What’s your plastic footprint?

Watching My Family and The Galapagos this week renewed my obsession with plastic.

We produce over 280 million tonnes of plastic per year.  Every bit of plastic that has ever been produced is still on the planet.  Even though we can now see miles of plastic floating in the ocean, we are still producing plastic at the same rate.

This is madness.

How do we stop?  Do we wait for manufacturers and retailers and governments to decide that it is a bad idea?

They will never do this, because this is a complicated problem and most of us live in Capitalist cultures.

This is ruled by supply-and-demand.

We need to take personal responsibility for our own consumption.

Think about your bin and recycling this week.  Bearing in mind that it has been revealed that only one third of ‘recyclable’ plastic waste in the UK is actually recycled.

How much have you added to that ocean of plastic this week?

It is thoughts like this that I am aware of when I am shopping.  And it is amazing what a difference it has made.


These are some of the changes I have made in the last 6 months:

  • I no longer buy bottles of water ever.  I used to occasionally forget my re-useable water bottle and buy a bottle.  I don’t any more.
  • I always have a re-useable coffee cup in the car.  If a barista looks askance at me for asking them to fill my cup rather than their disposable cup, I explain why.
  • I don’t buy pre-prepared salads or dips any more.  I really liked these.  When I waver, I remember the ocean.  We try to make big batches of salad at the weekend, which do for mid-week lunches for a few days.
  • I don’t buy fruit and veg or meat from supermarkets any more.  This is expensive.  But it makes us think about our consumption in other ways too!
  • We are using bars of soap, solid shampoo and plastic-free deodorant.  Next up is replacing plastic toothbrushes and razors with bamboo and metal alternatives.
  • Cleaning products are difficult.  I buy Ecover products, but many come in plastic bottles.  I am choosing washing powder in a box, and I have reduced the amount of cleaning product I use.  I scrub a bit more!
  • I don’t use hair-styling products and my make-up is minimal, but I am now aware of the packaging with these products.  If anything comes in unnecessary packaging, I’m not buying it.  I might be less beautiful, but the planet will be that little bit more beautiful.


Things that I have not tackled yet, but also need to think about are:

  • Stationery.  I have a stationery fetish, so this is going to be hard.  I bought Sellotape the other day that had completely unnecessary double packaging.
  • Clothes.  We have just started giving our children a clothing allowance.  I don’t want them to buy really cheap clothes that have been unethically produced, but I do understand that they want to get the most for their money.
  • Electricals.  It sits uncomfortably with me that we have so many gadgets in our house and that their life-span is so short.

I talk to friends and family and colleagues, and we now share tips and ideas.  One of my colleagues signposted me to this website for toiletriesLush is also great too.  I love RE for re-used and recycled gifts and household items.

Next up on my mission is talking to the organisations I am involved with.  At work this week we were each given a little bottle of hand sanitiser and, inexplicably, a little plastic holster, so that we can clip it to our belt if we want to.  I never knew my life was incomplete until I received that little red holster.  Really, this is madness.  And I will be emailing our Chief Exec!

I have had a disappointing email exchange with Sainsbury’s.  I wanted to let them know why I’m not buying their fruit and veg and meat any more.  They sent a standard email back saying that the environment is one of their priorities.  Which is why their plastic trays have the ‘recycle’ stamp on them.  Sorry, Sainsbury’s, but this is just not good enough.  They have lost my loyalty.  I would be interested to know how other supermarkets respond.  How many complaints does it take to make a supermarket take notice?  Is it just sales figures that they listen to?

Do you have any recommendations for plastic-free shopping?  What changes could you make?  What are the most painful sacrifices for you?

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38 Comments Add yours

  1. Emma Cownie says:

    Hi Ali – I have been thinking about using these shampoo bars, do you need to use a conditioner bar too? Is there such a thing? I’d never seen toothpaste bars before!

    1. Ali says:

      I don’t use a conditioner because my hair doesn’t seem to need it. I was surprised by this because I had swallowed the shampoo and conditioner ads! My hair is quite fine, and I realise now that the conventional products weigh it down. But you can get conditioner bars too.

      1. Emma Cownie says:

        That’s interesting. Thanks Ali.

  2. Wonderful article! They need to get rid of plastic grocery bags. I see so many of them scattered about and in the water.

    1. Ali says:

      A charge of 5p was introduced in the U.K. a year or so ago, and this has helped a lot. Everyone has reusable cloth bags now, and a plastic bag is seen as the luxury it should be!

  3. We have stopped using clingfilm

    1. Ali says:

      This is next on my list! What do you use instead? I try to use a plate on top in the fridge, but have seen you can get reuseable wraps or cloths.

      1. Heyjude says:

        Can’t you use aluminium foil or is that also bad? I tend to put leftovers into used ice-cream tubs (yes I know plastic, but I re-use them all the time)

      2. Ali says:

        I have wondered about this re: foil and really need to investigate. And yes, fab way to keep reusing plastic tubs.

