Week 2: Plastic-Free Cleaning & The Circular Economy

plastic free cleaning

Some plastic-free household goodies!
The pills are toothpaste btw, not what you were thinking…

I am now just over halfway through my month-long challenge to give up single-use plastics this June. I can’t believe how quickly it has gone, and more excitingly, how many solutions I’ve discovered that really do make a plastic-free lifestyle very possible.

Thank you SO MUCH to all my generous friends, family and work colleagues who have donated to the Marine Conservation Society – the fantastic charity I am dedicating this campaign to. I am over halfway towards my goal of £500 now, and so grateful for everybody’s generosity – thank you!

Last week I wrote about how I have been doing my weekly food shop completely plastic-free. This week, I want to share with you the solutions I have found for toiletries and household cleaning products. This was my biggest question-mark going into the challenge, but it turns out there are lots of ingenious initiatives out there!

First up, however, I wanted to deal with a question that has popped up in discussions with friends and family since I started this challenge…

“I use lots of plastic, but recycle most of it. Surely that is doing my bit?”

Firstly, you definitely are doing your bit – and please keep on doing it! However I think its important to bear in mind that recycling cannot be seen as the only solution to our masses of plastic waste. What I certainly didn’t realise until I looked into it is that recycling systems today are limited by imperfect processes:-

  • Complexity of sorting: the huge varieties of polymers, composites, colour dyes and rigidities of plastic out there makes sorting very difficult, and contamination inevitable…
  • Low-quality output: …this means that most recycled plastic ends up in lower-grade applications such as fleece and carpet fibres. As the diagram below shows, only 2% of total plastic packaging produced ends up recycled into same/similar purposes!
  • Cannot compete with fossil-fuel inputs: most plastic is still made from “virgin feedstock” – that is, fossil-fuel derivatives. When the oil price is low, as it has been for the past 2 years, the process-intensive recycled plastics cannot effectively compete with comparatively lower-cost “virgin plastic”.
For the visually-inclined, this fab diagram from a recent World Economics Forum report summarises the numbers behind those facts…
Only 2% of all plastic produced makes it back into similar applications!

 

Whilst existing technology will undoubtedly resolve process difficulties as they become cost-effective enough to scale-up, I cannot help thinking that in the interim simpler solutions can also be applied. More standardised packaging, for example, would greatly improve sorting inefficiencies; whilst re-using packaging where possible avoids the need for the energy-consuming recycling process all together. The old school milkmen knew what they were doing with the reusable glass bottles!

This brings me nicely onto the two enterprises that have resolved the plastic-free toiletries/cleaning products conundrum by pioneering their own methods to combat recycling system inefficiencies…

 

Plastic-Free Household Cleaning :- Splosh

Splosh are an online enterprise, pioneering a way of selling refills of all the household cleaning products you could ever need, whilst utilizing a zero-plastic waste business model.

The concept is amazingly simple: you first order a starter pack (from 2 to 8 bottles), and then you choose what you want those bottles to be (for example, washing up liquid and laundry detergent). Once your bottles are empty you order your refills to be sent. These arrive in plastic pouches with screw top lids. Splosh give you free postage to send your refill pouches back for re-use.

The starter packs start from £9.95 for 2 bottles, up to £24.95 for 8 bottles. However, you don’t really need to order these in order to benefit from the refill system – any old bottles will do! The refill pouch themselves work out to be pretty economical. The washing up liquid pouch I received, for example, contains 3 refills which works out as £1.48 per 420ml bottle.

 

Plastic-Free Toiletries:- Lush

I had always walked past Lush assuming it to be just a bath bomb shop. But on the recommendation of a friend (thanks Martha!), I ventured in to explore their plastic-free toiletries and was pleasantly surprised to discover literally everything I could ever need completely free from single-use plastic packaging.

46% of Lush products contain no packaging at all. But where plastic is unavoidable, Lush have scaled up an effective method of re-using their plastic packaging. Recognising that their black pots are not universally recyclable, Lush do it themselves. Customers are incentivised to bring return their pots by offers of free products (bring back 5 to get a free face mask!) and Lush recycle them at their own recycling plant based in Poole.

lush reusable packagingMy Lush conditioner pot is on its 5th life… only emojis can express this joy

I picked up some shampoo in soap-bar form (£6.25), conditioner (£11.50 for 245g), toothpaste tablets (£5.95 for 100), moisturiser (£14.95) and deodorant also in bar form (£5.75). Lush is undoubtedly a more expensive option, which is a huge shame. But having brought the shampoo and conditioner some six weeks before the start of my challenge, I can at least vouch that they do last much longer than regular bottled equivalents – after two months use I have so far used less than half of the product.

With the exception of the deodorant (bit tricky to apply!), overall I am very happy with the performance of the products I have tried at Lush – the toothpaste tablets (which form a paste once you nibble them) are especially good! I would certainly continue to use what I’ve tried so far after the challenge, but I do want to try and find some cheaper alternatives. Other options for zero-plastic toiletries I have found but not yet tried are: Friendly Soap (cheaper shampoo bars) and Earth Conscious deodorants.

 

Other bits and bobs…

As I’m sure you can imagine, going plastic-free for a month suddenly makes you realise how much stuff you use everyday that you had no idea had plastic in it. Like sponges for example. Who knew?! For these miscellaneous kitchen items, I have found the website Save Some Green to offer some great value solutions to all the plastic shiz you never thought about. From here I bought a coconut fibre sponge-scourer and a bamboo toothbrush (both compostable, and pictured in main photo above) for £2 and £3 respectively, though both are cheaper in multipack offers. A Fine Choice are another great site with single-use plastic free options for everything from cotton buds to straws.

 

The Circular Economy

Having had a good mull over all things plastic over the past two weeks, I’ve come to appreciate the problem is that we produce packaging as part of a linear system. Oil is pumped out of the ground one day, and it ends up in landfill or in our oceans the next, after a short lifespan of use as a plastic product. An irreplaceable resource gets depleted, whilst a waste product builds up to the point of crisis.

It seems a bit dumb that our governments spend so much political/economic/diplomatic effort fretting about global oil markets, whilst remaining happy to let these supposedly precious hydrocarbons disappear out of the economy as plastic waste. The World Economics Forum estimates that, under the current recycling uptake and capabilities, up to $120 billion of the material value of plastic packaging is lost to the global economy each year, amounting to some 95% of its total value.

Given the ridic amount of spondoolies available to capture here, it sure makes sense to invest some more in joining the gap between waste product and input materials. The circular economy is the end goal here, and its a concept of growing popularity that can be applied to a number of environmental dilemmas. And before you write this off as mumbo-jumbo, note that this paradigm shift is beginning to enter mainstream economics with nations such as Finland leading the way…

 

Source: The New Plastics Economy, WEF

 

A huge thank you again to all who have sponsored my challenge by donating to the Marine Conservation Society. If you think this plastic waste problem is as much of a shocker as I do, please do consider supporting a worthy cause. My fundraising page can be found here. Thank you to all!

In a world where even people are adverts nowadays I feel compelled to add that I’m not being paid to feature any of these products on this post. This is all stuff I’ve tried and tested after my own research into the best options!

Finally, a thank you to James for bringing to my attention the article on Finland’s circular economy ambitions. 🙂

Until next week… KK xx

What are your thoughts?