DAYS 29&30 – SO LONG & THANKS FOR ALL THE FISH!

It’s the end of the month but not the end of saying no to single-use plastic. Even after the greasy doughnut Plastic Challenge disaster, I have no intentions of throwing in the towel and accepting all this needless, plastic over-packaging.

There are some things which have proved difficult or impossible to find without single-use plastic including medicine, dental floss, ground coffee, crisps and biscuits. But there have been plenty of easy swaps, such as buying fresh bread from the bakers, veg in paper bags from the grocer, organic oats in a paper packet from the supermarket and raisins from the bulk buy shop.

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They cost the same, so now I’m only buying plastic-free organic oats!

Realistically, a single-use plastic free life is hard to lead, but this month has opened my eyes to even more options: I like to think I was relatively eco-friendly in my shopping habits beforehand but this has made me think and look even harder than before.

There are things which I will, no doubt go back to: I admit I am looking forward to using conditioner on my hair. I found using egg so unpleasant that I didn’t repeat it and opted for frizz instead. But I do intend to purchase an un-packaged shampoo bar to replace my plastic bottle of organic shampoo and I will also research other home-made conditioner options.

All in all, I think a lot of good habits that have developed this month will stick. Yes, the supermarket is often more convenient, but using the high street shops is more sociable and gives you a certain feel-good factor about supporting local, independent shops. Oh, and the produce is often way nicer and not always more expensive.

I have been amazed that we have gone an entire month without crisps and biscuits (except the occasional home-made ones). It’s not been all that bad, honestly, but I imagine they will both creep back in to our lives. However, I will be searching out sources of gorgeous Italian paper-bagged biscotti in future.

I really believe that if enough people vote with their purses and also write to manufacturers, shops and councils, things can change for the better….although two nudging emails and three weeks later, I’ve still not heard a peep from my local council’s recycling team.

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Even recycling involves rather a lot of single-use plastic

Finally, there’s one plastic moan I haven’t covered yet: Dog poo bags. Yes, I realise many are degradable, but many are not. And why oh why do people insist on leaving them in hedges and hung on trees in some of the most beautiful places? I do expect dog owners to clean up dog mess, but this bizarre ritual of preserving it for decades is totally moronic on many levels.

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One of many dog poo bags in the hedge at our local, idyllic beach

On that unsavoury note, I’m off to read my book on Zero Waste living, and write my birthday wish list which so far consists of Kilner jars, a bee hotel and a food processor.

Many thanks to the Marine Conservation Society for creating the Plastic Challenge.

So long, and thanks for all the fish.

REFUSE, REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE

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Days 27 & 28 – A GREASY FAIL

Oh no – that’s it!

This morning I had a big fat fail in the form of an apple and cinnamon doughnut. Now, these deliciously greasy treats only came into my life as a direct result of visiting the local bakery for plastic-bag-free bread. Until today, this was a positive thing, but as I happily chatted to the lady next to me in the queue, waiting for my goodies to be bagged up in their usual paper bags, I was presented with said doughnut in a paper bag with a cellophane window, Arghhh!

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The greasy culprit – it tasted delicious but it ruined my Plastic Challenge

I voiced my dismay, and understandably the lady behind the counter explained that people usually complain that they’re so greasy, a paper bag isn’t up to the job. This is a good point, but usually the doughnut does exist in my world for long enough for it to be much of a problem.

The shopkeeper did offer to take the bag back, but she would have put it straight in the bin which would not only have been an utter waste of the single-use plastic bag but would also use another paper one. So, I resigned myself to a fail on Day 28 of the Plastic Challenge.

But, I shall not be beaten and my own personal Plastic Challenge will continue.

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Everything else came in a paper bag, but they sneakily wrapped the doughnut in one with a plastic window!

The reason I signed up for the Plastic Challenge was to force myself into making some changes. I’d found myself repeatedly becoming annoyed and frustrated by the ridiculous amount of over-packaging in our lives. And whilst much of this is difficult to avoid, the Plastic Challenge journey has shown me that there are choices out there.

