This is a blog post I’ve been meaning to write for ages now, but somehow never managed to find the time. Recent events – specifically, the EU elections here in Europe, which have seen (particularly in Ireland, my home country) a surge in support for the Green Party (or its equivalent in other countries) – have finally given me the impetus I’ve been searching for. So, buckle up, buttercups: here are some of my personal top tips for living a greener life and, particularly, reducing the amount of plastic you consume – because, when you think about it, is there anything more important facing us as a species? I don’t think so. These tips are all things that I have personally done, which means they’re all things you can do too. I hope you find them useful.
Right. At the risk of sounding like a po-faced monstrosity, let’s get started.
1. Change Your Toothbrush
I don’t just mean ‘buy a new one’. No. What I mean is: change it from a plastic-handled one to one made from more sustainable, renewable and (importantly) biodegradable/compostable materials, like bamboo. I’ve been using a Humble Brush for a few years now (no, not the same one. Ew! Don’t be disgusting) and I find them absolutely amazing.
The Humble Brush works, feels and performs exactly as well as any plastic toothbrush, but it has one important difference: the handle is made from bamboo, which disappears (under the right conditions, i.e. in landfill or compost) within a year. Considering it takes between 800 and 1000 mindboggling years for a plastic toothbrush to ‘biodegrade’, this is a no-brainer. I’ve also recently started to use the Bambooth toothbrush, which is even fancier than the Humble Brush; it has a colourful bamboo handle, variegated nylon bristles, and it comes in its own cardboard carrying tube. Bambooth’s absolutely brilliant tagline is ‘Change the Handle, Change the World’, which sums it up for me.
2. Change Your Detergents/Soaps
This one is super-easy and will save you money, too. Instead of using plastic boxes filled with plastic pods to wash your clothes – you know the type, the ones filled with gunky detergent which you toss into the drum of your washing machine – try using the simple, old-fashioned cardboard box of loose washing powder. Admittedly, if you’re unlucky (as I often am) sometimes you’ll have spillages – but it’s worth it. When you run out of powder you have a very recyclable box, and that’s all. No plastic. No nonsense.
I also use solid hand soap at all the sinks in my house – you can get an endless variety of scents and sizes and colours and shapes, and anti-bacterial ones for the bathrooms. Try to get ones that come in cardboard and paper wrapping, which means you have brilliant soap which lasts for ages, costs a fraction of what the fancy plastic squeezy liquid soap bottles do, and leaves no lasting waste behind.
3. Think About Using Solid Shampoo/Shower Bars
This one’s a bit more tricky, as not everyone is going to like solid shampoo. Those of us with thicker hair, or longer hair, mightn’t be too enamoured of the feel of a solid shampoo, but if it suits you to try it, then please do. Some I’ve used (SoapNuts, in particular) have given a great lather and a wonderful clean. Of course, using soap in the shower instead of (or alongside) plastic bottles of gel is a huge help.
4. Change Up your Sanitary/Babycare Shop
Back when my little one was a baby, we made a choice to use washable/reusable and/or biodegradable nappies/diapers. We used several brands of washable nappies – Little Lambs, Charlie Bananas, and G Nappies primarily, all of which worked fantastically well – and at the end of our nappying/diapering journey we supplemented our stash with biodegradable nappies. The brand we used was Kit and Kin, but there are loads of brilliant options available now. Just think: babies are a small-ish percentage of the overall population, but nappy/diaper waste is a huge problem. Every baby in diapers is changed perhaps ten times a day, or more; every single one of those diapers/nappies goes into the bin, and into landfill.
Where they do not disappear. Just imagine the sheer numbers.
When I was pregnant with my child, I went for a walk one hot summer’s day. I passed a bin filled with used nappies, and the smell made me retch. It was then I swore we’d try to find the greenest option possible for our own child’s diapering needs. If you have a bum (or bums!) in nappies in your house, maybe look into greener options. They exist in abundance. I’m very happy to help if you have questions!
The same principle applies to things like baby wipes, sanitary protection, cotton buds, plasters/bandaids, and so many small things we take for granted. Baby wipes are a scourge to our waterways, beaches and pipes; never flush them, even if the packet says you can. Try not to use them if possible (though I do admit they’re extremely handy, out and about), and look for biodegradable ones. We use Kinder by Nature, widely available in pharmacists nationwide. Sanitary protection (like sanitary pads/liners, tampons and so on) should also never be flushed, and there are loads of brilliant options available if you want to get away from plastic. Mooncups and reusable/washable sanitary protection work brilliantly for loads of people, but the option I go for is to use the Natracare range, which is very easy to find in most pharmacies and shops, and which is fully compostable. It’s plastic, chlorine, and bleach free, and the range works just as well as any plastic-packed alternative. I also swapped out my cotton buds/Q-Tips with plastic free alternatives, and I use plastic-free plasters/bandaids.
Something I discovered as my child grew older, too, was how often things like glitter and balloons feature in their lives. Glitter is a horror for the environment (I bought some biodegradable glitter, but it’s an expensive option) and balloons are even worse. At the risk of sounding like a killjoy, try to limit these things when you can.
I also replaced my clingfilm/Saran wrap with beeswax wraps, which I find to be very useful and easy to clean, though not really suitable for use with meat leftovers. (Don’t beat yourself up over a little clingfilm.) Another small change I’m happy to have made is swapping out plastic straws for paper ones, and bamboo ones for more sturdy challenges.
5. Shop Clever, and Remember the 3 Rs
It’s not always easy, but something you can do which really helps is to cut down on the plastic you buy in the supermarket. Some supermarkets provide biodegradable bags for loose fruit and veg; if yours doesn’t, then bring your own. If you buy fresh meat at a butcher’s, then bring your own (scrupulously clean) plastic box, with a perfectly sealable lid (a lunchbox is perfect) and ask them to put your raw meat products in it instead of in two or three throwaway plastic bags. Always bring your own bags to carry shopping home – I have a collection of cotton totes large enough to hold everything I own, and which I invariably forget to bring when I go shopping – and try to be aware, as you purchase, of how much waste the item will create, and buy accordingly. Try to buy meat and fruit products in clear plastic packaging, as opposed to black (it’s harder to recycle black plastic), try to buy packaging which is already recycled (companies like Ecover and Innocent are good for this), and try to buy cardboard packaging as often as you can.
We recycle scrupulously in my house, as I’m sure most people do, but the more important of the 3 Rs is the first one – Reduce. It’s easy to lessen the amount of rubbish leaving your house if you don’t use it in the first place! Reuse whenever you can – yogurt pots as planters for seeds or paint-mixing pots, fruit trays as storage boxes for small toys or crafting materials, plastic wrap (where it’s unavoidable to buy) as binliners – there are loads of things you can do. And then Recycle as much as you can. Please do wash out your containers before putting them in your recycling, and squash them down to maximise space.
Phew. So, if you’re still here, thank you. I’m (in case you hadn’t guessed) passionate about the environment and protecting it for future generations. I know it feels like we, as individuals, don’t have a lot of power – but that’s not really true. If every one of us made an effort to be mindful about plastic, waste and recycling, it would make a huge difference. If – as we’ve seen – we vote in large numbers for parties and politicians who will prioritise dealing with climate collapse, everyone will be better off. Governments and corporations need to move the dial, of course, but never feel like your own small effort is worthless. It’s not. I hope you’ve found these suggestions helpful, and if you have any of your own, let me know in the comments! I’d love to hear from fellow Greenies about the tips and tricks you bring to living a bright, green, clean life on this beautiful planet we all share.