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Living without single-use plastic - it's easier than you think

Living plastic free for a week may not be as difficult as you think. Lorna talks about her experience and how preparation is key.

Written by Lorna Fitzpatrick and posted in opinion

This is an opinion of a young person and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of It is one person's experience and may be different for you. If you'd like to write something for please contact

"Did I expect it to be hard? Yes. Did it end up being as difficult as I had expected? Not really!"

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This week, my colleagues and I in the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) and officers in 16 different Students’ Unions around the country attempted to go plastic-free on Wednesday as part of our Student Switch Off initiative which is funded under Horizon 2020. My job involves visiting different colleges on a daily basis and depending on the location, I may have to stay away from home. This week, I spent two nights away from home so I decided to try to avoid using plastic for the three days while I was on the road. If you want tips on how to live a more sustainable lifestyle: fashion, food, energy etc. then follow on Instagram.

Did I expect it to be hard? Yes. Did it end up being as difficult as I had expected? Not really! I think I found it easier than I expected because I had time to prepare to go plastic free. I already had some of the things I needed such as a glass water bottle, keep cup and tote bags but I did pick up some more of the essentials I thought I would need. I was a little worried that going plastic-free would be an expensive task but I was pleasantly surprised.

As I live in a small village my options for shopping are limited so I searched online and ordered the things I thought I would need. It was not too expensive either. I got my bamboo toothbrush, toothpaste in a glass jar, deodorant in a cardboard tube, soap and bamboo cutlery online and it all came to just under €35. I’ll be able to use all of these things for a long time to come as well, not just for this week. I bought some shampoo and conditioner bars so I could avoid using plastic containers. They were a little pricey in comparison to what I would normally buy but they were less than €20. They all smell lovely too!  Also, when I am travelling, I like to pack as light as possible which was easy to do with my plastic-free toiletries as they are small and easy to pack.

As I was on the road visiting different colleges, I was eating out as I didn’t have cooking facilities in my accommodation. Obviously, I wasn’t buying and cooking the food so I don’t know exactly what came in plastic and what didn’t but where I had the opportunity to actively avoid using plastic, I was able to do so. Sometimes that was easier than others. For example, on the first morning, I went down for breakfast to find the butter and jams were in little ceramic dishes rather than single-use plastic containers - such a simple change but it has a lasting positive impact on our environment. On another occasion, I went into a shop to pick up a snack for travelling from one campus to the next and this was not as easy. I couldn’t get a sugar rush from any treats such as crisps or chocolate because of the packaging but I did manage to pick up some loose fruit so I should be grateful!! I also picked up some flavoured loose tea and a strainer so I could avoid using tea bags because a lot of tea bags contain plastic. I had my keep cup with me so all I needed was some hot water.  

Don’t get me wrong, there were still challenges and I did not manage to completely avoid plastic but for the most part - it was actually ok! The biggest problem I faced was my make up. When I opened my make up bag - it was full of plastic. Plastic lids, containers, brushes and packaging were all plastic. I had never thought about it before when preparing for the few days but it is definitely something I will be more conscious about when buying new makeup in future.

I think the main thing I would take away from the experience is that it was not as hard as I had thought it would be. Being prepared is key, doing a little research and giving yourself time to find suitable options are essential but they are all achievable. Investing in reusable water bottles, cutlery and cups is a great first step. You can carry these around with you all the time and you’ll start to notice how much single-use cutlery or cups you turn down because you have your own.

Every one of us has a part to play in helping to reduce the amount of waste we generate. By taking steps to reduce our individual waste, we can have a major impact on the environment. Encourage your friends, family and coworkers to reduce their waste too. If your friends birthday is coming up, why not get them a reusable bottle or keep cup? Making small everyday changes can make a big difference. So refill your water bottle rather than buying another one, pick up some bamboo cutlery that you can carry with you and reuse rather than using single-use plastic cutlery or invest in some plastic free toiletries. It won’t have a negative impact on your life but it will have a positive impact on the world around us.

This article was written by a volunteer. Check out our volunteering opportunities here and get in touch if you’re interested in getting involved.

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Published Octo­ber 19th2018
Tags opinion plastic climate change students' union
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