A Few Tips For Reducing Plastic Consumption in Edinburgh by Emily Smith

The Plastic Challenge run by the Marine Conservation Society.  It’s originally came about when Sea Champion Emily Smith gave up plastics for Lent in 2013 raising over seven hundred pounds for Marine Conservation Society. She went on to challenge her friends and family to do the same, and so the Plastic Challenge was born.  The following is a number of tips which she has written for people who want to reduce their use of single use plastics.

As they say, “the Plastic Challenge isn’t all about living completely plastic free – in this day and age that would be pretty near impossible. We hope Plastic Challengers will try to reduce their plastic footprint in all sorts of ways.”

Vote with your wallet

“Vote with your wallet”

Quick Fixes

  • Using a canvas shopping bag.
  • Purchasing loose fruit and veg items (you can but them in a canvas or net bag until you make it to the checkout or just have them loose in the basket/trolley. There’s often a paper bag option for mushrooms)

coconut oil

Coconut oil is your new best friend


Use a Moon cup or natracare cotton pads

New Leaf Coop

New- leaf Co-op

  • Take your own jar to fill up on freshly ground peanut butter (varies by day – http://newleafcoop.co.uk)
  • They also sell rice, oats, seeds and other grains as well as spices by weight. You can take your own containers for these items.
  • You get a discount for taking your own containers and being a student – win!


Making your own shampoo and conditioner can reduce the quantity of plastic waste you produce.

I make my own at the moment – I mix 1/3 cup Castile soap (you can buy it online, sadly it comes in a plastic bottle, but it’s a huge bottle that will last a long time) and ½ cup coconut milk together. Rub in your hands a little before applying to hair, massage in roots. Rinse out with apple cider vinegar (1/3 cup vinegar, 2/3 water). Feels a little strange the first few times but you won’t smell like vinegar once its done.

  • Tupperware food plastic containers

    Thinking inside the box (loads of things like cereals, teas etc. have inner plastic seals, can’t always avoid them but some alternatives don’t have this, just depends on the manufacturer/store).

  • Look out for the lids – many items almost contain no plastic apart from the lid or plastic seal around the top of the jars. Not always possible to find an alternative straight away, but there usually is one.
  • Be organised – take lunches and dinners with you and snacks rather than eating on the go
  • Most restaurants in Edinburgh (Especially ones on Nicolson street) are happy to give you the food in a container that you provide. The mosque kitchen is an example.
  • Souped Up (green police box on Nicolson street) uses Vegware packaging. [https://www.facebook.com/getsoupedup?fref=ts
  • Take your own containers to supermarkets and ask them to put cheese/meats in there instead of in plastic. They might still give you a thin plastic sheet as part of health and safety standards.
  • Buying in bulk generally helps.
  • Purchase fruit and veg from local co-operatives. Hearty Squirrel during term time (currently looking for others)
  • Lush is a great place for packaging free items (soaps, shampoos etc.) a little bit more expensive but can combine this with other items. Also I think you can take back the shampoo/conditioner pots to be re-used.
  • Use metal razors


Bamboo toothbrush

Bamboo toothbrush

purchased online (sadly came with some plastic in it, but you can get individually wrapped ones which are in cardboard, haven’t found a place that sells them in Edinburgh yet).

Shopping in charity shops rather than the high street – you still get the items you need but are reducing the demand for more synthetic products.


Embracing the wonders of vinegar


Eco Balls

For laundry

  • Oxfam on Nicolson street sells ‘eco balls’ that you can use in 240 washes (apparently). There is a bit of plastic around the detergent balls, but hardly any and reduces the need for bottles.
  • Earthy and New-Leaf Co-op sell refills for Ecover products (laundry, washing up liquid etc.)
  • Take your own bottles, cups and Tupperwares when on the go.


Say no to the straw – I almost always forget to ask not to have a straw, and they come with most drinks now. If you really like drinking with straws, you can purchase re-usable metal straws online.


Shopping for Groceries:

  • Visit bakeries, butchers and green grocers. There are various ones around the city – a few on Nicolson Street, in toll cross and haymarket.
  • Saturday market in grassmarket where you can buy fresh bread without packaging. Also a bakery on Nicolson Street. Also buying things from the bakery in supermarkets rather than pre-packaged items.
  • Visit traditional sweet shops!
  • There is one in Grassmarket, opposite the pubs that sells sweets by weight in paper bags.


In general – if in doubt, ask. I’ve been caught out several times because I assumed something wouldn’t come in plastic.


Some useful sites:

This one has general A-Z of where to find things without/ with minimal plastic

This site has some good tips for homemade products (including shampoos, conditioner, soaps etc.)

Some more useful tips for life in general:

Plastic challenge

Some hints and tips from people undergoing the MCS plastic challenge in June