DAYS 29&30 – SO LONG & THANKS FOR ALL THE FISH!

It’s the end of the month but not the end of saying no to single-use plastic. Even after the greasy doughnut Plastic Challenge disaster, I have no intentions of throwing in the towel and accepting all this needless, plastic over-packaging.

There are some things which have proved difficult or impossible to find without single-use plastic including medicine, dental floss, ground coffee, crisps and biscuits. But there have been plenty of easy swaps, such as buying fresh bread from the bakers, veg in paper bags from the grocer, organic oats in a paper packet from the supermarket and raisins from the bulk buy shop.

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They cost the same, so now I’m only buying plastic-free organic oats!

Realistically, a single-use plastic free life is hard to lead, but this month has opened my eyes to even more options: I like to think I was relatively eco-friendly in my shopping habits beforehand but this has made me think and look even harder than before.

There are things which I will, no doubt go back to: I admit I am looking forward to using conditioner on my hair. I found using egg so unpleasant that I didn’t repeat it and opted for frizz instead. But I do intend to purchase an un-packaged shampoo bar to replace my plastic bottle of organic shampoo and I will also research other home-made conditioner options.

All in all, I think a lot of good habits that have developed this month will stick. Yes, the supermarket is often more convenient, but using the high street shops is more sociable and gives you a certain feel-good factor about supporting local, independent shops. Oh, and the produce is often way nicer and not always more expensive.

I have been amazed that we have gone an entire month without crisps and biscuits (except the occasional home-made ones). It’s not been all that bad, honestly, but I imagine they will both creep back in to our lives. However, I will be searching out sources of gorgeous Italian paper-bagged biscotti in future.

I really believe that if enough people vote with their purses and also write to manufacturers, shops and councils, things can change for the better….although two nudging emails and three weeks later, I’ve still not heard a peep from my local council’s recycling team.

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Even recycling involves rather a lot of single-use plastic

Finally, there’s one plastic moan I haven’t covered yet: Dog poo bags. Yes, I realise many are degradable, but many are not. And why oh why do people insist on leaving them in hedges and hung on trees in some of the most beautiful places? I do expect dog owners to clean up dog mess, but this bizarre ritual of preserving it for decades is totally moronic on many levels.

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One of many dog poo bags in the hedge at our local, idyllic beach

On that unsavoury note, I’m off to read my book on Zero Waste living, and write my birthday wish list which so far consists of Kilner jars, a bee hotel and a food processor.

Many thanks to the Marine Conservation Society for creating the Plastic Challenge.

So long, and thanks for all the fish.

REFUSE, REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE

Days 27 & 28 – A GREASY FAIL

Oh no – that’s it!

This morning I had a big fat fail in the form of an apple and cinnamon doughnut. Now, these deliciously greasy treats only came into my life as a direct result of visiting the local bakery for plastic-bag-free bread. Until today, this was a positive thing, but as I happily chatted to the lady next to me in the queue, waiting for my goodies to be bagged up in their usual paper bags, I was presented with said doughnut in a paper bag with a cellophane window, Arghhh!

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The greasy culprit – it tasted delicious but it ruined my Plastic Challenge

I voiced my dismay, and understandably the lady behind the counter explained that people usually complain that they’re so greasy, a paper bag isn’t up to the job. This is a good point, but usually the doughnut does exist in my world for long enough for it to be much of a problem.

The shopkeeper did offer to take the bag back, but she would have put it straight in the bin which would not only have been an utter waste of the single-use plastic bag but would also use another paper one. So, I resigned myself to a fail on Day 28 of the Plastic Challenge.

But, I shall not be beaten and my own personal Plastic Challenge will continue.

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Everything else came in a paper bag, but they sneakily wrapped the doughnut in one with a plastic window!

The reason I signed up for the Plastic Challenge was to force myself into making some changes. I’d found myself repeatedly becoming annoyed and frustrated by the ridiculous amount of over-packaging in our lives. And whilst much of this is difficult to avoid, the Plastic Challenge journey has shown me that there are choices out there.

