The Plastics to Avoid Next Time You’re Shopping

plastics to avoid

Today’s let’s chat plastic and the plastics to avoid next time you are at the supermarket.

Now, I know we are all trying to avoid plastic as best we can – and I’m not advocating the use of unnecessary plastic, but let’s have some real talk first before moving on to the plastics to avoid. Going 100% plastic-free isn’t something I have been able to achieve, or get close to.

It’s certainly a work in progress, however, the plastic-free movement is tied in to a whole lot of privilege (money, time, access to shops, health, capacity, and ability) that currently, it’s unlikely to become a realistic endpoint any time soon for many, including myself. Do I feel guilty about this? No, I certainly don’t feel guilty for not being able to be plastic-free (and you shouldn’t either).

It’s also important to not lose sight of the fact that plastic waste occurs further upstream before “plastic-free” items get to us. This excellent article points out that bulk shops themselves aren’t plastic-free. Meanwhile, someone I know who makes plastic-free/packaging-free products confided in me that they can’t source the raw materials plastic-free. Plastic waste is still produced from our actions, even if we don’t physically have to deal with that waste.

So plastics come in to our life, whether we like it or not, and whether we see them or not.

One thing we can do is make better choices about the types of plastic that come in to our lives. One of those is to try and avoid certain types of plastic.

Plastics to Avoid

According to research from the University of Oxford, of the plastic waste produced between 1950 and 2015, only 9% of that was recycled.

In England, the government aims to recycle 50% of waste by 2020, rising to 75% by 2035. Scotland has a target to recycle 70% of waste by 2025, as does Wales. Northern Ireland has a proposal that 60% of waste is recycled by 2020.

Whilst the array of numbers on plastic can be complex and vary from local authority area to local authority area, one of the best ways to help ensure that your plastic is actually recycled is to understand a bit more about the different types of plastic.

This is a really useful table from The University of Oxford about different types of plastic, and their recyclability. Every local authority area is different in what they will accept for recycling so treat this as a more general guide.

plastics to avoid

Remember, to increase the chance of an item being recycled, make sure it’s thoroughly washed – without any food on it.

Now that we know what is and what isn’t recyclable it’s important to bear in mind that just because something is recyclable doesn’t mean that it’s economically viable to recycle. Say what? Put simply, some plastics aren’t worth the cost of recycling them.

It’s easy to forget that recycling is a global industry when we’re putting our recycling bins out on the kerb on bin day. I think a lot of us see recycling as a public service, when actually it’s a huge multi-billion pound global industry. Yep, an industry, which like any industry makes decisions based on cost-effectiveness.

Recycling companies sell recycled plastic pellets on to manufacturers as a raw material and each different type of plastic, and crucially the different colour of the pellets commands a different value.

I’ve put together a graphic indicating the maximum price per tonne recycling companies can currently (as of September 2019) earn for different types of plastic:


As you can see, different plastics are worth different amounts – clear, white and light blue plastics (both HDPE and PET plastics) are worth considerably more than coloured plastics, or composite plastics.

The reason for this variation in price is that clear, white and light blue coloured plastics can be recycled and used to make a variety of different products. It’s easy to add pigment to them to make them different colours if required by manufacturers, giving these types of plastics lots of flexibility in usage.

Coloured plastics on the other hand, when recycled, turn a murky brown colour that isn’t particularly desirable to manufacturers as the plastics can only be made in the dark murky brown shade or darker – you can’t go lighter. As such, whilst you can put these items in the recycling bin for recycling, what you won’t see is that more than likely, further down the recycling chain, these green or red PET plastic bottles will get sifted out at a recycling centre and sent to landfill.

Takeaways on Plastics to Avoid

There’s a lot of information here, but the main takeways on the type of plastics to avoid are avoid coloured PET – the plastic most commonly used for soft drinks, bottled water, and cooking oil. Clear ones are worth money to recyclers, but coloured ones are unlikely to be recycled due to their low value.

When choosing cleaning products and things like shampoos, and other beauty products which are commonly housed in HDPE bottles, choose products in clear bottle preferably, and if not then white bottles. The clear bottles especially are worth nearly four times as much money to recyclers than the ones in coloured bottles – and the plastic product yielding the most money to recyclers – so are most likely to be recycled.

Manufacturers of eco products who use coloured plastic in their packaging know that this reduces the likelihood of the products being recycled – treat this as a form of greenwashing. If you know of a company doing this email them, tweet them or whatever your preferred form of communication is and let them know that you’re on to them, and ask them why they aren’t using clear plastic.

Of course, plastics can only be recycled a certain number of times before it isn’t viable to recycle them anymore, whatever the colour of them, but let’s help increase our shockingly low recycling rates by demanding that manufacturers make better packaging choices based on recycling values.

ps: found this article useful? You can buy me a coffee. ;)

Life & Style, Resources

How to Shop Online Ethically

traidcraft alternative to amazon
how to shop online ethically
This post contains affiliate links, denoted by *

The thought of battling through a busy high street isn’t always that appealing, particularly when you could shop from the comfort of your own home; a cosy cafe; or, perhaps more realistically for many of us, on the commute home.

