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Food & Drink

How to go plastic-free on a budget

By 2050 there could be more plastic in our oceans than fish – so how much plastic do you throw away? Here's how to cut down while saving yourself some cash.

plastic free bottles

We're more conscious than ever before of the plastic we're using in our everyday lives – and how unavoidable it can be. Whether you're buying a sandwich, some loo roll or a toothbrush, you're probably buying plastic that you'll end up chucking in the bin.

The big sticking point is that plastic is often the cheapest and most convenient option for products and packaging, and opting for the eco-friendly choice often means spending more money... or does it?

We've listed a whole bunch of ways you can cut down on plastic while also cutting down your spending.

Why go plastic-free?

pile of plastic bottles pollution

Almost everything we buy contains plastic in some form, and the problem is, this plastic never goes away.

Here are some key stats to help you understand just how serious our plastic pollution problem is:

  • Eight million pieces of plastic enter our oceans every single day
  • 33% of plastic is used once and then thrown away. It cannot biodegrade and ends up in our oceans where it breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces, eventually becoming microplastics
  • Some estimates suggest there are as many as 51 trillion microplastic particles in our oceans
  • A plastic bottle can last 450 years in our oceans – it will eventually become microscopic, but it will never go away
  • One in three fish caught for human consumption contain plastic – so not only are our fish ingesting these microplastics, we are too
  • The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is three times the size of France, and it would take 67 ships one year to clean up less than 1% of it.

You might be wondering how one person going plastic-free is going to make any difference in the face of such a huge problem. And you do have a point.

But at the risk of sounding clichéd, big societal changes start with individual people making small changes. Plus, if you can convince your friends and family to join you, then you're no longer just one person. Never underestimate the impact of your individual actions.

Check out the university sustainability league table to find out how green your uni is.

26 ways to use less plastic AND save money

You'll find single-use plastics in pretty much all aspects of your life, so it can feel quite overwhelming cutting it all out in one go. But if take it one step at a time, it's much more achievable.

Toiletries-written-over-wash-bag-shampoo

Credit: akvarelmed – Shutterstock

  1. Use a shampoo bar – Yes, shampoo now comes in solid form and it lasts waaaay longer than your usual bottle. Lush have loads to choose from so you can get one which matches your hair type, too
  2. Ditch the face wipes for a face cloth instead – Face wipes might be convenient but they're super bad for the environment and expensive. Buy one cloth for your face and another for your body, and you're set for weeks
  3. Use a bar of soap, not a pump – It might seem old fashioned to use a bar of soap these days but again, it'll last way longer, plus it gets a wash after each use (unlike a plastic soap dispenser). Just make sure to find a bar that doesn't come wrapped in plastic (Lush will help you here)
  4. Get yourself a deodorant bar – You can get these from Lush too and although they might take a little while to get used to, they're better than using a plastic roll-on or spray can. They last forever too if you keep your bar wrapped in paper to preserve the scent
plastic free shampoo deodorant soap Lush

Face cloth - £1.50, Asda; Bar of soap - £5.50 per 120g, Lush; Shampoo bar - £8, Lush; Deoderant bar - £6.50 per 100g, Lush.

  1. Buy a wooden toothbrush – These aren't to everyone's taste (we mean literally, it sort of feels like licking a tree), but they're much more eco-friendly. The ones from Save Some Green have handles made from (panda-friendly, sustainable) bamboo, and the bristles are BPA-free* biodegradable nylon 4 (meaning they are plastic, but they will degrade), and they're also infused with bamboo. They're £2.50 each (or £1.88 each if you buy in bulk)
    *BPA is a chemical used in plastics that some experts claim is toxic and should be avoided
  2. Get plastic-free toothpaste – One alternative is 'truthpaste' from &Keep. You'll still get the strong mint toothpaste flavour but it doesn't contain any foaming agent so will feel different to your normal brush. At £3.35 a pot it isn't the cheapest, but there aren't many options on the market
  3. Opt for plastic-free makeup – This can be quite difficult when all the major brands use plastic, but there are alternatives out there – like Glow Organic for instance. You might not get the exact same quality you're used to, but you'll get that extra glow knowing that you're saving the planet
We've got loads of tips on how to save money and recycle your makeup – including the Back to Mac scheme, which rewards you with a free lipstick for returning your packaging!
  1. Try out a menstrual cup – If you're looking for a way to cut plastic out of your periods (and save money), then you could try out a menstrual cup or reusable sanitary pads if they work for you. We've rounded up the cheapest sanitary products here
  2. Buy paper-wrapped loo roll – With Who Gives A Crap, you can get loo roll that's much more attractive than your usual while also being super eco-friendly. If you buy direct from their website, you have to buy in bulk – £36 for 48 rolls for instance, which works out at 75p per roll. It might not be as cheap as you're used to but you could mix it up and buy a box of paper-wrapped rolls every now and then

Who Gives A Crap plastic free toilet roll

Once you're finished with it, why not sell your loo roll tubes on to make back some cash? Yes, it can be done!

