Tag Archives: zero waste

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!

HAPPY NEW YEAR RESOLUTIONS

My top tip for an all-out, big time, impactful New Year’s resolution for living with less plastic in your life is to REFUSE plastic, full stop! Forget about recycling and reusing. Forget about biodegradable and compostable plastic. The real impact is achieved by refusing to buy ANY plastic in the first place. Pick some or all of the following alternatives and get exploring. It’s fun and easy once you get the hang of it. And it’s just about the most important thing you can do straight away that sends out a strong signal to family, friends, local shops, national chains, manufacturers and ultimately the law makers. All power to your elbows, people!

1. Buy only unpackaged fruit and vegetables
2. Give up plastic bottles and buy drinks, oil etc in glass bottles instead
3. Get your cheeses wrapped in paper
4. Ask your butcher/fishmonger if you can bring your own boxes
5. Give up Tetrapak and make your own nut milks etc – it’s so easy!
6. Invest in stainless steel water bottles and refill on the go
7. Make your own packed lunches and hot drinks in thermos flasks
8. Get milk delivered in glass bottles
9. Buy bread loaves in paper bags
10. Switch to bamboo toothbrushes and try out a simple toothpaste recipe
11. Find your nearest refill place for laundry & washing up detergents
12. Try out shampoo bars and use nice soap instead of shower gels
13. Switch from tea bags to tea leaves – most tea bags contain plastic
14. Give up ready-made meals
15. Make your own hummus, dips, snacks, biscuits, crackers… get creative!

The way to make it easier is to simplify everything and at the same time to invest a little more time in shopping and preparing food. This is an opportunity for doing things together with family and friends, to be mindful of how we shop and eat, and to connect with the seasons and with nature. You’ll feel great – I can guarantee that.

THE PLASTIC BAG DILEMMA

The introduction of the 5p charge for plastic shopping bags in 2015 caused a fantastic 84% drop in bags being handed out in UK supermarkets. A much welcomed and decisive step in the right direction. At the same time we have also seen the rise of biodegradable and compostable bags and packaging. But as with many new laws and inventions, there are often unforeseen consequences. Ireland’s tax on plastic shopping bags, and the plastic bag ban across some territories in Australia more recently, resulted in a significant increase in sales of heavier plastic waste bags for kitchen bins. Biodegradable bags are made of a blend of plastic and corn or potato starch and will decompose in water and in CO2 but still cause plastic pollution in the long run. Bioplastic crops needed for this type of bag, and for compostable packaging in general, compete for land with biofuels and food crops, causing big problems such as loss of rainforests in favour of agricultural land use. The dilemma continues when you consider the environmental impact of paper bags and cotton bags in terms of resource use, energy and greenhouse outcomes. According to a UK Environmental Agency report, a paper bag would need to be re-used at least four times and a cotton bag 173 times to have a lower environmental impact than a single-use plastic bag.

The simple solution is to avoid single use bags altogether and to have our own supply of cotton bags always at the ready. In addition to the usual cotton and hemp carrier bags, we can also have small fabric bags for bagging up fruit, veg, bread and other loose items in the shops. I made a variety of small bags one afternoon from fabric I had saved over time, including my sons’ first cot bedlinen. If you don’t sew, you can buy organic cotton drawstring bags from  Etsy or a dozen other online shops. As for kitchen bin bags – since I decided to live without plastic bags altogether we had to be more rigorous about separating compost, cooked food and recyclables so that the kitchen bin can be emptied straight into the large bin outside without the use of a bag. My little shopping bags are precious to me now and I wouldn’t dream of throwing them away or using them as a bin bag. It’s just a small mind shift from ‘throw-away’ to ‘keepsake’ that puts the solution to the big problems into our own hands.

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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?