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shadows of echoes of memories of songs
Plastic banned
I have a big backlog of things I want to post about, but I'm going to grit my teeth and pretend it's not there so I can get on and post about Plastic-Free July.

Last year I thought "oh yes, that sounds like a good idea, I'll try to do that," and then July caught me a bit by surprise, and on the first day I bought a packet of crisps (having apparently completely forgotten that the PLASTIC BAG counted as plastic) and was so fed up with my inability to remember a) what month it was or b) what things were made of that I gave up. To be honest I think that says more about my sticking power than about the all-pervasiveness of plastic.

This year July still caught me by surprise; I guess I've only had 36 years to figure out what comes after June. However I was working from home today so I was in a slightly better position to avoid accidentally buying plastic-wrapped food; in fact I managed not to buy anything plastic today because I didn't buy anything.

Of course, that doesn't mean I didn't use any plastic... far from it. Since I didn't buy anything, I tried just to keep an eye on everything I used, and make a note of it all here.

For a start, our house is full of plastic toys and other kiddy stuff. (Yes, of course it's possible to get stuff for kids that isn't plastic, but there's a reason so much kids' stuff is plastic: it's easy to clean and hard to break. These are fairly significant factors to consider when buying something for a preschooler.) To be fair, almost all Img's toys either a) gifts, b) hand-me-downs or c) from charity shops; I rarely buy her new toys. And when I say 'hand-me-downs', that's not only from her 5 older cousins but from previous generations: the plastic ride-on horse-on-wheels my parents gave her for her 1st birthday is the one they gave me for my first birthday. It's not just toys but tools as well: the orange plastic dish and brown plastic sippy-cup she uses were mine (and then my sister's), as you might be able to guess from the colours (nowadays you'd only be able to get them in pink or blue). But we've certainly bought plastic stuff for Img: a potty (we have two, one is second-hand and one is new); a bathroom step-stool; wellies; an Elmer rucksack with big plastic ears and trunk... if I added it all up it'd probably make me feel so guilty I'd never buy her anything again.

It's not just Img, though. We use tons of plastic every day. From where I'm sitting, just glancing around rather than examining the room systematically, I can see: the plastic tablecloth (see above re 'easy to clean'); Img's plastic mat (with dinosaurs on); the phone; the router; all the plastic-coated tech stuff (headphones, iPhone case, cables, etc); a stack of CDs in those horrible fall-apart-ish cases; pens; a water bottle (I do reuse them until I lose them or they break); loads of plastic bags (again, I reuse them as long as possible -- I still have carrier bags from the 1990s!); a blister-pack of antihistamines... ah yes, the medicine. I realised when thinking about this earlier that my inconvenient tooth (one of the other things I wanted to blog about) was introducing masses of plastic into my life. The denture I'm wearing while the implant settles is plastic, and I'll only have it for 3 months after which it'll be completely useless. (Can you recycle dentures?) I've also got a brush for cleaning it, a tube of denture-fixing glue which came in its own little plastic ziploc bag (though that will be useful for toothbrushes etc when travelling), a plastic tube of denture-sterilising tablets, a plastic bottle of mouthwash, and I can't even use my normal plastic-free toothpaste (Lush 'Toothy Tabs') at the moment because it's a bit gritty and it gets stuck in the hole where the implant is. (To be honest I also worry about using that long-term because it doesn't have any fluoride in it.) Medicine seems to be a really plastic-intensive area and unfortunately it's not one where I want to start coming up with "creative" alternatives.

So we're starting from a baseline of "saturated in plastic"... then there's the food. In a fortuitous coincidence, our Abel & Cole fruit and veg box arrived today; that's mostly plastic-free (though we occasionally get things like spinach & greens from them in plastic) and mostly hassle-free as well. (I've considered switching to Riverford, partly because they're a co-op and partly because they've really thought about the environmental cost of their packaging, but we had a trial box from them and addedentry thought it wasn't as good for some reason.) Tuesday is also a milk day: we get milk in reusable glass bottles from Milk & More. So we are already trying to reduce plastic in the food we buy. But let's have a look at the rest:


