In the last year or so, there has been an influx of news stories, environmental charity appeals, and endless Facebook posts preaching about the horrors of plastic and the dire environmental damage it causes. With that in mind, I’ve been trying to reduce my plastic usage for a while and have enjoyed shopping around for plastic-free alternatives for everyday necessities. Being a student means I have neither the time, budget, nor the energy to sacrifice the convenience of some plastic products. However, when challenged to go plastic-free for a week I was more than ready to see how many small changes I could make to further reduce my plastic waste. I was confident that by the end of the week, I’d be able to smugly prove in this article just how easy it is to be environmentally friendly. I was quickly brought down a peg or two when I realised the dedication it took to actually achieve this.
I find with things like rice, pasta and pulses it’s best to buy in bulk when possible
To start the week off right, I took some time to evaluate how much plastic I was already using and where this could be easily reduced. I began in the kitchen with high hopes, I’d already started to take some steps in this department, and a lot of my most used products were already plastic-free alternatives. For example, most of my cooking utensils are wooden or stainless steel, I’ve invested in a pack of reusable straws, and I use reusable beeswax wraps or aluminium foil (which, if clean, is 100% recyclable) over clingfilm. Rather than disposable dish sponges, I use a reusable brush and for my cleaning, I use machine-washable cloths instead of disposable wipes.
I left for my weekly Tesco food shop with my confidence still intact – and, of course, my trusty tote bags so I’d have no need for any plastic carrier bags. I managed to buy most of my fruit and veg loose, which I popped in some handy machine-washable mesh bags. Not only did this mean I dodged a load of non-recyclable plastic packaging, but I also saved money by only buying what I need instead of shelling out on massive pre-packaged produce. Some products just always seem to be difficult to source in any packaging other than non-recyclable, so I find with things like rice, pasta and pulses it’s best to buy in bulk when possible. For those who live on campus, it’s worth noting that there is a student-run co-op (in the SU every Thursday) which sells a lot of this kind of produce in your own containers for a reasonable price.
Why, for example, does The Bread Oven need to sell their baguettes in plastic bags when they could just as easily use paper? For a University that recently boasted at being named 26th in the world for sustainability, this doesn’t seem like the most environmentally conscious choice
One area I definitely struggled with was buying prepared food and snacks. In an ideal world, I’d never stray from my own homemade, perfectly healthy, zero-waste meals. Alas, this is simply not possible for a student, even for one with the best intentions. It seems every ready meal is wrapped in an obscene amount of plastic. According to the British Plastic Federation (BPF), the use of plastic in food packaging is essential to prevent spoiling. However, I could forgive this if the plastic used was actually recyclable – I find most prepared foods are sold in packaging that isn’t recyclable. This is also an area I felt most let down in by the university. In my attempted plastic-free week, I realised how difficult it is to buy a plastic-free meal from any food outlet on campus. Why, for example, does The Bread Oven need to sell their baguettes in plastic bags when they could just as easily use paper? For a University that recently boasted at being named 26th in the world for sustainability, this doesn’t seem like the most environmentally conscious choice.
Managing to make a few small changes as a student with limited time and means is definitely better than doing nothing at all
Plastic was also inevitable with any bathroom or cosmetic products. It seemed near impossible to find any affordable shower or bath necessities that didn’t come in plastic bottles, and makeup is almost always in plastic packaging. I consoled myself with the fact that a lot of these are at least recyclable, and found I managed to easily make some small swaps. Using bars of soaps instead of liquid in bottles was one super easy change, as well as using washable cloths with a balm or liquid cleanser over endless makeup wipes or disposable cotton pads. There are definitely some stores which offer packaging free cosmetics; Lush just recently opened their first completely ‘naked’ store in Manchester, and sell plastic-free hair products, make-up, and even toothpaste. However, these are of course more difficult to get than just picking up whatever’s available at your weekly shop and can be pretty pricey. For those who use sanitary products, a new discovery for me was plastic-free pads and other alternative products like period underwear or menstrual cups.
Although admittedly this plastic-free week was not completely successful, it was definitely eye-opening, and by the end of the week I had become acutely aware of how much plastic we’re actually surrounded by in everyday life. Managing to make a few small changes as a student with limited time and means is definitely better than doing nothing at all. Plus, we can only work with what’s available to us; perhaps the responsibility should lie with the producers rather than the consumers in this case. The rising concern over plastic has already seen some companies take measures to become more environmentally responsible, with supermarkets including Tesco, Aldi, and Iceland having established some plans to reduce their waste in the next few years Hopefully, more brands will also soon see the errors of their ways, and make going plastic-free more affordable, accessible, and effortless for us eco-warrior wannabes.