Category Archives: General

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!

NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS

Happy New Year to you! Do you want to make a change and start using less plastic in your life? Here are some great ideas with real impact to get you started:

  1. Switch to buying unpackaged fruit and vegetables – find your local farm shop
  2. Switch to paper or reusable fabric produce bags at the shops
  3. Switch to stainless steel tins or glass jars for food storage
  4. Switch to a stainless steel water bottle and take it with you wherever you go
  5. Switch to soap and shampoo bars to avoid plastic bottles
  6. Switch to bamboo toothbrushes and try out a simple toothpaste recipe
  7. Switch to cosmetics and bathroom products without microbeads
  8. Switch to washing powder in cardboard boxes
  9. Switch to milk in glass bottles delivered to your door
  10. Switch from tea bags to tea leaves – most tea bags contain plastic
  11. For a bonus point watch the new film ‘A Plastic Ocean’ available on iTunes and share it with your families and friends

See my blog posts for resources, research, how-to-make-things, where to shop and more. I’m looking forward to sharing more this year as I get better at living without plastic.

ZERO PLASTIC TOILET PAPER & KITCHEN TOWEL

The bog blog! If you already buy recycled toilet paper and simply want to avoid plastic packaging, there are easy alternatives. If you also want to avoid the plastic contained in the actual toilet paper, it becomes a little more difficult. It all depends on your level of commitment to the cause and on weighing up the pros and cons:

1) Recycled paper with compostable packaging

Pros: Suma’s Ecoleaf toilet paper & kitchen towel, to pick just one example, are made in the UK with 100% recycled paper from a blend of consumer waste and offcuts from manufacturers’ waste. The 100% compostable wrap is sustainable, renewable, non-polluting, non-toxic and unbleached. So far so good.

Cons: Paper collected for recycling includes many items such as thermal receipts and magazines that contain a nasty type of plastic called BPA. There is much written about this on US websites. If you want to avoid contact with BPA and are worried about flushing plastic chemicals down the loo and ultimately into the oceans, don’t buy recycled paper products.

2) Plant- based paper in compostable packaging

Pros: Greencane paper products are made from 70% recycled sugarcane and bamboo fibre and 30% certified wood pulp. Packaging is 100% compostable including the see-through cellophane. The whole lot is sustainably sourced and is free of inks, fragrances and plastic. I like this product very much (see picture). Greencane now also do ‘naked’ toilet paper of 48 unwrapped rolls shipped by mailorder in a single cardboard box.

Cons: Greencane paper was developed by a couple from New Zealand, is produced in China and is therefore shipped a long way. It’s probably more expensive compared to the other options.

3) Homemade toilet cloths

Pros: You may think I’m kidding but just search for fabric toilet cloth on the internet and you will find that a lot of families do this. Made from old fabric, disposed of in separate bins and then carefully laundered – no packaging, no carbon footprint.

Cons: I could probably come up with something, but fabric toilet cloth brigade I salute you! Nevertheless, I’m going to stick with Greencane paper for now.

Where to buy:

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RECYCLING IS MAKING MY HEAD SPIN

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.

REDUCING OUR RUBBISH

Look at these pictures! In the metal bin is one week’s worth of rubbish for landfill in a black bag – a fraction of the amount we usually collect over the space of one week. In the green bag are two week’s worth of plastic, tin and foil for recycling (sporting our last two bottles of shampoo… bye bye liquid shampoo and hello shampoo soap bars). We literally stood staring into the bin when it dawned on us that the landfill rubbish we collect is dramatically shrinking. It was the most gratifying feeling and has really boosted our motivation.

It’s no wonder really when you consider that most of our family shopping is now wrapped in paper bags, or in glass jars, bottles, tins and in our own containers that we take to shops. Our grocery shopping looks quite pretty now I think. Not surprisingly it is also cheaper than buying pre-packed items and there is less food wasted as we only buy small amounts at a time. Gone are the days of bags of pre-washed salad turning to slime in our fridge. I read that 30% of Tesco lettuce is discarded in the process of producing the bagged kind and that the majority of bought lettuce bags are thrown away before they’ve been used up because they sit in our fridges for too long. That is a lot of wasted food and packaging going straight into landfill.

I can’t wait for November when Stroud Council is introducing cooked food waste collection. We put our kitchen scraps on the compost heap but I don’t like putting cooked food on there. Next step: finding an alternative to black bin bags. We thought we might ask the farmer next door if they would let us have the paper bags of animal feed when they are done with them. I wonder whether we can persuade the rubbish collectors to stop throwing black plastic bags on the drive with each collection?