Monthly Archives: February 2017

BEACH COMBING FOR NURDLES

We recently went on a little field trip to two of the most beautiful beaches in Devon to look for nurdles. Prompted by the recent news of record levels of plastic nurdles being washed up on UK beaches (127,500  were found on a 100m stretch of beach in Cornwall alone) we wanted to see for ourselves. Nurdles are tiny plastic pellets used as raw material for almost every plastic product on earth. An estimated 113 billion kilograms of nurdles are produced every year. The extensive spillage of these pellets during transport on ships, trains and trucks has become a massive environmental problem. Campaigners estimate that up to 53 billion pellets escape into the UK’s environment each year.

The beaches we chose for our field trip are remote and pristine, with white sand and a beautiful surf rolling in from the English Channel. My husband and his sister played here as children. Our own children grew up exploring the rock pools and fishing just off the coast. There is an estuary dotted with dinghies and there are wetlands beyond the beach – a haven for people and wildlife. At first glance, the beach looked reassuringly normal with happy families and surfers enjoying themselves as always. Yes, there was the odd bit of big plastic: a battered laundry basket, a broken packing pallet, a plastic bottle. National Trust beach volunteer Jeff was out picking litter as part of his daily routine. Still, nothing too bad, we thought.

It wasn’t until we got down on our knees and close up to the swathes of seaweed left behind by the tide that we started noticing hundreds of bits of small plastic: bottle tops, twine, netting, Styrofoam, balls of bubble warp, packaging and brightly coloured solid bits of plastic of all sizes. Our bags were filled after just 20 minutes of casual picking. Really disheartening. We found the nurdles on the second beach. One or two at first and then 70 or more within a 10 metre stretch of sand. We stopped looking after a few minutes because it was evident just how close to home this global problem is… I’ll let the pictures below do the talking.

I know of no other solution then to stop buying plastic and to support those who lobby governments and work with industry to reform and bring in alternatives as quickly as possible.

MORE INFORMATION:

Plastic lids and debris found within minutes of beach combing

Small selection of plastic found within minutes on Bantham beach and South Milton beach

Tiny plastic nurdles on Bantham beach

Bantham beach nurdles up close

Everyday plastic items washed up on the beach

National Trust volunteer Jeff picking litter on South Milton beach

CLEANING WITH A CLEAN CONSCIENCE

The producers of cleaning products, like the producers of toiletries and cosmetics, cash in on our unquestioned belief that we need a hundred different products to do the job properly. The Ethical Consumer Research Association says that we spend about £1billion a year in the UK on cleaning products, with supermarket shelves and kitchen cupboards dominated by products from multinational giants. The majority of products are packaged in plastic and put a burden on the environment in many ways (chemicals, palm oil, animal testing, plastic waste). I decided to go back to basics and try a simpler way of cleaning.

I found that most of the time these four basic ingredients suffice:  vinegar, bicarbonate of soda and citric acid or lemons. With just these few simple items you can clean, scour, descale and odorise your toilets, bath tubs, tiles, ovens, work surfaces, sinks, windows, shower doors, mirrors and more. They are all available to buy in shops, indoor markets or online – although it took me a while to source bicarbonate of soda in sufficient quantity and packaged in paper bags. The citric acid reacts with the alkaline bicarbonate of soda to produce a satisfying fizz and you should be careful with skin and breathing it in. But all of these ingredients are used in food production too which I find reassuring.

I have replaced plastic sponges and brushes with natural loofahs and coconut fibre scouring pads and I still have many e-cloths from my days before I ‘saw the light’ which will be replaced by cotton cloths over time.

For doing the laundry and for washing the dishes I refill the same plastic bottles at one of three local refill stations for Ecover, Ecoleaf and Bio-D. Refills are cheap and help save on buying new plastic bottles. You could just as easily use glass bottles. For now, I want to make my plastic bottles last for as long as possible before I relegate them to the recycling bin. Bio-D is an independent company that make all their products in the UK from naturally derived or plant-based ingredients. Bio-D is available in every Oxfam shop and also supermarkets and health food shops. If refilling is not an option for you, try switching to washing powder in cardboard boxes or paper bags. I also recommend concentrated organic cleaning products which can be diluted with water and can dramatically reduce the number of plastic bottles you need to buy.