If more people are willing to say no to single-use plastic, then things can and will change. Just look at the plastic carrier bag charge: Only a couple of years ago people thought I was some weird, hippy, bag lady for taking my own canvas bags to shops and reusing (and even washing) plastic carrier bags – thank goodness for self-service tills which don’t judge you! But now that there’s a charge for plastic carrier bags, re-using them has become the norm.

So maybe some of these changes could be enforced by a nanny state? They could push consumers into changing their habits by simply making it more expensive to choose plastic. Let’s face it, the government will be desperately looking for new ways to raise money post referendum, so maybe this could be their chance to introduce a single-use plastic tax and rid our world of all this unnecessary and uncompostable over-packaging.

DAYS 25 & 26 – ITALIAN INFLUENCE

This weekend, we’ve managed to prove that it is possible to smash the “plastic diet” which has come about due to the lack of plastic-free snack foods available.

We had a couple of days of near desperation this week: We ran low on chocolate, bread (we’ve been eating a lot of toast!) oat cakes and ooh bars. It was time to get cooking.

Lucky for me, my partner’s forte is baking amazing chocolate cakes. This was very much a part of how we ended up together – the way to a girl’s heart ‘n’ all that.

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The Italians know how to package biscuits without plastic!

We headed to the shops and he was somewhat overexcited at finding some biscuits packaged without plastic. They were Italian amaretti biscuits which were, like most biscuits in Italy are, in a lovely paper bag. They don’t need two layers of plastic packaging and a cardboard box to protect their precious biscuits. Maybe they don’t care about the odd crushed one, or maybe our layers of packaging are simply unnecessary?

So, the usual chocolate biscuit refrigerator cake recipe was adapted accordingly, using the amaretti biscuits instead of digestives and dates (from the bulk buy shop) instead of glace cherries. The result: much sweeter, but still decadent and delicious.

Sticking with the Italian theme, we opted for a rare takeout treat for dinner, of pizza from a local pub.  The great news was that like most takeaway pizza, they came in cardboard boxes with not a piece of plastic in sight. Takeaways have proven tricky so far (i.e. we haven’t had one during the Plastic Challenge ) as the fish and chip van serves up in polystyrene trays and the Indian restaurant packs its takeaways in plastic tubs (of which we have hundreds, but at least I’m making constant use of them particularly with all this bulk food buying).

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Takeaway pizza in a cardboard box – I was so hungry I forgot to take a photo until I was halfway through eating it!

We now have full tummies (hooray!) and to end this weekend of comfort food (induced by the referendum) my mum also baked a huge chocolate cake because she felt sorry for us. I think she’d read my Plastic Diet blog – Thanks Mum!

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Even more chocolate cake: Delicious!

Days 23 &24: EASY PEASY SNACKS & SPICES

Snack food has definitely been lacking in our lives this month as there’s been no reaching for a packet of crisps, a flapjack or my favourite; dark chocolate rice cakes.

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I took this photo on 31st May as I knew it would the last of my favourite snack for a while!

We’ve had to get a bit creative and make our own snack food and as I do not regard myself as either a good or enthusiastic cook; I like to keep things quick and easy. So far our snacks have revolved around two recipes: Oat cakes and Ooh bars, the latter are so called because the toddler says “ooh!” when he sees them (hooray someone likes my cooking!)

I’ve been using this simple BBC Good Food recipe for oat cakes. They’re great as savoury snacks with a bit of butter or cheese,  although I’m pretty certain they’d be amazing dunked in melted chocolate too.

The Ooh bar recipe is more freestyle: It involves mashing some ripe bananas (three or four), adding a few cups of oats, a handful of raisins and a couple of teaspoons of cinnamon. Mix together and keep adding oats until the mixture becomes like a dough, then dollop spoonfuls onto a baking tray/baking paper and cook for about 15-20 mins on a medium/high heat.

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Leave them to cool, say “ooh!” and enjoy

In terms of ingredients for both snacks, they’ve all been pretty easy to buy without single-use plastic: The oats are sold in a paper bag, I can buy raisins in bulk, butter comes in standard butter packs, but it wasn’t long before I ran out of cinnamon.

The bulk buy shop don’t do herbs and spices by the scoop, but after asking around it turned out that one of the local health food shops do. That was the problem very easily solved as I simply took my clean spice jar with me. 81p later, it was job done, easy peasy!