  • Milk: glass bottle, delivered by milkman.
  • Toast: sliced bread in plastic bag.
  • Butter: spreadable, in plastic container.
  • Coffee: in 500g tubs made of ... cardboard/plastic/foil?
  • Juice: orange juice from a carton; Img had a mini-carton with plastic straw (she doesn't usually but we had one left over from a picnic)

I don't know what the coffee tub is made of: it looks like cardboard but it's definitely treated with something; it's a bit like tetrapak material, and the lid is plastic, and there's a foil inner lid. If I bought it in smaller quantities I could get it in glass jars (with plastic lids), but that makes it more expensive for me (and possibly heavier to transport hence using more energy...?). Douwe Egberts coffee comes in glass jars with glass lids (with a plastic seal), but it's not fairtrade... However I could get my coffee from SESI and reuse my giant coffee tubs. I will try and get a small amount of their coffee to try this Saturday (no point buying it if I don't like it). Real coffee might be easier to go plastic-free but then I'm using more energy making it.

Bread is tricky; the bakery is only open for a few hours first thing in the morning, and the Co-op only does bread in plastic. Milk & More sell bread but while their pictures show lovely fresh loaves, the actual products are all cheap plastic bread in plastic bags. The market on Saturdays has fresh loaves in paper bags, but it's too stale to slice by the next morning, so it's no good for a week's breakfasts. I guess I could make bread every night ready for the next morning? Switching to cereal is no better: cardboard boxes, but always with a plastic bag inside. I guess cereal maybe lasts longer than a loaf so it might work out slightly better...?

Butter: if I didn't buy the spreadable stuff I could get it wrapped in greaseproof/plasticised paper instead of in a hard plastic tub; is that actually any better?

Juice: we could get orange juice in glass milk-bottles from Milk & More. I don't particularly like it, but Img isn't that picky about juice and would probably drink it.


Leftovers eaten out of a plastic tupperware. I've had some of those tupperware boxes for decades, and even the flimsy ones from takeaways (yes, I know, takeaways are bad) get reused until they fall apart.

To drink, I had a can of Coke. OK, so buying anything from evil corporate Coke is bad, but let's shelve that issue for a minute; if you’re going to buy it plastic-free, you either have to get individual cans (the most expensive option) or packs of more-than-6 (10- and 12-packs come in cardboard boxes; 6-packs come in plastic shrinkwrap; bottles are all plastic). What I should really be doing, however, is buying better and more ethical cola. Abel & Cole sell cans of Whole Earth cola, which isn't actually much more expensive than Coke (it's about the same price in the quantities I buy it in), but tastes rubbish. Waitrose do Fentimans cola in glass bottles and Ubuntu fairtrade cola in cans (bonus geek points for the name); annoyingly, their 'essential' (cheap) cola only comes in 2-litre plastic bottles or plastic-wrapped 6-packs. They're also not particularly convenient to get to (they do deliver, but that's adding a van journey -- if I went there myself I'd be on a bike). A while ago I looked into whether a Soda Stream would be a more energy-efficient way of feeding my fizzy drink habit, but it turns out those are differently problematic: see http://sodastreamboycott.org/.

I think the answer here is to stop drinking fizzy drinks, and stop drinking juice because it all comes in tetrapaks or plastic bottles, and just drink water instead. (Or beer! Beer comes in glass bottles! So does wine! I think I may be on to something here...)

Img's snacks/drinks

  • Banana: plastic-free!
  • Juice: from a tetrapak
  • Rice cakes: plastic packet
  • Peanut butter: glass jar with plastic lid
  • Philadelphia: plastic tub


  • Fresh pasta - in a hard plastic packet
  • Carrots - from the veg box, so plastic-free
  • Grapes - in a plastic punnet wrapped in plastic film, also from Egypt so about gazillion food-miles, general failure on every point here

There's no way I could get a lot of this stuff plastic-free -- fresh pasta is a convenience food so the answer there is "don't do that then", i.e. I should either make my own pasta (please don't tell me this is "actually very easy", I just don't have time to do it) or eat something different. Grapes are all from miles away (why can't you buy UK grapes? I know you can grow them here!) so I shouldn't be buying them anyway. Rice cakes only ever come in plastic packets, so again the answer is "eat something different". It's hard when Img doesn't want to eat all the things I'd be happy to eat, but then as some angry blogger pointed out recently (can't find the article now) the whole idea of "not liking" certain foods is a massive privilege and we really shouldn't allow ourselves to entertain the concept at all. On the other hand I don't think "plastic-free" is the only -- or even the most important -- criterion for choosing what to eat, either. It's an absolute minefield.

I think the take-home lesson here is "don't buy anything, ever; but even then you will be full of fail in some other way". But that's a rather depressing conclusion.

Also, now I've written all this it's probably too late at night for me to have a bath. My shampoo, of course, is in a plastic bottle. :-/

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celestialweasel From: celestialweasel Date: July 1st, 2014 10:44 pm (UTC) (Link)
I could never get home made pasta to work, possibly due to not using eggs so it was vegan. It takes ages to make, sticks together, then however much you cook it it never tastes cooked, then the machine takes ages to clean.
At least, that was my experience.
cleanskies From: cleanskies Date: July 2nd, 2014 08:47 pm (UTC) (Link)

also lentils

It's in my list of things that work better prepared on an industrial scale, alongside dried beans.
sesquipedality From: sesquipedality Date: July 1st, 2014 11:46 pm (UTC) (Link)
It seems to me that the moral is that we need a better way to create plastic.
From: rmc28 Date: July 2nd, 2014 08:06 am (UTC) (Link)
We have some ... corn starch windows on sandwich wrappings and I remember listening to a Costing The Earth podcast months ago about a whole range of different ways to make plastics.

But also better ways to dispose.
jinty From: jinty Date: July 2nd, 2014 06:17 am (UTC) (Link)

I think you're being too hard on yourself

My understanding of plastic-free July (though obviously you can do it in different ways) is not that it's about avoiding all use of all plastic entirely; it's about avoiding single-use plastic. Still not actually possible to do on a regular basis, but a goal that you can get noticeably nearer to. The take-away cup, the water bottle that people do buy and use once only, are the target. That does mean that a lot of food is in the sights, of course.

It's difficult too when you're comparing things that have little or no plastic but incur more energy to transport, and things that have more plastic and incur less energy. I think these are worthwhile discussions to have, to be sure; like the fact I know one person who gave up a vegan diet because it was a more energy-intensive, processed diet in their case, and they felt that moving away from a totally vegan diet was more ethically appropriate for them. But at the same time I reckon that plastic-free July is just that, a focus on one thing, which may mean compromises that you don't normally accept; but it's a way to try them out and see if they would or wouldn't work.

On bread - which bread do you get from the market? the sourdough we get lasts for a few days' worth of sandwiches no problems and is perfectly sliceable (though it may be a preference thing as I tend to think that slightly stale bread is easier to slice thinner and therefore is rather better for sandwich purposes than fresh).
j4 From: j4 Date: July 2nd, 2014 09:12 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: I think you're being too hard on yourself

Bread - everything we've tried has gone stale more or less immediately. Maybe our kitchen is just weirdly staleness-inducing?! The potato and rosemary bread lasted for about a day but I've never had anything make it as far as Monday. But it sounds like you're happier to eat stale bread than I am! I agree it's easier to slice if it's slightly stale but IMHO it's no fun to eat. And I'm not really keen on sourdough to be honest, it always feels a bit like trying to chew my way through a sofa or something (couldn't eat it at all at the moment because of my teeth). Maybe I've "just not met the right sourdough yet" but it seems to be fairly universal.

Obviously the answer is to make my own bread (in which case it's just as well I don't like sourdough much as making your own sourdough appears to be a full-time job requiring a Chemistry degree) but argh, not enough hours in the day...
(Deleted comment)
j4 From: j4 Date: July 2nd, 2014 09:15 pm (UTC) (Link)
That's handy to know, thanks! And in fact I could also get oats from SESI (in my own containers) or from Uhuru (in brown paper bags), so yes, I guess porridge/muesli is the answer for plastic-free breakfast.

Also, Owen reminds me, EGGS.
damiancugley From: damiancugley Date: July 2nd, 2014 07:27 am (UTC) (Link)

Swings & Roundabouts

My particular sin is that although there are places to buy porridge oats in paper bags rather than plastic ones, the shops within walking distance have only plastic-bag-wrapped brands.

There will always be some things – medical items in particular – where the impermeability of plastic is essential (at least until something new is invented). I am not sure I would want a biodegradable denture myself. The reason to try to reduce our use of inessential plastic items is to leave us the resources to make the essential ones.

I think what you have done with hand-me-down toys is pretty impressive – I don’t think many of my childhood toys physically survived that long! Oddly enough I may be in a position to do this in future when my nephew is older because of toys I’ve been given as an adult …
jvvw From: jvvw Date: July 2nd, 2014 08:14 am (UTC) (Link)
On a side note: the big advantage that Abel and Cole have over Riverford (unless things have changed) is that you can list dislikes and they won't put those in your box - which is useful if you grow stuff yourself as well as for things you don't actually like. I've used both at various points and do think A&C, which we use now, is a bit better quality too.

Many things come down to the issue of time - to source much stuff second-hand takes time, making your own bread and not using convenience foods takes time and organisation etc. The thing I do try and do if I buy new stuff is buy stuff that is better quality and more likely to last. I've been trying to cut down on processed foods - in part prompted by weaning Alex - and it is certainly hard work and probably only sustainable because nursery feeds the boys 2.5 days a week.

I must say that one relatively easy thing I am glad I did was insist that we all drink water at home (oh and various alcoholic and caffeinated beverages) though have done this from before Owen was too small to object. Three plus years on, I don't miss fruit juice at all.
j4 From: j4 Date: July 2nd, 2014 09:25 pm (UTC) (Link)
you can list dislikes and they won't put those in your box

True. Though Riverford say that the reason they don't do that is because it minimises waste...

I'm impressed you don't let the kids drink anything except water (out of interest, are they allowed milk? and was it easy to get nursery to stop giving them anything else?). Unfortunately Img knows about other drinks now and I think banning them would cause huge battles -- yes, I'm a hopelessly weak parent, but I really don't want to do anything that makes mealtimes unhappy. Besides, I don't think I'm strong-willed enough to give up all non-water drinks, and it doesn't seem fair to tell her "we get to have nice drinks, you just have water" (see above re being a weak parent). :-/
dorianegray From: dorianegray Date: July 2nd, 2014 08:56 am (UTC) (Link)
You can make real coffee in a cafetiere for no more energy cost than instant. And if you only want one cup, a cafetiere mug is the best thing ever!

I make my own bread in a bread machine, which takes almost no effort and very little time on my part and is much nicer than plastic supermarket bread. I make two or three loaves at the weekend and then slice them up and put them in the freezer, so they don't go stale over the course of the week.
j4 From: j4 Date: July 2nd, 2014 09:26 pm (UTC) (Link)
True about the cafetiere. We don't really have room for a bread machine though!
nou From: nou Date: July 2nd, 2014 11:45 am (UTC) (Link)
It's really hard, isn't it? I'm not trying to give up all plastic during July, just the single-use stuff, but even that's really hard. (Obligatory blog plug: Plastic-Free July in Croydon.)

I have solved oats (Lidl sell them in a paper bag, and there's one 5 minutes' walk from my house) and milk (I don't like cows' milk, and rjw1 is lactose-intolerant, but after many trials of different home-made milks I've found cashew milk is the least hassle and works fine in tea, plus I can get unpackaged cashews from our local Weigh & Save).

Still haven't solved pasta — Weigh & Save don't sell it — so I think I'll be swapping to couscous or pearl barley for that sort of meal (Weigh & Save sell both).

For bread, we have a local bakery chain (Coughlans) that slices to order, so I'm buying bread from them, having them slice it, and then transferring it to plastic bread bags for freezing (I wash and re-use the bags). They've been giving it to me in paper bags so far, but next time I'm going to see if they'll put it directly in a cloth shopping bag.

I think one thing making this harder is that we don't yet have enough people doing it to build up lists of solutions that are nationally useful. Most of the things I'm doing won't work for you because we live in different places! I'm glad to see you trying it though; it does feel a bit easier to know there are others doing it.
j4 From: j4 Date: July 2nd, 2014 09:39 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'm not actually really trying to give up all plastic, but it was instructive to realise just how much I use every day and to think about whether there are better alternatives. Instructive and kinda depressing. :-/

it does feel a bit easier to know there are others doing it

I'm glad it helps! :-)
lnr From: lnr Date: July 2nd, 2014 08:29 pm (UTC) (Link)
The good news is Matthew's cups, plates and most of his spoons are orange and yellow - the bad is that they are all plastic too. I even bought him a new cheap sippy cup today as we'd forgotten to put his in the bag when we went out. :/

I hope to try and be conscious of my plastic consumption this month at least, even if I find it hard to change too much. At least we use biodegradable nappy bags!
j4 From: j4 Date: July 2nd, 2014 09:37 pm (UTC) (Link)
At least we use biodegradable nappy bags!

Ah, we did reusable nappies so we just reused (over and over) ordinary plastic bags to bring them home in. But no more nappies in the daytime now! :-) Img's still in nappies at night (& we are using biodegradable disposables for that) but they're only wet and they just go straight in the bin. (Nursery, however, put each reusable nappy in an individual non-biodegradable plastic bag, and they still do the same now with each item of wet/dirty clothing -- we gave them a waterproof washable bag to put stuff in but apparently they can't use that because of health and safety...)
cleanskies From: cleanskies Date: July 2nd, 2014 09:04 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'm fond of high-juice, low sugar squashes, and would take them over fruit juices any day -- there are some good orange ones. That's blue bin; but then, so is a most of the plastic packaging nowadays...

Oh, oh! You could take your own container to the fancy pasta place in the covered market, and thereby get non-plastic-wrapped (and also overpriced (and admittedly delicious)) pasta.

motodraconis takes boiled jam jars to the fishmonger -- a big enough jar would probably do for quite a lot of the things that must not contaminate (or be contaminated by) other things.

But I'm afraid that I must admit to being emotionally quite wrapped in plastic, as it were.

Edited at 2014-07-02 09:06 pm (UTC)
j4 From: j4 Date: July 2nd, 2014 09:33 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'm fond of high-juice, low sugar squashes

Ah, rather you than me, "low sugar" usually means "bucketloads of aspartame" and I can't stand the stuff. :-/

Which is the fancy pasta place? I can't keep track of the covered market, I'm sure the shops actually move around when we're not looking...
pomma_penses From: pomma_penses Date: July 2nd, 2014 09:46 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'd love to read the rant about how being choosy about foods is a privilege. Which it is, but when it comes to a small child, it's their basic make-up to distrust new foods, and since we live in a society with a huge variety of available foods there will be some which are inevitably rejected. And no one really wants to experiment with starving their child so they'd eat any food possible. :/

Good luck with your quest. You can also get coffee in paper bags (whole or ground) from Cardew's in the covered market.

For bread, try a no-knead bread recipe? I use a no-knead pizza dough which is ace and takes very little hands-on time.
j4 From: j4 Date: July 6th, 2014 10:27 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'm not convinced about it being natural or inevitable for kids to distrust new foods - or rather I'd want to see some evidence... :-} There is so much weirdly neurotic behaviour around food in our culture that I suspect a lot of the "kids never like new food" meme is caused more by that than by something built-in. No, I don't have solid evidence for that either though. :-} Anecdotally, Img was basically happy to eat anything from about 6mo-1yr, and then started getting picky about things after that. Nowadays she will often say "I don't like X" about things she liked the day before; I think in a lot of cases "don't like" just means "don't want right now".

No, of course I wouldn't starve her and wasn't for a moment suggesting that anybody should starve their own children to make them eat anything!! Though (again, only anecdotally) I find that if I offer Img a choice of "fruit or biscuit" she'll always go for the biscuit, but if I offer her "fruit or nothing" she'll always take the fruit. (Yes, over-simplified example, I know...)

Good point about Cardew's, thanks -- I always forget about them. And if your no-knead pizza dough recipe is easy to share (e.g. if you can send a link or it's very short to put in an email) then I'd love to see it please!
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