbrushes from Wild and Stone which I have used with my daughter since her teeth first started making an appearance. They are extremely soft, made from sustainably-grown bamboo, are BPA free, compostable and vegan. This pack of 4 comes packed in eco-friendly, recyclable packaging to ensure a completely plastic-free product.
You can also get eco-friendly toothpaste such as this one from Georganics which comes in a recyclable glass jar, aluminium lid and compostable box with a compostable bamboo spatula.
For years cotton buds have been made of single-use plastic, and it is estimated that in the UK alone we use 1.8 billion of them every year. These bamboo cotton buds from UpCircle are a great eco-friendly alternative; the sticks are made from a sustainable source of bamboo and the tips are made with organic cotton.
Although make-up wipes are an easy option when it comes to makeup removal- they are bad for both your skin and the environment.
A more eco-friendly option is to use reusable make-up pads such as these UpCircle cotton pads which are made from a triple layer of 70% hemp and 30% cotton and feel silky soft on your skin, and at the end of the week you can easily wash them in your washing machine with the mesh bag they come with.
We all know that hairbrushes can come in all different shapes and sizes, but have you had a think about what material yours is made from? The answer probably includes plastic somewhere.
Ecoliving have a great range of eco-friendly hair brushes which are made from wood rather than plastic- better for your hair and for the environment!
I won’t spend long discussing toilet brushes, because we all know what they’re used for. But again, they are a product which traditionally are made of plastic and have plastic bristles which easily break off and get flushed into our water systems.
Ecoliving has a great option for a plastic free toilet brush- the brush itself is compostable with plant-based bristles, it also means it will not shed micro-plastics into the ocean. It comes with a metal holder which is reusable and recyclable after use.
How can I reduce plastic in other parts of my home?
Something else you can buy in bulk and use your own refillable spray bottles for are cleaning products -another household essential which is an easy swap out. We often have that one cupboard in our home (mine is under the sink) which groans under the weight of all the various plastic bottles for different cleaning jobs around our home, a lot of which can contain environmentally harmful chemicals.
The bottom line is you can get the same results whilst being kinder to the environment with ones made from natural ingredients. You could even look at making your own cleaning products or get rid of cleaning products altogether and think about using lemons, baking powder and vinegar- they are both safe, effective and far less expensive!
To accompany your eco-friendly cleaning products you will need some eco-friendly cleaning cloths such as these compostable sponge cleaning cloths from Ecoliving. They are made from 70% cellulose and 30% cotton meaning they are entirely plastic free and unlike the classic cleaning sponge, they don’t emit micro-plastics. Another great option for the animal lovers out there are these wildlife rescue compostable sponges- 10% of the profits are donated to NSW Wildlife Rescue Service who help the animals affected by the Australian bush fires.
From the plastic bucket to the mops plastic handle and often some single-use mopping pads, your mopping routine could be having quite the impact on the environment. If you already own a mop and a bucket it is far less harmful to the environment to keep it for as long as possible rather than sending it to landfill, but if you did want to make the change then maybe see if you can donate it instead.
There are plenty of eco-friendly options out there- wooden handled mops and stainless steel buckets just to name 2, our tip is double check what the mop head is actually made from, as sometimes they can contain animal hair.
Try to opt for eco-friendly floor cleaner as well, or ditch the cleaning products altogether and use a steam mop which uses only water.
Dustpan and brush
The typical dustpan and brush is made up quite heavily of plastic and the bristles themselves are often made from nylon. Nylon is made from oil- a nonrenewable source, and it is created using an energy-intensive process.
There are more and more options available for an eco-friendly dustpan and brush such as this vegan friendly and plastic free one from Ecoliving, made from FSC certified beechwood and natural bristles with magnets to keep the dustpan and brush together.
Laundry detergents are high on the list for water pollutants thanks to them containing high amounts of salts, bleach and microfibres, they can also contain non-biodegradable ingredients too. There are some great options out there for eco-friendly detergents depending on your preferences, but 2 of our nookary favourites are ecoegg and Clothes Doctor.
Ecoegg has created laundry products which contain no harmful chemicals, they help to reduce single-use plastic and have held Allergy UK’s ‘Allergy Friendly Product’ award since 2011. The Laundry egg itself contains mineral pellets which work together in the water to draw out any dirt from your clothes and leaves them soft and soft and it works out at only 14p a wash with the original egg, then 10p a wash after that when you buy the refillable pellets.
Clothes Doctor have a range of products which are designed to not only clean your clothes, but also to care for them and prolong their life. The range covers specialised care for cashmere, wool and silk, as well as sports, travel and their signature eco wash. All of their products come in aluminium bottles which are reusable and infinitely recyclable, a compostable label and packaging which is 100% recyclable too.
It is estimated that each year, we use 500 billion to 1 trillion single-use plastic bags. Although there has been a big improvement in the number of bags sold thanks to the government introducing a charge for them, there is still a lot of avoidable waste and bags ending up in landfill.
By using reusable grocery bags, you can easily cut down on the habit without missing out on convenience, and some supermarkets even offer incentives for people who bring their own bags, for example Clubcard points.
There are so many options nowadays for reusable bags, and they come in all different sizes, shapes and colours to suit your needs.
Reusable produce bags
As well as reusable bags to carry your shopping home, another easy plastic reduction is opting for loose produce over pre-packaged fruit and vegetables. Some supermarkets unfortunately still offer plastic bags for these items, but you can easily get yourself some reusable produce bags such as these from Zero Waste Club, made from 100% organic undyed cotton. The seams are double stitched making them strong enough to hold up to 5 kilograms and they have a double closing drawstring so are great at holding loose produce such as grains, fruit and vegetables. You can even put your produce straight into your fridge in the bag themselves!
Single-use plastic water bottles with attached straws have become extremely popular in the last few years, a really easy swap for this is to switch to a glass or aluminium version- they stay cleaner for longer and also keep your water colder too. Win win.
The cheapest option for a pet food or water bowl is one made of plastic, however they can be easily chewed or scratched by your pet, leaving places for bacteria to build up, they are also another example of single-use plastic which you could easily swap out or not buy at all.
Bowls made from china, bamboo or even stainless steel are much eco-friendly options and are much safer for your pet too. Beco offer a great range of bamboo pet bowls.
Wooden clothes pegs
Last but not least on the list is your clothes pegs. If you’re anything like me you take complete advantage of the weather in the summer to line dry your washing, but what are your pegs made from? Many are made from plastic, whereas the more traditional are made from wood. These clothes pegs from Ecoliving are made of FSC certified beech wood, have a steel spring and come packaged in a recycled and recyclable cardboard box.
So there we have it- 30 easy eco-friendly swap outs. Please remember that this is in no way a suggestion to walk around your house and throw all of your plastic items away, it is simply just some ideas where you could start to opt for eco-friendlier options if you were looking to reduce plastic in your home.