Plastic-Free July: your survival guide

July 14th, 2013 by Kate Griffin Leave a reply »

Anybody who’s tried it for a week will know: avoiding single-use plastics is very difficult. This post is intended as a guide to avoiding plastics in various areas of your life. We’ll keep updating it as new suggestions come in, so please comment with your additions – and if you spot any out-of-date or otherwise inaccurate info, please let us know! (Information will tend to have a Witney-specific flavour.)


Witney Co-op, Sainsburys and Waitrose all sell unwrapped loaves and rolls that you can put in a bag yourself. The bags supplied contain plastic but you can reuse them until they fall apart or bring your own paper bags.

Sliced bread: the Waitrose and Sainsburys in Witney will both slice an unsliced loaf for you, for no extra charge.

Gluten-free bread: the only low-plastic option we’ve found is to buy the flour in a paper bag (from Waitrose, the Co-op or Beanbag on Wesley Walk) and make your own – but we haven’t found a plastic-free source of yeast yet.


Dairy Crest delivers to Witney (through its brand Milk & More). Ring 01993 702347 or visit the website to set up deliveries. (Milk is delivered in glass pint bottles which you wash and put out for reuse.)

We’ve looked into Tetrapaks (25% plastic, 75% cardboard) but concluded that these are worse than all-plastic bottles, because it takes more energy to recycle plastic when it’s combined in a mixed-materials container. If you have more info on this than us, please get in touch.


Windrush Dairy have a stall at the Thursday market in central Oxford. They use less plastic packaging than supermarkets.

Other dairy

We’re still looking for: more plastic-free or low-plastic ways to buy milk, cheese, yoghurt, ice-cream, cottage cheese, yoghurt drinks and so on, ideally in the Witney/West Oxfordshire area.

Fruit and vegetables

Getting a weekly veg box is the most convenient way to avoid plastic: everything is delivered to your door in a reusable cardboard box that you leave out for the delivery driver next week. Abel & Cole and Riverford deliver in this area. There are occasional plastic bags in the boxes but you can leave these out for re-use too.

Or buy loose fruit & veg from the supermarket. Reuse the plastic bags provided until they fall apart or use your own paper bags. We’ve tried using our own bags in Waitrose,  Tesco and the Co-op and had no problems from checkout staff apart from the odd grumble. Onya Bags sell reusable “weigh bags that are strong, light and washable. It’s £9 for 5 bags that will last you for ever.

Witney Market (Thursdays and Saturdays) sells fruit and vegetables in paper bags, though it’s hard to stop them putting all your paper bags in a plastic carrier bag at the end! However, soft fruit like strawberries is sold in plastic punnets for obvious reasons.

Store cupboard food

The People’s Supermarket in East Oxford sells refill packs of lentils and rice in paper bags.

SESI in Oxford also supplies refills of items such as rice, cereal, pulses, nuts and dried fruit. They appear at various markets in Oxford: East Oxford Farmers’ Market, South Oxford Community Market and Leys Community Market. (Despite what their website says, they no longer seem to be doing Wolvercote Farmers Market.)

The Chinese supermarket on Church Green sells bamboo shoots in a tin (only available in plastic from the supermarkets).

We’re still looking for: Witney-based solutions for buying store cupboard basics like rice.


We’ve asked around, but haven’t found any butchers where it’s possible to buy meat without getting it wrapped in plastic. Please get in touch if you know of one in Oxfordshire.


It’s hard to find convenient, on-the-go snack options without single-use plastic. If you’re planning ahead things get easier, e.g:

  • make your own houmous using a glass jar of tahini (available from Beanbag), loose garlic from Waitrose, a tin of chickpeas and olive oil.
  • buy olives in glass jars and put them in a little Tupperware container
  • grab a piece of fruit bought in one of the ways described above.

The People’s Supermarket on Cowley Road in Oxford sells sunflower seeds in a compostable plastic pot.

