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Guide Towards Sustainable Living, Part One – Reducing Plastic (Malta Special)

The first steps you take can be the hardest. So I’ve put together this ‘guide’ to give you a little head start if you are feeling stuck. I’ve also listed my favourite local shops for finding eco-friendly buys and a few others which I haven’t yet used myself but may be well worth trying out.

Now although living sustainably goes far beyond simply cutting down on plastic, this first part of my Guide is focused on drastically reducing plastic consumption, be it single use plastic, recyclable plastic or that found in detergents and beauty products. Through my own personal experience, I have found that by taking conscious steps towards the reduction of plastic, you will find yourself also reducing your other waste, cutting down on packaged goods, shopping more consciously and taking decisions in your life which are environmentally skewed. It may even refresh your cooking (it’s actually getting me to bother looking up recipes…which REALLY isn't me at all!) So ultimately, you will be slowly changing the complete basis of your lifestyle and you’ll find yourself living a lot more sustainably than ever before.

I began with the simplest and most obvious step of all:

Step 1: Reusable shopping bag

Carrying a reusable shopping bag around with me AT ALL TIMES. The most convenient are those foldable bags which have a mini outer shell and fold into it (see pic). They fit into any handbag and may even squeeze into a pocket 😊 I also like to keep a few extra shopping bags in the car, just in case.

Step 2: Travel mug

Step two I would say would be to carry around a travel mug…there are soooooo many gorgeous options around. Just pick one you absolutely love and take it everywhere you go. Say goodbye once and for all to those disposable coffee cups, which we probably use for a maximum of ten minutes and then end up as waste. At the beginning of COVID-19 some coffee shops were refusing travel mugs, but they have picked up again…so be sure not to let COVID stop you!

Step 3: Cloth bread bag

One thing I found hard was buying bread without using a plastic bag. I bought a cloth bread bag from ‘ReRoot’ which I love, but you could also use any other washable cloth bag you may already have. Take it with you to the nearest bakery and ask them to put the bread into it, instead of into a plastic bag. So far, we haven’t found any issues with this whatsoever and the baker happily agreed to comply (I say we, because my husband is the primary ‘bread buyer’, despite not eating bread himself, and he’s taken to this pretty well!)

Step 4: Fruit and vegetables

Buying fruit and vegetables is probably the most challenging task of all when it comes to cutting down on single use plastic. But don’t give up! I luckily already buy my fruit and veg from a shop which leaves them mostly unpackaged (you may need to move away from Supermarket shopping for this part). I get my fill from ‘G4 Daily Needs’ in Old Railway Road, Balzan. The vendor is fully on board with my mission against plastic and patiently weighs my fruit and veg loosely without complaint. You can either use produce bags (again, I bought mine from ‘ReRoot’) but you’ll need to deduct the weight of the bag at checkout, or ask the vendor to weigh your fruits unpackaged and then place them into the produce bags after. Otherwise (and this is what I’ve ended up doing) you could just place the fruit loosely directly into your shopping bag and do away with the produce bags altogether. I have avoided using so many plastic bags in the process and I’ve also very cleverly started using those produce bags as padding for my jars when I go out shopping instead…so there’s no waste there😊

A good way of reducing plastic is to opt for refills and here are my solutions for refills of perishable goods, detergents and beauty products:

Step 5: Jars for perishable goods

We buy jars all the time…with our mayonnaise, tomato sauce, peanut butter, jams…the list goes on. Wash those jars and keep them for storing goods. They have become my very best friends when it comes to buying unpackaged. I take them with me wrapped safely in my netted produce bags or used paper bags, and buy whatever I can by weight. For this there are a few places you could get your fill…’ReRoot’ have an amazing refill station with rice, corn, oats, nuts, dried fruits, seeds, herbs and spices (there may be more). I also like to go to two little shops close to my house in Birkirkara for convenience: ‘Bethlehem’ for nuts and those decadent chocolate coated raisins! And to ‘Dolceria Barigozzi’ for herbs and spices. There is also ‘Tal-Hwawar’ in Valletta which seems to have an amazing selection of produce, I just haven’t yet been there myself. Other uses for your jars would be for displaying flowers, holding tea leaves and storing other kinds of food in the fridge.

