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


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.

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