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Herbs & Spices by the scoop in my local health food shop

Talking of peas, after my lengthy discussion at the organic farm shop about their peas in a box, a large vat of petit pois by the scoop has appeared in their freezer! I was delighted to be able to confuse the lady on the till by presenting her with my own tub filled with peas (rather than the plastic bag provided) plus an identical tub for her to weigh so she could minus off the weight of the tub from the final price, as they do in the bulk buy store. She ended up talking about how much it weighed and that she’d take 2.4p off the price. I couldn’t be bothered to argue as I was just so peased (get it!) to have found them.

DAYS 20 & 21 – SIX MORE EASY ECO-SWAPS

After writing about things we’re missing whilst on the no single-use plastic “diet”, it seems only right to share some more things which have been easy  to replace. I hope this might inspire you to make a few small changes too:

LOOSE VEGETABLES – Buy them loose instead of packaged, particularly as it usually works out cheaper. You can take your own re-usable mesh bags with you, or stick the fruit and veg straight into your basket. Oh yes, and I finally managed to buy strawberries without a plastic punnet from a local honesty stall!

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Hooray! Strawberries without plastic from a local stall

USE LIDS – Instead of cling film wrap for leftovers we tend to use takeaway and ice-cream tubs. Look out for the PP symbol or number 5 on the bottom to show they are “food safe”. I’d love to invest in some non-plastic alternatives eventually and I definitely need more Kilner jars in my life!

BICARB OF SODA  – It has a multitude of uses as toothpaste and shampoo, but my favourite is as a household cleaner  – it really is very effective. Simply sprinkle it on, rub with a damp cloth then rinse. It works brilliantly on both bathroom and kitchen sinks. You can buy it from bulk food shops using your own re-fillable container.

COCONUT OIL – It’s fantastic for cooking, as a moisturiser, in toothpaste and I’ve also been using it as make-up remover applied with rags cut from an old nightie to replace plastic-packaged cotton wool.

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Cut up old clothes to make useful rags

REFILL BOTTLES – Some brands such as Ecover are easy to refill. I know of three places within only a few miles who can refill Ecover washing up liquid and cleaning product bottles, so keep your eyes open! It’s also slightly cheaper than buying new.

COMPOSTABLE TOOTHBRUSHES – It’s easy to change your plastic toothbrush for a compostable bamboo version. They’re reasonably priced and better for the environment. You can also re-use your old toothbrush for cleaning awkward nooks and crannies around the house – just make sure everyone knows it’s no longer meant for oral hygiene!

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Swap your plastic toothbrush for a compostable one!

I hope these Easy Swaps have inspired you to choose less single-use plastic.

DAYS 18 & 19: THE PLASTIC DIET

The Plastic Challenge has made us realise that some things are near impossible to get hold of without single-use plastic packaging. So, I thought I’d share a few of the foodstuffs that we miss  – and if anyone has any suggestions of alternatives, I’m all ears!

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Home-made oat cakes are rather tasty!

BISCUITS: It’s impossible to buy biscuits without a plastic wrapper. Tunnocks bars have been suggested as they come in waxy paper, but they still have an outer plastic wrapping. Home-made is the only way, and to date I’ve made two successful batches of oat cakes. One day, I’ll get round to making something more adventurous…maybe… when I get time.

SAVOURY SNACKS: Crisps, rice cakes, crisp breads: they all come plastic wrapped. Oh, how we miss salty snacks. I’ve tried making some sweet potato crisps (finely sliced, cooked in olive oil with a sprinkling of salt) which were delicious, but a baking tray full created only a handful of crisps which were gone in about ten seconds, so without industrial cooking facilities, this one is a non-starter.

MARMITE: Glass jar but with a big un-recyclable plastic lid. Love it, but can’t have it.

COFFEE: My partner was thrilled to discover a packet of ground coffee in paper packaging only to discover when he opened it that it was plasticised on the inside. I’m unaffected by this one as I don’t drink coffee.

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I’m okay eating dark chocolate – 100g at a time!

MILK CHOCOLATE BARS: Again, I’m not bothered by this as I’m happy eating non plastic wrapped dark chocolate in large 100g bars, but the lack of big brand milk chocolate options is definitely difficult for others in the household!