If more people are willing to say no to single-use plastic, then things can and will change. Just look at the plastic carrier bag charge: Only a couple of years ago people thought I was some weird, hippy, bag lady for taking my own canvas bags to shops and reusing (and even washing) plastic carrier bags – thank goodness for self-service tills which don’t judge you! But now that there’s a charge for plastic carrier bags, re-using them has become the norm.

So maybe some of these changes could be enforced by a nanny state? They could push consumers into changing their habits by simply making it more expensive to choose plastic. Let’s face it, the government will be desperately looking for new ways to raise money post referendum, so maybe this could be their chance to introduce a single-use plastic tax and rid our world of all this unnecessary and uncompostable over-packaging.

DAYS 25 & 26 – ITALIAN INFLUENCE

This weekend, we’ve managed to prove that it is possible to smash the “plastic diet” which has come about due to the lack of plastic-free snack foods available.

We had a couple of days of near desperation this week: We ran low on chocolate, bread (we’ve been eating a lot of toast!) oat cakes and ooh bars. It was time to get cooking.

Lucky for me, my partner’s forte is baking amazing chocolate cakes. This was very much a part of how we ended up together – the way to a girl’s heart ‘n’ all that.

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The Italians know how to package biscuits without plastic!

We headed to the shops and he was somewhat overexcited at finding some biscuits packaged without plastic. They were Italian amaretti biscuits which were, like most biscuits in Italy are, in a lovely paper bag. They don’t need two layers of plastic packaging and a cardboard box to protect their precious biscuits. Maybe they don’t care about the odd crushed one, or maybe our layers of packaging are simply unnecessary?

So, the usual chocolate biscuit refrigerator cake recipe was adapted accordingly, using the amaretti biscuits instead of digestives and dates (from the bulk buy shop) instead of glace cherries. The result: much sweeter, but still decadent and delicious.

Sticking with the Italian theme, we opted for a rare takeout treat for dinner, of pizza from a local pub.  The great news was that like most takeaway pizza, they came in cardboard boxes with not a piece of plastic in sight. Takeaways have proven tricky so far (i.e. we haven’t had one during the Plastic Challenge ) as the fish and chip van serves up in polystyrene trays and the Indian restaurant packs its takeaways in plastic tubs (of which we have hundreds, but at least I’m making constant use of them particularly with all this bulk food buying).

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Takeaway pizza in a cardboard box – I was so hungry I forgot to take a photo until I was halfway through eating it!

We now have full tummies (hooray!) and to end this weekend of comfort food (induced by the referendum) my mum also baked a huge chocolate cake because she felt sorry for us. I think she’d read my Plastic Diet blog – Thanks Mum!

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Even more chocolate cake: Delicious!

Days 23 &24: EASY PEASY SNACKS & SPICES

Snack food has definitely been lacking in our lives this month as there’s been no reaching for a packet of crisps, a flapjack or my favourite; dark chocolate rice cakes.

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I took this photo on 31st May as I knew it would the last of my favourite snack for a while!

We’ve had to get a bit creative and make our own snack food and as I do not regard myself as either a good or enthusiastic cook; I like to keep things quick and easy. So far our snacks have revolved around two recipes: Oat cakes and Ooh bars, the latter are so called because the toddler says “ooh!” when he sees them (hooray someone likes my cooking!)

I’ve been using this simple BBC Good Food recipe for oat cakes. They’re great as savoury snacks with a bit of butter or cheese,  although I’m pretty certain they’d be amazing dunked in melted chocolate too.

The Ooh bar recipe is more freestyle: It involves mashing some ripe bananas (three or four), adding a few cups of oats, a handful of raisins and a couple of teaspoons of cinnamon. Mix together and keep adding oats until the mixture becomes like a dough, then dollop spoonfuls onto a baking tray/baking paper and cook for about 15-20 mins on a medium/high heat.

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Leave them to cool, say “ooh!” and enjoy

In terms of ingredients for both snacks, they’ve all been pretty easy to buy without single-use plastic: The oats are sold in a paper bag, I can buy raisins in bulk, butter comes in standard butter packs, but it wasn’t long before I ran out of cinnamon.

The bulk buy shop don’t do herbs and spices by the scoop, but after asking around it turned out that one of the local health food shops do. That was the problem very easily solved as I simply took my clean spice jar with me. 81p later, it was job done, easy peasy!

