Since its invention at the turn of the 19th century, plastic has crept its way into almost every product imaginable. We’re even willing to bet that you’re likely close to something plastic right now. What is fascinating to think about is how that plastic item will likely be around much longer than you – perhaps even as much as 500 years or more from now!
While plastics can be used in wise ways, most manufactured plastics are single-use. This means plastics that are used once before being thrown away or recycled. Think plastic utensils, straws, food packaging and packaging materials.
Although the UK government has taken action to ban some of the most common single-use plastic items, such as plastic straws, microbeads, stirrers and plastic-stemmed cotton buds, there is still much to do. Many other single-use plastics are still in circulation, but there are easy switches we can make on a daily basis to help reduce plastic use. To help get you started, we’ve collected together all of our top plastic swaps recommendations.
One of the most common single-use plastics you may see littering the pavement or tangled in a tree is undoubtedly the humble plastic shopping bag. Plastic carrier bags haven’t been banned, but in 2015 the UK implemented a charge for shopping bags.
Though apparently highly effective, reportedly reducing the purchase of plastic shopping bags by up to 95%, you can still do your part to further reduce the pollution caused by them. How? One of the best plastic swaps around are eco-friendly, reusable shopping bags, such as these Pveath tote-style mesh bags made from organic cotton.
The best part? You’ll save yourself money and look a lot more stylish shopping. At just under a tenner for a three-pack, the Pveath shopping totes are a steal. We love that the bags are made of organic cotton and come in pretty shades of pink, beige and blue. They’re not bulky, either, folding up into a neat little bundle to fit snugly in your purse, bag, or backpack.
Why we like it:
- It saves you money on plastic shopping bags
- Easy to use
Yibaodan Refillable Glass Bamboo-Lidded Airtight Jar Set
One of the most difficult single-use plastics to phase out is surely food packaging. Almost every food comes packaged in plastic – even things you wouldn’t expect. Cardboard cartons of juice and cans of soda may have a thin film or layer of plastic inside. As can certain types of food packaging paper and even paper bags.
UK citizens throw out an estimated 2.2 million metric tonnes of plastic food packaging a year, accounting for around one-tenth of all waste. Around a third of that amount, 600,000 tonnes, consists of plastic bottles. If you want to reduce your waste – and lessen the number of times you need to take out the trash, there are plastic alternatives to opt for. Aside from avoiding bottled drinks and recycling your single-use plastic packages, bottles, jars and containers, you can opt to shop at zero-waste stores!
Zero-waste stores have no packaging on their food items. Instead, everything is stored in big containers. So, when you go, be sure to take some refillable containers with you, such as these gorgeous Yibaodan set of 12 6oz glass bamboo-lidded jars. Not only do they look great on any countertop or shelf, but they’ll also drastically reduce your plastic waste!
Why we like it:
- Easy to use
- Modern look
- Lids made from eco-friendly bamboo
- Reusable and durable
With straw bans in effect nationwide, you may be missing sipping on your favourite drinks while out and about. There’s no need to go without a straw, though. Metal straws are an excellent plastic swap! In fact, many restaurants now stock metal or bamboo straws instead.
This AniSqui reusable stainless steel straw set includes four straight and four bent straws. They’re multicoloured, too, coming in basic stainless, as well as copper, blue and holographic shades. Take them and the straw cleaners out with you wherever you go in the cute included raffia pouch – or use them at home.
Why we like it:
- Great for home or travel
- Come with a travel pouch and two straw cleaners
Ezhippie Natural Wool Dryer Balls
When it comes to being more environmentally friendly, it’s not only plastic waste we need to be concerned about. Energy consumption is a big concern, especially of finite fossil fuels and natural resources. Few appliances use quite as much electricity as tumble-dryers. However, using yours may be a necessity when it’s raining or cold out. So, what to do to save on plastic use?
