Heeding the advice from even the most staunch defenders of all things homemade, you will stay out of the sun or buy a good quality sunscreen with pure ingredients rather than attempt to make your own. I have put sun cream down on the list of unavoidable items in plastic packaging. I was therefore over the moon to come across NOT THE NORM sunscreen in a tin in three different sizes, made in the UK from just four pure and organic ingredients. The company also guaranteed to send mailorder items without any plastic packaging. To top it all it arrived on the hottest day so far this summer and I put it to the test straight away. Unperfumed and easy to apply it feels lovely on the skin and if I follow the directions for safe use on the website to the latter, I think this one is a winner for me. I have read so many scathing articles about the ingredients and side effects of ordinary sun cream and sun block that I would rather stay in the shade than expose my skin to these substances – I am not including any links here as the topic is so ‘hotly’ debated that it is hard to know what is real and what isn’t. You must decide for yourself whether this all-natural sunscreen is for you and how safe you believe it is.
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!
- 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
This week I went to a friendly local artisan cheesemaker, Godsells at Church Farm in Leonard Stanley and bought the most delicious cheddar and double Gloucester, cut straight from huge wheels wrapped in cloth. The cheese is produced at a small facility on the farm, surrounded by cowsheds, hay barns, the village and fields beyond. I could actually see the very cows who provided the milk for the cheese. From the porch I could also see the workers in their white coats, hairnets and white clogs, chatting while they worked. I found out that the milk we have delivered every week at home comes from the same herd of cows. Thursday is delivery day and if you come to the farm in the morning, you can buy cheese before it is cut and packaged in shrink wrap. I bought enough to last for 3 weeks or so, wrapped in cheese paper and charged at wholesale prices.
As I stored away the cheese in the veggie drawer of my fridge I couldn’t help feeling pretty smug knowing that the supply chain for this cheese included milk from a local farm, exactly five food miles and not much else. There are at least three local cheesemakers in this area of the Cotswolds alone and today I found out about a brand new dairy scheme, providing unpasteurised milk in our town – and I never knew any of this until recently. All it took was for me to become interested to find out.
For some time now we have been using soap bars to replace a never-ending supply of plastic bottles of shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, bubble bath, shaving foam and so on. The soap bars we use are natural and handmade but you do end up with a lot of them and have to remember which ones to use for which purpose. I have found an interesting alternative, but bear with me on this one because it does involve a single bottle made from bioplastic (sugarcane).
Shiny Goodness, a small health food shop in nearby Nailsworth has a refill station for Faith in Nature toiletry products. There is a whole row of natural products to choose from and all that shop owner Gail asks is that you bring an empty Faith in Nature bottle for refilling. For this purpose I have bought a single bottle (*gasp*) of Lavender and Geranium shampoo and decanted it into a blue glass bottle at home. I will use the Faith in Nature bottle to get shower gel, conditioner or maybe even liquid hand soap next time I’m in town. I am already collecting pretty vintage glass bottles to put these lovely products in.
Faith in Nature is a multi-award winning, UK based company that has been making natural beauty and cleaning products for 40 years. All their products are made in the UK, using plant-based ingredients that are locally sourced wherever possible. The catch is that Faith in Nature use bioplastic (made from sugarcane instead of petroleum) as well as recycled plastic rPET bottles (no BPA though). But with refill stations there is no need to keep buying single-use plastic bottles and in my book this makes it a good alternative.
Faith in Nature:
About sugarcane bioplastics:
What you won’t find in Faith in Nature products:
- No Genetically Modified ingredients
- No synthetic colouring or fragrances
- No SLES, SLS or Parabens
- No artificial preservatives
- No BPA plastic (they use rPET bottles wherever possible)
- No Methylisothiazolinone (MI)
- No animal tested products. No animal ingredients. No ingredients tested on animals (with a cut off date in accordance with BUAV (Cruelty Free International) requirements of 1988, and for their Household Cleaning range, a cut off date of 2003). All products are Vegetarian, and most are Vegan
I am somewhat addicted to hummus. It’s great as a starter or party finger food with carrot, cucumber and celery sticks. I love it on toast with sliced tomatoes, a dribble of olive oil, salt and pepper. A perfect light lunch!