Food-written-over-shopping-basket-supermarket

  1. Shop at local independent stores – Places like butchers, delis, grocers and markets are much more likely to offer food in plastic-free form than mainstream supermarkets
  2. Check labels carefully – There are no set rules on how companies must label their packaging with regards to the materials used and their recyclability, and some are much better than others. If you keep your eyes peeled, you'll be surprised to find some food products aren't recyclable at all (while others are that you wouldn't expect)
  3. Always go for loose fruit and veg, not pre-packaged – This also allows you to only buy as much as you need and will help you save money (and prevent food waste) in the long-run. There's no need to put your veg in those plastic bags either! Your onion will come to no harm if you leave it loose
  4. Use the frozen aisle for meat – Most fresh and raw meat comes wrapped in plastic, but the freezer aisle is your friend here. Frozen fish fillets and chicken steaks often come in cardboard boxes, but annoyingly it's only the breaded stuff that comes completely plastic-free (which isn't the healthiest option)
  5. Don't forget tins – You can get so much food in the tin aisle! Beans, tomatoes, sweetcorn, tuna, soup - even bacon brunch, whatever that is! Plus, they all have long use-by dates so they'll stop you from chucking away uneaten food - and they're cheap
  6. Look out for one-offs – A Sainsbury's Basics apple pie comes in just a cardboard box and a foil carton. Pair that with a tin of custard and you have a dream dessert! Going plastic-free doesn't mean having to cut out all the sugary stuff
When food shopping, always try to go for the cheapest brand available – the supermarket downshift can save you over £500 a year!
  1. Use your own Tupperware – Any local butchers, grocers and delis (and some supermarkets) near you will likely allow you to take along your own Tupperware to transport food in, cutting out the need for other plastic packaging. This will also help keep it airtight and stop it from going off as quickly 
  2. See if you can find a milk delivery service in your area – These are becoming more common these days, even in big cities, and mean you can get your milk delivered in glass bottles to your home and cut out the plastic. You then leave the empty bottles on your doorstep to be collected and reused - completely zero-waste! Some services even offer orange juice too
  3. Avoid cereal packaged in plastic – It can be difficult to find breakfast options that aren't packaged in plastic but do some extra digging and you'll find some. Flahavan's Organic Jumbo Oats come in a paper bag which is apparently 100% biodegradable
plastic free porridge honey and milk

Plastic-free breakfast - Porridge oats, £2.30; Honey - £1; Milk - around £1

  1. Invest in a reusable shopping bag – It sounds like an obvious one, but you'd be surprised how many people don't do this. You can buy a reusable bag that folds up super small for a few quid, and it'll save you paying 5p for a plastic bag every time 
  2. Go on a health kick – Things like crisps and chocolate always come wrapped in plastic, so fruit and veggies are a great alternative. Apples, bananas and oranges are great at keeping the hunger pains at bay in the afternoons. You could also try making your own vegetable crisps by roasting some peelings
  3. Ditch the chewing gum – Did you know chewing gum is actually made from plastic? This means that once you ditch it, it won't degrade. However, there are some brands, like Simply Gum, which have developed a plastic-free alternative
  4. Buy a stainless steel water bottle – Of course, plastic reusable water bottles are also an option here, but the plastic can go a bit funny after a few months and make your water taste weird, so we'd recommend stainless steel for longevity. Plus you'll save money in the long run by cutting out those random bottles of water you buy when you're out and about. Apply the same logic to hot beverages and invest in a reusable coffee cup or flask
  5. Always choose an ice cream cone over a tub – duh!
Another way to get your hands on plastic-free fruit, vegetables and herbs is by growing your own in your kitchen or garden
Cleaning-written-over-washing-up-liquid-bottles

Credit: Sebastian Duda – Shutterstock

  1. Opt for laundry powder/detergent, instead of capsules – Ditch those capsules that come sealed in plastic and opt for good old-fashioned laundry powder instead (it's the cheapest option anyway). It's difficult to say whether bio or non-bio laundry powder is better for the environment – bio powders contain enzymes which can irritate sensitive skin, but when using non-bio you'll usually have to wash your clothes at a higher temperature, which uses more energy
  2. Use bicarbonate of soda – It makes a great alternative to traditional cleaning sprays which come in plastic bottles. You can even get some from the Plastic Free Pantry which comes wrapped in paper – and at 85p for 250g it was pretty cheap! However, the £3.50 delivery cost really bumped the price up so we'd recommend buying multiple products at once to help cancel this out
  3. Buy biodegradable bin bags – You can get a pack of 10 for £1.99 from Big Green Smile.
plastic free cleaning detergent bin bags

Bicarbonate of soda - £3 per kg, Plastic Free Pantry; Laundry powder - £6.50, Sainsbury's; e-cloth - £4.50, Sainsbury's; Degradable bin bags - £1.99, Big Green Smile

We've got loads more alternatives to high-street cleaning products to save you some cash and cut the plastic.

Like with most things – such as quitting smoking or cutting out junk food – it's better to take small steps that you can maintain over a long period of time than go cold turkey for a week.

Since the 5p carrier bag charge was introduced, the UK has used nine billion fewer carrier bags, showing just how much of an impact a small change can have if everyone gets on board.

So while going completely plastic-free might not be feasible for everyone, we can all take small steps to start phasing plastic out our lives – and putting pressure on companies to stop selling us plastic at every available opportunity.

While you're at it, try and cut down on your food waste – here are some tips on making your food last longer.