One of the more challenging aspects of supermarket shopping the zero plastic way is buying cheese, meat and fish (vegans, you may wish to skip this section). Husband Pete is much better at this than I am. He will cheerily challenge whoever happens to be serving him behind the counter to use tongs for picking up produce and to wrap it in waxed paper instead of plastic bags, or to use the boxes we bring along. I myself, on the other hand, become all apologetic and give up far too easily if met with any resistance. I break out in a sweat as I watch them struggle trying to squeeze oversized slices of cheese into the box. Often the wrapping paper is not quite big enough or just keeps popping open and everything just takes so much longer and a long queue starts forming behind me… Awkward!
I much prefer shopping at local shops such as the bakery, the butcher, green grocer or the health food shop. For a start you can get good local produce but also the owners and shop assistants get to know you and are generally more flexible. Take Over Farm Market, for example, who have a stall at the Stroud farmers market as well as a well-stocked shop on the other side of Gloucester. This family-run business produce their own veggies, fruit and farm meat. They also sell loose frozen peas & fruit, fresh quiches, pies, cheese and all sorts of other goodies. Rob, the butcher at Over Farm is always happy to put produce into the boxes we bring along and just slaps a label on the lid (see pic). He has actually signed up to my blog – hello Rob!
For my local friends, here is a list of shops I use most regularly for basic items:
Kendrick Street Deli for ham, cheese and even salads in non-plastic tubs
Sunshine and Hobbs for bread, cakes, rolls
Merrywalks’ veg & fruit stall
Farmers market for olive oil refills, eggs, bread, veggies, local honey
Jollies for a great range of veg & fruit, local meat and bread (expensive)
Stroud Valley Project for cleaning liquid refills
Sunshine for plastic free toilet paper, shampoo soap bars and shaving soap bars
The link between food miles and plastic is obvious: local produce on the whole does not need to be wrapped in plastic because it doesn’t need to be transported and kept on shelves or in fridges for months on end. Good for us, the local economy and the planet.
I think there is a big problem with recycling that many have not really considered. When we recycle, we believe that we are doing something good for the environment. We pay our taxes to the council for waste disposal and we rejoice in the growing percentage of recycling collected across the country. Councils continually encourage us to collected even MORE recycling! But we don’t dwell too much on what happens after we have dutifully filled our recycling bins and put them out to be collected. We somehow feel that we have done our duty and that it is now someone else’s problem or opportunity. After all, we have paid twice for our rubbish: once in the shops, so to speak, and then once more in the form of taxes to get rid of it. We rarely curb our consumerism or repair and reuse – because it’s cheaper to buy new and everything else is recycled anyway. Isn’t it?…
Meanwhile, the demand for products and packaging rises and the mountains of waste continue to litter the oceans and the earth’s raw materials are running out.
This week I have spent a lot of time trying to find out what happens to our recycling once it has been collected. UK recycling statistics differ widely depending on which articles and reports you read. Readily available figures tell us how much is collected by councils but is it really hard to find out how much of it is actually recycled and how. I want to know how much of it is reused or turned into something else useful that does not burden the environment. In 2013, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) was accused of lying to citizens about what happens to their carefully collected recycling. It was alleged that most of the waste shipped abroad for recycling is so contaminated it cannot be used and instead ends up in landfill in countries like China, Indonesia and India. Defra admitted in their own report that once the recycling is out of UK waters it is out of their hands and in most cases they do not know what happens to it.
There are items that can be recycled into the same type of products again and again, such as glass and aluminium for example. The problem lies with plastics and mixed materials. In these cases even the good recycle schemes, like turning plastic bottles into fleece sweaters and other garments, cause unforeseen problems when you look at the entire cycle. Fleeces and other synthetic fabrics shed microplastic particles in the washing machine which are too small to be filtered out by sewage plants. 190,000 tonnes of microplastic particles are washed into the oceans every year (June 2016 report by Eunomia ‘Plastics in the Marine Environment’). This toxic plastic material is ingested by marine life and thus travels up the food chain and wreaks havoc with our eco system. Incineration of plastic bottles to produce electricity is another scheme that is in turn praised and condemned for various reasons but one thing is clear – it relies on the steady supply of more plastic bottles!
I have come to the conclusion that recycling is fraught with difficulty and that without a shadow of a doubt the better alternative is to reduce our waste in the first place. Because of the lack of information and confusing statistics, simplifying things is sometimes really useful: in the final analysis, the world is manufacturing petro-chemical products on a vast scale and ‘recycling’, incinerating or burying petro-chemical products on a vast scale. Just stop it.
I don’t know why I ever thought that the production of toothpaste was something complicated and best left to the professionals. Maybe it’s the fact that I had never used any toothpaste before that was not bought in a shop. Or maybe because there is something vaguely ‘medical’ about using toothpaste. Perhaps I am just scared that I’ll lose my teeth prematurely if I use the wrong stuff. Yet, when it comes to natural cures I am all for home remedies and have total faith in nature.
In any case, since the vast majority of toothpaste on the market is sold in plastic tubes with plastic lids, I started researching the obvious alternative: making my own. There are literally hundreds of recipes and advice on the internet for making tooth powders and tooth paste. After trying a couple of different recipes I now make this wonderfully refreshing toothpaste with bicarbonate of soda, china clay and essential oils such as peppermint, clove and fennel. Both, bicarbonate of soda and clay are ingredients that are used in common toothpastes found in shops. Essential oils add freshness and flavour and have all sorts of benefits for teeth and gums. I make smallish batches at a time which last our family for a few weeks and only take 2 minutes to prepare. This is currently my absolute favourite toothpaste recipe. I have given some to friends and we’ve taken it on holiday in small cosmetic or Kilner spice jars.
Try this super-simple Peppermint Toothpaste recipe from “Make your own Cosmetics” by Neil’s Yard. Fennel or lemon essential oils can be used instead of the peppermint if you prefer:
1 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda
1 teaspoon of vegetable glycerine (cheap from Boots the chemist, in small glass bottles)
3 drops of peppermint essential oil (again from Boots or health food shops)
Brushing my teeth with my own healthy and natural toothpaste and bamboo toothbrush makes me very happy in the mornings and reminds me to keep flying the flag for plastic free living throughout the day. Joy!