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Okay, yes, I’ve been sucked in. By doing general research for a children’s activities booklet on plastic pollution for work, I’ve been captured by aspects of the “plastic-free”, “zero waste”, and “conscious consumer” movements. I believe that these movements generally have the right heart, but we need to strive to follow the core values rather than obsess over the aesthetic or social status.

I think that everyone has to consider what is reasonable for herself and re-evaluate every so often. I don’t believe in plastic shaming individuals, but I do think that as a society we have overvalued the new and the convenient and have therefore inappropriately redefined what is dirty and useless.

In order to help me figure out the right way to approach things for me, I’m just jotting down a few things I want to do in the upcoming months. Becoming a more conscious consumer and less materialist has long been on my list of personal goals. However, I also recognize that some things really do make me happy and I think that’s okay — I just need to be more selective. In no particular order, some of my current thoughts:

June 10 updates in navy.

Things I will be doing:

  • Since I’ll be moving in July, I should take this opportunity to consider if there are things that I could do without. In particular, this means donating things or appropriately disposing of things. I hope that this is not just a clean out but rather an evaluation of things to determine what I should or should not purchase in the future.
    • Dan and I should do a textile sweep early so that we actually bring clothes to donate or put into appropriate textile recycling bins. (Fingers crossed that the textiles actually get recycled, since my research indicates that economic incentives to recycle are not appropriately aligned in many municpalities, even if they collect recycleables.)
    • In terms of clothing, I should be more conscious of what I purchase. I don’t buy a lot on trend so this shouldn’t be too difficult. I do want to buy higher quality to increase longevity of my clothing. I also want to try to buy fewer synthetic fabrics in the future, though I don’t actually know how my wardrobe fairs in this arena currently (perhaps I’ll do a material audit of my closet as I pack).
    • We have a lot of toiletries. I’m currently trying to use up as many of them as possible and also trying to look for places to donate, especially our hotel toiletries.
      • In general, I should downsize the number of cosmetic items I have, since I really don’t use much makeup. I actually have lots of sample-sized items that I should just use up. In the future, I could probably just try things in store, evaluate right away, and invest in things that I actually like.
      • I have already reduced the amount of soap and shampoo I use. I shower when I’m actually dirty, usually every second or third day. I am still trying to figure out which soap and shampoo actually suit me (as I use up old stuff). I have been transitioning toward solid soap and shampoo, with a more conscious eye on ingredients, but I’m also not scared to finish up what I have (technically everything is a chemical). In the future, I just hope to have fewer items in this arena.
  • Reusables over disposables:
    • Dan and I are pretty good about reusable cutlery. We don’t use much plastic cutlery, but I could probably start carrying reusables again (I did for a while back in Boston), but I haven’t actually encountered the need to refuse single-use cutlery very often. London is pretty good about serving with real utensils and I just don’t eat from food stalls very often.
    • Takeaway containers is something that we should be better about. Dan and I have a lot of plastic takeaway containers. I would say we have saved a slight majority of our takeaway containers and have reused them. I do suspect that we’ll still occasionally order delivery, and this will be on the list to reduce. But what I think my first step on this front will be is to carry a decent container with me to take leftovers from restaurants. This will hopefully reduce the number of difficult to reuse clamshells, and I’ll continue to reuse lidded takeaway containers we get in deliveries.
    • Dan and I are pretty good about not needing single-use grocery bags. He often uses his backpack, and I almost always have a couple of tote bags on me. I do wonder if we will need to be more conscious about this after our move, since we’ll likely have to make larger grocery runs rather than our current frequent but small runs. However, I do think that by living closer to a farmers market, I can try to avoid much of the plastic packaging that is around foods here in London.
    • Produce bags are the next level of bags that I need to consider. I might start carrying a laundry delicates bag with me, since I never use it for it’s intended purpose anyway. As I go through my textiles, I’ll also consider if anything can be repurposed as a produce or bulk food bag instead.
    • I already use a reusable cup/bottle/jar for drinks. Most of London is pretty good about serving in real cups. I probably just have to be more conscious about refusing “disposables” at the few places that don’t serve in real cups, and reduce patronage to fast food chains that tend to serve more in disposables. I need to think about a reusable for cold drinks. 
    • In the event that I forget a reusable cup or cannot be served in a reusable, I have been pretty good about refusing straws and unnecessary lids. So I’ll continue with this and be even more ruthless about this. Saying no to lids is hard.
  • In general, I will try to buy a less plastic at the grocery store. However, I have found that this is kind of difficult in London, because many major groceries encase produce in plastic.
    • I will be doing more research into options around London. Living near a farmers market will hopefully make it easier to buy produce not in plastic. I will also search for a couple of local bulk food suppliers, but I actually don’t think I need a ton from them.
    • The tough part will actually probably be ready-meals. I actually like a decent number of the ready-meals available in London. I suppose making myself prepare and cook more will be better in the long run, just need to get Daniel to eat leftovers.
    • Reducing plastic will also probably help me to cut back on unnecessary processed foods. I don’t think I consume a ton, but I do like my chips and chocolate. Chips might be my guilty item and I’ll just have to eat fancier chocolate only wrapped in paper. I think frozen chicken nuggets will be Dan’s guilty item.
  • I do want to repair more of my things. I would say I’m above average in this realm, since I like making things in general. This will mean more quality purchases and appropriate maintenance. The area this probably applies to most is outerwear like coats and shoes.