We’re still looking for: low-plastic ways to buy nuts, crisps, rice cakes and oatcakes. Also very keen to hear about any snack food that’s sold in a plastic-free or low-plastic way for on-the-go eating.

Takeaway tea and coffee

Buy a travel mug you can reuse again and again. There are loads available online but they also appear regularly in the Animal Sanctuary charity shop (Corn Street) often still in their boxes! And (whisper it) the Vitaburst stall at Oxford station has been known to offer a little discount if you buy tea from them in one of these mugs.

Household cleaning and laundry

Beanbag (the health food shop on Wesley Walk) does refills of Ecover cleaning products, including washing-up liquid, laundry detergent and fabric softener. (If you’re in Oxford, the Windmill Shop in Headington offers the same service for a wider range of Ecover products.)

Fabric softener: buy Ecover and get your bottle refilled at Beanbag, or try using white vinegar (sold in glass bottles in Waitrose and the Co-op) instead.

Laundry detergent: most shops sell washing powder in cardboard boxes. Or buy Ecover liquid detergent and get your bottle refilled at Beanbag.

Washing-up liquid: buy Ecover, get a refill at Beanbag.

Washing-up brushes: you can buy brushes with replaceable heads, which means you only have to replace the head rather than the whole thing. Both the brushes and replacement heads are available from the Oxfam on Market Square in Witney (info correct Sept 2013).

Personal hygiene and beauty

Lush is currently the only chain store selling these kinds of products to make a serious effort to reduce unnecessary packaging. Many items are sold in black plastic tubs and if you bring five of these back to the store for reuse you get a free face pack! The nearest branch is in Oxford (on Cornmarket Street).

Bubble bath: Lush sell a whole range of fun bath-y things in reusable packaging or no packaging.

Deodorant: Lush sell this in a block wrapped in paper. Messier than a roll-on but it does work.

Exfoliator: buy one from Lush in a black plastic tub and return to the store for reuse

Moisturiser: also sold by Lush in the black plastic reusable tubs.

Periods: for reusable internal menstrual protection you can’t beat the Mooncup. Available from Beanbag Natural Health and the Witney branch of Boots, or buy online. It costs £19.99 and lasts for years with proper care.

If you prefer sanitary towels, the Natracare brand is plastic-free. Sold in Beanbag and some branches of Oxfam, including the one on Market Square in Witney. Or go for the high-maintenance but very green option of reusables, available in a surprisingly varied range of designs.

Shampoo: Lush sells solid shampoo bars, each of which (they claim) lasts as long as three plastic bottles of shampoo. (Kate estimates that one bar lasts her about four months.) Buy two and get a free travel tin. A tip: don’t leave them lying around in the shower to go all gloopy and they’ll last even longer.

Shaving: Lush sells a choice of shaving creams, again in the black plastic tubs which you can return to the shop.

Toothbrushes: the Montebianco range has a clever design allowing you to remove and replace the head (the bit that gets worn out) without replacing the whole thing. Packs of replacement heads are available online or from certain branches of Oxfam (but sadly, not either of the Witney ones).

Toothpaste: Lush again! They’ve come up with Toothy Tabs, small chewable tablets packaged in a small box rather like a matchbox. Nibble one tablet between your front teeth to break it up, then brush as normal. Weird at first, but it works! There are lots of different flavours including a Fairtrade one.

We’re still looking for: low-plastic ways to buy cotton wool pads, cotton wool buds, dental floss, razors and wet-wipes. Also looking for alternatives to Lush for people who find the over-friendly sales staff a bit intimidating!


Lush will wrap gifts in vintage scarves for £3.95 extra, and obviously your delighted recipient gets to keep the scarf too! (The Japanese art of Furoshiki can be used for gift wrapping, grocery shopping or just decoration.)

Presents for kids: If they only play with a plastic toy once, does that count as single-use plastic? The Fairtrade shop in Oxford (on Cornmarket Street, underneath the church) has a range of kids’ stuff that’s plastic-free. Great for babies and toddlers, not so good for older children.

Big thanks to Katharine Mann for her help with the info in this blog post.


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