Many vegans and vegetarians start their journey with animal welfare at the heart of the decision to omit certain products from their life, and although this remains the ethical core for many, a deeper consciousness is awakened to environmental matters as well. It’s not hard to find the widely published evidence that animal agriculture, especially beef and dairy, is the biggest cause of global warming.
The effects of this industry cause more emissions than that of all of the worlds transport systems combined – that’s including boats, planes, cars and trains. The rate of deforestation to clear land for cattle is a real-life horror story that the world is simply turning a blind eye to. And it’s not just the animal agricultural industry that is suffocating our planet – we are drowning in plastic. We all, human and non-human, depend on our environment for survival, and giving up animal products is the single most powerful and effective way to make a difference for all our future here on Earth. But not eating and wearing animals is just part of what we can do though – rejecting single-use plastic and aiming towards zero waste living is what we need to be aiming for.
We are addicted to plastic – but what can we as average families do to help? Here are 10 everyday swaps we can make to reduce our plastic footprint and do our bit for our planet and all Earthlings that depend on her, human and non-human.
A simple swap from a bottle of shower gel or hand wash to a cruelty-free bar of soap packaged with recyclable paper leaves you squeaky-clean and with no plastic bottle at the end of its use. Lush, among other companies, do bottle-free shampoo bars and conditioners as well. Plastic bottles can take up to 450 years to biodegrade. There are thousands of vegan-friendly soaps out there; our favourite is Marie’s Artisan Soap, made in the Highlands of Scotland using sustainable ingredients and minimal recyclable packaging – they’re excellent for dry and sensitive skin too.
I hate them! They are totally unnecessary and almost never recycled in bars, cafés and restaurants. They last just a few minutes in our drinks and then up to 200 years on Earth decomposing. The best thing to do is refuse one when offered or when ordering drinks. If you (kids especially) want one, you can buy reusable ones that come with cool pipe-style cleaners. They are widely available online and in stores. We have some steel ones at home which are great to take out and about as well as using at home.
Not even the most earth conscious of us are going to wash, dry and reuse standard cling film. It’s hard enough to unravel the first time around. It’s undeniably useful stuff though, so what is a good alternative? Many reusable food wrappers contain beeswax, which may solve one problem – but harm bees. Rowen Stillwater, however, use soy wax, thus making them a brilliant cruelty-free zero waste solution to keeping food fresh and sandwiches intact on the road – and everything else you need a food cover for. Everything they make is eco conscious and suitable for vegans so check them out to support small vegan businesses. Tiffin, steel and bamboo boxes with lids are also ideal plastic-free ways to store food.
An estimated 850 million toothbrushes are thrown away each year. These will end up in the ocean and in landfill, many indefinitely. Although the scale of this issue is widely known, not many people are using more earth-friendly alternatives – usually made of bamboo – which biodegrades faster, with fewer toxic chemicals. A quick search online or a visit to a health-food store will provide plenty of alternatives to plastic brushes for all budgets and for all members of the family.
It’s really not that bad to have reusable ones, I promise! Having a zero waste period is not only healthier for your vagina, healthier for the environment but is seriously good for your wallet too. Plus you don’t have to worry about dashing to the shops at the beginning of your cycle to stock up! There are also no nasty toxins that are found in throw-away tampons. Shockingly, tampons are often tested on animals. My favourite cloth pads are from Bright and Beautiful, made by a vegan mum with love from home; she offers amazing confidential advice on which ones work best for you and has very cute little teenager starter packs too. There are lots of sellers on Etsy as well if you are outside the UK. For those who prefer a tampon-style solution to their flow, Mooncup and Ruby Cups are two that I have used and can happily recommend; they last for years too, making the initial expense very worthwhile. Ruby Cup run a fantastic “buy one give one” programme. For every cup they sell, they’ll donate one to a girl or woman without access to menstrual care products. So that’s a girl whose life will be drastically improved by this simple act of giving.
The frustration about taking so long to find out about these is almost as great as that of taking 36 years to switch on to veganism. Better late than never, I suppose. A 1kg bag costing around £12 will last you around 330 washes which is a huge saving compared with bottled and branded alternatives. The nuts are completely natural products; you simply add around six to a little bag that comes with the nuts and pop it in the drum. You can use the nuts between 4-6 times each and afterwards throw them in your food compost bin. Ecoballs are another option to help reduce your plastic footprint – they last up to 1,000 washes. Both these options are fantastic for sensitive skin as well.
If it’s likely you’ll be having a lunch-to-go from your favourite café or are visiting a festival where you will be buying food, why not pack a reusable food container. Stallholders will thank you for saving them the cost of their disposable ones and you can pack your own cutlery too. Every little bit helps.
Kitchen roll and sponges
As a family with five animal companions, a young daughter and a husband who spends his free time cleaning up the glasses of wine I knock over, we get through a lot of kitchen roll. They are costly and very wasteful, but thankfully there are plenty of alternatives. Ecoegg have a roll of kitchen towel that seems to last forever! For £9.99 it’s amazing value – I’ve had one roll for months and it’s still going strong. For a zero waste option, Boobalou have rolls of washable snap on fabric sheets that are super absorbent and look great too; they also sell unsponges, as do many retailers. A quick search online will bring up many to choose from. I also have a drawer full of cut-up old t-shirts to use as napkins or wipe up mess, the kind that don’t quite make the cut to give away to charity are perfect for the job.
Another seriously hated single-use item that has a quick use but a long lifetime impact on the earth – plastic cups. Millions are used each day, and they take years and years to decompose. Often people think they are recyclable, but because of the waterproof film they are not. Decent coffee places run often run incentives giving you a discount when you bring your own cup so it’s a win-win – the only problem is remembering to have one on you! I have a keep cup in my car and one in my work bag, that way I’m not caught short. If you work in a building with plastic water cups, why not bring in a glass or reusable bottle and use that instead – or ask your employer to remove the cups and encourage people to use glass ones.
As parents, we should have an extra incentive to look after the earth for the next generation – our kids – so using disposable nappies makes no sense. A single nappy takes a whopping 200-500 years to biodegrade. I used washable ones with my daughter years ago and with the help of the local council incentive scheme I saved myself a few extra quid too. Check your local council’s voucher worth here. I have since passed mine on as I’m not having more than one child so second-hand is a great budget-friendly option. You can find loads on eBay or Gumtree-type sites. If you are heading in to a situation (long-haul flight for example) where a disposable nappy would perhaps be of help, there are better biodegradable and less toxic ones available at sites such as Beaming Baby.
Another great littlevbigv giveaway with some of the products featured in this post!
Win a bar of Marie’s Soap, set of vegan food wraps, an unsponge, bamboo toothbrush and a menstrual cloth pad – just head over to our Twitter page, retweet and follow us to enter. T&Cs here.