The only guide you need to reducing plastic

How to cook, when you don’t like cooking
July 11, 2014
lettuce rice soup
July 23, 2014


Welcome to Zero Waste Week 2014!

Today we’re focusing on reducing plastic as this is pretty much the number one item lurking in everyone’s bin.

When we did our ‘one bin challenge’ back in 2009, we were left with items such as


  • disposable biros that had run out of ink
  • dried up felt tip pens
  • broken children’s toys
  • blunt razor blades
  • toothbrushes
  • plastic packaging from foods we couldn’t find alternatives for such as rice cakes and chick peas

Hopefully you’ve signed up to our newsletter where you’ll find your plastic-related challenge for today. If not, you can still get on board. Fill out the form now!

Over here today I wanted to share some ideas for reducing frustrating items that end up in the bin. Of course the majority of us (unless we’re some amazing artist) can’t reuse old blunt razor blades or toothpaste tubes, but we can think about reducing the amount of these things we buy and look for alternatives.

Here are some of the plastic culprits that have come up on our Facebook Community over the past year and items people have emailed me to ask about:

Cereal bags

Cereal-Bags-nThese can be recycled in Sainsbury supermarkets with the carrier bags.

Alternatively, reuse them as sandwich bags instead of clingfilm.

Wet wipe pouches

When Little Miss Green was a baby we made our own ‘wet wipes’.

These were simply a mix of 50% witch hazel with 50% sesame oil (we used this as LMG’s skin was dry, but you could use sweet almond oil or even olive or sunflower oil from the kitchen cupboard). Add a couple of drops of essential oils such as lavender if you like.

wet wipesStore in a glass bottle and cut up some old soft t-shirts that you no longer wear or get hold of a few cheap face cloths and you’re done. Dip the cloth into the liquid and use on your baby. There’s a huge financial saving to be made plus you know exactly what’s going onto precious skin.

If you absolutely can’t do without conventional wipes, then get together with friends or a local nursery and set up a recycling brigade with Terracycle where your pouches will be upcycled into bibs, bins and benches.

Kids plastic hangers

Donate to a charity shop or some Tesco stores recycle them.


Can you refuse them? If you can’t live without, then check out stainless steel and glass options.

Old toothbrushes

Keep them for fiddly cleaning jobs such as grouting or around the taps (faucets). According to Anne Marie, an old toothbrush will keep a young boy entertained for hours when he’s given a set of alloy wheels to clean!

zero waste toothpasteYou can keep separate ones for cleaning things like pet bowls or bird feeders.

In the future you can switch to a more landfill-friendly option – check out our 4 zero waste toothbrushes you should consider.

Toothpaste tubes

See our post on plastic-free toothpaste

Blunt razors

Check out the extensive comments and suggestions in this post ranging from a steel razor to electric rechargeable water safe razor

Plastic tops and lids

Some local authorities ask you to remove plastic lids from items such as milk bottles before recycling. Fortunately LUSH are on hand to help you. When I asked them about recycling plastic lids they wrote “We do welcome customers bringing in their bottle tops although if you bring in a large volume please check with the store first so they can be sure to have the space to store them. The bottle tops that we collect are taken to be recycled elsewhere to prevent them going to landfill as they are not usually recycled by local authority recycling centres, but are not used for any packaging within Lush although they used to be.”

Plastic cream / yogurt pots

reuse plastic containersYou could do as I don’t and make your own yogurt. Apparently it’s really easy; although I’ve never personally succeeded.

If you’re a stalwart, you can collect them up and post them off (at your own expense) to GHS who will happily recycle them for you.

Failing that, we have some reuse ideas here.

Plastic ‘film’ packaging

According to my cunning research, Tesco will recycle film from ready meals with their carrier bags.

Waitrose told me “Plastic film packaging displaying the OPRL logo – including those from other retailers – can be recycled with the carrier bags at Waitrose stores.”

So that probably takes care of some of it. As for reducing, well, it’s a case of changing shopping habits, which isn’t always easy I know. Just do your best; we’re all rooting for you.

Salad bags

salad bagWe’ve all thrown away a crinkly salad bag (complete with half the contents of slime in there).

At the moment I don’t know of a way to recycle these, so it’s time for a spot of gardening.

When you consider the majority of people really do throw out half the salad they buy, the costs of a suitable container, a bag of compost and a packet of mixed cut-and-come-again seeds is a minimal investment for the amount you will save in the long run.

