Sustainability is something that I think about a lot these days, and I know I am not alone. In the face of our climate change emergency which has become all too scarily obvious in the past few months, we all have the obligation to make changes wherever we can, so I thought I would share my top ten easy and inexpensive sustainable swaps.
I am aware that the big systemic changes we need to really combat the problem and reverse the damage are on a much grander scale than our individual actions, but our choices do have an impact – if consumers consistently prefer eco-friendly products, hopefully corporations will focus production on them; if voters are concerned about environmental issues, politicians eventually have to listen to remain in power. It becomes harder and harder for corporations and national governments to ignore, and eventually there will be a tipping point where even the bigger systemic changes will begin to be made.
I don’t pretend to be perfect and I know there are many ways I could do better, and I will continue to improve, but as @zerowastechef’s saying goes, “We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly, we need millions of people doing it imperfectly”. I plan to share my sustainable swaps room by room in more detailed posts, because there are so many, but here are the ones which I feel have been the easiest and cheapest to adopt (in many cases actually saving me quite a bit of money) overall.
You might want to make a cup of tea for this – it’s a long one, but I wanted to talk a bit about why I made each sustainable swap and how I’ve found it, rather than just making a list!
1. Re-usable coffee cup and water bottle
This maybe seems a bit trite by now, you might think surely everyone has these, but I know that isn’t the case. It is a little more effort to remember your own cup and water bottle, and to rinse them/refill them after use, but this is one of the easiest things to do with one of the greatest impacts on daily plastic use if you regularly buy coffee or water on your travels.
My recommendation: I have a KeepCup but honestly, I am not impressed. My ancient Starbucks travel mug I have had for over 15 years is so much better – it seals tight so you can throw it in your handbag with no spills, whereas the KeepCup has to be upright at all times, and it definitely doesn’t keep coffee hot as long. My water bottle is great – it is from Chillys, and keeps water chilled for hours.
2. Eco-friendly loo roll
When I started researching this I assumed the issue with loo roll was plastic wrapping, but also important is sustainable production. Sadly there are no brands which manufacture in the UK (due to us not having the climate to quickly grow the material), but there are two top contenders you have probably heard of, who both ship from the other side of the world: Who Gives a Crap and Greencane. WGAC is 100% recycled materials, but every roll is wrapped in non-recycled paper. Greencane is 80% recycled or from bamboo/sugarcane (which take 1 year to grow compared to 20 years for trees) and available unwrapped. It’s much of a muchness which one you go for – WGAC donates 50% of their profits to water charities to help sanitation efforts, whereas Greencane support environmental causes, so both do good as well. Some people like the funky wrapping on WGAC and I think the paper is softer, but for me the benefit of not having to unwrap 48 rolls of paper sways it towards Greencane. I used to buy huge packets of 24 rolls from Asda to use less plastic but I was finding myself buying them every month or so. Now I buy 48 from Greencane and it lasts me 4 months because the rolls are longer. I am therefore actually saving money on my loo roll by buying better. The downside? You need a bathroom cupboard big enough for 48 loo rolls, and have the budget to outlay for 4 months’ worth at once.
My recommendation: Greencane Naked rolls £33.24 (delivered in UK)
3. Switching to soap bars
Another very easy swap. Some people I know have had issues finding a soap that suits. In fact, my first shampoo bar was a Soapnuts one passed on to me by @jenlittlebirdie because it didn’t suit her hair (fab to follow if you’re trying to live more sustainably by the way and her book is brilliant – giving a copy away on my Instagram soon so keep an eye out). It worked just fine on mine, and I re-bought again, but I have recently discovered Friendly Soaps and they are cheaper and I prefer the scents so I will stick to them. They lather beautifully and wash well and their conditioner bar is also amazing leaving my hair really soft and shiny. I use their shaving bar too. My normal soap is one I bought that was locally made. I spend far less, have just as shiny hair, and am not forever knocking over shampoo bottles in the shower. No disadvantages to this swap as far as I am concerned, once you’ve found one that suits your hair, and if you try one that doesn’t, why not pass it on to a friend?
My recommendation: Friendly Soap (also local to me in West Yorkshire)
4. Soap nuts and natural stain remover
I have been using Soapnuts in my washing machine for about 9 months now. They perform just as well as commercial detergents on lightly soiled clothes, including cloth nappies. I have needed to use extra stain remover for stubborn stains (such as those created by toddlers plus spaghetti Bolognese for example!) but that was also the case with the liquid I was using before. There is no scent, but I don’t mind that, you can add essential oils if you like one. You put the nuts in a little bag, and then add them to the wash load. You can use them 4 or 5 times before you need to change them, and the empty shells are compostable. My main negative was that I found the little bag very fiddly to open when wet or dry, so now I boil the nuts in water to make a liquid first and then use that in the wash, which also means I can do my wash on a cold setting (the nuts require hot water to release the saponin which is the cleaning agent).
