Day 22 – WASTE NOT…

What are you doing about bin bags? Now there’s a good question!

Obviously, paper bags just don’t cut it for dealing with often soggy household waste, but the good news is that even after only a couple of weeks of the Plastic Challenge, the amount of waste in our kitchen bin has been reduced enormously. But we do still need a bin bag!

We currently use biodegradable bags made from vegetable starch for food waste and compostables. We re-use bags such as loo roll  or other product packaging (not from this month!) in our bathroom bin, and I used to buy recycled-plastic bin bags for our big kitchen bin.

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What are “degradable” plastics?

A few months ago (before I even knew about the Plastic Challenge) I was suddenly unable to get hold of recycled bin bags. It seemed I couldn’t get them anywhere (does anyone know why?) The only alternative I could find were “degradable plastic” bin liners so I bought them, figuring they must be good as they appeared to have replaced the recycled plastic ones in all the usual outlets.

I was slightly uncomfortable about them, and then alarm bells started ringing when I thought about what they were: degradable plastic that breaks down really quickly. Not “biodegradable”. Surely, this could be no better for the environment and would simply mean more micro-plastics getting in to the ecosystem even quicker?  Could it be worse then? At least you can pick up an intact plastic bag: I needed to investigate further as this actually was keeping me awake at night.

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Plastic-wrapped food waste outside a well-known chicken fast-food chain.

Photo credit: Rick Powell

The “degradable” plastic bags I have been buying are made by a British company called Symphony Environmental Technologies PLC and the degradable plastic relies on an additive called “d2w”.  I found an old blog questioning whether or not this product was actually a “Bittersweet Symphony” (geddit!) which makes interesting reading, but all in all, I feel more comfortable about using these “degradable” plastic bin bags after reading around.

So, what is d2w?

It’s a compound added to plastic which behaves like a ticking time-bomb, so a date is set at which point the plastic will start to degrade e.g. 18 months from manufacture. Imagine the bag has been blown into the corner of a field, or a remote beach; It starts to break down and the d2w kicks in. In the presence of oxygen the additive changes the plastic by breaking molecular chains, turning it into material which can be bio-assimilated by micro-organisms (so they can use the hydrogen and oxygen in the same way they would with a biodegrading leaf). So essentially, the plastic becomes biodegradable.

The manufacturers make a good point which is that plastic is a huge part of our lives and there are some jobs that plastic simply does better than other materials (being a household bin bag is one of them). Apparently, the d2w degradable plastics can also be recycled alongside normal plastics, which means they’re not going to mess up big recycling schemes.

Even famous naturalist, Chris Packham, appears to advocate these oxy-biodegradable plastics, although in this video he looks a bit like he’s been kidnapped and forced to talk (I’m kidding – please don’t sue me!)

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Degradable plastic bin bags 

For now, degradable plastic seems to be the most environmentally-friendly option for bin bags, and if it means that large swathes of plastic litter are bio-assimilated, it would solve both the physical and visual plastic menace we struggle with across the world.

But, there’s still part of me which is still not entirely sold on d2w degradable plastic. I’m wondering if they will start degrading in my kitchen cupboard for starters as I can’t see a “self-destruct” date on them, but my main concern is that they are NOT intended to degrade “under anaerobic conditions in landfill” which seems curious, particularly considering they’re being sold as bin bags, which are all destined for…you’ve guessed it… landfill.

 

 

DAYS 16 & 17 – DON’T FLUSH!

The Marine Conservation Society have launched a new “Wet Wipes Turn Nasty When You Flush” campaign to encourage us all to think before we flush the loo.

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Image credit: Marine Conservation Society

Last year, around 50 wipes per kilometre were picked up during the Great British Beach Clean weekend, which is a 30% rise from the previous year and a whopping 400% increase in the last decade.

You might be wondering what this has to do with the Plastic Challenge? Well, I was surprised to find out that many wet wipes contain plastic fibres, and so by flushing them, those tiny bits of plastic end up in the food chain.