And I don’t want any excuses about not having enough space or time  either – you can grow salad in a windowbox; so even if you live on the 11th floor of a building, get growing my friends.

And talking of suitable containers for growing, this brings me on to:

Plastic trays that fruit such as grapes and strawberries come in

strawberriesWe buy soft fruit from a local orchard owner who is only too pleased to have our old ones back for refilling.

You probably can’t do this with grapes, but perhaps you live next to a local ‘Pick Your Own’ farm where you can take your own reusable containers for picking soft fruits (which you can then freeze for later use).

If you buy your fruit from a supermarket I guess it’s down to reuse ideas – would a local school or playgroup use them for storing things in or could you use them for planting seedlings? OR grab them and grow your cut-and-come-again salad leaves – you know you’re not going to get away with it, right?!

Packaging on things such as fresh meat/fish/cheese

For meat and cheese I take my own reusable containers to my local butcher and / or deli counter.

I checked beforehand that they could zero the scales with my container on and whether or not they were happy to do so. I was thrilled (and very surprised) that I had a resounding yes – both from my local butcher and our local deli.

reusable kids pouch weaningCould this be a solution for you?

Toddler food pouches

These pesky items are made from composite material which, so far, is not readily recycled in the UK.

One amazing woman, Suzanne, saw a need and has created ‘Nom Nom Kids‘ reusable pouches.

Fill them with your own home made or store bought purees, smoothies, yogurts, or baby food – Suzanne has a great range of recipes on her site. The pouches are easily filled and easy to clean using the double zip lock side opening. So you’ll save money AND waste!

Broken plastic toys

Boy with broken toy carCheck with your local Authority. From my experience it’s worth checking every few months because things DO change and new recycling facilities come on board.

For example, in Cheltenham this summer they started a mixed plastics recycling trial. Over in Suffolk, lucky residents can recycle hard plastics such as toys, garden furniture and household items such as broken dustpans. Maybe we should all move to Suffolk 😉

Crisp bags

Sadly these can’t be recycled anywhere as far as I know. And crisps are pretty tiresome to make yourself.

Now I haven’t done the science (so please do and let me know your results), but I’m wondering about a solution for crisps in lunch boxes:

If you bought one large ‘sharing bag’ of crisps and put a few in a reusable container each day (No, don’t just scoff the lot because that defeats the object here) I’m thinking that wrapper of one large bag might weigh less than all the individual bags. What do you think? Are we on to something?

Black plastic trays

This is probably the number one enemy of zero wasters.

1.stock-photo-piping-hot-chopped-steak-microwave-dinner-in-black-plastic-tray-on-white-plate-against-blue-gingham-1957712513 billion black CPET trays are used in the UK each year. They’re not currently recycled because the colour pigment isn’t detectable by the sorting equipment at recycling plants.

Back in July, Sainsbury’s and Marks & Spencer ran a trial to test new CPET trays which uses a colourant detectable by the sorting equipment. What the outcome is I don’t know, but at least it’s a step in the right direction.

Until we get fully recyclable black plastic eliminating it calls for a change of lifestyle. There are two choices as I see it: Either save up those black plastic trays and have a batch cooking session once a week – fill your freezer with cheaper (and probably healthier) ready meals for the week.

Or if you’re not willing / able to prepare your own meals and cannot find an alternative to your favourites (Could you find curry in a tin rather than black plastic?) you can wash them thoroughly and return to sender. Which brings me neatly on to…

Biscuits, cakes, confectionery wrappers

If you’re not able to pop on your pinny, roll up your sleeves and make your own, it’s time to raise awareness. Why not write to the manufacturer and ask them to consider a more landfill-friendly option?

biscuitsFeel free to copy and paste this letter and fill in your own details if you have a favourite product without adequate recycling information. Or if you’re facing the same situation as Simon who wrote “What really gets me is where a product is made up of various plastic materials and the producer uses the generic term PLASTIC with multiple end results – it may say for example widely recycled for part of the packaging but then check local recycling for a 2nd part of the packaging while all sitting under the PLASTIC banner !


<Your Address>

<Address of manufacturer>


Dear Sir

I bought your <insert name of product here> recently and am disappointed to find inadequate recycling information about the packaging.

As a family, we responsibly dispose of packaging wherever possible and recycle, reuse and compost as much as we can. However, we cannot do this if we don’t know what the packaging is!

I feel you are not taking this area of your business seriously. In essence, you are passing on the responsibility for disposal of your packaging onto the consumer – and the only option you are giving, for this particular product, is landfill.

