What I learnt when I tried to shop plastic-free

01 Sep 2021
By Hazel M., Freelance writer, journalist and total bookworm at Unite Students

Welcome to The World According to Hazel – a new blog series from post-grad and freelance writer, Hazel Murray. From wellbeing and mental health, to protecting the planet and everyday experiences, here’s her take on life as we know it.

But how do you even get started?

The good news is that, as consumers, we’re becoming more collectively aware of what we’re buying and how products are packaged. In fact, one study found that we’re even willing to pay up to 12% more for products if they’re marked as ‘eco-friendly’.

And I can vouch for that; I have definitely spent more money buying products that are labelled ‘environmentally-friendly’ because it makes me feel like I’m doing something good for the planet.

There’s just one problem, though. I still find that my shopping is full of left-over plastic every week, and my recycling bags are constantly overflowing.

So, I decided to tackle plastics head on… and here’s what I learnt along the way.

It’s really hard to go plastic-free

First and foremost, I’m just going to put this out there – going plastic-free is hard.

Plastic is so embedded into our culture and everything that we buy that, even in the most unexpected places, you still find the transparent terror. And, yes, products that claim to be eco-friendly can still contain plastic.

So, even when you think you’re doing it right, there can still be some sneaky pests that make their way into the basket. It’s a hard reality that you quickly learn.

It can be a lot more expensive

If you don’t plan your shopping list with absolute precision, you can quickly wrack up the budget without even realising it. The key is to do research beforehand, so you know what the cheaper alternatives are before you go shopping.

Some of the best ways I’ve tackled the cost problem is to join Facebook groups and see what everyone else is doing. Often, people have really good hacks for going plastic-free on a budget with, for example, some giving pointers on how to make homemade cleaners to save you from buying new plastic bottles every week.

But it’s important to note that it can also take a lot of time to go shopping sometimes, too, particularly if I have to go to a few different shops (like my local refill shop) to get everything I need with minimal plastic use.

People will always question your dedication

I think it’s really important to be open about your eco journey as it could inspire others to join the bandwagon. However, this does leave you open to criticism. For example, while you might be great at banishing plastic from one area of your life, friends may grill you on why you haven’t tackled another issue.

The best way I’ve learnt to deal with this is simply accepting the criticism, explaining that there’s more work to be done but also highlighting how everyone needs to start somewhere – and it’s better than doing nothing at all.

The blame is often on the consumer

A lot of companies claim to be tackling the plastics problem, but this can be as small as reducing one aspect of plastic in their business. Essentially, they want to tick a box and they’ll generally blame consumers for wanting plastic as a reason for not getting rid of it altogether.

This makes it really hard when you’re trying to shop plastic-free, because the expense of avoiding plastics is laid at your feet – instead of the feet of the company producing it in the first place.

A great example of this is the plastic bag charge. Yes, it’s helped reduce plastic bag use across the UK, but couldn’t supermarkets get rid of plastic bags altogether? There are enough alternatives out there now that these global corporations should be taking some of the financial burden, instead of leaving it at the feet of the consumer.

And that leaves me with the final lesson…

Make it work for you

If you’re trying to go plastic-free, the biggest thing I’ve learnt is to not be too hard on yourself. It takes time to learn the ropes, especially if you’re on a budget or tight timeframe.

Essentially, if you’re giving it a go and even changing just a few things on your shopping list, you’re already doing better than most consumers.

My advice? Keep going, you’re doing great.

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When not stringing words together, can usually be found on the local beach with her cocker spaniel pup, Huey.