Enter dryer balls! These Exhippie natural wool dryer balls are a great plastic alternative to your typical plastic options, helping to reduce not only your energy consumption and electric bills but also your plastic waste by cutting down the time it takes your washing to dry. Simply pop these furry balls dry into the tumble dryer with the rest of your wet washing to see the results for yourself.
Why we like it:
- Reduces energy consumption
- Helps to lower your electricity bill
- Made from 100% organic natural New Zealand wool
- Softens and dries clothes
- No static or creases
Lush Golden Cap Pressed Conditioner Bar
Plastic bottles aren’t only used for packaging food. Most toiletries come in them, adding to the overall plastic packaging waste sent to landfills in the UK. The crazy thing is, some bath products don’t even need any packaging at all. Take, for example, soap bars and bath bombs. Why do a plastic swap when you can do away with all packaging completely?
Lush is one of the first mainstream UK beauty and cosmetic retailers to explore eco-friendlier options, including zero-waste naked cosmetic bars and bath products. One of its popular zero-waste products is the Golden Cap pressed conditioner bar, made with plastic-free glitter and infused with the comforting scents of myrrh and vanilla. As the name implies, it’s a solid bar of conditioner, which you can rub into your hair without needing to click open a single plastic bottle!
Customers rated it highly for its scent and conditioning properties. If you need any more motivation to support the Lush brand, all Lush products are also cruelty-free and either vegan or vegetarian. Plus, its plastic bottles are made from 100% post-consumer recycled plastics.
Why we like it:
- Made from natural ingredients and safe synthetics
- Vegan and cruelty-free bar
- Smells amazing
- Easy to store and carry in a reusable tin
Intrigued by the thought of bar shampoos and conditioners? Find out more about how shampoo and conditioner bars work!
Georganics Organic Mineral-Rich Teeth Whitening Toothpaste
Toothpaste tubes account for plenty of plastic waste, as well as plastic microbeads. Though toothpaste tablets packaged in bags or tins certainly are a good plastic alternative, there may be a simpler solution. Why not package the toothpaste in a glass container instead?
Georganics has done just this – filling non-toxic, reusable, recyclable glass jars with their specially-formulated non-foaming vegan mineral toothpaste. Simply scoop out a pea-sized amount using the included biodegradable scoop and get brushing. Their formulation is bicarb and coconut oil-based instead of being made with fluoride and plastics. You can also add a biodegradable Georganics beechwood brush to your order to come full circle.
Why we like it:
- It comes in a reusable, recyclable glass jar
- Vegan and fluoride-free
- Choose from orange, tea tree, eucalyptus, peppermint, spearmint, or activated charcoal
- 60ml and 120ml containers are available
- Packaged in biodegradable cardboard boxes
- Includes a biodegradable scoop
- Made with organic virgin coconut oil
Recommended reading: Top 8 electric toothbrushes you can buy in 2021
What to look for in a plastic swap or alternative
Here are some tips on what to look for in a plastic swap:
- Ensure the product has as few plastic elements or plastic parts as possible.
- Opt for reusable eco-friendly options over eco-friendly single-use items if possible.
- Prioritise organic products, which also protect us, the soil, habitats, animals and insects from toxic pesticides, herbicides and insecticides.
- If possible, choose vegan and/or cruelty-free products that have no or little animal products and haven’t been tested on animals.
- Look for products with reusable, recyclable or returnable packaging or parts.
- Look for ‘greener’ plastics, such as silicone, PLA and other biodegradable bioplastics.
- Avoid toxic, non-biodegradable plastics, such as those containing BPA and phthalates.
Why are single-use plastics so bad?
Plastic waste is wreaking havoc worldwide, in more ways than one – and single-use plastics are the main contributor. Single-use plastics account for an estimated 40% of all plastics manufactured yearly, according to National Geographic, yet are used for only a few minutes or hours before being thrown in the trash. The majority of the UK’s plastic waste ends up in landfills, or worse, in the sea, on land or anywhere else it gets dumped or floats off to.
Let’s explore some of the important reasons why plastics should be phased out.
