The Drastic No Plastic challenge
Plastic waste has loomed large in the public consciousness in recent months, due in no small part to Blue Planet II, campaigns such as Switch the Stick, and the extended 5p levy on carrier bags. Companies are queueing up to reduce plastic packaging and broadcast their plastic-free credentials.
But just how easy is it to go plastic free? My challenge throughout February is to accrue no single-use plastic, and learn a bit more about how much plastic goes into the every day products we use and what effect it has on the environment.
I’ll be updating this post throughout the month with info of how I’m getting on.
Like many, I can’t go without my morning cuppa… or my mid-morning cuppa, or my late-morning cuppa, etc etc. It’s not the caffeine – I gave that up years ago (something about getting old) – it’s the comfort of a hot drink, the refreshingly thirst-quenching that almost scorches as it slips down but somehow does not. Heck, most of my readers are British. I don’t need to explain the value of a good cup of tea.
But now teabags are in the no-plastic headlines. There is a petition here from the very worthwhile 38 degrees, urging PG Tips, the UK’s most popular maker of tea, to stop using plastic in their bags. Who knew there was even plastic in a tea bag? But to make an effective seal, polypropylene is used. It’s only a tiny amount, but means that while the rest of the teabag composts, the microplastic remains, leaching into our eco-system.
(Other problems with tea bags include using bleach to whiten the bags so they have a more attractive appearance – who cares? You’re going to pour boiling water over it! – and shrink-wrapping the box, arguably to keep the tea fresher but probably completely unnecessary. FYI, Clipper doesn’t bleach their tea bags or shrink-wrap the box).
So, in my effort to be plastic free, I will shun tea bags in favour of loose-leaf tea.
The only thing is, once I get my newly-purchased caffeine-free organic Tick-Tock tea home and open the cardboard box, there is a plastic bag inside. Of course there is, otherwise the leaves would go everywhere (although I reckon I could cope). I am struggling to convince myself that I am using less plastic here: once I’ve finished the packet, I will throw the bag in the bin, and the plastic will return to the eco-system via landfill – hardly a better solution. I prefer tea bags anyway – they are easier (sorry – lazy).
The best solution seems to be for manufacturers to make teabags without the use of plastic in the first place. Please, PG Tips, will you lead the way?
Out and about
A day trip to London to speak at the Stanford’s Travel Writer’s festival means that food and drink will be consumed on the move. Usually this might mean a bottle of juice (I refuse to buy bottled water, not just because of the plastic waste, but because of the principle of paying for something that you can get for free), a cup of tea, a flapjack, a sandwich or a packet of crisps. Instead, I make a flask of tea at home and pack a lunch in a reusable tupperware pot. Arriving at the venue I am offered water or a hot drink, but there are only plastic cups or those controversial paper cups provided, so I fill my now-empty flask with water (in my rush to leave home, I had forgotten to pack either a water bottle or my reusable tea cup). Stepping out on stage, Stanfords hands each speaker a tin water flask as a gift. Fantastic – no excuse not to carry water in my handbag from now on.
No flapjacks or crisps today – they all come in plastic packaging (or metalised plastic in the case of crisps.) Dinner is a burrito from the takeaway at Paddington station, packaged in tin foil and paper.
As a vegan most of what I eat is vegetables and beans/pulses/lentils. I tend to shop at local organic shops rather than supermarkets, but Waitrose is all that’s open today so that’s where I headed.
Contents of basket: carrots, potatoes, sweet potato, onions, garlic, parsnip, pears, apples, satsumas, bananas, mushrooms, tomatoes, brussel sprouts, broccoli, tinned tomatoes/kidney beans/chick peas/aduki beans/olives, jars of pesto/olive oil.
The selection of loose fruit and veg was pretty good, though I was really annoyed I couldn’t buy a cabbage as they were all shrink-wrapped. No salad or green leafy veg either – all of these come in a bag. It was a bit of luck that there were a handful of loose sprouts left. Usually my shopping priorities are local and organic, but with the plastic restriction I couldn’t do that – none of these veg are organic, and they aren’t all local either. It depends what your motivations are, but I think plastic edges ahead as the greater of the evils, especially as it is so unnecessary – as proven by the basket! Though frustratingly, with the exception of mushrooms, the bags Waitrose provides for loose veg are plastic. I brought my own paper ones.
All bread products were off the menu. I usually buy crisps or snacks, but even oat cakes, which are in a cardboard box, have plastic wrappers inside. Lentils were also forbidden, as were nuts. Pasta won’t be an option this month either.
Candles were also on my shopping list, but the ones I usually buy (Waitrose essentials dinner candles) have a plastic wrapper around the cardboard. I had never considered this before, but it seems completely unnecessary – it’s not as though the candles need to be kept fresh. It makes it easier for the shopper to see the product they are purchasing I suppose. Instead, I bought tall candles by a different maker, packaged in cardboard; more expensive, sigh, but a higher quality product which should turn out to be better value for money as the candle burns for longer. It also means I am supporting the little man which I believe in, and when I got home the candles fit far better in the bottles I use as holders. A convert!
Items that I was unable to buy in my supermarket shop because they are wrapped in plastic:
Washing up liquid
I am very fortunate to live somewhere where refills are readily available. In central Bath (Walcot Street, opposite the Hilton) there is Harvest Natural Foods which has a large selection of dried beans, pulses, legumes, grains and fruit as well as the standard cleaning products. They even do herb refills (20p per pot – great value)! There’s also Newleaf Healthfoods in Oldfield Park, with the greatest selection of refills I have ever seen. Harvest caters to my washing up liquid, lentils and rice needs. Looks as though I will just have to go without pasta, wraps and crumpets this month. Sigh.
I head to a bakery to buy a loaf for my morning toast: The Bertinet Kitchen, where I buy a granary loaf wrapped in paper. When I get home I put it in a reused plastic bag to keep it fresh. Trouble is, though it’s a perfectly decent loaf, I don’t like it half as much as the one I buy in the supermarket. I’m afraid this isn’t going to be a lasting change; next time I will go back to my supermarket loaf. To ease my conscience, at least the bag it comes in is recyclable.