How did it go? – reduce single use stuff

First things first

Over the past few years I have made a number of changes in how I do things that have reduced my use of single-use stuff (whether it’s plastic, paper or whatever).  What I’ve found with each of them is that they quickly become the new normal and I never think about doing them.  The time I notice is when for whatever reason I don’t have an alternative with me and have to make a choice between single use and doing without.  Doing without is usually my choice (though not always.  None of us is perfect…).

For example, it is many years since I ever bought a drink in a plastic bottle.  Yes I use plastic bottles, but these are far from single use.  We’ve had them for many many years, and just reuse them.  No reason not to – they exist, they’re here already, they do the job well, and are sturdy enough to last us many more years.  Likewise, our thermos flasks and reuse cups.  Likewise my carry-around pouch with cutlery, a cloth napkin, and a mini ice cream scoop.

What did I change in 2019?

The main thing that changed during 2019 was my awareness of packaging and the changes I could make to reduce the amount that finds its way into our home.  Also watching the BBC programme on recycling brought home what an illusion we have been sold.  Which made me work harder to find a solution to my biggest contribution to single use plastic: the milk bottle.

What I did – milk

I drink a lot of milk.  Almost certainly more than is good for the planet.  I’m working on it (ie finding ways to use less of it).  In the meantime, I was buying organic British milk from our local supermarket (Coop).   But after watching the TV programme and seeing the evidence, I felt I could no longer continue with this.  So I made a switch that many of my neighbours have made, to having (organic, British) milk delivered to our doorstep in glass bottles.  It cost much more, but I was willing (and able) to pay the increased price if that was going to be better for the planet.

Until Malcolm brought my attention to radio coverage of complaints by diary farmers that the payment they received for their milk from this company was below the cost to them of production.  Once I’d heard that, I stopped my deliveries and reverted to the supermarket.  Taking me back to where I started.

Fortunately for me, I very quickly found what I think is a much better solution.  I remembered that an organic farm just outside Bath sells their milk direct.  I went to have a look.  They have a machine that they fill each morning with fresh pasteurised (whole) milk.  You take your own bottle and fill it with either 1 or 2 litres.  It costs much less than the delivered milk (but more than the supermarket milk), and I know that every penny goes to the farmer.  I can watch the cows being milked, I see them grazing the nearby fields.

The downside is that I drive just under 8 miles (round trip) each time I stock up on milk.  However, the milk I buy has travelled no miles at all before I buy it.  I reuse the same bottles every time and I see no reason why they shouldn’t last indefinitely (compared to the approximately 20 times the glass delivery bottles are reused).  So I’ve been experimenting to see how much milk I can buy in one visit that will keep fine in the fridge at home (ie how long it will keep), and at the same time I’m continuing to find ways to reduce my consumption of milk.  Maybe later in the year I’ll experiment with cycling out there (it means crossing Bath and riding out up quite a hill and finally along a fairly narrow and quite busy road, so I’m a little nervous and I think rightly so. However, in the longer term I’m contemplating replacing two bikes with an electric bike and that may make the whole thing easier and safer).

So, all in all, this feels to me like an acceptable compromise.  The reduction in contents of our recycling bin is substantial.  I now only put it out for emptying once a fortnight, instead of weekly.

Reusable glass bottles; second-hand carrying basket

What I did – not milk

Milk aside, most of the actual changes I made have been relatively small ones, but I’m working on the premise that the small things add up when we all do them.

So.  The first thing I did was to sort through, identify and use up stuff I already have.  The sorting unearthed an array of small part-used containers of shampoo, shower gel, and various skin creams.  I have been gradually using these and disposing of the containers (or where possible, repurposing them – some have been kept for travel use, some given away).

A new (to me) habit in 2019 was carrying around a box full of bags to take shopping with me.  This works extremely well, and I rarely bring any unwanted packaging into our home.  Pleasingly, occasionally other customers have noticed and commented positively, so I hope that maybe I will have spurred others to do likewise.  There are however some food items in plastic that I haven’t yet moved to an alternative (eg pasta).  I will explore other options during 2020.

I tried and failed to find a shampoo bar that I liked.  But here at  the start of 2020 I am inspired by my older friend (well into her 80s) who has recommended to me a bar shampoo (and an alternative deodorant) –  she is making great efforts to change her consumption to cut out waste and single use items.  Don’t let anyone tell you that older people don’t care about the climate emergency: many do care, and are willing to do something about it.

What next?

I’m sufficiently pleased with my progress to continue with all the changes I’ve already made, and to carry on searching for alternatives (and in many cases just stop using products).  Definitely not reached the ‘enough’ point with this one.


About deborah @ the magic jug

Now I've passed 60 I'm still doing all sorts of things I haven't done before, as well as carrying on with the things I already love. I live a happy life with my long term love Malcolm. In my blog I explore local and low tech ideas, food, growing, making, reading, thinking, walking, and lots of other words ending in 'ing'.
This entry was posted in 2019 goals, 2020 enough, Climate change, Do what you can with what you have, Farming, Local food, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to How did it go? – reduce single use stuff

  1. Oh, you’re doing really well. I’m trying to make some changes here and was heartened by the opening of one of those ‘bring your own containers, weigh the stuff yourself’ shops locally. As well as foodstuffs, they also sell vegan toiletries (block toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner) which I’ll try though I do sometimes react badly to new products. Did you watch the Chris Packham programme on BBC2 about the impact of population growth on the planet? It really got me thinking about how much I consume and what I can reduce.


    • I didn’t see that programme, but I have taken to listening to podcasts while knitting, and I’ve found quite a lot of inspirational things. I subscribe to the Daily Ted Talks on my phone, and they’re mainly less than 30 mins and just right for a sit down with a cup of tea and the knitting 🙂

      I’m intrigued by your mention of block toothpaste – what is it? is it effective in cleaning your teeth and gums? That’s one area I’m nervous of ditching the plastic, as I have poor gums and need to take good care of them.


  2. you’re doing great work there but it can be hard. There are several ‘refill’ shops now where I live where you can buy pasta etc loose and fill up your own container. The problem I have is being organised as a lot of my shopping gets done on the way to or from something and it it really isn’t practical to be carrying a whole lot of containers around all the time.. but yes, one step at a time might get us there in the end.


    • I know, it’s not always easy. We are a household of two, and that is so much easier than when our children were still at home. We no longer routinely do a ‘big weekly shop’, and we plan meals around what we already have before deciding to buy something else. All our vegetables are bought loose at the local market or come from the allotment. We have 2 refill shops nearby, but neither of them makes it easy by having a ‘tare’ till that can automatically deduct the weight of the container you bring along. We have made some gradual changes when we can – eg we now buy porridge oats in paper bags (which then go in the compost bin) from Lidl instead of in plastic bags from the Coop. I buy my tea loose instead of teabags. But we haven’t yet found a supply of plastic-free pasta. One step at a time…..

      Liked by 1 person

  3. You have really made a strenuous effort and many thoughtful changes!


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