9 really good alternatives to plastic

Plastic is in crisp packets, toothbrushes, coffee cups – even tea bags. How can you avoid it? Quick tricks to reduce your plastic consumption.
Photo of Phil Byrne with dog
By Phil Byrne    |      Published:  18 Dec 2017    |      3 minute read

We think these alternatives to plastic are pretty neat. If you agree, share them far and wide.

But first, please help us do something about all the single-use plastic in packaging and products.

1. Replace teabags with loose tea

Sit down. This might come as a shock. Your tea bags are smuggling yet more plastic into your life. The majority of teabags in the UK contain a very thin layer of polypropylene plastic. That thin layer will likely end up as tiny pieces in the soil, which could then find their way into our rivers and eventually the sea. You're no mug. You know that loose tea tastes better anyway – and is it really that much more of a strain to prepare? Top tip: get a tea infuser.

Loose tea spilling out of a red tin on its side
Get a tea strainer and act like a connoisseur.

2. Choose veg without packaging

You want to buy organic to do right by the planet. But some genius has choked your good intentions to death with a thin film of plastic. They've even chucked in a polystyrene tray in case you'd forgotten how to hold a piece of fruit. Stop shaking your head. And start nodding at a fresh, delivered-to-your-door, seasonal box of plastic-free goodness. There are loads of veg-box schemes out there now. Failing that, buy from your local farmers' market.

Alternatives to plastic: an organic broccoli wrapped in plastic – is this necessary?
Should supermarkets be selling fruit and vegetables wrapped in plastic?
Credit: istock

3. Buy a reusable coffee cup

Because of a plastic film on the inside, very few coffee cups are recycled – despite the impression that some big chains might have given you. This is way worse than that time you asked for a filter and were given an Americano (it's not the same drink, ok?). So invest in a reusable coffee cup, there's plenty to choose from.

2 reusable Ecoffee cups sold by Friends of the Earth's online shop
Look at you with your sophisticated drinking vessel

4. Avoid plastic straws

How many of these things end up in an albatross chick? This has got to be one of the most needless disposable items on the list. When you refuse these things at the bar, or in a cafe, be sure to communicate your disapproval in whichever non-violent way you deem appropriate. Perhaps an impromptu interpretation of a turtle with a straw up its nose. Too far? If you do need a straw, look out for bamboo or steel ones.

A whirlpool effect made of lots of blue and white plastic drinking straws
You must have seen the video of the poor turtle with a straw up its nose.

5. Try soap nuts for your laundry

Maybe you already use an eco laundry detergent. High 5. But what do you do with the empty plastic bottle? Some health stores and eco supermarkets let you refill your empty cleaning liquids. It can end up being cheaper than the normal product. If lugging bottles around doesn't sound like fun, you absolutely need soap nuts. These little, dried-fruit shells contain a 100% natural soap. According to the makers soap nuts can be used with all fabrics, at all temperatures from 30-90oC. Just bung a few in a sock, tie it and throw it in with the rest of your dirty clothes. Magic.

Alternatives to plastic include these soap nuts for washing laundry – soap nuts spilling from textile bag on wooden background
Why haven't you tried soap nuts yet?
Credit: istock

6. Brush your teeth - without plastic

In the history of plastic, only 9% of the stuff has ever been recycled. Plastic is a curse on our planet. So let's clean our mouths out... with a bamboo toothbrush. Bristles are made from a variety of materials - including nylon, boar hair and plant-derived materials such as corn and tapioca. You can go further by getting your toothpaste in a jar instead of a plastic tube. And if you're feeling creative, there are homemade toothpaste recipes online.

It's annoying how much throwaway plastic is in our weekly shop. Help us change this.

A bamboo toothbrush and box
Make a dent in your plastic waste with a bamboo toothbrush

7. Cotton buds - biodegradable and reusable options

They say you shouldn't stick these things in your ears. We say that you shouldn't stick them in your bathroom cabinet in the first place. However, if you still want to tickle your brain via your ear canal – or apply some makeup – fear not. You can buy organic cotton buds made with 100% bio-degradable card sticks - as well as reusable silicone or stainless steel cotton buds.

12 cotton buds lined out on a table in two rows
Does this evil poke around in your home?

8. Swap clingfilm for food wraps 

Stop wrapping your sandwiches in a material made from crude oil. Yep, that's cling film. Wait. How are you going to keep your cheese fresh without wrapping it in plastic? Beeswax food wraps are how. They're reusable, biodegradable and won't leave you standing there, looking like an idiot, trying to find the end of the roll. 

Beeswax food wrap
Hurray, a food wrap that doesn't tangle.

9. Ask the government to act

There's a shedload of plastic in our oceans. No one even really knows how long it's going to take to decompose – estimates range from at least hundreds of years to possibly a lot longer.

The unaltered stomach contents of a dead albatross chick include plastic marine debris fed the chick by its parents
Plastic marine debris in the stomach contents of a dead albatross chick.
Credit: Chris Jordan

Plastic is a disaster for the planet and deadly to wildlife. Please sign our petition to demand that the government takes action now.

Watch 5-year-old Charlie tell his story about picking up litter from beaches:

Ask government for a new law to end pointless plastic pollution.

Ask government for a new law to end pointless plastic pollution.