Online shopping currently accounts for 17.1% of all UK retail, and despite what the headlines might lead us to believe, it isn’t all bad; particularly if you make your purchases via an ethical, internet-based, store.  Ethical Consumer have handily put together this guide for Moral Fibres readers on how to shop online ethically.

Don’t worry, be happy – online shopping

Amazon currently has a 33.5% market share of all the online shopping in the UK and it’s growing. The size and scale of their online operation, alongside store closures dubbed ‘the death of the high street’, seems to have helped typecast online retailers as the villains.

But look a little closer and there doesn’t appear to be much reason to view its bad ethics as a consequence of it selling online.

Consider before you click

The market for ethical goods is growing on- and off-line. In 2016, the ethical market was valued at £81.3 billion. Ethical Consumer rated 24 websites, which offer a variety of products marketed as ethical for its latest Ethical Online Retailer Guide. The shops rated were based on feedback from readers about which ethical online stores they regularly used.

There are ethical online stores for almost everything now; some sell food, others cosmetics, and some clothing or a combination of the three. Lots of them provide products under the label ‘gifts’ making them a perfect place to pick up presents for family and friends.

There are some key considerations to keep in mind to be sure you’re ethical online shop is just that.

The researchers at Ethical Consumer probed three key areas: company ethos; supply chain management; and animal testing, to help them create their Ethiscore rating.

1.  Ethical supply chains

Alternatives online to Amazon
Image c/o Traidcraft

Having clear policies about how to monitor supplier’s guarantees of workers’ rights is a key indicator in the Ethical Consumer Supply Chain Management rating. Companies such as Traidcraft, Oxfam*, Shared Earth and Amnesty did this through only sourcing ethically certified products e.g. fair trade. Others showed commitment to monitoring their suppliers against workers’ rights provisions. Nkuku, who sell homewares and lifestyle products ranging from photo frames to sofas, went further, stating that it carried out “unscheduled checks to ensure the fairtrade principles are maintained”.

Ethical Shop is a treasure trove of ethical products, from everyday cleaning products, to cosmetics, gifts and food. It had the clearest ethical buying policy, which included clear definitions of workers’ rights that suppliers had to meet. It requires suppliers to report progress on implementing their code annually either by describing actions taken or completing a questionnaire.

2.  Charity online

online alternatives to Amazon

Image c/o Sourced by Oxfam

When shopping and philanthropy combine, that’s surely a win-win combination? UK charities are stalwarts of the high-street, but many of them are now also hosting impressive online shopping sites that offer far more than the second-hand clothes and books they were traditionally associated with.

Many of them now source their own-brand products, which support the aims of the charity. Oxfam* offers consumers a chance to buy products that support projects that help people trade their way out of poverty. It also sells products that have been handcrafted or made by projects that specifically benefit women. 100% of its profits raised from sales of ‘Sourced by Oxfam’ are reinvested into the charity’s projects.

Animal rights charities Animal Aid and Viva! retail only vegan products, with everything on offer from vegan wines to soy candles.

3.  Animal Testing

alternatives to amazon
image c/o Acala

Cosmetics are a clear growth area in the ethical personal products category. New online stores like Acala, for example, specialise in natural, organic and vegan health and beauty products. It also ensures that all products are responsibly packaged and are plastic free.

Many of the companies reviewed sold cosmetics labelled as being cruelty-free, but there was a lack of definition over what this meant. The Ethical Consumer Animal Testing rating expects all companies retailing cosmetics to have a policy that includes a fixed cut-off date for animal-tested ingredients. Cruelty Free International explains: “A company’s fixed cut-off date is a date after which none of the substances in the products have been tested on animals. A fixed cut-off date enables a company to enforce their animal testing policy and gives suppliers a practical way to move away from animal testing.”

An example of best practise in this area was animal rights charity Animal Aid whose own brand products, made by Honesty Cosmetics, are approved under the Humane Cosmetics Standard and registered with the Vegan Society, with a 1976 fixed cut-off date (FCOD).

Why are we still using Amazon?

So why do so many consumers still turn to the likes of Amazon? A quick poll of Ethical Consumer followers provided answers; when you’re in a hurry, need something specialist, and price is a consideration, then finding an ethical alternative isn’t always that easy. So it’s worth remembering that whilst John Lewis* and Co-op Electrical Shop ranked lower down the latest Ethiscore table, they still score very highly compared to other online retailers, like Amazon.

And tech solutions might be just the thing to help counter the Amazon monopoly in the future. Keep an eye on Near St – it’s an app that only covers London at the moment, but they have plans to expand. Recognising that many people shop online because they can find the thing they want rather than ‘chancing it’ in a physical store, NearSt allows you to search for an item, find shops selling it, buy it and immediately collect it or have it couriered home.

For more ideas about how to make specialist online purchases for items like books and tablets, and other advice on how to shop online ethically check out the Amazon Alternatives guides at Ethical Consumer.