I’d like to encourage you to have look at what is in your cupboard and start switching to a simpler, cheaper and healthier way of cleaning. Start with vinegar and water for your windows and mirrors and see how easy and efficient it is. Oh, and stop buying wet toilet wipes or any kind of wet wipes straight away. They are made of plastic, clog up our sewage systems, cannot be recycled and ultimately end up as microplastic!

More information and where to buy:

WILD NUTRITION SUPPLEMENTS

I am excited to introduce Wild Nutrition to you. This UK based family-run company have developed food-grown supplements sourced from high-grade, pesticide free, 100% raw whole food ingredients which are highly absorbable by the body. These bespoke ranges for children, teenagers, women and men come in glass bottles with metal lids and not a shred of plastic. If you order by mail they will use cardboard and paper instead of bubble wrap.

I have searched high and low for plastic-free nutritional supplements and I am really excited that these are also food based rather than synthetically created. I am currently taking Wild Nutrition’s botanical menopause complex which I bought at Whole Foods Market. There is a fantastic health and wellbeing blog on the website and lots of reviews and tips. Karen, the Nutritional Therapist at Wild Nutrition who answered my questions regarding their packaging policy, paid me a lovely compliment: I just had a look at your website. How wonderful that you are focusing on this incredibly important issue.” I’d like to return the compliment!

CHRISTMAS FESTIVITIES

With some creative thinking and a bit of planning we managed our first ever plastic-free Christmas. It was a great experience and strengthened my resolve to keep going! The emphasis was on simplicity as an antidote to the usual frenzy leading up to the holidays. It was wonderful to have a Christmas without piles of plastic boxes, trays, shrinkwraps, vacuum packs, bubble wrap, styrofoam, tamper seals, bottles, bags, labels, clingfilm… the list goes on.

The food
Buying mainly from a local food cooperative, local shops and our excellent farmers market ensured that all of the food came unpackaged or plastic-free. We had a traditional lunch of roast turkey, veggies, roast potatoes, sausages wrapped in bacon and Christmas pudding. Beer came from a local micro-brewery, eggs from our neighbour Olga, bread from the bakers, milk and orange juice in glass bottles from Mike the milkman, and so on. It’s all about making connections with shop owners, market stall holders and local producers and not being afraid to ask for what you want. For example, Juliet from Monmouthshire Turkeys was more than happy to supply the organic, free-range bird in a cardboard box with giblets wrapped in foil.

We couldn’t have managed it if we had to rely on supermarket shopping or ordering online. The small amount of supermarket shopping that we did do landed us with a few little plastic surprises such as plastic labels on jars of mayonnaise and plastic stickers on fruit. It all sounds very time-consuming but consider that we already buy our food this way and know where to go. The thought that most of the food, including the turkey came from the surrounding countryside made it seem especially delicious.

The presents
We decided to buy second-hand presents from charity shops for each other this year. I like that the money we spent goes to charitable causes and that anything we bought is given another lease of life. We found interesting books, games, films, music CDs, smart button shirts, a framed black & white photograph and useful kitchen utensils. We decided that the hard plastic covers on DVD & CDs were ok as they are ‘multi-use’  and because we would eventually return them to a charity shop for someone else to enjoy. We went to the sweet shop for stocking filler treats. Sweets are dispensed from large glass jars and weighed in to paper bags. Chocolate and Turkish Delight are sold by weight too. Normally we also give each other magazine subscriptions at Christmas. But this year we let some of the subscriptions lapse because they come in plastic wrappers (New Scientist and The Economist). We renewed the subscriptions that come in compostable wrappers such as Resurgeance and Positive News!

Christmas crackers, wrapping paper and more…
I didn’t get any Christmas crackers this year (the type you pull apart with a bang and out pop a little plastic toy, a joke and a paper crown to be worn throughout the traditional British Christmas lunch). Instead our son Toby made some posh paper crowns for us with hilarious name badges. We chose not to wrap presents. A lot of wrapping paper contains plastic and glitter or is packaged in plastic film. You can’t recycle it so it’s just better to do without it or make your own. Whenever I can, I buy box sets of greetings cards from galleries and art shops to avoid individually plastic-wrapped gift cards and I applied the same principle to Christmas cards. Lastly, tea lights and batteries gave us a bit of a headache until we discovered both being sold in cardboard boxes at the hardware store.

Our next ‘living without plastic’ challenge: my husband’s 50th birthday party in February… for 80 people!