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Herbs & Spices by the scoop in my local health food shop

Talking of peas, after my lengthy discussion at the organic farm shop about their peas in a box, a large vat of petit pois by the scoop has appeared in their freezer! I was delighted to be able to confuse the lady on the till by presenting her with my own tub filled with peas (rather than the plastic bag provided) plus an identical tub for her to weigh so she could minus off the weight of the tub from the final price, as they do in the bulk buy store. She ended up talking about how much it weighed and that she’d take 2.4p off the price. I couldn’t be bothered to argue as I was just so peased (get it!) to have found them.

DAYS 20 & 21 – SIX MORE EASY ECO-SWAPS

After writing about things we’re missing whilst on the no single-use plastic “diet”, it seems only right to share some more things which have been easy  to replace. I hope this might inspire you to make a few small changes too:

LOOSE VEGETABLES – Buy them loose instead of packaged, particularly as it usually works out cheaper. You can take your own re-usable mesh bags with you, or stick the fruit and veg straight into your basket. Oh yes, and I finally managed to buy strawberries without a plastic punnet from a local honesty stall!

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Hooray! Strawberries without plastic from a local stall

USE LIDS – Instead of cling film wrap for leftovers we tend to use takeaway and ice-cream tubs. Look out for the PP symbol or number 5 on the bottom to show they are “food safe”. I’d love to invest in some non-plastic alternatives eventually and I definitely need more Kilner jars in my life!

BICARB OF SODA  – It has a multitude of uses as toothpaste and shampoo, but my favourite is as a household cleaner  – it really is very effective. Simply sprinkle it on, rub with a damp cloth then rinse. It works brilliantly on both bathroom and kitchen sinks. You can buy it from bulk food shops using your own re-fillable container.

COCONUT OIL – It’s fantastic for cooking, as a moisturiser, in toothpaste and I’ve also been using it as make-up remover applied with rags cut from an old nightie to replace plastic-packaged cotton wool.

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Cut up old clothes to make useful rags

REFILL BOTTLES – Some brands such as Ecover are easy to refill. I know of three places within only a few miles who can refill Ecover washing up liquid and cleaning product bottles, so keep your eyes open! It’s also slightly cheaper than buying new.

COMPOSTABLE TOOTHBRUSHES – It’s easy to change your plastic toothbrush for a compostable bamboo version. They’re reasonably priced and better for the environment. You can also re-use your old toothbrush for cleaning awkward nooks and crannies around the house – just make sure everyone knows it’s no longer meant for oral hygiene!

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Swap your plastic toothbrush for a compostable one!

I hope these Easy Swaps have inspired you to choose less single-use plastic.

DAYS 18 & 19: THE PLASTIC DIET

The Plastic Challenge has made us realise that some things are near impossible to get hold of without single-use plastic packaging. So, I thought I’d share a few of the foodstuffs that we miss  – and if anyone has any suggestions of alternatives, I’m all ears!

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Home-made oat cakes are rather tasty!

BISCUITS: It’s impossible to buy biscuits without a plastic wrapper. Tunnocks bars have been suggested as they come in waxy paper, but they still have an outer plastic wrapping. Home-made is the only way, and to date I’ve made two successful batches of oat cakes. One day, I’ll get round to making something more adventurous…maybe… when I get time.

SAVOURY SNACKS: Crisps, rice cakes, crisp breads: they all come plastic wrapped. Oh, how we miss salty snacks. I’ve tried making some sweet potato crisps (finely sliced, cooked in olive oil with a sprinkling of salt) which were delicious, but a baking tray full created only a handful of crisps which were gone in about ten seconds, so without industrial cooking facilities, this one is a non-starter.

MARMITE: Glass jar but with a big un-recyclable plastic lid. Love it, but can’t have it.

COFFEE: My partner was thrilled to discover a packet of ground coffee in paper packaging only to discover when he opened it that it was plasticised on the inside. I’m unaffected by this one as I don’t drink coffee.

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I’m okay eating dark chocolate – 100g at a time!

MILK CHOCOLATE BARS: Again, I’m not bothered by this as I’m happy eating non plastic wrapped dark chocolate in large 100g bars, but the lack of big brand milk chocolate options is definitely difficult for others in the household!

