While we try not to leave the house without a KeepCup to hand for when that caffeine craving strikes and have been firmly converted to zero-waste beauty bars, we know there is always more we could be doing to live a more environmentally-friendly life. Thanks to lockdown, we’ve spent more time in our homes than ever; cooking, cleaning and turning our bathrooms into makeshift spas for some much-needed pampering. As a result, we’ve become a lot more aware of the waste we create just by living, and, thanks to pandemic-related financial pressures, how much we spend on throwaway, single-use products.
In October last year, the supply of plastic straws, stirrers and plastic-stemmed cotton buds was finally banned – a massive milestone in the fight against single-use plastic – and statistics show that greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution have fallen during the pandemic. The worst thing we could do would be to go back to how things were “before”, which is why making sustainable swaps – be they household, beauty or personal hygiene – has never been more important than ever.
“Lockdown is an ideal time to make the switch to reusable products’, says Zoe Shelton, co-founder of Zed Bees, an eco-friendly, plastic-free subscription box company. “We’re not going out so much so it gives us time to really get to grips with these new, unfamiliar products. Take menstrual cups – many of us are working from home so there’s no having to sort yourself out in the communal office loo. Washable wipes are a great place to start for kids. Not being so on-the-go means you don’t need to use many and you can just chuck them in with your usual wash.”
From menstrual cups and glass straws to nappies and razors, the eco-friendly options available are (wonderfully) plentiful, but knowing where to start can be overwhelming. Zoe advises starting slowly. “The idea is to make long-term sustainable switches, so use up what you have and then do some research to see whether there is a sustainable/plastic-free alternative. It’s not sustainable if it’s not sustainable for you and your family.” Deodorant about to run out? Zoe suggests trying the Biork crystal deodorant stick. “It’s not an antiperspirant so it’s not designed to stop you sweating, just to neutralise the odour. It can take a couple of days for your body to get used to it, but it costs £12 and lasts at least a year, which is definitely going to save you some serious cash.” For a simple starting point, Zoe says you can’t go wrong with soap. “We’re washing our hands so much more at the moment and bars of soap are so different from the ones your granny used to have – ours are anyway!”, says Zoe. ‘They don’t go mushy or crack and they smell delicious. They kill bugs just as well as liquid soap and save so much plastic. A true zero waste swap! We use soap in the shower too – our Lemon and Aromatic Litsea body soap gives a well-known zingy shower gel a run for its money.”
A small family-run start-up, Zed Bees has seen a huge spike in business since the pandemic started. “Our toothpaste tablets (made by Brushfresh) are so popular. They’re a bit marmite, but zero-waste dental care is definitely worth a go as 20 billion tubes of toothpaste are produced each year. Small switches can make big differences”, says Zoe.
To help you start your reusable journey, Zoe has rounded up her top products for women, kids and the home, and two women share their experience of making the switch to reusable products.
Reusables for Women
Menstrual cup and washable sanitary pads: “Life-changing period management,’ describes Zoe, ‘I cannot believe that I used to use tampons – it seems almost as ludicrous as the first time I heard of a menstrual cup. The bettercup sits inside your vagina and creates a seal so that once it’s in, it’s in and there’s no leaking. You can work out, swim and sleep in it. The best thing about the brand is the founder, Ruth. She donates a bettercup to someone living in period poverty for every one sold. So £20 for 10 years worth of periods and essentially a charity donation – surely it’s worth a try!”
While Zoe is a big advocate of a period cup, they’re not for everyone. “I tried a Mooncup but it would end up too far inside me and I would often have to push to be able to reach the tab and pull it out,” says Kayliegh. “A friend sent me a link to an article explaining that this can actually be very bad for women so I stopped using it. It’s a shame, as I really liked the way it worked (although it was messy, so I’m glad I tried it during lockdown). I switched to reusable pads, and I love them. I have a heavy flow so I ordered large ones from Cheeky Wipes and keep it on pretty much all day then pop it in the wash once done. I often use them at night too, but they can make me very hot and itchy down there, so depending on how I am feeling, I do sometimes still use a smaller pad or tampon. I am saving myself so much money in the long run and I don’t have to keep taking the bin out to get rid of the smell. Do your research first is my advice.”
Zoe also recommends wear ’em out‘s washable sanitary pads. “They have lovely designs, stay in place with poppers and wash really well. Women will use approximately 200 tampons a year (and pads on top) so combining a Bettercup and washable wipes will make such an impact.”
Washable cotton pads: “These are pretty mainstream now. Ours are made from lovely soft organic cotton and come in a bag to wash them,” says Zoe.