PEANUT BUTTER & JAM: As mentioned in my previous post, the only brand of peanut butter I could find in a glass jar with metal lid has a sneaky plastic seal around it. We’ve not found any other options yet. In fact, we’ve also just bought a jar of big brand jam as there was no plastic seal, but I’ve not found a natural-sugars only alternative without plastic yet.

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Hummus in a glass jar – no plastic in sight!

HUMMUS: We used to get through a tub of hummus about every other day, but they come in little, single-use plastic tubs. I tried making my own, which is a bit of a hassle as we don’t have a food processor, but I think it tastes good. However, my toddler is less keen on mum’s home-made hummus and finally, I found hummus in a glass jar with metal lid. “Hooray!” I thought, but again, the toddler did not approve.

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I like the home-made hummus even if no one else does!

COUS COUS: The bulk buy shop might do pasta, rice, flour, dried fruit, muesli and all kinds of other things, but sadly, the only cous cous they have is in a plastic packet.

BERRIES: It seems near impossible to buy berries without their plastic punnet (which shops won’t re-use if you take your own container), but it’s not long to Pick Your Own season, so I’m hoping we’ll soon have strawberries! I’ve been substituting them with loose cherries and plums from the green grocer, but de-stoning these for the little one is a bit of a chore.

NAAN BREADS: We love a good, home-made curry but we’ve had to go without naan as we can only find them plastic wrapped. The good news though is that the bulk buy shop sells gram flour, so home-made onion bhajis, here we come!

YOGURT: I’ve only found one glass jar of yogurt being sold so far and it was “kefir” which is some special type of fermented milk and costs about 4 times the amount of normal yogurt. The problem of plastic yogurt pots can be solved with a yogurt maker which I am trying out right now (the first batch is in the fridge).

In conclusion: Frankly, this would be a far easier challenge for someone who loves baking (that’s not me if you’re wondering – I prefer eating to cooking), and if we’re to go single-use plastic free in the long term, we could really do with a vegetable patch to grow soft fruit, a food processor and maybe even a live-in chef?

All in all, the lack of plastic-wrapped foodstuffs is having a fairly big impact on our eating habits, and it’s mostly snack food that’s taken the hit. Whilst that is no bad thing in many respects, I’m a “grazer” when it comes to eating so I’m spending quite a lot of time hungry because there are no easy snacks to reach for.  It turns out that the Plastic Challenge is actually a plastic diet!

DAY 15 – FROZEN PEAS & BAKEWELL TARTS

After some investigation and a bit of detective work I purchased some frozen peas in a cardboard box. Who knew you could get peas in a box? But actually the reason for the investigation was that I could see a plastic bag peeping out of the boxed spinach next to it. The box of peas was securely sealed so with a lot of box-shaking and discussion with shop assistants, the general consensus was that the peas were loose in the box with no hidden plastic, although no-one knew for sure. The only thing for it was to buy the box and hope for the best.

Dinner time came and I’d like to say that the opening of the pea box was ceremonious, but it wasn’t. There was too much going on. The cooking was coming to a head and my shouting about whether or not there was plastic in the pea box was greeted with some disgruntled mumbling along with some panicked pan juggling.

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Is there plastic hidden in the box?

The good news is that there was no plastic and we were able to enjoy our peas guilt free. As we tucked into our meal my other half told me how his plastic-free day had been:

Imagine this – you run into the local Co-op on your way to work, pick up a single fresh Bakewell tart in its handy, recyclable foil tray and say no to the paper bag with plastic window, thinking the tart will be well and truly demolished by 11am. But, at the end of the working day, your Bakewell is still there (this is the part many of us will find hard to believe – Really? You had a Bakewell tart sat on your desk all day and you didn’t eat it?) There are too many bags and boxes to carry to the car so you need something to wrap the Bakewell in to transport it home. You look around the office – what can you use? Ah! Printer paper of course! So you put the tart down on the boss’ desk and carefully wrap it in a nice clean sheet of paper, gather up the numerous bags and head off home. Except when you get home you can’t find it. The next morning you go into work and the boss gives you a strange look and thanks you for the um… “little present you left me”.

