How to cut your family’s level of single-use plastic (and save money) - Mums NI - A Hub For Parents in Northern Ireland

How to cut your family’s level of single-use plastic (and save money)

How to cut your family’s level of single-use plastic (and save money)

How to cut your family’s level of single-use plastic (and save money)
Caroline Moore
Written by Caroline Moore on Thursday, 06 December 2018 Posted in: For Mum

Single-use plastic is exactly what it says... plastic designed to be used once, then discarded.  But many plastic items can take hundreds of years to break down in the ocean, meaning our great grandchildren will still be dealing with our rubbish from today!  

How to cut your family’s level of single-use plastic (and save money)

Every one of us can make a difference in the fight against plastic pollution. It doesn’t take a lot of time, you might even save money in the process, and, even better, you can start right now!

It can be hard to know where to begin, so we’ve outlined 10 easy things to get you started:

Reusable shopping bags

The 5p bag levy has drastically reduced the amount of plastic bags in Northern Ireland, but there were still 100MILLION carrier bags given out last year - that’s about 139 bags per household.  

This is an easy one to start with… bring your own cotton/hessian/canvas bags with you to the supermarket. If you forget, just opt for a bag for life, ask the shop for a cardboard box, or carry items home without a bag (easy if it’s not your weekly shop).

Reusable food containers

Packed lunches are an easy way to reduce your use of plastics and show your children that doing small things can make a difference. Over 745,000 miles of cling film is used across the UK every year, but you can help reduce this by swapping single-use sandwich bags or clingfilm for reusable containers, beeswax wraps, or using a plate to cover food instead.

Get a reusable coffee cup

Caffeine. A staple in most parents diet ;-) 1 in 5 of us visit a coffee shop every day, resulting in over 2.5 billion disposable coffee cups thrown away each year in the UK.  

Get yourself a reusable cup and you’ll be helping to reduce your plastic use as well as the amount of rubbish where you live. Some retailers give customers a discount with a reusable cup, so you save money and the environment.

Grab a reusable water bottle

Over 7.7 billion single-use plastic water bottles are consumed in the UK every year.  Next time you head to the gym, go for a walk, or even sitting at your desk in work, make the switch to a reusable water bottle. Fill it from the tap and you’ll save money and the environment.

Reduce plastic packaging

Cut down on the amount of plastic food packaging from your weekly shop by choosing unpackaged options, where possible. Farm shops, markets and most supermarkets sell loose fruit and veg – just bring your own reusable bag or box to take them home.  Buying loose and unpackaged items can also reduce the amount of food waste and save you money as you’ll only buy what you need, rather than the pre-packaged amount.

Wet wipes

This is a tough one. A changing bag necessity, used to clean everything from babies’ bums and faces, to sticky fingers and spillages. But wet wipes are also a form of single-use plastics.  

Alternatives include facecloth/flannel, cotton wool and water, or even reusing old cloth rags for cleaning.  And the good news is they’re all natural and chemical free.

We know it’s easier said than done, especially when you’re faced with an explosive nappy in the middle of the night. So, if there’s a time when you absolutely must use wet wipes, remember to bin them and never flush!

Ditch plastic straws

Plastic straws are among the top 10 items found during beach clean ups. Not only do they look unsightly, but they can also harm seabirds and marine creatures. If you need a straw, swap plastic for paper, bamboo or metal ones, which are all much better for the environment.

Bin cotton buds (and don’t buy plastic stems)

About 10% of all cotton buds are flushed down toilets, ending up in waterways and oceans where they wash up as litter on our beaches or get eaten by marine life.

Thankfully many retailers have switched to paper or cardboard stemmed cotton buds, but even with the more eco-friendly ones, just remember to bin and never flush. And the next time you’re buying cotton buds, be sure to check what material the stem is made from.

Carry your own cutlery

Keeping metal cutlery in your desk at work could save you from using 460 pieces of disposable cutlery in a year!

Disposable cutlery can’t be recycled, so most end up in landfill once they’re binned.  Alternatives include carrying your own spork in your lunch box and keeping some spare metal or bamboo cutlery in your bag or car for those impromptu picnics.

Household plastic bottles

Think of how many plastic bottles there are around your house… soap, shampoo, cleaning products, washing detergent, cosmetics - the list goes on and on.

There are many excellent recipes for home-made cleaning products without harsh chemicals, but if that’s a step too far, there are some small changes you could make:

  • Choose bars of soap, rather than plastic pump bottles (you’ll use less and save money)
  • Try shampoo and conditioner bars, rather than plastic bottles (they last longer too)


There are so many alternatives to single-use plastic, but don’t be overwhelmed thinking you have to make huge changes straight away.  Try doing one thing for a week and see how you get on. Pick something easy to motivate yourself, and you’ll be amazed at how good you feel knowing you are doing something to help the environment and the fight against plastic pollution.  

Every single thing that each of us does to cut back on the amount of plastic we use, is a good thing – whether it’s leaving all our plastic packaging at the supermarket checkout, or remembering to bring our reusable coffee cup – each individual action will add up to make a big difference.

For more tips and information on plastic pollution, visit

Tagged with: bamboo straws, environment, reduce plastic use, reduce reuse recycle, reducing single use plastic waste, single use plastic reduction, think about the environment, ways to reduce my family's single use plastic waste
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