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Simple Ways To Reduce Your Plastic Waste

The average UK household creates over a tonne of waste each year (about the weight of a small car). Recycling rates are increasing, and to keep the UK on its way to meeting targets set by the EU, we all need to recycle as much as we can and reduce our use of single use plastic.

Here are some startling facts you may not realise.

Recycling: The Facts

  • 1 recycled tin can would save enough energy to power a television for 3 hours.
  • 1 recycled glass bottle will save enough energy to power a computer for 25 minutes.
  • 70% less energy is needed to recycle paper, as opposed to creating from scratch.
  • 80% of the household waste we throw away could be easily recycled or composted.
  • If all tin cans in the UK were recycled we’d need 14 million fewer dustbins.
  • Every Christmas we throw away enough unrecyclable wrapping paper to cover over 11,000 football pitches.

While the sheer scale of it all might make us feel a little overwhelmed, there are many things you can do to help, even during these difficult times. 

To check whether there have been any changes to waste collections in your areas, call or view your local council page online

With tombola’s simple tips, you can ramp up your recycling and reduce your use of single use plastic around the home.

Top 10 Tips To Reduce Your Plastic Waste

1. Stop buying bottled water.

7.7 billion single use plastic water bottles are consumed in the UK every year. If you think that bottled water tastes better, that’s probably because of the chlorine that you can taste in normal tap water. You could get a filter jug, or a filter that attaches to the tap itself, but here’s a free and easy way to strip your water of that chlorine taste.

Simply keep a covered jug of water in the fridge. Make sure to replace every 24 hours, as the chlorine is needed to stop bacteria from forming and beyond this point it’s probably completely gone. 

2. Stop using plastic wrap.

Plastic wrap or cling film is extremely wasteful and sadly can’t be recycled. An alternative is beeswax and soy wraps, which can be moulded around containers and food, washed, dried and reused. 

They last for around a year and can be composted once completely spent.

3. Reuse single-use plastic where you can.

Yogurt pots, fruit cartons, microwave meal containers - all are single use and usually go to landfill, but you can reuse them in other ways. Small pots are great for growing herbs and starting off your fruit and veg plants. They’re also great as storage pots for cosmetics or bits n pieces and placed like dividers in drawers.

4. Make your own soap.

This saving is two-fold. Liquid soaps have a 25% larger carbon footprint than bar soaps, and they use plastic bottles. The pump section can’t be recycled, so ridding your bathroom of this item will reduce your plastic waste and your carbon footprint.

It’s really easy to make your own soap too.  Either using bar soaps as a base, which you can melt and add your own ingredients or exfoliants to. Or starting from scratch. There are lots of tutorials on youtube. 

5. Get milk delivered.

Not many people still get milk delivered by the milkman in glass bottles, (in fact it’s only 4% of the population) but it’s so much better for the environment. Glass is easily and widely recycled. There may still be contactless milk deliveries happening in your area too, so it’s worth checking online.

6. Ditch disposable nappies in favour of cloth ones.

Using cloth nappies is not only good for the environment but has real benefits for both mother and child too. Using a good quality, cloth nappy, is more cost effective in the long run, softer on your baby's skin and more comfortable for them to wear. Cloth nappies can be ordered safely online with contactless delivery at sites like Fill Your Pants and The Cloth Nappy Shop.  

7. Carry reusable shopping bags.

Whether it’s a tote bag, a backpack or a bag for life, there are options for every style and budget. You never need to buy a plastic bag again. Since the plastic bag fee was introduced in 2015, the demand for single use plastic bags has dropped by 86%, so it’s clearly working.

8. Shop local.

Now more than ever it’s important to support local businesses if you can. With supermarkets in high demand, local shops may be more accessible and offer a welcome alternative at this time. By shopping local you’ll also help a business survive and navigate in this uncertainty.

9. Start composting.

You can add vegetable food scraps, coffee grounds, newspaper, cardboard, and wood shavings to your own compost bin. Spread the compost over your garden to return valuable nutrients to the ground and it will help your plants bloom. Win win!

