Category Archives: On the go

TRAVELLING WITHOUT PLASTIC

Whether you are going on a holiday, a weekend away or a business trip, there are lots of ways to keep down your plastic footprint. Some are just simple common sense and others are a little more creative. The idea, as always, is to make it fun and rewarding rather than a chore. Don’t judge yourself harshly if it doesn’t all go according to plan, but on the other hand, planning ahead will help a lot. In my experience, there are three main points to consider when travelling, regardless of whether your journey is short or long, whether travelling by car, public transport or on foot, and whether you are self-catering or in a hotel:

  • putting together a basic travelling kit
  • preparing food for the journey
  • shopping cleverly at your destination

Putting together a basic travelling kit

Whenever we leave the house (even for a quick trip to town) we take our water bottles, a set of bamboo cutlery and at least one reusable shopping bag. The last two items are always in my handbag or backpack anyway, so I don’t even have to try and remember to take them. With the help of these three items alone we must have saved hundreds of plastic bottles, carrier bags and cutlery over the years. Here is a list of items that might form part of your basic kit when travelling – which looks long but is really just a few items:

  • Fabric shopping bags and small produce bags: these take up very little space and are essential when going shopping as many shops and supermarkets don’t have paper bags, even for fruit and veg. Small fabric produce bags are great for buying things like apples, tangerines, tomatoes, potatoes, bread rolls and so forth and they also have many other good uses whilst on holiday.
  • Refillable water bottles: don’t be shy to ask for a refill – access to drinking water is a basic human right. You can download the handy refill app to your phone so that you can easily check where you can refill at participating cafés, pubs, restaurants, shops and venues. Many airports and train stations now have water drinking fountains. I love my stainless steel water bottle which is double-walled like a thermos, so it keeps cold drinks cold and hot drinks hot. It doesn’t have to be a metal bottle, but I find them very durable and I enjoy drinking from a non-plastic bottle.
  • Lunch boxes: whether metal or tupperware, lunch boxes come in handy for packed lunches on your journey and for shopping for loose produce at your holiday destination. I often bring an empty glass jar with me as well so that I can buy olives and such items at local markets.
  • Bamboo cutlery and straws: we each have a small and reusable set of bamboo cutlery which is great for take-away food from cafés and street food on the go. Instead of buying bamboo you could just take normal cutlery or camping cutlery. I might also take some metal drinking straws. This way you can refuse plastic cutlery and plastic straws and even save on compostable cutlery which nowadays is offered in many places. Compostable packaging is still a single use plastic which is made from plant crops and requires industrial composting to break down.
  • Flannel, tea towel or handkerchiefs: avoid shop-bought moist wipes and take a flannel, tea towel or cotton handkerchiefs on your journey instead. Moist wipes are made with plastic and are a real scourge on the environment. They are on the list of things that will soon be banned in the UK and the EU. There are brands of paper kitchen towel and tissues that are not wrapped in plastic (Greencane), but why not take a flannel or handkerchiefs that can be washed and reused?
  • Beeswax wraps: if you haven’t come across this brilliant alternative to cling film and foil then you are in for a treat. Beeswax wraps are reusable and natural. They come in handy for wrapping sandwiches, cheese, snacks and anything that needs to be kept fresh, like half a left-over avocado, cut fruit and carrot sticks. They make a great napkin for eating on your lap and for wrapping up banana peels and other bits & bobs until you can get to a bin.
  • Toiletries and sun cream: some other items I will take with me include homemade toothpaste in a small jar, homemade deodorant, soap and a shampoo soap bar. Soap bars are also useful for business travel as most hotels package their individually portioned toiletries in plastic, creating an enormous amount of single-use plastic waste every day. Even if you abhor the smell of a Lush shop, I recommend that you buy their shampoo soaps and matching metal tin – superb for travelling with. Finally, I take a fantastic sun cream made in the UK which contains just four organic ingredients and comes in a metal container.

