Living plastic-free for a week on a student budget

We’ve all seen the photos circulating social media and appearing in nature documentaries that show wildlife tied up in plastic bags, drinks holders, straws and netting. Plastic is a major problem in the modern world and it is slowly destroying the planet and the creatures that live in it.

Looking at all of the products I use on a daily basis, I realised everything was packaged in plastic. I wanted to see whether I could keep up my regular routine but with no plastic involved and whether it was possible to do that on a student budget. So I decided to do a week plastic-free challenge.

Watch the video below to see how I got on during my week:


Below are the products I researched and the budgeting I did to use in my plastic-free week. Everything in bold I decided to buy. As you can see, I already owned a few of the products which was really promising – now I just had to make sure I was using them as part of my routine.


SET BUDGET: £75 a week


Product Plastic replacement Price Link
Toothbrush Bamboo £2.99 for 1
Toothpaste Natural pot £6.90
Cotton buds Silicon £2.99
Shampoo Bar £4.97 (same as shower scrub bar)
Conditioner Bar £8.99
Shower gel Bar £4.97 (same as shampoo bar)
Exfoliating scrub Natural pot £13.99
Face wash Natural pot £9.95
Moisturiser Natural pot £9.95
Clingfilm Beeswax wrap £10.86
Surface cleaner COULD NOT FIND N/A N/A
Washing tabs Washing bags Already own N/A
Kitchen sponges Fibre sponges £5.99
Teabags Glue seal Already own N/A
Coffee cups Reusable cup Already own N/A
Straws Reusable straw Already own N/A
Bags Tote bags Already own N/A
Food Loose produce £20 weekly shop N/A
Deodorant Stick £8.99

Have to buy total: £106.57 – OVER BUDGET

Bold buy: £72.68


Throughout the week, I found that most of the things that I thought would be difficult to adjust to (such as switching to the new hair products, remembering my coffee cup and water bottle, all the things that weren’t in my regular routine) were really easy after the first couple of days and I was able to adjust quickly.

However, the easy things like buying lunch at university or food shopping turned out to be a lot more difficult.

In the supermarket I found that almost everything is wrapped in plastic. Yes, you can buy fresh loose fruit and vegetables, but you can’t buy meat not wrapped in plastic – I even tried taking in a box for the meat counter but was told they weren’t allowed to sell it that way.

In the student shops and kiosks at university I found that plastic free options were limited to drinks cans and that was about it. You couldn’t even use a reusable coffee cup at the machine because they don’t fit.

I suspect that this is due to plastic being a quick and easy product for companies to use. It’s cheap to produce and buy, quick to make, and there is an endless supply. Unfortunately, that makes it very hard for us to help our planet by living plastic free.

The big take away that I got from this experiment was yes, it is possible to live plastic-free on a student budget, but you have to be a lot more meticulous about how you live. It isn’t as easy as it should be!

But I strongly believe that if enough people start living plastic free, then the demand for reusable and environmentally friendly products will go up, forcing companies to follow that course.


Words, video and images: Niamh Hutchings

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