How to cut plastic waste and save money

Updated on 18 July 2018 | 0 Comments

It’s Plastic-Free July, when thousands of people – including me – challenge themselves to reduce the amount of single-use plastic they use. Here are a few ways you can save money and help protect the planet.

Ever since the BBC broadcast the episode of Blue Planet II, the nation has woken up to the fact we have to cut down on the amount of plastic we are using.

The documentary showed an albatross unknowingly feeding its chicks tiny bits of plastic; a graphic representation of how our use and disposal of plastic is choking our environment.

Since then the tide has turned against plastic with supermarkets, coffee firms, restaurants and many other companies pledging to eradicate single-use plastic over the next couple of years. That comes alongside the levy on plastic bags, with another 'latte levy' considered for coffee cups.

The campaign Plastic Free July is encouraging us to cut down on single-use plastic, starting this month.

What is single-use plastic?

Single-use plastic is any plastic item that is only used once before it is thrown away.

So that’s plastic straws, coffee cups, carrier bags and water bottles. The world produces over 300 million tonnes of plastic every year, and half of that is disposable.

While some throwaway plastic is recycled a huge proportion of it is thrown away with 12.7m tonnes going into the ocean every year.

Put another way one rubbish truck of plastic enters the ocean every minute, according to Will McCallum, head of oceans at Greenpeace UK and the author of How to Give Up Plastic.

Once it’s in the ocean plastic takes centuries to break down – a soft drink bottle takes 450 years – and as it breaks down fish and birds eat the small pieces of plastic putting it into the food chain.

So, in order to help reduce the amount of plastic going into the ocean we all need to cut the amount of single-use plastic we use.

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Millions of tonnes of plastic are polluting the oceans (image: Shutterstock)

What will this cost me?

The brilliant news is cutting the amount of plastic you use will actually save you money. Nearly every one of the tips below will be less expensive than sticking with plastic.

The Government has proposed a refundable deposit to encourage people to return plastic bottles; read more about it here.

Cutting your laundry plastic

There are three simple ways you can dramatically reduce how much plastic you use in your laundry.

1. Swap plastic bottles for cardboard

Next time you need more laundry liquid swap to laundry powder that comes in a plastic box and you’ll cut the amount of plastic in your home and save money.

Ariel Liquid Gel costs £8 at Tesco, or 21p a wash. But, Ariel Powder comes in a cardboard box and costs just 15.4p a wash. Just make sure to recycle the plastic scoop inside the box.

2. Switch to refillable products

Another option is to switch to a company that is focussed on being environmentally-friendly.

For example, buy Ecover’s fabric softener comes in a plastic bottle that is made from recycled plastic and is fully recyclable. Plus, you can take it to a local refill station and reuse your bottle up to 50 times.

Initially, you’ll pay more for Ecover, but with a 15litre refill box costing 6p a wash, you’ll soon be saving money.

3. Catch your micro-plastics 

Every time you wash your clothes microplastics are washed away and into the water system.

These are clogging our waterways and causing chaos in the ocean ecosystem. You can stop washing yours away by purchasing a Guppy bag to wash your clothes in that catches the microplastics or a Cora Ball, which you throw into your washing machine to catch the plastics.

A Guppy Bag costs £25 or a Cora Ball $29.99 (approx £22, pictured) but both can be used over and over again so it ends up adding pence to the cost of your washes.

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A Cora Ball, which can catch microfibers from clothes (image: Cora Ball)

Cutting your bathroom plastic

Most of us attempt to recycle our household plastic but many of us fail in the bathroom with almost a quarter of shampoo bottles going into landfill rather than being recycled.

Take a glance around your bathroom and you’ll spot a lot of plastic, but it’s easy to reduce it.

4. Return to bars of soap

Over the past 20 years traditional bars of soap have disappeared from most bathrooms to be replaced by liquid soap.

But swapping back to a humble bar immediately eradicates one plastic bottle in your bathroom. Just make sure you get soap that is wrapped in paper or cardboard rather than plastic.

You will also save money with bars of soap generally cheaper than liquid soap and likely to last a lot longer.

5. Solid shower gel

You can also get rid of plastic shower gel bottles by opting for a bar of soap, or solid shower gel. Bomb Cosmetics sells solid shower gel for £3.99, complete with loop, so you can hang it up (pictured below). You can also buy solid shampoo and conditioner from Lush to get rid of yet more plastic.

6. Buy in bulk

If you don’t want to switch to solid soaps and shampoos you can cut your plastic and save money by buying in bulk.

Many big-name brands sell shampoo, conditioner and body wash in huge 1000ml bottles. These use less plastic than four 250ml containers and cost less too.

Solid shower gel from Bomb Cosmetics (image: Bomb Cosmetics)

Cutting your kitchen plastic

The kitchen is probably the easiest room where you can cut your plastic dependency.

Most of us have already got a stash of re-usable carrier bags so we can avoid the 5p a bag charge at the supermarket and are carrying reusable water bottles and coffee cups too.

So, here are three more ways to cut your plastic use:

7. Ditch your tea bags

You probably didn’t realise that your humble tea bag contained plastic, but most of them do.

PG Tips has pledged to make its bags plastic-free by the end of the year, but until then you’ll either need to switch to an expensive brand such as Tea Pigs to avoid plastic or go old school and use loose leaf tea.

Loose tea is not only better for the environment, it’s also cheaper too. PG Tips in bags costs 3p per bag from Tesco, but the same tea sold loose is just £2, or 2.5p a cup.

8. Bulk buying

Buy the biggest bags you can of staples such as rice and pasta. Not only will you save money you’ll also reduce your plastic use.

9. Use your greengrocer

See if your local greengrocer bags up produce in paper bags, if they do shop there instead of the supermarket where most use excessive amounts of plastic to wrap fresh fruit and veg. 

Alternatively, check out your local Morrisons – the supermarket has replaced all the plastic bags used for loose fruit and veg with paper bags. You can also take your own containers to the meat and fish counters to be filled up.

Iceland also sells plastic-free packaging items with a special label (more on this here).

I’m on a mission to reduce the amount of plastic used in our household. Let me know how you are getting on with #plasticfreejuly in the comments below. Have you got any other ideas for how to cut plastic in the home?


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