Preparing food for the journey

Because it is so hard to buy ready-made lunches and drinks without plastic packaging whilst travelling, we are in the habit of taking our own packed lunch and drinks. It’s not as much work as you’d think if you keep it simple – sandwiches or filled baguettes, cold sausages, coleslaw, hummus, cheese, carrots, cucumber or radishes, fruit, as well as flapjacks, nuts and chocolate for something sweet to nibble on. Bring lots of water, which is also useful for washing sticky hands, and maybe a flask of hot tea. You could even buy a thermos made especially for taking soup if you fancy something homemade and hot.

When travelling by plane, remember to empty your water bottle before you go through security. You can refill it at a café or drinking fountain once you’re in the departure lounge. You are allowed to take your own food on to a plane. Don’t rely on expensive airport cafés or train and airplane food trolleys for your sandwiches and drinks – it’s a plastic nightmare.
Ironically, if you are on a long motorway journey, fast food chains such as Burger King can be useful for an emergency paper-wrapped meal that doesn’t break the bank (avoid the plastic  sauces, plastic cutlery and plastic toys for kids though). If you are able, stop for a civilised restaurant meal to break your journey or find a chippy that uses paper for wrapping fish & chips.

Shopping whilst on holiday

Markets are a great way to shop plastic-free on holiday, especially on the continent. Before you set off, find out about local markets near your holiday destination and make sure you know what day it is on.

Shop at local grocery shops such as butchers, bakers and greengrocers instead of supermarkets. Here you can make good use of your lunch boxes when shopping for meat, cheese, olives and freshly made food such as quiche and pasties. If you are bold enough, you could take a big lidded pot from your holiday kitchen to the market or to the butcher’s to buy a whole chicken, for example. As always, choose unpackaged items over packaged ones, then cardboard and paper, then plastic if there is no alternative and you really can’t do without the item.

Instead of buying everything from sliced bread to ice cream in the supermarket, make a special trip each morning for fresh bread, cook the simplest of meals with local ingredients and try out local street food or inexpensive restaurants where the locals go to eat. It’s fun to have tapas in Spain, or pizza from street vendors and the most amazing ice cream at the local gelateria when in Italy. You must try chips with mayo in the Netherlands – they are the best!

Watch out for extra bits of plastic when you eat out or take your meals in a hotel. The list is long and includes items such as individual plastic milk pods and individually wrapped biscuits with your coffee, fizzy drinks in plastic bottles, plastic straws and cocktail stirrers, a plastic wrapped hot towel after an Indian curry, take-aways in Styrofoam boxes, plastic cutlery, juice in tetrapak cartons… There are so many plastic items that we don’t even think about until they are given to us and even then, we forget that we can simply refuse them and give them back. If you need something to nibble on with your evening drink, get a small starter instead of crisps and peanuts which are inevitably wrapped in plastic foil.

If you are on a self-catering holiday and travelling by car or by airplane with a big suitcase, you could take any of these basic items with you: coffee, tea, sugar, salt, spices, pasta, rice, lentils, tinned food, olive oil, soap, laundry powder, tea lights, etc. This is particularly nice if you shop unpackaged or at zero waste shops at home and so it makes sense to take these items with you in small quantities. My basic travelling kit includes loose tea and a tea strainer as well as ground coffee, all of which I am able to buy by weight and unpackaged at home. If you don’t already shop in this way you might find that, conversely, you would like to stock up on some plastic-free items abroad and bring them back to the UK with you: in Holland and France I found pasta, rice, salt, soya sauce and other non-plastic packaged items I had long been looking for and so I came home laden with a stack of these. In the UK you can check this list for zero waste and refill shops near you.

On the way from the UK to the Switzerland recently, we shopped at an outdoor market in the South of Germany. Having brought our fabric bags and lunch boxes, we were able to buy enough fruit, veg, fresh herbs, olives, bread and cheese to last us for the entire first week of our holiday. The market was the best I’ve seen. Every single item was sold unpackaged or in carboard punnets, including lettuces, cucumbers, spinach and blueberries – all items that are hard to find without plastic packaging in the UK. Most of them were ‘bio’ which is the German word for organic. Once we arrived at our destination, I knew that some food in plastic packaging was unavoidable, for example milk. Ironically, all around us we could see cows with great big swinging udders, sounding the beautiful bells that are hung on soft belts round their necks. But with some planning and armed with our basic travelling kit we managed to keep our plastic rubbish down to a bare minimum.