Homemade hummus tastes slightly different from shop-bought hummus in little plastic pots. To avoid single-use plastic packaging for the recipe below, your best option would be to source unpackaged dried chickpeas. Since this is difficult for the majority of us in the UK, the recipe is made with off-the-shelf chickpeas in cans. Nearly all food and drink cans are lined with a plastic coating but I cannot be certain that all chickpea cans are. Food cans in the UK are made from steel or aluminium from over 50% recycled material and are fully recyclable. The majority are lined with epoxy resins to prevent acidic food like tomatoes from reacting with the metal. A building block of epoxy resin is Bisphenol A (BPA) which is a controversial ingredient in plastic products. If we bear in mind the environmental impact of industrial packaging of any kind, unpackaged dried chickpeas would be the best option for the environment and well worth sourcing if you use them as regularly as I do. I am fortunate that I am able to buy unpackaged chickpeas, spices and olive oil.
I make hummus in a food processor and keep it in the fridge for a few days. You could choose all organic ingredients. Tahini (sesame seed paste in glass jars) is optional but really helps with that authentic hummus taste. I recommend using Tahini ‘light’ which is less intense.
- 400g canned chickpeas, reserve a few for decoration
- 6-8 tbsp of the water or brine from the can
- Juice of half a lemon
- 2 tbsp tahini (optional)
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed
- 2 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp paprika
Combine all the ingredients in a food processor and blend to a creamy purée. Add more lemon juice, garlic, cumin or salt to taste. Drizzle with olive oil, scatter with the reserved chickpeas and sprinkle with paprika. Enjoy!
An here is another very delicious hummus recipe: http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/hummus_80249
How cans are made in the UK today:
About Bisphenol A:
Why does my tin can have a plastic liner and is it bad for me?
There is a shop in Stroud that sells pet food straight from sacks and boxes. The shop owners are happy for you to bring your own boxes or paper bags and scoop and weigh at the shop. I don’t have a pet, but that strikes me as a brilliant plastic-packaging-free idea. There are also a multitude of pet treats and biscuits as well as pet bedding. And, because it is Stroud, there is of course a lovely man in one corner of the shop, happily spinning wool at an old-fashioned spinning wheel…
Cornhill Pets and Country Crafts, 7 Threadneedle Street, Stroud 01453 757322
Food and drink cartons look and feel like they are made from cardboard but the 184 billion single use cartons produced annually by market leading giant Tetra Pak contain 20% polyethylene and 5% aluminium. In addition, there are the billions of plastic ‘closures’ (lids to you and I).
Before saying anything else, let me tell you that a mere 23% of those 184 billion cartons are recycled worldwide according to the Tetra Pak website. That means that the other 138 billion cartons are simply wasted, burned, dug into the earth, or worse. Tetra Pak’s overall objective is to double the rate of recycling to 40% by 2020, still leaving a whopping 60% going to waste. Whatever else Tetra Pak claim about the goodness of their products, I think their commitment to sustainability is compromised by these facts and figures.
Tetra Pak asserts that their products are “GOOD FOR YOU, GOOD FOR THE EARTH”. Their ambition is to develop a package made entirely out of material from renewable sources, including polymers derived from sugarcane ethanol. But for now, most of their purchased volumes of polymers are still derived from conventional oil and gas sources. And, whilst the cartons are in theory fully recyclable, Tetra Paks cannot be made with recycled material. If you take the term recycling to mean “recycling of a material to produce a fresh supply of the same material” (Wikipedia), Tetra Paks do not qualify.
