I’ve kind of lumped skincare and menstrual products in together in this post, mainly because that’s how I’ve photographed them. I’m pretty awful with skincare, if I’m honest; until recently I’ve been taking my makeup off with a cosmetic pad soaked in micellar water, then following it up with a spray of Eau Roma Water by Lush. I don’t moisturise at night (eek) or use an eye-cream (sorry sorry sorry!), and I use a clay mask once a week. I guess it’s partly because I’m lazy, and partly because I have absolutely no clue about cosmetics whatsoever – I have tried to look into a proper skincare routine before, but my eyes just glaze over and my mind wanders off to yarn and crochet patterns and books. On the whole though, I like micellar water – I’m not a fan of gel or cream cleaners, and I prefer something more refreshing to take my makeup off with…. but it comes in a giant single-use plastic bottle, so I thought I’d look for alternatives packaged in glass. After hours of trawling the internet, I finally came to realise that even vegan micellar waters were still in a plastic bottle, and even if they weren’t, the price points went waaaaaay out of my budget – the best thing I found was the Lime and Coconut Cleansing Water by White Rabbit Skincare, which at £30 isn’t any more expensive than any other luxury cleanser but comes in a fully recyclable tin bottle (they also do a reward system, where you get 50p off of future purchases for every package you return to them – how brilliant is that?!) It was still out of my budget though, and I was beginning to despair when I remembered using Witch Hazel as a toner during my teenage years – it turns out you can use it as a cleanser and makeup remover as well, just by mixing it with carrier oils and filtered water (it’s too harsh and astringent to use neat from the bottle). So once I’ve waded through the last of my micellar water, I’m going to have a go at mixing up my own – and I’ll be wiping it all over my face using reusable cosmetic pads; the ones I’ve got are from Vesta Living, and I chose them specifically after reading somewhere that the reusable rounds are great, but cutting out a circle leaves a lot of waste fabric. A square means there’s nothing left! They don’t seem to be available anymore, but I found loads of square and rectangular ones online – or you could just make your own if you’ve got any unwanted fabric. They’re pretty simple to use; once you’ve cleansed, pop them into a net bag (I got this one from The Zero Waste Maker) and wash them along with everything else. Leave to dry somewhere warm, and start all over again!
The obvious choice for anyone considering the environment when choosing menstrual products is a Mooncup. It’s the most eco-friendly product you can buy, it comes in cardboard packaging, it’ll single-handedly save the planet, yada yada yada. While all of those points are true, I tried one and it just didn’t work for me – I could never get it into position properly due to a tilted cervix (it took me until the age of 34 to master tampons, imagine that!) and after a while I gave up. I’ve switched from regular tampons to the ones above from Natracare, which are chlorine and bleach free, biodegradable, compostable and come with paper packaging and a cardboard applicator. They’re not zero-waste, like a menstrual cup would be, but they’re good enough for me!
Similar to skincare, I don’t do a lot with my hair; I’m awful at getting haircuts and haven’t dyed it for years, and I don’t really use any styling products on it. I wash it with Aussie shampoo and conditioner, and then dry it with a hairdryer and run the straighteners over it. I’d been thinking about switching to solid shampoo for a while, but I’m super fussy about scents and didn’t like any of the Lush ones (although I did get one of their ‘Big’ solid conditioner bars, because it smells amaaaazing), so I was pretty pleased when I found the Friendly Soap Shampoo Bar in Wild Thyme in Southsea for the grand total of £2.62. We’re still using up the old shampoo, so I can’t say whether it’s any good for the hair – but it definitely smells good!
I’d not really given much thought to razors, until I read somewhere that the original cut-throat shaves were making a comeback; the article talked about how in the US alone, two BILLION disposable razors were thrown away every year. Woah, I thought, that’s a shit tonne of plastic – and that’s not even worldwide. I was looking at different metal razors, trying to decide which was best when Beth at Plastic Freedom posted a photo on Instagram of a shaving kit she was going to be stocking by Naked Necessities. For £25, you get a wooden handled razor, five blades and shaving soap (Friendly Soap again!), which I think is amazing value – especially considering the disposable razors I’ve been using are £8 per pack and don’t last five minutes.
I’m going to be honest; I’m not filled with hope about plastic-free oral care. The idea of oil-pulling makes me want to gag, and I currently use a special toothpaste for sensitive teeth, as mine are incredibly painful whenever I eat or drink anything overly hot or cold. We’ve switched to bamboo toothbrushes from Zero Waste Club, which have replaceable heads and can be composted with garden waste, but Ben has a lot of sensory issues along with his autism, and I’m really wary about how he’s going to find the texture of bamboo in his mouth as opposed to plastic. The jury is out on this one!
