I tried going as plastic free as I could for the 40 days of Lent this year and I’ve made some interesting discoveries which I’d love to to share with you. Who knew for example, that you could buy solid shampoo? Or that your recycling, despite your best attempt at sorting and cleaning the rubbish, may still end up in a landfill?
Since the premiere of Sir David Attenborough’s Blue Planet there has been a perceptible shift in public opinion. A lot more people are concerned about the damage we do to our planet and they all feel that they’d like to do something to help, the question is: how? Well it’s actually quite easy to make some small changes in your life which, if a lot of people make them, are actually huge changes.
The easiest plastics to tackle, and the most common ones are the everyday evil trio of plastic shopping bags, drinks bottles and straws. I totally agree with Sean Lock who said the only way he can make sure to have a bag for life with him at the supermarket checkout is by stitching one into his coat sleeve so he can just shake it out when needed. Still, if you make and effort and chuck a small folding bag into your handbag, it’s worth it. Since the introduction of the 5p plastic bag fee, large retailers in England still sell more than TWO BILLION single use plastic bags every year, and each of these bags takes about a thousand years to degrade.
Are you still prone to grabbing plastic bottles of water from the supermarket? Latest studies show that tiny bits of plastics from those single use bottles do get into your drink, and no one really knows what they do to your body. Tap water is clean and safe to drink, or you can opt for fancy filter jugs and bottles. On the high street Robert Dyas stock both water filter jugs and bottles, and Sheen Uncovered stock lovely metal drinks bottles.
It’s really great that almost all our local pubs, restaurants and cafés are phasing out plastic straws. Some are changing to paper straws, others just do without them. If you really need a straw, you can buy dishwasher safe reusable metal straws online.
Disposable coffee cups are another major challenge to the environment. They’re hard to recycle because they’re lined with plastic, so they usually end up in landfill. We literally use them for 15 minutes before chucking them in the bin. Time to decompose: 50-100 years. Again, lovely reusable cups can be had at The Robin Café, Artisan and other local stockists.
Some single use plastics are hard to replace. Salad greens for example wilt really quickly without proper cooling and packaging so they come in a plastic bag. Apples and bananas on the other hand don’t really require plastic packaging: you can buy them loose. I’ve also had some success requesting no bags or paper bags for fruit & veg in my online shopping with Tesco.
Our household uses no plastic milk bottles as we order from the milkman (milkandmore.co.uk), toilet paper comes in a big paper box from WhoGivesACrap.org and we buy wonky and surplus fruit & veg from oddbox.co.uk who try to be as plastic free as possible (see salad caveat above).
The cosmetics company Lush produces solid shampoo and body wash although I haven’t tried it yet. My current strategy is buying cosmetics in the largest container they come in to save on plastic packaging and we are also trialling going back to soap bars from liquid handwash.
Ecover sell dish soap, laundry detergent and other cleaning products in recycled bottles. Waitrose stocks their products or to go completely plastic free you could sign up to Reyouzable so a deliveryperson would come and fill up your bottle with liquid detergent – no plastic waste there. Reyouzable also sell pasta, rice, pulses, coffee and other products completely plastic free.
Besides shopping bags you can also take food boxes with you when you shop – thus eliminating the need for plastic-bagging tomatoes or that nice bit of cheese you got at the counter. The Cavan Bakery and Waitrose (Gail’s Bakery) sell bread in paper bags instead of plastic.
Recycling plastic is a great idea but the system we have in place is an imperfect one. Of the 3,3 million tonnes of plastic consumed in the UK every year only a third are collected for recycling. And we depend on foreign countries to recycle our waste: currently only 9% of our plastic rubbish is recycled locally. China, which until recently took a large part of our plastic waste for recycling, has announced a ban on the imports of solid waste this year. So the strawberry punnets you place in your black bin may actually end up as landfill.
Going plastic free for Lent was a very enlightening exercise and it resulted in my conversion to the cause. I’ve joined Cornwall-based charity Surfers Against Sewage in their fight against plastic pollution and now I’m community leader for East Sheen, trying to achieve Plastic Free Community status for our village.
If you’d like to join the fight against plastic pollution, please get in touch, share your plastic free tips and sign up for your individual action plan on the SAS website.
For more plastic free local tips please read our earlier post by local resident Judith Russenberger here.