Also, around £88 million is being spent annually on sorting out sewer blockages caused by unflushables such as wet wipes, sanitary waste, fats and oils and the water companies will certainly be passing that cost straight on to us, the customer. So it’s bad for the environment and bad for your purse.

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Photo credit: Natasha Ewins

Personally, it has never occurred to me to flush anything but poo, wee and toilet tissue down the loo, but it’s obvious from beach cleans that people do regularly flush all kinds of stuff. So the message is simply – think before you flush!

Now we’re not just talking baby wipes here. Cleaning your face and house has been made quick and easy with wipes, and our disposable society has sucked them right up, often for good reason: convenience and worries about spreading illness.

In terms of baby wipes, I’ve always bought Jackson Reece Kinder by Nature which are available in most supermarkets and chemists. They’re biodegradable, compostable and don’t contain nasty chemicals like parabens and SLS, but that still doesn’t mean they are flushable (in fact they state “do not flush” on the packet). And if you’re thinking they must be super expensive too, you’re wrong; I have never paid more than £1.50/packet and sometimes only £1/packet because I buy them in bulk wherever there’s an offer on – sneaky huh! This makes them cheaper than many un-eco varieties.

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Even biodegradable & compostable wipes are not flushable!

But, even eco-friendly wet wipes come in a plastic packets. The only solution I have found for this is Terracycle who have a network of collectors for a variety of things including wet wipe packets, biscuit wrappers, spray bottle tops, pens and Ella’s baby food pouches. What can be recycled is often specific to the sponsors (ie. the big name manufacturers) but as well as providing recycling for items which would otherwise end up in landfill, the collectors can earn money for charity. Sadly, our local collector has recently stopped taking baby wipe wrappers although is still able to take household wipe wrappers (these rules are made up by the sponsors not her!)

The huge increase in wet wipes found on the beach is indicative of the fact they are such a handy, disposable product and, quite frankly, I have no idea how parents coped with poonami nappies before their invention. But there are great, reusable alternatives such as Cheeky Wipes.

Whilst, I think re-usable wipes are great for hands and faces, I’m less convinced about dealing with poo. The video demo makes it look easy (I am convinced they’re effective) but what do you do with your bag of poo-laden wipes? It’s suggested to wash them with anti-bacterial laundry wash, which is something I’m concerned about, as it will be flushing straight out into the aquatic ecosystem, and who knows what problems that will cause? Presumably, you’d also have to keep bottom and face wipes separate, and I can’t imagine nursery or grandma taking well all these extra instructions when they’re on childcare duty. Suddenly the extra washing, drying, sorting, soaking, explaining instructions, dealing with poo and anti bacterial wash seems an awful lot of hassle, and it’s understandable why most people opt for disposable wipes.

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Eco-friendly wipes and the most bio-degradable nappies I can find!

I decided at the start of the Plastic Challenge that it was my challenge rather than my toddler’s. I’d love him to be single-use-plastic free too (and he’s doing pretty well!) but there were a variety of reasons that I knew this would be near impossible; wet wipes being just one of them. Unless I made a huge investment (over £250) in re-usable nappies and all the associated paraphernalia (which I had previously discounted as an option) it would be virtually impossible to go entirely plastic-free in terms of the baby. However, we are using 77% biodegradable disposable nappies (the most biodegradable nappies available including their packaging), plus biodegradable & compostable wipes. The wet wipe packets and the plastic medicine bottle top have so far been the only real stumbling blocks. Overall, our little one seems to be coping with single-use-plastic free life pretty well, despite my hit and miss cooking, but that’s a story for another day.

 

 

 

 

DAY 8 – WORLD OCEAN’S DAY

It’s World Ocean’s Day! You may have heard of it and you’ll probably see it on social media, but most importantly you can take part, and honestly, it won’t take much effort!