Step 6: Detergent refills

Rather than getting a new bottle each time you buy a detergent, just stop at a refill station instead. A new amazing refill shop opened recently selling plastic free eco-friendly biodegradable detergents…all refillable. Just take a bottle with you or use one of their own for the first time, and keep refilling it time and time again. Not only are you reducing the plastic of packaging, but you’re also avoiding plastic in the product itself, whilst taking care of your skin because the products are gentler. I shop from ‘Tas-Sapun’ in Qormi. The service is great and I love the selection.

Step 7: Beauty product refills

We have become very conscious about the foods we eat and recognize that what we put into our body has a significant impact on our well being. But have you ever thought about what you are putting onto your skin? This is all being absorbed into our body and therefore, impacts our well being just as much as food does! I initially started becoming conscious of this when I was looking to buy unpackaged toiletries and got talking with the team at Soap Café in Sliema. After opening my eyes to the gimmick of supermarket buys claiming ‘organic’ or ‘natural’ products, I’ve gotten rid of everything else I was using before (only keeping the plastic containers they were in) and I now head down to Soap Café (where they produce all their products themselves) and I refill my conditioner, moisturizers, eye cream, serum etc. and even make up, from there. They also have an amazing selection of soaps. Mentioning soaps brings me to my next point.

Step 8: The bar of soap

Just take a look at what’s in your shower and what lines your bathroom shelves…if it’s anything like how mine was then it’s probably made up of a collection of plastic bottles. So, where to begin? Refillable is all well and good, but what if you could replace some of your products and reduce your dependency on bottles by swapping to bars of soap. I have switched the shampoo I’ve used for years with a shampoo bar and I love it. It took a couple of weeks for my hair to get used to it, and I did have to try two different soaps to see what works for me, but now I’ll never look back! I’ve slowly moved away from liquid body washes and found gentle eco-friendly soaps which work better than whatever I’ve been used to and they also double up an a face cleanser, intimate wash and sometimes shaving foam. So apart from avoiding packaging, I’m also doing my skin a favour by using products that are truly pure and good for the skin. I buy my soaps from a local store online ‘Essentials at Maison’ and I love them! They are beautiful and affordable. My husband and boys are also super happy with their soaps, which means they’re on board too!

Step 9: Opt for reusable rather than disposable

Eliminate all disposable cotton pads, cotton swabs, sanitary pads, nappies by turning to reusable alternatives. I bought my LastSwab and cloth cotton pads from ‘ReRoot’ and one can find reusable sanitary pads and nappies online from ‘Ikkuluriti’ (haven’t tried them myself as yet, but I’m definitely considering the sanitary pads).

Step 10: Think and plan ahead

My final step acts as a closing message; pay more attention to what you’re buying. Taking on a minimalist approach works wonders in this final stage. Think well about what you really need to buy before going out shopping and ask yourself ‘Do I really need this?’ Buy second hand goods wherever possible and when it comes to gifts consider giving edible ones instead…bake some muffins or cookies and your gift will probably be a lot more appreciated than a shop-bought one.

So now for the list of shops I promised:

My favourites:

  • ReRoot in Iklin – the best place to get started

  • G4 Daily Needs in Old Railway Road, Balzan – for fruit and vegetables

  • Dolceria Barigozzi in Birkirkara – refills of herbs and spices

  • Bethlehem in Birkirkara – refills of a variety of nuts and chocolate coated raisins

  • Tas-Sapun in Qormi – for your detergent refills

  • Soap Café in Sliema – for an amazing selection of carefully made products, most refillable

  • Essentials at Maison (online) – for beautiful and affordable gentle soaps and a lot more.

Other interesting options that I haven’t yet tried:

  • Tal-Hwawar in Valletta – large selection of produce sold by weight

  • Ikkuluriti (online) – for reusable sanitary pads and nappies

  • Moheco (online) – for getting started

  • Happy Soaps (online) – plastic free bathroom options

There are plenty more sustainable shops, but for the time being I’ve listed those most relevant to the goals mentioned in this post.

Ultimately, live your beliefs everyday and your choices will be naturally sustainable ones. Share your positive impact with others, inspiring change along the way.

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