Lastly, a top tip on dealing with your rubbish whilst on holiday: collect food scraps and anything moist like coffee grounds and egg shells etc. in one of your lunch boxes or wrap it in newspaper and take this out to the bins at the end of each day. Recycle glass and cardboard in the usual way and put all other rubbish (dry only) in a paper shopping bag. That way, you will avoid plastic rubbish bags altogether!

STYLISH ALTERNATIVE TO PLASTIC STRAWS

It’s a must-do but is so easy to forget: always refuse plastic drink straws. If you’re unaware of the environmental impact caused by the trillions of single-use plastic drink straws that are discarded after one use and if you have missed the fantastic campaigns such as One Less Straw and others, then please have a look at the links below. A fun and stylish alternative are straws made from metal, bamboo, paper, glass or even silicone. They are easy to take with you when out and about with friends or on holiday. You can have a selection at home to show off your non-plastic credentials. The ones I bought (from local Stroud Valleys Project shop) are stainless steel and come with a dinky little brush for cleaning. I see that they are also available on Amazon from about £5 for 4 straws. Have a great summer everyone!

More Info:

  • Plastic Pollution Coalition – 500 million plastic straws per day are discarded in the US alone
  • One Less Straw – a campaign started in 2009 by a couple of kids. It’s been going round the world and is a sizable non-profit organisation now. On their website are resources and information. If you are brave enough to watch it, have a look at the video about a giant sea turtle having an entire plastic straw removed from its body through the nostril by some brave rescuers. You will never use a plastic straw ever again!
  • Dive Planit – on why plastic straws seriously suck
  • Be Straw Free campaign
  • Netivist campaign

ONE YEAR – ONE BAG OF PLASTIC

We have just reached our first anniversary of creating a plastic-free household. During the past year we concentrated mainly on unpackaged food, cleaning materials, toiletries and plastic-free clothing. We have collected every scrap of plastic packaging that we have accidentally, or otherwise, brought into the house. This has amounted to roughly one large bagful of plastic packaging from medical supplies, items that we bought which had hidden plastic packaging inside, presents that were given to us, and also from items that seemed unavoidable. Considering that UK households produce an average of 56kg of plastic packaging waste a year, our one bag weighing no more than a couple of pounds represents a great achievement.

In reality, our single-use plastic footprint is much larger than the household figures measured by Defra and in our case, it is bigger than the single bagful collected over the course of a year. Much of our plastic waste is created outside the home, for example in the workplace, at school, in restaurants, at the petrol station, at the hairdressers, at the gym, and by pursuing hobbies and other pastimes that take us outside the home. In the supply chain of the goods I conscientiously buy ‘unpackaged’, there are unknown quantities of plastic packaging. We are not the only ones in the dark: at a recent talk given by Tesco on food waste, which I attended in Oxford, I learned that all of the large supermarket retailers “currently don’t understand or know enough” about the plastic packaging waste in their supply chains. This means that the plastic packaging that each of us is ultimately responsible for is not just in our bins at home.

Over this past year I have read report after report, attended events, talked to many people and the story is the same everywhere. Most people think there is too much plastic in their lives and that we should recycle more and develop new materials to replace plastic. However, few talk about the one solution that is surely staring us in the face. The one solution that could prevent further environmental crises and help restore local communities is ethical consumption. Ethical consumption means that you choose only what you need, what has been paid for fairly, what has been made to last, and what has been produced sustainably without hurting people, animals or the earth. I might not be a shining example of the perfect ethical consumer yet, but I am immensely interested in becoming one. It seems to be one of the few things in life that is actually within my power!

