Single-use Plastic Swaps

Single use plastics have been a common convenience since the 1950’s, from the first general waste and Ziploc bags. It was revolutionary – easy to produce, light weight and extremely durable. However, it is this durability that is now causing issues with single-use plastics and their disposal around the world. They are used once but can last forever. 20 times more plastic is made and used today than it was 50 years ago, meaning that our plastic waste problem is only going to get worse. Most single-use plastics have easy swaps, so see what steps you can take to reduce your waste.

Shopping Bags

Carry a reusable bag or reuse plastic bags for life. A bag for life must be used at least 4 times (and then recycled) for it to be better than a single use bag. A cotton bag must be used 131 times due to impacts associated with cotton production. Even single-use biodegradable bags have been found to last over three years in the sea.

  1. Whatever bag type you use, use it as many times as possible
  2. Choose bags made from recyclable materials
  3. Avoid bags that have printing or decorations – these alone can add significantly to the environmental burden of the bag
  4. Never allow a bag to become litter – recycle, reuse and repurpose your bags. i.e compost bin etc

Devon residents can get a free, long lasting reusable cloth carrier bag via our shop here.


Buying plastic free produce and groceries can be difficult but many supermarkets now have loose fruit and veg, maybe visit a couple of your local ones to find out who is best. If it’s possible to get to a farmers market, they tend to sell their produce without plastic. Find out your nearest here.

Check out our zero waste pages with extra information on how zero waste shops work and a list of them in Devon. It is best to bulk buy where possible and reduce the amount of packaging too.

Additionally, buying produce that’s in season in the UK and hasn’t been massively packaged and flow across the world is better for the environments on all accounts. Less food miles, less pollution, less extra packaging.

Coffee Cups

You must have heard it by now, use your own reusable cup! These can be made from a variety of materials and costs and are also great at keeping your drinks hotter/colder for longer.

Nearly all cafes and coffee shops are well used to serving all their drinks in customers own reusable cups, even smoothies and milkshakes!

It is much better to have a reusable plastic cup over a single use compostable/biodegradable one, find out the issues with bioplastics here. Also beware of bamboo cups.


More and more new parents are choosing to invest in reusable nappies, saving their wallets and the environment in the long run.

An estimated three billion nappies are thrown away every year in the UK, accounting for 2-3% of all household waste, according to recycling charity Wrap.

Find advisors, tips and trials on our Real Nappy pages here.


If you really can’t live without a straw, consider taking a reusable metal straw out with you. They can be cleaned, come in a range of sizes and reused endlessly.

Drinks Bottle

Much like reusable coffee cups, drinks bottles are commonplace now. An estimated 700,000 single-use plastic bottles are littered in the UK each day. Refill Devon helps you find the nearest café or Refill Station where you can Refill your bottle for free – there are around 800 across Devon so far!


Don’t use clingfilm or sandwich bags – if they can’t go in your current Tupperware, why not make your own beeswax wraps to wrap your sandwiches in, use sauce jars for snacks, and check out these silicone sandwich boxes.

If you’re likely to get lunch on the go, consider keeping a set of your own cutlery and a reusable napkin in a bag pocket. You can get compostable and biodegradable cutlery on the go, but this is not as good as taking your own.

Consider where you buy your meal deal – is it possible for it to be plastic free at a local deli or café? If a drink comes free, choose a can over a single-use plastic bottle, an aluminium can can be endlessly recycled – it may be your next airplane!