Plastics hurt our wildlife
It’s easy for humans to spot plastic items floating in lakes, oceans and rivers or tangled in bushes. However, animals are much less aware, often getting tangled or injured by unexpected plastic waste present in their natural habitats. Even worse – many animals, including birds and sea life, often mistake plastic bags, bottles and caps for food, which can hurt them unless someone intervenes.
Plastics poison us
Aside from visible plastics, microplastics have infiltrated bodies of water and even our own bodies. In fact, according to a 2019 analysis for WWF, it is estimated that the average person could be consuming as much as 5 grams (that’s a credit card’s worth!) of microplastics a week. This may not sound too serious, except that many plastics contain toxic chemicals and plasticisers, such as BPA and phthalates.
Plastics are a major CO2 pollution emission contributor
The CO2 emissions produced worldwide by plastic manufacturers and incineration is phenomenal. It is estimated that in 2019, 2.5 million metric tons of CO2 emissions were contributed by plastics manufacturing alone in the UK. That’s equivalent to the emissions produced by the electricity needed for 454,107 homes for a year.
Recycling is not nearly as effective as you may think
We all know the phrases ‘out of sight, out of mind.’ However, being mostly non-biodegradable, plastics have the capability to accumulate to the point they can no longer be ignored. Recycling is one way to ensure plastics don’t end up where they shouldn’t – and many UK citizens are taking the extra steps to separate their plastic waste for recycling.
But, did you know that the UK actually doesn’t have the capacity to recycle all of its plastic waste. Each year, the UK ships hundreds of thousands of tons of plastics to other countries for disposal. In 2020 alone, the UK sent 209,642 tons of plastic to Turkey for recycling, the majority of which ended up burned and dumped instead of recycled, as a Greenpeace investigation discovered. Moreover, according to National Geographic, around 91% of recycled plastics don’t actually get recycled. Another excellent reason to make some plastic swaps today over and above recycling plastics!
Is recycling the answer at all?
If it isn’t bad enough that the majority of ready-to-get-recycled plastics are sitting, degrading into microplastics, the items that do get recycled are actually downcycled, losing quality and ultimately becoming plastic that’s too flimsy to recycle again. And, let’s not forget the toxic and questionably unsafe chemicals still present inside both new and recycled plastic products, including clothing, bottles and furniture. One has to ask, is plastic the best path, or should we be focusing solely on ethically and sustainably produced plastic alternatives, such as glass, wood, paper and biodegradable bioplastics, instead?
How long does it take for plastic packaging to break down naturally?
Though fabricated from natural raw materials, particularly natural gas and petroleum oil, the manufacture of plastic or polymers is by no means natural. This complex process involves refining the afore-mentioned material to produce ethylene and propylene, the building blocks of plastics. These are then mixed with toxic chemicals and plasticisers to form plastics or polymers.
Once transformed, this atomic structure makes plastics very hardy, as well as lightweight and pliable. So, you can understand why plastics have become a mainstay in manufacturing goods. From food packaging to medical supplies, plastics are a convenient material. But this convenience is the downside of plastic use. Plastics can take upwards of 500 years****to biodegrade, if they do so at all.
Biodegradable and compostable are the terms used to describe anything that breaks back down into carbon dioxide and compost with the help of microorganisms and the correct conditions. All plastics degrade, but this does not mean that they are biodegradable or compostable. In other words, no matter how much time passes, plastics maintain their atomic structures no matter how small they become.
Recommended reading: Composting 101: How to make your own compost
Plastics alternatives are the future
Opting for cleaner, greener plastic alternatives is one of the best courses of action when it comes to saving our planet, land, ourselves, wildlife and habitats from plastic pollution. And many manufacturers are coming on board. We’ve shared some of our top plastic swap suggestions in this post. However, feel free to try out others – there are more wonderful biodegradable products out there – such as PLA food packaging, naked cosmetics, edible water spheres, edible cutlery and more to explore!
Prices updated on 13/09/2021. We are not responsible for any changes on the prices mentioned above.