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

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.