Safety razor: “These have actual blades instead of plastic covered ones,’ says Zoe, ‘we stock Shoreline shaving products whic are stylish as well as functional and sustainable.”
A safety razor was one of Kayliegh’s first swaps. “I bought the Mutiny Mini Safety Razor Kit from Peace with the Wild, which comes with additional blades and a bar of shaving soap. It’s plastic and palm oil-free, two things I am trying to give up completely. The razor is classified as mini, but it’s actually a decent size and I think any bigger would be too weighty, especially when travelling. When I used plastic razors, I was going through loads so would only ever shave if I thought I really needed to. Since switching, I pretty much shave every other day; the razor blades last months, depending on usage, and I collect them in a tin can to recycle once I have a few of them. The blades are so much cheaper too – £2.00 for 10. It’s crazy to think that in a year I have spent just £22 on razors and only gone through four blades. When I was buying disposable plastic, I must have been spending between £5 and £10 on three to six razors and getting through them every month or so. I learned how to use the razor by watching YouTube videos – there are plenty out there. It took some getting used to, but I cut myself when using the plastic razors, so to me, it’s no more difficult to use. What I did learn the hard way, however, is that dry shaving is an absolute no-no; you must use the shaving soap (or something else to bring a lather), otherwise, the burn is real!”
Washable breast pads: “If you’re breastfeeding then check out washable pads,’ says Zoe, ‘they are so soft and such a godsend in those early days.” Cheeky Wipes, Myrtle and Maud and JoJo Maman Bebe are just a few places to find them.
Resuables for Home
Household refill sachets: “Iron & Velvet do mix and match boxes of anti-bac, bathroom spray and floor cleaner etc, which come in little sachets that you dissolve in water in a reused bottle. They smell lovely and really work.”
Plastic-free dishwasher tablets and laundry capsules: “Smol will deliver these to your door. They have just started doing fabric softener and surface spray refill tablets which we have ordered for Zed Bees.”
Toilet roll subscription: “With Who Gives a Crap, you can order your loo rolls to arrive when convenient. The company is doing unbelievable things, donating 50% of their profits (£4.5m to date) to provide toilets for those in need. So not only is it plastic-free and made from sustainable bamboo or recycled material, it’s actually saving the world!”
Doorstep milk delivery: “Heart-warming nostalgia element aside, the ease of having milk arrive on your doorstep is actually amazing. Check out Creamline or The Modern Milkman to see whether they deliver to your area. Some companies provide other essentials and you can order up until 9pm, meaning you won’t be caught short for your morning cuppa again.”
Reusables for Kids
Nappies: “They are obviously great for the environment but they’re quite a commitment. If you fancy giving it a whirl, check out www.thenappylady.co.uk to see what will work for you, your kids and lifestyle.”
Olivia made the change to reusable nappies with her second baby. “It took me until she was about six months, but it’s never too late to feel like you’re making a small impact. There’s so much choice so I found The Frugality’s reusable nappy blog really helpful. I used a voucher from my local council to buy three new styles then bit the bullet and bought a huge pre-owned bundle on eBay for £80. I have two for night-time (as these are much thicker and come in two parts) so I use around three to four disposables a week if these are dirty or drying. When it comes to cleaning them, with a collection of 18 day nappies, it takes about two loads a week to have a constant supply. As with anything you don’t just chuck in the bin, of course it’s a bit more faff, but never being far from home for the past six months has been the perfect opportunity to get on board with it. Walking away from Aldi without an enormous bundle of throwaway nappies every week feels pretty satisfying, as does the thought of never running out. Oh, and an undressed baby in a pretty printed nappy makes for a great photo opp. People assume the switch to reusables has to be all or nothing, but that’s not the case. Just try it and see!”
Washable baby wipes: Not convinced by reusable nappies? Zoe says washable wipes are a good place to start. “We use Cheeky Wipes for everything; bums, fingers, faces – even squashed banana on the sofa. They come with handy ‘fresh’ and ‘mucky’ boxes and wash really nice
Solid shampoo, conditioner and moisturiser: “Kids haven’t had the time to get used to certain brands or get set in their ways like us adults. Starting them off with zero-waste products is a great way of reducing your plastic waste as a family and bringing the concept of sustainability into conversations with your little ones. Our kids think solid shampoo, conditioner and soap in the bath is the norm and we will never go back! We stock the Rowdy Kind range on Zed Bees; they smell delightful (one is like a mango lolly) and there’s a plain bar that can be used on hair, face and body and is designed for the most sensitive little skin. It made light work of the PVA glue and jam stuck in our toddler’s curls the other day.”
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