Things I need to research more:

  • In general, I need to do more research into alternate end-of-life recycling like Green Dot programs and Terracycle. This way I can help contribute more of the plastic I do use to appropriate recycling rather than landfill. This is especially true for food packaging and contact lens cases. What I have gathered is Green Dot and Terracycle is causing more confusion than anything. 
  • Dan and I need to be better about getting rid of old electronics. We’re weird in that we haven’t actually thrown out a lot of electronics. We still have them. We need to figure out what to do with his old laptop and our old phones.
  • I’m also excited that the borough of Southwark seems to have a compost pickup. So I’ll be looking into this more for us to do at our new place. I really hope that Southwark had pick-up because I eat a lot of bananas and banana peels smell. 
  • I need to research dishwasher and laundry detergents more. I am thinking about transitioning back from PVA-encased tabs back to liquids, powders, or packed powder tabs. However, I know that I haven’t done enough to consider how far I’ll go on this front.
  • I will consider investing in a couple of glass or metal containers, but I think this will require more research to find things that I will actually use. For now, I should probably be better about transferring food to glass bowls to reheat food in the microwave.
  • I think I need to find a “napkin” I want to carry. I’ll need to do more research on this, but this will probably be a good thing to add to the reusable to carry list. However, the more I think about this, the more I think London is already pretty good about limiting my use of paper napkins.
  • I’m also going to explore reusable beeswax wraps and silicone baking mats. In general we don’t use a whole lot of single-use bags/wrap/liners as a household (the three of us in our flat used like 10 zipper bags, 30 meters of aluminum foil roll, and less than 30 meters of cling wrap a year). I mostly want to reduce cling wrap use even more.
  • In general, there are a few reusable items that I would consider if I could buy just one in a store, even at a slight premium. I want to avoid packaging and committing to more than I could use, namely a straw, “cotton pads” (I might just make these one day), produce bags (I’ll probably make these one day).
  • I need to do more research on meat and milk options. This will probably be dependent on what is available at the farmer’s market. I think we already eat less meat at home, but could be more conscious about its source and packaging. I really want to find a local dairy that has fresh cream topped dairy! I love the cream top. In fact in the US, I would always opt for cream topped yogurt whenever available. 
  • I’m doing research into reusable menstrual underwear, pads, and cups. We’ll see what I choose. I have purchased two reusable cloth pads from RagHag on Etsy, one regular and one for night. We’ll see how it goes!
  • I need to research dental floss more, so that when we need more floss I know my choices. This change should be easy for me, but not so easy for Dan since he loves his Oral-B satin floss.

Things I won’t be doing (at least for now):

  • I will not be throwing away all plastics. I think this is short-sighted, and for now most plastics unfortunately don’t get recycled properly even if they reach the recycling center. So I will try to use items until their end of life.
  • Similar goes for toiletries and cosmetics. I will not be freaking out about soaps, shampoos, makeup, nail polish, etc. I will be more selective in my purchases, but I will not dump and replace everything. I will do more research into long-term alternatives in the future. I would say I’ve been doing an okay job at this in the past, but could always do more.
  • For now, I won’t be switching razors. I just don’t use enough. I’m really bad and currently switch my razor head like twice a year.
  • For now, I will not be switching toothbrushes. Dan and I switched to electric toothbrushes in 2017, and probably should keep them since we’re not great teeth brushers. Also we have several replacement heads to use. We are also bad about using the toothbrush heads way beyond recommended switch dates. If I do feel the need to buy a standard toothbrush for travel or something, I will try to buy a bamboo toothbrush.
  • I will not be purchasing “untowels”. I will make a more conscious effort to use rags (we use kitchen towels a lot already), and will reduce paper towel use even more. (I think we went through about 6 rolls of paper towels as a household of 3 last year.)
  • I will not sign up for meal boxes. I think the cost of packaging and transport is not worth it.

I’m currently doing a list of things I consume and throw out (doing my best to remember squares of toilet paper) in June. I hope this will give me a better sense of what I dispose of and perhaps highlight more efficient use of my efforts: like if more effort should be made to chase down compost and alternative recycling options and also how to rethinking purchasing habits. I’m also making a list of single-use things I purchase (emphasis on recording items “marketed as single use” such as plastic packaging and not recording organic waste like banana peels, even if they end up in trash for now). The purpose of this list is just to encourage me to purchase fewer single-use items. I guess the lists will serve to shine light on what goes out and what comes in. Lists are underway! Takeout is definitely our biggest waste problem. 

I will try to update things soon. June 10 updates in navy.