I am not a fan of recycling. A better way to protect our natural resources and avoid pollution is to produce less packaging and to curb our consumption. Recycling just means that the disposal of packaging becomes someone else’s problem. Of the miserly estimated 30% of consumer packaging that is actually placed into recycling in the UK, over 67% is exported to other countries, much of it to Asia.
Tetra Pak says: “food processing with Tetra Pak is all about helping customers turn their bright ideas into exciting new food products”. Their customers are the global food and drink companies who want to grow their market share. I question why we need these brightly coloured and highly processed products in the first place. What’s in it for us?
The alternative is local, seasonal food and drink, milk delivered in bottles, water from your tap and things made freshly at home or preserved in the old fashioned way. With these simple maxims you don’t need a long shelf life, easy transport across the globe or recycling technologies.
Sources and further information
Tetra Pak recycling data:
Tetra Pak facts and figures:
The Guardian: Only a third of UK consumer plastic packaging is recycled:
The Guardian: 67%+ of UK plastic packaging waste exported in 2016:
UK Environment Agency’s packaging waste report:
Treehugger blog on Tetra Paks (from 2009):
Until I started looking for alternatives to groceries packaged in plastic, I didn’t even know that there are places where you can get oil ‘on tap’ in the UK. In the town where I live, there are two such places alone. I just take along my own 1 litre bottle and refill it. As with many other grocery items, bulk buying and refilling seems much easier in the States where regulations are different and homesteading and bulk bin shops are more common.
Perhaps you think this is not a big deal since most cooking oils are sold in glass bottles anyway. But if you are going zero-plastic, you have to consider the little plastic pouring device inside the bottle and the tamper-proof plastic seal on the outside of most bottles of oil and vinegar – I’ll wager that none of that is recycled far and wide. So, if you’re going for the Nobel prize in sustainability, you’ll have to find where your nearest oil refill station is and take your own bottle. I love it because one of the sellers in my town produces the oil at their own farm in Spain which makes me cherish it even more.
‘A Plastic Tide’, Sky News Ocean Rescue, January 2017
If you are going to watch a documentary this weekend, make it this one! Sky News Ocean Rescue have produced an excellent 45 minute special report, first aired on TV in January 2017, with the latest research from the UK and abroad. Intelligent, accessible and to the point – be prepared to feel crushed, moved and called to action all at the same time. It also makes you realise that there are a lot of amazing and inspiring people out there. If you have kids, do watch it together. Read more about Sky News Ocean Rescue here.
‘The Smog of the Sea’ by Jack Johnson
The Smog of the Sea chronicles a 1-week journey through the remote waters of the Sargasso Sea in search of the infamous “garbage patches” in the ocean’s gyres. it is beautifully shot and accompanied by Jack Johnson’s lovely music. Marine scientist Marcus Eriksen invited onboard an unusual crew to help him study the sea: renowned surfers Keith & Dan Malloy, musician Jack Johnson, spearfisher woman Kimi Werner, and bodysurfer Mark Cunningham become citizen scientists on a mission to assess the fate of plastics in the world’s oceans. A mesmerising and very interesting 30 minute documentary.
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.
- UK Map of nurdles found in February 2017: http://www.nurdlehunt.org.uk/take-part/nurdle-map.html
- BBC news on nurdles, 17 Feb 2017: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-39001011
- Sky News on nurdles, 17 Feb 2017: http://news.sky.com/story/plastic-nurdles-found-polluting-73-of-uk-beaches-10771014
- Watch A Plastic Tide, a fantastic 45min ‘must-see’ UK documentary by Sky News Ocean Rescue first shown in January 2017: http://news.sky.com/video/special-report-plastic-pollution-in-our-oceans-10742377
- The Great British Beach Clean Report 2016: http://www.mcsuk.org/downloads/gbbc/2016/GBBC_2016_Report.pdf
- Make a start and take the plastic pledge for two weeks: http://plasticparadisemovie.com/plastic-paradise-pledge/