The End of #PlasticFreeJuly – a long, musing post.

So, July is drawing to a close and I’ve been trying my best to live without plastic packaging – how did I get on?

It’s a hard thing to quantify, really. I jumped on board with this at the very last minute with absolutely no forethought as to how I was going to talk about it all, so I’ve not done any prep whatsoever. Had I been an organised soul, I would have photographed what a week of plastic looked like pre-July so we would have a comparison.

Alas.

I do, however, have a particularly heartbreaking photo of a swan’s nest I took in Amsterdam harbour in 2012. Yikes.

Anyways, I did take pictures for each week of the challenge, so at least we could have a look at what’s there.

If you’re not interested in reading the breakdown, head straight to the conclusion.

WEEK ONE

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2 x plastic milk bottles, Sweet wrappers, 2 x ‘Rice & Grain’ sachets, Channa Masala Kit, Croissant box, Meat Tray, 2 x Mozzarella bags, A bag for bread rolls, A bag for tatties, Strawberry box, Misc. bags, Postage material.

I recycled the meat tray, strawberry box, the two milk bottles and the cardboard in the packages which were mixed materials.

WEEK TWO

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Croissant box, Meat Tray, Mozzarella bag, A bag for bread rolls, Bag from a brownie mix, Pack of sunflower seeds, Crisps, Butter pack, Bag from muesli, Antihistamine blister packs, Coffee bag,Tomato Paste cap, Top of a chocolate spread jar, Cheese packet, 3 black foam trays, Bag from a salami.

The meat tray and card from the croissant box went in the recycling bin.

WEEK THREE

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Jiffy bag, 3 x vacuum packaging, replacable dish-brush head, granola bag, almond bag, cream lid, crisp packet, 2 x croissant box, jelly baby bag, dog food sack.

I recycled the croissant boxes and will reuse the jiffy bag and dog-food sack.

I’m adding this picture, because when I take out what I can recycle/reuse, this is the volume of plastic waste for my family of 4 in week 3…

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WEEK FOUR

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Coffee bag, muesli bag, cover from a multipack of cans, cocoa powder pot, crisp bag, yeast box, 2 x mozzarella bag, cheese bag, butter pack, scotch tape pack, Costco sandwich box.

I’ll recycle the lid of the cocoa tub, the yeast box and the scotch tape holder. I’ll use the sandwich box as a propagator in the spring next year.

CONCLUSION

Even though I didn’t notice a huge difference to usual in our plastic consumption, this was an incredibly interesting exercise. Having the weekly picture and analysing each one really made me focus on the areas I haven’t managed to reduce our consumption of waste in – animal products being the obvious one. Were plastic my only focus, I could change this easily by buying from the deli counter at Morrisons and bringing my own tubs, but outwith July, I do try and think of fuel consumption too. I’m not sure how to balance this one long term, but hopefully a solution will become evident.

The other big area in which I noticed waste was surrounding convenience – trays from lunch out, the sachets from our camping food…. All things designed to be grabbed and consumed with minimal thought and effort. Coincidentally, mid way through the month, Surfers Against Sewage posted the following infographic on Twitter :

It’s really interesting to note that with the exception of Tesco, all of these are convenience brands – things that are designed to be ‘grab and go’. There are three ‘stimulant’ brands – Red Bull, Lucozade and Costa Coffee – designed to keep your fuelled for longer. I can’t help but feel as though if we all slowed down – rested instead of caffeinated – we’d make less mess.

And I know that slowing down isn’t always an option in a world full of such sweeping inequality. There are hundreds of posts I could write on the subject, but in short, a lot of people actually aren’t paid enough to slow down and many of us have been conned into thinking we aren’t paid enough to slow down – trapped in debt we’ve used to pay for things we don’t need. In addition, a 2018 study found that women have an average of 5 hours less leisure time a week than men. Until we address these inequalities which are eating into our time, convenience – perceived or real – is always going to sell.

So what’s the answer? The single most effective thing we can all do is ‘buy less’. It sounds easy, but in a society where even the bus stops are designed to tempt you into wanting something you don’t already have, it can be harder than you’d think. It’s especially hard in a country where poverty is increasingly viewed as a moral failing.

Those of us with the luxury of a disposable income need to stop over-consuming because it widens the class divide between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ – it fuels the desire for debt and the idea that happiness can be purchased. We need to start by being honest with ourselves about the difference between want and need, then we have to act accordingly. Personally, I’ve found it helpful to cancel junk mail (I talk about that here), unsubscribe from all promotional emails (if a shop’s worth going back to, I’ll remember it), and install an Adblocker on my internet browser (I use this one).  It means that I have to actively search out things I’d like to buy, rather than succumb to outside influences. Adding the layer of Plastic Free July and Buying Nothing New has really helped to focus that effort too.

