What happened when I went plastic-free for a week

By Beth Raffell, Guest Blogger

Plastic… A convenient, cheap material that is, at this point, deeply ingrained in our everyday lives. It’s our go-to material, especially in a fast-paced environment where we like things to be quick and easy… Why would we ever want to give it up?

We are coming to the full realisation of the devastating consequences of our plastic use on the environment and wildlife. Its cheap and disposable qualities have caused plastic to become a symbol of our throwaway culture and along with our plastics, we are carelessly throwing away the beauties of the natural world.

Bournemouth Beach after a sunny day, Summer 2022

Shockingly, every single piece of plastic ever made still exists (apart from a small proportion that has been incinerated*), accounting for 85% of all marine litter and plastic pollution in the ocean. This is causing catastrophic effects on the species and habitats that exist there. Millions of animals are killed by plastics every year, often becoming entangled or injured by large pieces or mistaking it for food and choking to death. Microplastics are also wreaking havoc, swallowed by even the tiniest of species such as microscopic zooplankton to dolphins and whales, seeping into the food chain and releasing harmful toxins.

We need to make a change.

As a bit of a tyrant when it comes to ocean conservation, I felt it was time for me to put my money where my mouth is and practise all that I preach. As we moved into ‘Plastic-Free July’, it felt like the perfect fit to investigate just how ingrained plastic has become into our everyday lives and also how easy it would be to cut it out… I wanted to do a whole week completely plastic free.

But how easy is it to live a plastic-free life and what are some of the easier swaps to make?

This experiment took part over the course of seven days where I attempted to eradicate single-use plastics from my life. I tried not to use or purchase anything that included single-use plastic or take free items that included plastic. Sounds easy right?

Very early on, I was faced with multiple areas in my life where – much to my shock – plastic products dominated.

Food, Glorious Food

As a big foodie and someone who often moans and groans as I wheel my trolley up and down countless isles in the supermarket at the products stuffed, sealed and stored in single-use plastics, I was excited to explore as many options as I could while also attempting to maintain a low budget (#student life).

Supermarkets like Asda and Lidl do offer some loose fruit and vegetables that you can weigh at checkout without the need of a plastic bag or label. Additionally, eco-friendly stores were a great help for bulk buying things like pasta, rice, bread and a selection of other items. I also took a trip to the local fresh fruit and vegetable store where most of what I was searching for was loose for me to pick up and buy.

Fruit & Veg in reusable bags

However, cheese and yoghurt appeared to be off limits in most stores and meat also appeared to be a no-go.

I did find it interesting to note that despite the attractive recyclable symbol on the plastic packets in the supermarket, the majority of the plastic packaging was not allowed to be recycled from home and required being brought back to a larger store to be recycled.

Top Tip: Do what you can and don’t be afraid to explore new options and your closest eco-friendly store!

PPP (Prior Preparation and Planning)

Prior preparation and planning are key when looking to make substantial swaps to a plastic-free life.

One handy tip I learned early on was to remember to take a reusable cup or bag on my ventures out and about. Also, preparing meals to take with me if I was going out or a selection of snacks, which was my saviour at preventing hunger that would often lead to impulse buying of plastic packaged meal deals in a ‘hangry’ blur.

This does require more thought and planning and can feel like a nuisance at times but, once in the swing of these plastic-free adjustments, you will feel relief when you get to say no to a plastic bottle on the go and whip out your reusable one (also smug to save a few extra pennies).

Top Tip: Prep easy and quick meals and pack your reusable bottles and other plastic-free goodies the night before so it’s not forgotten!

Money… to spend? Or not to spend?

Initially, I had to grit my teeth as I tapped my poor credit card over and over, purchasing metal straws, wax wraps, eco-friendly toothpaste, reusable material carry bags and a few other interesting items that I had never even considered before (like reusable baking parchment?!). Once I had all the equipment, I needed that I could reuse, it removed the need for single-use plastics and the costs that would accompany this (eg buying food out for lunch or paying the 5p every time I forgot my shopping bag).

Wherever possible, always try to use up what you’ve already got too – don’t go out buying new items unless you really need to.

I found I actually began to save some pennies too!

Top tip: Start slow, it doesn’t have to be a large spend all at once and can be more manageable spaced out over time.

Day to day

After reading recently about the damaging effects of microplastics on the body and knowing already that they can release harmful toxins, I was both fascinated and horrified to learn that there were plastics in so many of my day-to-day beauty products like face cream and surprise, surprise is also usually packaged in plastic.

Items I used regularly such as face wipes and my razor were all now off limits.

Fear not! Many eco-friendly stores and online sites sell a selection of replacements to choose from such as reusable makeup pads, wooden handle razors, eco-friendly toothpaste, deodorant and even plastic-free lip balm!

Some plastic-free enthusiasts have also been known to get creative and go the extra mile to make their own shampoo or toothpaste! If you’re feeling daring or want a fun activity to do with the kids at the weekend, why not give it a try?

Top Tip: Longevity over destructive convenience. There are alternatives out there for us to find.

The gist of it

After navigating the many ways that plastic is incorporated into our lives and – often unknowingly – most of the products we use, there are a few quick and easy swaps that were made clear through this plastic-free week.

  • Swap your single-use coffee cups/water bottles for reusable ones
  • Buy a reusable shopping bag that will stop the need to spend that extra 5p on a plastic one in-store and a reusable net bag for weighing your fruit and veg
  • Swap your single-use face wipes for reusable makeup pads and your household kitchen sponges for its sustainable alternative
  • Take the time to explore your local eco-friendly stores and try swapping to get your fruit or veg from a fresh grocer rather than large chain supermarkets

This plastic-free week was a great challenge for me to test just how far I was willing to go in order to stand by my values and opened my eyes to many aspects within my own life where I could make changes. I was pushed to adapt and get creative and despite some frustration, I have no doubt that I will endeavour to make more sustainable swaps. I will continue to shop at fresh fruit and veg stores and now never leave home without my reusable shopping bag. I will also continue to experiment with some of the interesting products found in my local eco-friendly store.

We must focus on creating more sustainable habits in order to progress into a sustainable future. These changes are not always easy, but it does not need to happen all at once and cutting out single-use plastics does not have to mean saying goodbye to your favourite things. Making these small adjustments little by little could change the sad ending predicted for our ocean.

*https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/article/plastic-produced-recycling-waste-ocean-trash-debris-environment

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