My recommendation: 500g Living Naturally Soapnuts (240 washes – I am still on my first bag which cost £8.99)
5. Cloth wipes (for bottoms and faces and makeup)
This was one of my first swaps – I was horrified at how many wipes we would get through each nappy change when Emilia was small, but converting to cloth was quite an expense which stopped me taking the plunge. I then won a Cheeky Wipes starter kit via @lovemaisieblog (another one to follow on Insta for sustainable swaps) and I wish we had used them right from the start! They are really easy (the sustainability highlight on my Insta has a few stories about how we used them), don’t create much extra washing and they are SO MUCH EASIER TO CLEAN A POOPY/FOOD-ENCRUSTED BABY WITH! We have a pack of white ones for faces and a pack of coloured ones for bums so as not to get them confused. Some people might find the idea gross, but so is the mess of shitty wet wipes getting washed into our seas that we then take our kids to paddle in!
I also now use re-usable cloth pads to remove makeup. And of course, you don’t need to use anything as sophisticated – a cut up old towel would work perfectly for all these functions.
N.B. Cloth nappies were also an amazing swap I wish I had made earlier, but they were a little bit more effort and cost so they don’t make my easiest and cheapest sustainable swaps list, but they are one of my favourites and I’ll write more soon.
My recommendation: Cheeky Wipes All-In-One Kit £45.95 (an expensive outlay but the tubs and travel bags make them so easy to use).
6. Swapping my search engine to plant trees
This took me about 2 minutes to do, a few months ago, and since then I have planted 7 trees, just by searching. You install an extension to your web browser, search ads generate income, which is then used to plant trees. Every 45 searches is a tree. It works exactly like Google – give your money to the planet not a massive corporation!
My recommendation: www.ecosia.org
7. Re-usable menstrual products
I have been using cloth sanitary pads for a year or so now, and have recently tried a menstrual cup for the first time. I am an absolute convert to cloth pads – so much more comfortable and remove pretty much all the elements of sanitary towels that made me hate them (feel, rustling noises, sweatiness, artificial scent, not to mention all the plastic). They may not work for everybody but I really recommend you give them a try. Very easy to clean, just soak in cold water to rinse before washing in your machine and hanging dry. And they can be folded discretely and cleanly in on themselves if you’re out and about so you can wash them when you get home.
I had been thinking about a menstrual cup for ages but the idea terrified me a bit, but I decided I couldn’t handle the guilt I felt for the amount of waste I was creating every period and ordered one from Fialuna. I picked this company because it offers different lengths as well as widths which not all do, and it is also run by a fellow Mum who started the West Yorkshire business partly to support her family. I had a few issues with the first size I tried, and the customer service was absolutely amazing with tips and support and eventually I tried a smaller size which worked much better for me. I have now used it successfully for one period and I look forward to never using tampons again.
8. Coconut scrub and knitted dishcloth
I used to hate that scourer sponges worked for about a week then would start falling apart and not cleaning properly anymore, and we used to throw away at least one a month. In the past year I have used two coconut scrubbers (and one is still going strong), and not only do they keep their scrubber quality, they clean almost as well as wire wool but without damaging your dishes or your fingers! Best dish scrubber there is. And compostable when it finally starts to get a bit threadbare.
For general washing up and wiping surfaces, I now use a knitted cotton/linen cloth, which has lasted about 6 months so far (with regular machine washes) and other than a hole where I got too close with my Japanese kitchen knife, looks as good as it did when I bought it.
My recommendation: Safix coconut scrub and Iris Hantverk household cloth, can be found in UK on Trouva or eBay.
9. Buying secondhand
If I need something I always try to see if I can get it secondhand first, whether it is furniture, clothing, toys, or tools. Charity shops, Facebook Marketplace, eBay are all great places to look. With clothing and furniture it also usually means I can buy a better brand within my price range, as the options for buying sustainable and ethically produced items are few if you’re on a budget. Upcylcing is also a great idea and really satisfying – long-term readers will already know I am a big fan!
My recommendation: If what I want isn’t available at the time, and it’s not urgent, I save an eBay search and wait for it to appear. Often the wait time makes me realise I don’t actually need it after all anyway!
10. When you run out, buy better
Aside from the last one, nearly everything on this list encourages you to buy something new. I really wanted to avoid the trap of a list of ‘eco ‘must-haves’’ with things like metal straws (which have their place for those who need them but most don’t need straws at home) and beeswax wraps (great if you regularly use clingfilm, otherwise just another purchase) and bamboo lunchboxes and all the other ‘trendy’ eco products. Sustainability is a mind-switch as much as it is anything else – we should stop buying more, more, more, and use what we have and use it better. For example, if you have lots of plastic Tupperware, don’t bin it and buy metal instead. Throwing things out to replace them with ‘better’ options completely defeats the point.
So, please don’t read this and run out and buy all these things right away, but have a think about it and when your current dishcloth falls apart or your shampoo is almost empty, then see if you can choose a greener option to replace it with. And do this for everything – if a product is almost empty, don’t automatically buy the same one you always have, see if there is a better choice you can make within your budget. It may seem a hassle at first, but it will become second nature and soon you will have made sustainable swaps in every area without even really realising it.
My recommendation: www.ethicalconsumer.org – an amazing website which ranks the eco-friendly and ethical qualities of thousands of products and helps you choose better.
Over to you! What have been your favourite sustainable swaps? I would love to find new ones so please share in the comments!