Responsible Trading covers the end disposal of your packaging and if you cannot offer your consumers  a way to recycle or compost the packaging, you have no right to be producing it.

I am returning the packaging for YOU to dispose of and would like a response from you which includes answers to the following three questions:

1- What packaging are you currently using?
2- What plans do you have to improve the information on your packaging?
3 – What plans do you have to improve the packaging itself so consumers can easily recycle or compost it at home?

Yours faithfully

<Signature here>

<Your Name Here>

I’m sure you have plenty more things in your bin that aren’t listed – let me know in the comments below!

P.S. Can’t get enough of this week’s Zero Waste Week content?

Never miss out again!

Sign up to the mailing list where you’ll get the rest of this year’s Zero Waste Week emails delivered to your inbox (it’s not the same as the blog, you get MUCH more!). Then you’ll enjoy monthly newsletters on the last Tuesday of each month.

Are you ready to sign up?

I know you are!

Press on the button below to sign up for free now:

sign up to zero waste week button

Rachelle Strauss
Rachelle Strauss
Rachelle Strauss is founder of and Both are leading websites for helping householders reduce landfill waste. Her work has attracted media stories and engagement in documentaries, film and radio both locally and abroad.


  1. I was wondering about the big crisp packet versus lots of small crisp packets thing. Crisps are a weakness of mine (ie something I could avoid and mostly do but occasionally find too tempting to resist).

    I think that getting plastic off our shelves is going to take a long long time – a mind shift for much of the population as well as a huge change in the choices shoppers have re packaging.

    I am going to speak to my local organic farm about their meat, which is packaged in plastic – such a shame when everything is so right.

  2. Hi there

    You mention TerraCycle above for recycling baby wipes – we also offer programmes for the likes of coffee packaging, baby food pouches, air care waste, yogurt pots (where councils don’t accept them) etc. Interestingly you show a picture of a McVitie’s biscuit packet wrapper in the article above – McVitie’s have actually sponsored our Biscuit Wrapper Brigade where any brand of biscuit wrapper can be recycled since June 2012.

    You can find the details on all our recycling fundraising schemes at – there are also public drop off locations in place for the a number of the programmes – simply click on the ‘Find My Nearest Location’ button on any of the Brigade pages where it is available and it brings up a postcode search facility – you can then find your nearest participating location and it gives you the hours you can drop off your waste and which charity benefits from all the waste collected.

    If you don’t have a drop off location close by for a type of waste we run a programme for then you click on the ‘Submit Application’ button if you have found a location that is willing to host a collection box and you can act as the administrator.

    Steve Clarke
    TerraCycle UK

  3. dublinecolo says:

    Don’t want to promote any brands and like using old toothbrushes for cleaning but you may also want to look at Monte Bianco toothbrush. Their heads are replaceable! Another great way of reducing waste!

  4. Mr D Lawrence says:

    Terracycle are now offering zero waste boxed. They cost but if it means zero waste. I’ve recycled sweet wrappers, medicine tablet blister packs, laminated packaging, tooth brushes, CDs, audio cassettes, soft plastic packaging and many other things.

  5. kate says:

    Load of plastic free alternatives to everyday products can be found here.

    Sadly not crisps though. At least not in the U.K. They still sell them loose in Spain!

  6. […] The Homemade Homemaker series on The Guardian’s website and several Zero Plastic blogs like this one and My Plastic Free […]

  7. Janet says:

    Just bought some bamboo toothbrushes on ebay

  8. Dave says:

    Great website! I have two questions maybe you guys can help with…

    Bamboo toothbrushes are great idea but proven to not be the best way to keep teeth clean. Using an electric toothbrush is generally better for healthy teeth and gums but there aren’t any bamboo replacements as far as I know… Anyone know about this?

    And just wanted to ask about those of you that might take plastic off products and leave with the supermarket? I know a small amount of people so it but can’t see any accounts of it online. I have a reservation about doing this but wanted more info… Does anyone know any more about this As well?

    Cheers guys!

    • Hi Dave, do you have more info on bamboo not being great for cleaning the teeth? It sounds like this could be valuable to share with readers. I’ve not come across an electric / bamboo hybrid but will update the post if I do!

      I’ve left plastic at the checkout – but only when it’s quiet and I don’t hold others up. It’s a good way to raise awareness and as some stores have access to recycling that you and I don’t, it can be a good way to reduce household waste. I think if more of us did it, changes might happen sooner!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *