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 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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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?