We’ve probably had the most challenges in the kitchen so far, because literally EVERYTHING was plastic or had plastic in it. We started by buying the kids reusable non-plastic drinks bottles for their school lunch boxes; we went with the ones from Klean Kanteen and I rave about them to everyone. They keep drinks cold perfectly, and they’re so much easier to clean than the plastic bottles we were using before (I’ve kept those as spares, because as every parent knows, lunchboxes don’t always make it home in the evening!). We didn’t manage to go entirely without plastic as we opted for the sports cap (Daisy is 6, and is a serial spiller, and Ben’s motor skills for drinking are fairly limited unless he’s concentrating super hard – and which child is doing that when they’re eating lunch with their friends?!), but I’m hoping as they get older I’ll be able to switch them for a steel cap.
Straws were a big thing for us as well; both kids used them and we were getting through loads every day, because Ben is a chewer. Biting and chewing is part of something a lot of autistic people do, mainly for sensory relief, so when I was looking at alternatives to plastic straws, I had to choose carefully. Bamboo was out, simply because it could shatter if he bit down on it, and paper would turn to mush, so I decided to give metal a go – we told him not to bite them, and explained that it would break his teeth, and so far he’s been fine. We don’t tend to eat out very often, and if we go out for the day we use their Klean Kanteen bottles, so we’ve not had to work out how to either wash them on the go or transport dirty straws around – but you can get cases which keep the clean and dirty ones separate.
Another pretty tough challenge was squash bottles, and in the spirit of transparency, we’ve not found a solution for this. We currently buy double strength squash from Asda, because it’s cheap as chips and the kids like it, but the bottles are obviously plastic. My first idea was that we switch to the squash that comes in glass bottles, but there were two problems with this; firstly, they are REALLY expensive by comparison and secondly, they come in odd fancy flavours like ‘crushed lime and mint’, and ‘raspberry, rhubarb and orange blossom’ – which I’m sure are lovely, but the kiddos both just went ‘nope’. In the end, we decided to limit the amount of squash we drink rather than cut it out – Ali and I mostly drink water (we fill bottles up and keep them in the fridge, which makes it taste all crisp and lovely), and the kids alternate between the two. Not the best ending, but the one that works for us!
Plastic is obviously a big issue with washing up; the washing up liquid we use comes in a single-use bottle and the scourers are made from petroleum and shed microplastic fibres into the water, which in turn goes down the drain and merrily out to sea. We’ve not solved the washing up liquid issue, but we’ve swapped our usual scourers for these Eco Coconut ones made from sustainably farmed coconut husks. They’re naturally antibacterial, non-scratch and completely biodegradable – the only thing is that they’re £3.99 for two, which is double the price of our old scourers, but as long as they wash up equally well, I can justify that!
Soap was a huuuuge issue in our house. We used to use the liquid soap from the supermarket, and usually just picked whichever brand was cheapest – but we all found that our hands got really dry and sore, and then of course there was the issue of the endless plastic bottles that it produced. I decided to switch to solid soap, thinking that it would be easy enough to get some from the supermarket with the shopping as usual…. until I realised that literally ALL soap comes in a cardboard box covered with, you guessed it, plastic. Pears Soap appears to be plastic free from the outside, but then you open it up to find the bar itself covered in cellophane. I discovered Real Foods sell solid soap bars via their website, and you can either choose to have them sent packaged or loose – I chose loose, and they arrived in a paper bag, which keeps them nice and tidy in the bathroom cabinet until we need them. The best ones by far are those by Faith in Nature, which are £1.55 per bar, and they last roughly the same amount of time as as a bottle of liquid handwash – although if you want to buy less, Waitrose stock two lovely scents by The Little Soap Company; they cost slightly more at £3.99 per bar, but they also last around twice as long, so it works out roughly the same price-wise. I had some soap dishes kicking around in the cupboard, but found that you really need something which drains the bar or you end up with a soggy lump stuck firmly to the bottom. I found these sustainable hemu wood ones from Pure Thoughts, and at first I was sceptical of wood – I thought it would go mouldy and rotten, but as long as you dry them out regularly, they’re fine.
We’ve still got a huge way to go with our plastic consumption, and when I look around it’s still absolutely everywhere – but I figure that even if we never manage to cut out squash, or find an alternative for the plastic-wrapped crisps in the kids lunchboxes, at least we’re trying to do something – and every little helps!