I can only speak for myself – in this as in all things – but I would love to hear your take. Did you participate in Plastic Free July? Will you be continuing with any of the swaps you’ve made?

#PlasticFreeJuly, and how we’re getting on with our shopping.

A while ago, I posted about trying to shop low-waste at various supermarkets and other outlets. 

I thought I would give a brief update as to how I’m getting on, in conjunction with the start of Plastic Free July.

For those who haven’t come across the campaign before, Plastic Free July encourages people to pledge to reduce their plastic consumption, over the course of the month. The website says:

Plastic Free July is a global movement that helps millions of people be part of the solution to plastic pollution – so we can have cleaner streets, oceans, and beautiful communities.

It sounds easy enough, right?

So how have I been doing at reducing the amount of plastic my family consumes in general? And where do I need to improve?

I think the best way of doing this is looking at products that I was either having to drive great distances to purchase plastic-free (i.e. milk) and products I was still buying in plastic. For ease of reading, I’ll neglect to copy over my notes from the original post, but I’ve linked it above in case you’d like to compare.

Milk – My local butcher has started selling this in returnable glass bottles. This means that I no longer have to drive to the dairy, and can combine the travel with my trip to the refillery. So much win!

Double cream – I can also buy this from my butcher. Like the milk, it’s comes in returnable pint bottles. 

Muesli – I’m still buying this, but we’ve made progress in the fact that this no longer has to be from Aldi/Lidl. I’m going to be brave and attempt to make my own over the course of July… I’ll let you know how we get on!

Greek Style Yogurt – I think – for the sake of the challenge – that I’m just going to cut this out of my diet. I’ve reached a point where I don’t want to make excuses for my consumption of store-bought yogurt any more – unlike the butcher’s milk and cream, I can’t account for how the dairy cattle producing this are treated, and I can’t justify the plastic so… yeah… bye-bye yogurt. Sad times.

Scottish Baby Potatoes – I’ve been buying my potatoes in bulk from the butcher since I last posted. They come in large, paper sacks with recyclable plastic handles. I figured this was better than the non-recyclable bags.

Salted Butter – I’m still buying this. I will keep buying this. I have reduced my consumption of it, though, by using a 50/50 combination of oil/milk in cakes, and by using oil in pastry. It really is just a topping for bread now, and an ingedient in cookies.

Stockan’s Oatcakes – I’m still buying these, though not as often as I used to since the schools closed to pupils. For the sake of the challenge, I’m going to try making them – though it’s important to note that the oatmeal comes in a plastic bag too…

Fresh corriander – We’re now growing our own.

Tesco value toothpaste – This is still the toothpaste of choice so I won’t be changing any time soon – challenge or not.

Curry powder – Now that the refillery stocks herbs and spices, I’m sorted!

Asprin tablets – I haven’t actually bought any since the previous post. Hooray! Unless things go horribly wrong, I should have enough to see me through July.

Leaf tea – I’m still buying the same leaf tea, but I’ve started drinking more coffee (made from freshly ground beans – not instant, or a pod – purchased from an independant shop). This is great for two reasons – firstly, less coffee keeps me more awake than more tea so I’m boiling the kettle less. Secondly, I like my coffee black, so I’m using waaay less milk than if I was drinking the equivalent amount of tea that is necessary for consiousness. I’m also drinking fresh mint tea after dinner, so the amount of tea I’m getting through has reduced dramatically.

It’s so easy to think that we’ve reached a plateau when it comes to shopping with less packaging, but even finding ways to swap out one item every week – or even every fortnight – will eventually result in a largely plastic-free shop. And that’s an incredibly empowering thing. We don’t have to accept the shrink-wrapped status quo. By remembering that if we can’t refuse to buy an item, we can reduce the quantity we purchase, we stand to make environmental gains. To quote the amazing Zero Waste Chef;

We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.

Throughout the month, I’m going to keep hold of any plastic waste we do generate, in order to talk about it once we’re finished. I’m going to speak about whether foregoing things like yogurt had a negative impact on my quality of life. I sincerely doubt it will.

What are your most recent sustainable swaps? Are you taking part in Plastic Free July? I would love to hear how you’re getting on. Contact me either here, or on Twitter.