Read More:

  • Waste and Resource Statistics_2016 by the Department for Rural Affairs (Defra)
  • Plastics_Market_Situation_Report_2016  by UK based WRAP, the world leaders in helping organisations achieve greater resource efficiency. Between 2010 and 2015 in England alone, WRAP initiatives reduced greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 50 million tonnes (Mt), which is equivalent to the annual carbon dioxide emissions of Portugal.
  • How did I calculate 56kg of plastic packaging per UK household? I used the most up-to-date figures provided in the two reports above which are for 2014 (new data is collected every two years, so the data for 2016 should be available soon). I applied this to the total number of households in the UK in 2014 as provided by the Office for National Statistics.
  • Article on Ethical Consumerism by Tania Lewis first publishd in 2012

ABEEGO WRAP INSTEAD OF CLING FILM

Imagine a material for wrapping food that is made entirely from natural materials and is washable, re-useable, multi-purpose and smells deliciously of beeswax… If you have never come across Abeego, do check out the lovely couple who invented it and the beautiful Abeego website. Widely available in the UK and worldwide, I have seen it in farm shops, kitchen shops, health food shops, even gift shops, as well as online. You can buy small, medium and large sheets to wrap around anything except raw meat. It keeps food fresh naturally and is great for wrapping bread and cheese for example, or for covering left-overs in the fridge. The sheets are pliable but fairly stiff from the beeswax so they stay in place where you’ve folded them. They are water repelling and don’t seem to take on the smell of the food. I adore this wrap because it is natural, beautiful and so practical. It is a bit of an investment if you’re used to buying cling film. Mine have lasted really well since I bought them a few months ago and I can’t see any use for cling film now. I think this is another great win for living without plastic!

Where to buy Abeego in the UK: http://www.asliceofgreen.co.uk/food-wraps-and-bags/

REFILL BRISTOL – A BRILLIANT IDEA

Talking to my friend Sarah who has a farmers market food stall that only uses eco-friendly catering vegware (Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall take note!) I mentioned an idea of mine for Stroud shops and market stalls to display a prominent and recognisable sticker/logo to indicate that customers are welcome to bring their own bags and containers for refill. I thought of this because it can be daunting to repeatedly ask at the supermarkets and shops if they would mind putting the meat/cheese/whatever straight into your own containers instead of the shop plastic bags. A sticker or logo outside the shop would not only spread the message but also make a lot of customers loyal to the shop I think. The shop could even sell their own re-useale containers, much like they do with bags-for-life for example.

Just this morning then, my mother who lives in Bristol sent me an article about Refill Bristol, a practical campaign to make Bristol a refillable city: “Filling up your water bottle for free from one of our 200 Refill stations is an everyday thing. The aim is to reduce the amount of plastic bottles and bottle tops ending up in our oceans, whilst keeping you healthy, hydrated and saving you money at the same time! Participating cafes, bars, restaurants, banks, galleries, museums and other businesses display a round, blue sticker in their window, inviting thirsty passers-by to come on in and fill up their bottle – for free. Refill Bristol was a Bristol 2015 European Green Capital project delivered by City to Sea, a local CIC dedicated to stemming the tide of plastic to the oceans” Read more

Hallelujah!

LUNCH BOX

One of the early decisions we had to make was what to put in our packed lunches. Toby takes lunch into school every day and in the past this consisted of a sandwich, a snack bar, a bag of crisps, salad vegetables and fruit. But snack bars and crisps are invariably packaged in plastic  – believe me, we looked high and low. We came up with various ideas to replace the snacky part of his lunch, for example homemade cheese straws and flapjacks. If I take a packed lunch to work it’s usually a salad or leftovers from the night before in a tupperware box. A lot of the time though I would just grab something from M&S on the way to work. M&S sandwiches and salads are packaged in plastic, as are most express supermarket lunch items, so this was no longer an option. Packing my own lunch suddenly became a necessity if I didn’t want to run out to a café or bistro at lunchtime. But I wasn’t enamoured with my sad, utilitarian looking tupperware boxes. A little research showed that there is a whole world of non-plastic lunch boxes out there, from Indian tiffins to Japanese bentos. I bought the modern stainless steel lunch box pictured above. This box has no polymer or silicone seal so it won’t hold liquid like salad dressing. But the clips work great and as long as you keep it upright there is no problem with spills. It came with a small box inside which is useful for nuts, raisins, cherry tomatoes etc. I bought my box in a shop in Oxford but they can be found online from various retailers. It is beautifully made and comes in different sizes and even in double and triple layers. I now really enjoy packing my lunch and don’t mind leaving it out on my desk for all to admire! Check out all the different styles of boxes at ecolunchboxes.com.