PEANUT BUTTER & JAM: As mentioned in my previous post, the only brand of peanut butter I could find in a glass jar with metal lid has a sneaky plastic seal around it. We’ve not found any other options yet. In fact, we’ve also just bought a jar of big brand jam as there was no plastic seal, but I’ve not found a natural-sugars only alternative without plastic yet.

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Hummus in a glass jar – no plastic in sight!

HUMMUS: We used to get through a tub of hummus about every other day, but they come in little, single-use plastic tubs. I tried making my own, which is a bit of a hassle as we don’t have a food processor, but I think it tastes good. However, my toddler is less keen on mum’s home-made hummus and finally, I found hummus in a glass jar with metal lid. “Hooray!” I thought, but again, the toddler did not approve.

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I like the home-made hummus even if no one else does!

COUS COUS: The bulk buy shop might do pasta, rice, flour, dried fruit, muesli and all kinds of other things, but sadly, the only cous cous they have is in a plastic packet.

BERRIES: It seems near impossible to buy berries without their plastic punnet (which shops won’t re-use if you take your own container), but it’s not long to Pick Your Own season, so I’m hoping we’ll soon have strawberries! I’ve been substituting them with loose cherries and plums from the green grocer, but de-stoning these for the little one is a bit of a chore.

NAAN BREADS: We love a good, home-made curry but we’ve had to go without naan as we can only find them plastic wrapped. The good news though is that the bulk buy shop sells gram flour, so home-made onion bhajis, here we come!

YOGURT: I’ve only found one glass jar of yogurt being sold so far and it was “kefir” which is some special type of fermented milk and costs about 4 times the amount of normal yogurt. The problem of plastic yogurt pots can be solved with a yogurt maker which I am trying out right now (the first batch is in the fridge).

In conclusion: Frankly, this would be a far easier challenge for someone who loves baking (that’s not me if you’re wondering – I prefer eating to cooking), and if we’re to go single-use plastic free in the long term, we could really do with a vegetable patch to grow soft fruit, a food processor and maybe even a live-in chef?

All in all, the lack of plastic-wrapped foodstuffs is having a fairly big impact on our eating habits, and it’s mostly snack food that’s taken the hit. Whilst that is no bad thing in many respects, I’m a “grazer” when it comes to eating so I’m spending quite a lot of time hungry because there are no easy snacks to reach for.  It turns out that the Plastic Challenge is actually a plastic diet!

DAY 15 – FROZEN PEAS & BAKEWELL TARTS

After some investigation and a bit of detective work I purchased some frozen peas in a cardboard box. Who knew you could get peas in a box? But actually the reason for the investigation was that I could see a plastic bag peeping out of the boxed spinach next to it. The box of peas was securely sealed so with a lot of box-shaking and discussion with shop assistants, the general consensus was that the peas were loose in the box with no hidden plastic, although no-one knew for sure. The only thing for it was to buy the box and hope for the best.

Dinner time came and I’d like to say that the opening of the pea box was ceremonious, but it wasn’t. There was too much going on. The cooking was coming to a head and my shouting about whether or not there was plastic in the pea box was greeted with some disgruntled mumbling along with some panicked pan juggling.

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Is there plastic hidden in the box?

The good news is that there was no plastic and we were able to enjoy our peas guilt free. As we tucked into our meal my other half told me how his plastic-free day had been:

Imagine this – you run into the local Co-op on your way to work, pick up a single fresh Bakewell tart in its handy, recyclable foil tray and say no to the paper bag with plastic window, thinking the tart will be well and truly demolished by 11am. But, at the end of the working day, your Bakewell is still there (this is the part many of us will find hard to believe – Really? You had a Bakewell tart sat on your desk all day and you didn’t eat it?) There are too many bags and boxes to carry to the car so you need something to wrap the Bakewell in to transport it home. You look around the office – what can you use? Ah! Printer paper of course! So you put the tart down on the boss’ desk and carefully wrap it in a nice clean sheet of paper, gather up the numerous bags and head off home. Except when you get home you can’t find it. The next morning you go into work and the boss gives you a strange look and thanks you for the um… “little present you left me”.

Ah…going plastic free can be so much fun!