9 really good alternatives to plastic

Plastic is in crisp packets, toothbrushes, coffee cups – even tea bags. How can you avoid it? Quick tricks to reduce your plastic consumption.
By Phil Byrne    |      18 Dec 2017    |      6 min

Fed up with with all the throwaway plastic in packaging and products? Help us do something about it.

HELP REDUCE PLASTIC IN OUR OCEANS

We think these alternatives to plastic are pretty neat. If you agree, share them far and wide.

1. Plastic-wrapped organic veg – seriously?

You want to buy organic to do right by the planet. But some genius has choked your good intentions to death with a thin film of plastic. They've even chucked in a polystyrene tray in case you'd forgotten how to hold a piece of fruit. Stop shaking your head. And start nodding at a fresh, delivered-to-your-door, seasonal box of plastic-free goodness. There are loads of veg-box schemes out there now. Failing that, buy from your local farmers' market.

Alternatives to plastic: an organic broccoli wrapped in plastic – is this necessary?
Should supermarkets be selling fruit and vegetables wrapped in plastic?
Credit: istock

 

2. Have a nice cup of tea – not one hiding a nasty secret

Sit down. This might come as a shock. Your tea bags are smuggling yet more plastic into your life. The majority of teabags in the UK contain a very thin layer of polypropylene plastic. That thin layer will likely end up as tiny pieces in the soil, which could then find their way into our rivers and eventually the sea. You're no mug. You know that loose tea tastes better anyway – and is it really that much more of a strain to prepare? Top tip: get a tea infuser.

Loose tea spilling out of a red tin on its side
Get a tea strainer and act like a connoisseur.

3. Prefer a flat white? Buy a reusable coffee cup

Because of a plastic film on the inside, very few coffee cups are recycled – despite the impression that some big chains might have given you. This is way worse than that time you asked for a filter and were given an Americano (it's not the same drink, ok?). 2 things you can do. First, sign our petition to ban disposable cups that can’t be recycled. Second, get hold of a reusable coffee cup.

2 reusable Ecoffee cups sold by Friends of the Earth's online shop
Look at you with your sophisticated drinking vessel

4. It's the final (plastic) straw

How many of these things end up in an albatross chick? This has got to be one of the most needless disposable items on the list. When you refuse these things at the bar, or in a cafe, be sure to communicate your disapproval in whichever non-violent way you deem appropriate. Perhaps an impromptu interpretation of a turtle with a straw up its nose. Too far? If you're a bit of a sucker for straws (yes, the puns are getting worse), you can now get bamboo or steel ones.

A whirlpool effect made of lots of blue and white plastic drinking straws
You must have seen the video of the poor turtle with a straw up its nose.

5. Go nuts on the laundry

Maybe you already use an eco laundry detergent. High 5. But what do you do with the empty plastic bottle? Some health stores and eco supermarkets let you refill your empty cleaning liquids. It can end up being cheaper than the normal product. If lugging bottles around doesn't sound like fun, you absolutely need soap nuts. These little, dried-fruit shells contain a 100% natural soap. Just bung a few in a sock, tie it and throw it in with the rest of your dirty clothes. Magic.

Alternatives to plastic include these soap nuts for washing laundry – soap nuts spilling from textile bag on wooden background
Why haven't you tried soap nuts yet?
Credit: istock

6. Clean your mouth out

In the history of plastic, only 9% of the stuff has ever been recycled. Plastic is a curse on our planet. So let's clean our mouths out... with a bamboo toothbrush. It does unfortunately contain plastic in the bristles. But short of using pig-hair bristles, we couldn't find any other alternatives. You can go further by getting your toothpaste in a jar instead of a plastic tube. And if you're feeling creative, there are homemade toothpaste recipes online.

It's annoying how much throwaway plastic is in our weekly shop. Help us change this.

HELP REDUCE PLASTIC IN OUR OCEANS

A bamboo toothbrush and box
Make a dent in your plastic waste with a bamboo toothbrush

7. Cotton buds aren't your buddies

That's right, they're plastic imposters. They want to damage your ears as well as wash up on our beaches and poison our sea life. They say you shouldn't stick these things in your ears. We say that you shouldn't stick them in your bathroom cabinet in the first place. If you still want to tickle your brain via your ear canal – or apply some makeup – fear not... You can buy organic cotton buds / Q-tips with 100% bio-degradable card sticks.

12 cotton buds lined out on a table in two rows
Does this evil poke around in your home?

8. Be(e) clingy in a good way

Stop wrapping your sandwiches in a material made from crude oil. Yep, that's cling film. Wait. How are you going to keep your cheese fresh without wrapping it in plastic? Beeswax food wraps are how. They're reusable, biodegradable and won't leave you standing there, looking like an idiot, trying to find the end of the roll. And a supporter has let us know that vegan wax wraps are a thing too (thank you Emma).

Try out Plastic Free Friday when you're ready to step up your plastic-avoiding lifestyle.

Beeswax food wrap
Hurray, a food wrap that doesn't tangle.

9. Make the government do something

There's a shedload of plastic in our oceans. No one even really knows how long it's going to take to decompose – estimates range from at least hundreds of years to possibly a lot longer.

The unaltered stomach contents of a dead albatross chick include plastic marine debris fed the chick by its parents
Plastic marine debris in the stomach contents of a dead albatross chick.
Credit: Chris Jordan

It's a disaster for the planet and deadly to wildlife. Please sign our petition to demand that the government takes action now.

HELP REDUCE PLASTIC IN OUR OCEANS

Watch 5-year-old Charlie tell his story about picking up litter from beaches: