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...)
- 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. :-/