Ah…going plastic free can be so much fun!

DAYS 13 & 14 – RETURN OF THE JARS

Saying no to single-use plastic has made me change my shopping habits. Now, instead of wandering the supermarket aisles adding various unlisted things into the trolley, I now have to go to high street shops for very specific things. It’s great visiting the bakers and the green-grocers, but as anyone with small children will appreciate, it’s actually much more difficult and time consuming. Preventing a toddler knocking over displays and eating the produce is way easier if they are confined to a shopping trolley! And don’t even mention pushchairs – I can tell you that where I live, it involves bumping up and down a lot of steps into narrow shops where goodies are all within the “swipe zone”. Then you have to hang on to shopping bags whilst manoeuvring yourself and the pushchair around irritated customers before renegotiating the steps to get out. For everybody’s sanity, this is something I won’t even attempt anymore.

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Bulk buying peanut butter is now out because of the plastic container

As a result I’m tending to shop during my child-free moments, rushing around like a blue-bottomed fly to get it done as quickly as possible. I guess it’s inevitable that this is likely to result in the odd mistake.

For me, shopping in the supermarket nowadays consists of a list of about three or four items, and I’ve often come away with only two due to the lack of non-plastic options. Day 13 was no different; after a whizz round the local shops, I nipped to the supermarket to get a couple of items including peanut butter and jam, knowing that both came in glass jars. Easy, I thought…

The peanut butter is slightly annoying because we used to buy it in large (plastic) containers as it’s way cheaper considering the vast quantities that we consume. And as for the jam, I knew they sold St Dalfour which contains only fruit rather than added refined sugar, so I opted for that, plus a glass jar of peanut butter, then trotted off home.

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The sneaky transparent plastic jar lid seals

The bad news came later on, when my partner was having a piece of toast: “Um, you know this jar has got a plastic seal around the lid?” he shouted. “What? No! OMG! How did I not notice that?” I actually filled with panic, distress and self-loathing at having fallen foul of the plastic-gremlins who seemed determined to trip me up.

Okay, so the jar will have to go back and I’ll simply look for another brand (easier said than done as Meridian peanut butter has a metal rather than plastic lid and doesn’t contain palm oil). But, to add insult to injury, I realised this morning (Day 14) that the jam jar was just the same: another sneaky transparent collar of plastic around the lid.

I actually feel a bit stupid for having not noticed the plastic wrap at the time, particularly as it’s something that even prior to this challenge used to irritate me regularly – why is it even there? What happened to the old pop-top lids which meant it was obvious if a jar had been opened. And if it’s so essential, why do only some jars have them?

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Why are plastic jar seals used instead of pop-top lids?

I’m also starting to think that organic and eco-products are often the worst offenders when it comes to single-use plastic which is somewhat ironic considering the consumers that they’re hoping to attract.

Next job; it’s back to the supermarket to stand in a queue at customer services for half an hour to return the plastic-sealed jars. A fitting penance for my time-saving, rushed-shopping mistake. At least the toddler will be safely confined to a trolley.

DAY 12 – KETCHUP CATCH-UP

It’s time for another hair wash: After the initial fail of bicarbonate of soda shampoo due to operator error (I used too little of it), it turned out that bicarb is actually fairly effective. However, I’d also heard it rumoured that tomato ketchup made a great shampoo too.

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Not one to pass up on such a delightful prospect, I eagerly took the bottle of ketchup into the shower. One large dollop of the red stuff onto my hand (it was chilled from the fridge so probably would have been more pleasant at room temperature, if truth be told) and I keenly rubbed it into my wet hair and scalp.

I had a vague memory of ketchup in relation to washing hair but was reminded properly when someone mentioned blonde hair turning green after swimming. That was it! Ketchup is supposed to be great for removing the green stain of chlorine from bleached hair.

Even established hairdressers, Percy & Reed agree; “For blonde hair that has gone green from chlorine or salt water, shampoo your hair as normal, then rinse tomato ketchup through your hair and leave it on for about five minutes.”