      3. Plates do the trick. We have only just learned that the stuff doesn’t degrade, so only recently stopped using it.

      4. Ali says:

        Thanks Derrick. This has been bumped up my list. I know it only a small amount used, but it all counts, doesn’t it? And when there is a very straightforward solution…

  4. Heyjude says:

    We have a septic tank here and it is amazing how that changes the way you use product such as toiletries and cleaners. I try to only use Ecover products and generally only use water and a microfibre cloth for any household cleaning. I don’t use make-up at all these days. In the supermarket I always try and buy fruit and veg that are loose and I never use a plastic bag to put them in, so onions and potatoes roll all over the conveyor belt! And I carry a cloth bag with me at all times. We recycle everything we possibly can, but I know that this isn’t always done as I would like it to be 😦

    It is a shocking problem.

    1. Ali says:

      That’s a really good point, Jude re: septic tanks. We’re on a reed bed system, and this made me rethink our loo paper when we moved here. Also other products! A lovely colleague of mine takes her own plastic or paper bags for loose fruit and veg at the supermarket, which also seems like a brilliant idea.

  5. bcparkison says:

    This is a very real problem. It is just to big a problem to get resolved quickly.

    1. Ali says:

      Yes; needs much thought and a coordinated approach.

  6. Susan Beard. says:

    To avoid replacing broken items I have used the Repair- Shop Scheme, quite a few have sprung up in our UK towns and cities. Expert volunteers fix and mend…..Brilliant Idea.

    1. Ali says:

      Ooh! What a brilliant idea! I will investigate this!

  7. Christina says:

    Always good to keep this to the forefront of our minds. We have at last found a supplier of water in glass bottles. I try not to buy things with excess packaging. I think if we all took all the excess back to the shop or better still unwrapped things while still in store and left it there it would make the point. If everyone could be persuaded to do it on a particular day I think the supermarkets would take notice.

    1. Ali says:

      I have thought this exact thing, re: leaving the packaging at the store! I suspect there is a horrific amount of plastic waste before we even see the products, eg crates being wrapped in plastic. I was really bothered when I ordered a sparkling water in a restaurant and that came in a plastic bottle; I had assumed they would use glass and recycle. So many things!! I have often wondered why we don’t just have a generic glass bottle system for all liquids. I know soft drink manufacturers may object, but it would just make reusing so much easier!

      1. Christina says:

        Water (branded, for those who want it) could be sold on tap into your own container. It might happen.

  8. I enjoy reading posts like this because it gives me ideas on how we can cut down too. We’ve already switched to bars of shampoo and conditioner, we use reusable coffee cups and stainless steel flasks, and we’ve swapped cling film for beeswraps. We’ve still got a long way to go, but we’re trying and always open to new ideas.

    1. Ali says:

      Beeswraps! Thank you! I saw these on a website and wondered. Are they good for sandwiches?

      1. Yes, that’s what we mostly use them for. 😊

      2. Ali says:

        Fab. Thank you!

  9. M.B. Henry says:

    Very informative piece. Change starts with each one of us.

    1. Ali says:

      Absolutely. I think we sometimes wait passively for a law and it is never going to happen.

  10. Love this …. Here in France I love how the markets and little supermarkets don’t wrap up their fruit and veg. Soooo much better.

    1. Ali says:

      Yes, the whole of Europe seem to have this set up so much better than us, and have for years. We could learn a lot!

  11. crabandfish says:

    Great articleAli – here in Australia there’s a big push and campaign to enlighten us on the environmental impacts of plastics and lots of alternatives are becoming popular. Good on you 😊

    1. Ali says:

      That is good to hear, Flavia!

  12. You are right, Ali. We try but thankyou for the link to the toiletry site….I shall take a look at this.
    I find the plastic in supermarkets criminal tbh

  13. Anne W says:

    I’ve switched to Lush for shampoo and conditioner bars, they take back the containers for their make up too. Plastic razor had been switched for a lovely metal safety razor, shower gels and pump soaps swapped for bars of soap made locally. Cling film has been swapped with tin foil, which is washable & reusable, or recycled, & I’ve bought beeswax wraps for sandwiches in lunchboxes. Fruit & veg comes from the local farm shop, no plastic wrapping. I take containers to the butcher and fishmonger. It is more expensive to shop that way, but like you said, it makes you think about how much meat you actually need. I avoid all plastic as much as possible, not just the single use stuff because you are not guaranteed that it is recycled. It’s not easy though!! 😅

    1. Anne W says:

      I forgot the toothbrushes! Bamboo all the way, and Georganics.co.uk have good zero waste toothpaste!

      1. Ali says:

        Thank you! I will check that out. 😘❤️

    2. Ali says:

      Oh my goodness, thank you so much for those tips about makeup containers and razors! I am heading off to Lush!

      1. Anne W says:

        The razor was from Amazon, Merkur 23C.

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