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I’m not going to preach on about the wonders of the ocean. I’m sure that most of you have an appreciation of it, whether that’s from exploring rock pools as a child or swimming off a beautiful beach whilst on holiday. And let’s face it, none of us want to spend time hanging out on beaches covered in litter or swimming in oceans filled with sewage.

You can do your bit by joining or even organising a beach clean-up, which is a surprisingly enjoyable and satisfying pastime. The Marine Conservation Society organise the annual Great British Beach Clean, and last year volunteers picked up an astounding 100 plastic bottles per kilometre amongst all the other rubbish.

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Image Credit: Jacki Clarke

But surely we need to tackle the root of the problem? If we simply reduce the amount of waste we produce, then there would be less litter polluting our planet.

So here are a few QUICK TIPS TO REDUCE YOUR WASTE today:

1) Say “No” to single-use plastic bottles of water. Buy a reusable water bottle and fill up at home, work or when you’re out and about. I have an Onya bottle but have found the cap a bit leaky, however their sports cap is great and water tight.

2) Don’t use disposable take-away cups, either enjoy your time sitting in a cafe drinking from a crockery cup or invest in a reusable travel mug. There are plenty of stylish options like these bamboo reusable take-away cups.

3) Think before you flush! Don’t put anything down the loo except wee, poo and toilet tissue. Anything else should go in the bin. I am constantly astounded by the amount of sewage related debris on the beach because people think their toilet is a one way street to some imaginary waste tip.

Cotton bud sticks credit Marine Conservation Society

Image Credit: Marine Conservation Society

4) Say “No” to disposable plastic straws. Seriously, you don’t need a straw, and if you really  think you do you can buy reusable ones.

5) Choose products with less packaging. It’s often not possible to avoid single-use plastic, as I’m discovering, but there is choice out there. Do you really need that chocolate éclair packaged in a plastic tray within a box with a plastic window? Maybe you could buy a delicious bar of chocolate packaged only in recyclable foil and cardboard instead?

As long as there’s an appetite for over-packaging,  the litter will continue, but if we all make a small change in our shopping habits, the manufacturers and retailers will start to take notice. Lots of small changes can lead to a big one, so go on…

Choose to make one small change today!

 

IS THIS REALLY A CHALLENGE?

Saying “No” to single-use plastic might seem fairly straight forward, but with only 2 days to go before my month (and hopefully a lifetime) of abstaining, it’s really dawning on me just how hard this is going to be.

My aim is to raise awareness of just how wasteful we are and how we are damaging the environment. Just take a look at how much single-use plastic you use every day and how much of it ends up in the bin – it’s shocking and let’s face it, mostly unnecessary.

Last year over 68% of beach litter found during the Great British Beach Clean was plastic. As well as looking awful, plastic litter can harm and kill wildlife and even tiny sea creatures like barnacles are known to ingest microscopic pieces of plastic.

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So, in terms of this challenge I’ll be changing the way I shop and also the way I think. I’m already pretty environmentally aware: I use eco-friendly cleaning and skin care products, buy loose unpackaged soap, refill my washing up liquid bottles, re-use freezer bags and recycle as much as I can, but the real challenge will be going that step further.

My biggest bug-bear so far is that I’ll have to cut down on organic food. I tend to buy organic fruit and veg from the supermarket simply because it is cheaper. But, it is all packaged in plastic, so either my purse will have to take the hit by buying local, or I’ll have to buy loose, non-organic veg instead.

I’m hoping that this will be in interesting journey, and hopefully it will make you think a little bit more about your shopping habits and choices too.

We can all make a difference by putting pressure on our councils to improve recycling and by telling shops that all this excessive plastic packaging is both unwanted and unnecessary.

If you’d like to donate to the Marine Conservation Society who work tirelessly to protect our seas and came up with this challenge, then you can do so here.

Thanks for reading!

Photo credit: Marine Conservation Society