10. Grow your own veg.

Many of the vegetables we buy today are wrapped in plastic. There are lots of vegetables that aren’t complicated to grow. Lettuce, radishes, potatoes, peas, spring onions, broad beans, runner beans, onions, garlic, tomatoes and beetroot are all easy to grow and don’t require a lot of equipment. Whether you’ve a pot or a plot, it’s easy to get started and it will be cost effective in the long run too.

The UK Produces 20 Times More Waste Per Person Than India

The graphic below shows the countries producing the most and least plastic waste per person  across the world.

Out of 186 countries, the UK appears 124th. This doesn’t take into account any differences in waste management, recycling or incineration, but it shows that while we’re not the worst, we still have some way to go in reducing our consumption of single use plastics.

plastic waste generated per person each day


Bruce Bratley, CEO of recycling specialists The First Mile has shared his expert advice on how to keep living sustainably while in lockdown or self-isolation.

Top Tips For Living Sustainably While In Lockdown Or Isolation

1. Extend the life of your current products

  • Use less. For example, using just half a dishwasher tablet or making sure you only wash dishes or laundry when you have a full load.
  • Fix stuff. Many small repairs are easily done, and you can quickly pick up new DIY skills on the internet.
  • Re-engineer. Find new ways to use things you’d normally throw away. Even old egg cartons have lots of other uses, from paint pallets for the kids to organiser trays for jewellery or nuts, bolts and screws.

2. Buy responsibly online

  • Search the internet for local, ethical suppliers in your area. Many will deliver without charge at the moment. Buy local, buy plastic free, buy seasonal wherever possible. 

3. Make your own / grow your own

  • There are literally thousands of things to make and do with the kids at home and a lot of them with ‘waste’ you might normally throw away. Search ‘things to make with toilet roll tubes’ to get you started.
  • There’s no shortage of seeds in garden centres and most veg can be grown in pots and window boxes. Growing herbs is a great start and you can add them to other food for flavour. Many DIY and garden stores are still delivering, so if you need any supplies, you can still get them.

4. Re-use

  • Now is the time to go through all your recycling and salvage things for reuse – wine bottles for olive oil, old gin bottles as water decanters.

5. Recycle

  • It’s worth spending some time working out what goes in the recycling. There’s lots of help on The First Mile website.

47% of Brits Argue Over What Plastic They Can Recycle

According to a BBC poll, 47% of people report having arguments about what types of plastic can be recycled. The reason for the confusion? There are seven different types of plastic packaging and some are recycled more often than others. Also, due to funding and resources available, each local authority collects and processes recycling waste in different ways.

  • There are around 40 different sets of rules for recycling across the UK.
  • Some collect only a few types of plastics (1-4).
  • Others recycle 13-15 (most types) of plastics.
  • Some collect everything in one bin.
  • Others require you to separate certain items.

Having so many variations across the country makes labelling items difficult and adds to the confusion.

the mobius loop

We’re all used to seeing the 3 arrows in a circular icon. This is called the mobius loop, and while you might think that this is an indication that the item can be popped in your recycling bin, you’d be wrong. It only means that it could be recycled, but whether that can happen depends on the services your council supply.

It’s also worth noting that this symbol is unregulated throughout the industry, meaning that anyone can use it.  Which begs the question, can you even trust it at all?

Below is a handy chart of recycling symbols that you can refer back to time and again. Checking the labels for these symbols should be the first step in recycling.

recycling labels explained

What’s Next For Sustainable Living?

With positive steps like the ones we’ve talked about here, we can all contribute to making the world a better place, even in these difficult times. There are lots of great initiatives happening all over the country.

Dune Ives, Executive Director of Lonely Whale, a non-profit that raises awareness for ocean health and expert on the environment and climate activism says, “ In the face of this pandemic, it is important to reflect on our everyday actions and how they impact our environment. This is a moment that we are so rarely ever given to change our own practices – use less, connect more, enjoy life’s blessings and the rising and setting of the sun every day. We have so much opportunity to be the solution to our environmental issues.” She goes on to say “More than anything, I hope this moment is an opportunity for everyone to practice living more simply, with kindness and community at the center. One aspect of this is plastics reduction, reuse and recycling.” 

For more information on recycling, including what items your local authority recycles, check the recyclenow website.