How to cut back on single-use plastics at work and home

Mixing working from home and the office means a bag full of gear ready for the day, remembering the laptop, headset, mouse, mug, water bottle and anything else that goes with the day job, writes service improvement officer Jenny Lowes.

The waste team now meets in person and we are all reminded to bring in our own mug and water bottle from home. Luckily, we have kitchens in the building, so we all naturally use our reusable mugs and water bottles/glasses as if we were still at home, trying for no single-use plastic in this team.

Get the refill app – or sign up to offer it

A great tool to avoid unnecessary purchase of single-use plastic drink bottles is the free refill app. The app helps you find somewhere to top up your water bottle when you’re out and about without having to buy a new single-use container. Find out more from the Refill website.

If you’re happy to offer free refills of water in your café or place of work that’s open to the public, then you can get listed on the app for free to help us all reduce packaging - it would be great to see more North Yorkshire cafés and restaurants and other businesses signed up to the app.

Start in the bathroom

If you are keen to reduce single-use plastics at home, the easiest place to start might be in the bathroom. Over the years, we have gone full circle from a bar of soap to shower gel and now back to a soap in a rope bag. Most of the bottles of shampoo and conditioner have been replaced with bars too, although having two daughters with very different colour hair and needs means some do reluctantly creep back in to the bathroom.

The days of wet wipes have gone. Yes, they were useful when they were babies but we know better now… although I suspect many with babies and toddlers will still have a supply.

Switching to reusable, washable nappies can significantly reduce your plastic waste. Plastic, specifically polyethylene and polypropylene, makes up 30 per cent of a single-use nappy, which equates to 9.55g of plastic in just one single-use nappy (other parts of the nappy include polyacrylate and cellulose fluff). If a child uses at least 4,000 single-use nappies for the first two-and-a-half years of their life, their parents are throwing away 38.2kg of plastic waste.

I am long past washable nappies for my children, it’s now washable cotton pads for make-up removal and we have kept every flannel from birth from all those baths. It’s now more likely that sanitary products could make up the plastic in the bathroom bin. Women use an estimated 11,000 disposable period products over the 450 periods they each have in their lifetime. This is just one woman – so it’s unsurprising to hear that tampons, pads and panty liners amount to more than 200,000 tonnes of waste a year in the UK. Period pants are brilliant, especially for young teens who might be at school and haven’t got into a regular cycle. They are quite expensive, but a great investment and much less stressful. Other items, such as menstrual cups, are also available.

Don’t forget the pets

Even the pets aren’t free from “washables versus disposables” in this house. Over the winter, the guinea pigs came to live in the house. I tried sawdust at the bottom of the cage – what a mess.  Online forums suggested puppy pads as a good alternative, but they are just like a stretched out disposable nappy, so it didn’t feel right – so washable/reusable mats are now in place that get swept and then washed (composting the mess).

With cleaning, I now buy the concentrated tabs and place them in the spray bottle and fill with water. The laundry is now done with an Ecoegg, which uses two types of mineral pellets plus a small amount of detergent, although I have been known to throw some powder in there when there’s very dirty items being washed (mainly cricket whites).

I’ve mentioned these many times, but our milkman is brilliant and we get milk delivered three times a week in reusable glass bottles, and I love my soda stream and was very excited to buy branded concentrate the last time I shopped.

Refill shops seem to be popping up all over North Yorkshire and that is definitely the way forward to reduce single-use plastic.

Even doing all this, we still manage to fill at least two boxes of recycling each week, but at least the wheelie bin is almost empty...