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How to go plastic free: easy and practical tips

If you follow the news a bit, then you probably conclude that single-use plastic is a sub-optimal invention, and that we should reduce its use. But even for the most environmentally conscious people, this is a challenging task. With this guide, we help you get started or step up your game. Simply skip the chapters that are already a piece of cake for you.  

Did you know that the very best remedy for environmental anxiety or hopelessness is action? That’s why hello energy organises monthly sustainability challenges. By actively working on solutions, we simultaneously make an impact, and we remain optimistic. In July we’re focussing on plastic. 

Some general tips to get started 

Track your purchases and uses for a week and jot them down in your notebook 

Whenever you (unintentionally) buy or use a SUP, write it down. Categorise these records, for example ‘vegetables’, ‘coffee-to-go’, ‘dining out’, or ‘cleaning’. Alternatively, you can walk around your house and note what SUPs there are.  

Now you have a better view of your areas for improvement.

Tip: Don’t try to cut all SUPs at once 

Don’t try to save the world in a day. Pick one or two SUPs to focus on. You’ll experience how easy this new habit is, which encourages you to take up new SUP-free habits. 

Tip: Carry your reusables with you all the time 

Always carry your reusable products – a tote bag, keep cup, refillable bottle, cutlery set and perhaps even your take-away container – with you in your bag. This way, they’re always at hand when you need them.  

Single-use plastic-free grocery shopping 

Let’s start with the hardest of them all: groceries. Our supermarkets are plastic paradises. Even buying a cucumber without a few grams of plastic sometimes seems impossible.    

Eat with the seasons 

When veggies aren’t in season and are imported, they are often wrapped in plastic to extend their shelf life. So eat what’s in season. Want to learn how? Try Anna Jones’ The Modern Cook’s Year 

Visit the market, local cheese store, bakery and butcher 

Markets are probably the easiest place to shop package free. And if it’s not your fancy-pancy gentrifying farmer’s market, it’s often cheaper too! Also your local cheese store, bakery and butcher can sell you their goods plastic-free.

Bring your own 

Some SUPs you don’t need: fruit and vegetable plastic bags; bread bags; shopping bags. Bring your own reusable ones.  

Buy bulk 

Choose supermarkets where you can fill your own container with rice, nuts, granola, spices and pasta. If you live in the Netherlands, choose for Pieter Pot 

Buy paper packaged goods 

Opt – for example – for the rice in a carton box rather than in a plastic bag.  

Single-use plastics in the bathroom

Plastic-free bathrooms are healthier, prettier and often cheaper. A list of ideas:     

  • Check for microbeads in your selfcare products using the app Beat the Microbead. 
  • Choose soap and shampoo bars. 
  • Buy a reusable safety razor rather than those razors that go dull after two shaving sessions. 
  • Choose reusable feminine hygiene products, like a menstrual cup or washable pads.
  • Buy toothpaste tabs instead of toothpaste and choose a high-quality bamboo toothbrush.
  • Invest in refillable (glass) bottles for cleaning and care products. 
  • Deodorant sticks (in paper package) or creme are great alternatives
  • Replace tissues, cotton rounds and cotton buds with washable cloths and buds.
  • Choose organic loofahs instead of synthetic bacteria balls. 

Single-use plastics in the kitchen and plastic-free cleaning

Cleaning products 

How much plastic is under your kitchen sink? Probably a lot. But there are alternatives for every budget!  

Kinfill, for example. You invest in a few glass bottles once (they’re not cheap) and then you buy refills (comparable to or a tad more expensive than supermarket options).  

If this is above your budget, then buy the glass bottles (from whichever brand you like) and refill them with your home-made cleaning products.  

Other kitchen plastics 

Another round of tips:

  • Ditch cling film and go for storage containers (glass ones are healthier) or for beeswax or cloth wraps.  
  • Don’t have a lid for leftovers? Use an upside-down plate, not cling film.  
  • Invest in refillables soap bottles or choose soap bars.  
  • Ban single-use cutlery, plates, and cups from your life. 
  • Sponges are often made of plastic. Choose a loofah, crocheted cloth or wooden brush.
  • Choose filter coffee (using paper filters) rather than coffee in single-use cups. Or use reusable metal cups.  
  • Line your organic waste bin with newspapers rather than a plastic bag.  

Single-use plastic-free out-of-home

The final round of tips, and then you’re ready for your plastic-free life! 

  • Always carry a keep cup, reusable water bottle, grocery bag, a food container and cutlery in your day bag. 
  • When you order a drink in a café, mention you don’t need a straw. 
  • Ask your local coffee shop to introduce a discount when people bring their own take-away cup.  
  • When you order food, mention you don’t need plastic cutlery and straws.  
  • There are some startups experimenting with reusable take-away food containers, using a deposit scheme. Like PackBack and SwapBox. Keep an eye on them! And Google whether such initiatives are also available in your area.  

Have fun!

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