Ah, okay, that was not what I did. I used the ketchup as my shampoo, and here’s what happened:

MY VERDICT:

KETCHUP SHAMPOO – The washing experience itself was interesting as it conjured up vaguely pleasant memories of eating chips but felt a little at odds with taking a hot shower. After rinsing thoroughly, I keenly dried my hair to see the results.

I’ve always felt that ketchup was good for cutting through the grease of chips during dinner, but it turns out it doesn’t do much for greasy hair. In fact, it seemed to make it even more greasy. To add to that, my hair smelled of tomato ketchup – not good!

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Basically, I took a photo as evidence, then went straight back to the bathroom to wash my hair again with the tried and tested bicarb of soda. The results: nice squeaky clean hair and no stench of ketchup – phew!

The ketchup bottle is now safely back in the fridge, where it belongs.

On a final, slightly unsavoury note, it seems that ketchup can actually be classed as a “no-poo shampoo” as it’s said to be great for washing dogs after they’ve rolled in nasty stuff. I have to say, I’d definitely rather the dog smelled of ketchup than fox poo!

DAYS 10 & 11 – SIX EASY NO-PLASTIC SWAPS

There have been a few things along my “no single-use plastic” journey which have been relatively easy to replace, so I thought I’d share some of them with you:

CHOCOLATE: Hooray! Personally, I would find life hard without dark chocolate, so this one makes me very happy. But it’s not just the dark stuff; you can buy plenty of other types of chocolate without plastic packaging. Most 100g bars are in either recyclable foil & cardboard or paper and card. Virtually all supermarkets stock a wide variety, including milk, ginger, orange, salted caramel and one of our favourite treats Lindt Dark Strawberry Intense chocolate. My staple though, has to be Green & Blacks Organic 70% yum!

Replacing face and body moisturisers with one recyclable tin of All Round Cream

MOISTURISER: I have to admit that I’m generally not brand-loyal and often try out new eco-products that I’ve never heard of before. However, Lavera is one of the big players in eco-brand cosmetics and toiletries and I was pleased to find a large (recyclable) tin of their Organic All-Round Cream which is for both face and body. Previously, I’d been using a glass jar of night moisturiser (with plastic lid), a plastic pump bottle of day moisturiser and a plastic bottle of body lotion. All of them are eco/organic products and I will recycle all the containers, of course. Back to the All-Round Cream: I genuinely love it! It smells amazing and is rich and creamy and there’s no plastic in sight. Well done Lavera – I might have just become brand loyal.

SOAP: This is a fairly easy one if you have an independent health food shop nearby. I’ve noticed a number of places do un-packaged Faith in Nature soap. It’s that simple (assuming the shop don’t then put it in a plastic bag!) However, it looks like they only sell it plastic wrapped if you buy online.

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Out with the plastic tub of eco-deodorant and in with the tin!

DEODORANT: Over the years I have tried numerous “no-nasties” deodorants. To be honest I have yet to find one which works anywhere near as well as the alleged breast cancer inducing, aluminium- laden high street versions. I’ve always reserved those for sweat-inducing social occasions. However, particularly in winter, I find there’s usually no need for a mega-deodorant, so am happy with my eco-deodorants the majority of the time.

I was using Soapwalla deodorant which seemed to be fairly effective on normal days but comes in a plastic pot. I’ve since changed to Earth Conscious Hippy Paste deodorant in a recyclable tin, which smells good but doesn’t stop the stink on super sweaty days. They do however, make a donation from their sales to the Marine Conservation Society, which is a bonus!

LOO ROLL: I have found recycled Ecoleaf loo roll (why would anyone use anything else to wipe their bum?) in a biodegradable potato-starch wrap at our local health food shop. I’ve also seen it being sold in the organic farm shop so it’s fairly easy to come by. Prior to this challenge I used to line the bathroom bin with the plastic loo roll wrapper but now it will be the biodegradable version getting a second life before it’s sent to the tip.

Recycled loo roll in compostable wrap

DISH CLOTHS: Finally, I have found some not packaged in plastic hiding at the local supermarket! As well as only being wrapped in paper, the wrapper was gummed rather than sticky-taped together. Clean work surfaces, here we come!

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The elusive non-plastic wrapped dishcloths!

I hope this post might inspire you to look around and choose products without plastic packaging too as it’s not always that hard!