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

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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!

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.

 

 

 

 

DAYS 10 & 11 – SIX EASY NO-PLASTIC SWAPS

There have been a few things along my “no single-use plastic” journey which have been relatively easy to replace, so I thought I’d share some of them with you:

CHOCOLATE: Hooray! Personally, I would find life hard without dark chocolate, so this one makes me very happy. But it’s not just the dark stuff; you can buy plenty of other types of chocolate without plastic packaging. Most 100g bars are in either recyclable foil & cardboard or paper and card. Virtually all supermarkets stock a wide variety, including milk, ginger, orange, salted caramel and one of our favourite treats Lindt Dark Strawberry Intense chocolate. My staple though, has to be Green & Blacks Organic 70% yum!

Replacing face and body moisturisers with one recyclable tin of All Round Cream

MOISTURISER: I have to admit that I’m generally not brand-loyal and often try out new eco-products that I’ve never heard of before. However, Lavera is one of the big players in eco-brand cosmetics and toiletries and I was pleased to find a large (recyclable) tin of their Organic All-Round Cream which is for both face and body. Previously, I’d been using a glass jar of night moisturiser (with plastic lid), a plastic pump bottle of day moisturiser and a plastic bottle of body lotion. All of them are eco/organic products and I will recycle all the containers, of course. Back to the All-Round Cream: I genuinely love it! It smells amazing and is rich and creamy and there’s no plastic in sight. Well done Lavera – I might have just become brand loyal.

SOAP: This is a fairly easy one if you have an independent health food shop nearby. I’ve noticed a number of places do un-packaged Faith in Nature soap. It’s that simple (assuming the shop don’t then put it in a plastic bag!) However, it looks like they only sell it plastic wrapped if you buy online.

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Out with the plastic tub of eco-deodorant and in with the tin!

DEODORANT: Over the years I have tried numerous “no-nasties” deodorants. To be honest I have yet to find one which works anywhere near as well as the alleged breast cancer inducing, aluminium- laden high street versions. I’ve always reserved those for sweat-inducing social occasions. However, particularly in winter, I find there’s usually no need for a mega-deodorant, so am happy with my eco-deodorants the majority of the time.

I was using Soapwalla deodorant which seemed to be fairly effective on normal days but comes in a plastic pot. I’ve since changed to Earth Conscious Hippy Paste deodorant in a recyclable tin, which smells good but doesn’t stop the stink on super sweaty days. They do however, make a donation from their sales to the Marine Conservation Society, which is a bonus!

LOO ROLL: I have found recycled Ecoleaf loo roll (why would anyone use anything else to wipe their bum?) in a biodegradable potato-starch wrap at our local health food shop. I’ve also seen it being sold in the organic farm shop so it’s fairly easy to come by. Prior to this challenge I used to line the bathroom bin with the plastic loo roll wrapper but now it will be the biodegradable version getting a second life before it’s sent to the tip.

Recycled loo roll in compostable wrap

DISH CLOTHS: Finally, I have found some not packaged in plastic hiding at the local supermarket! As well as only being wrapped in paper, the wrapper was gummed rather than sticky-taped together. Clean work surfaces, here we come!

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The elusive non-plastic wrapped dishcloths!

I hope this post might inspire you to look around and choose products without plastic packaging too as it’s not always that hard!

DAY 9 – PLASTIC AND PARACETAMOL

The day started with a trip to the doctor with my toddler. Luckily, it was nothing major and all I needed for him was paracetamol. This got me thinking about drugs and single-use plastic packaging. I do remember glass jars of tablets as a kid, and you can still buy them filled with vitamins and other supplements in health food shops, but prescription medicine? I’m not so sure.

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Junior paracetamol in a glass bottle but with plastic cap and measuring spoon

Off to the chemist I trotted with a tired toddler in tow and after lengthy discussions and investigating a few boxes of medicines, I found this brand, Junior Parapaed, which comes in a glass bottle – hooray! (Unlike the other more popular brands). But, it does still has a plastic cap and comes with a plastic measuring spoon – boo!

Judge me as you will, but I decided that as this is my challenge, not my toddler’s, that denying him medicine for the rest of the month would be utterly ridiculous and downright cruel! (I’m also not subjecting him to the disgusting, non-minty home-made bicarb & coconut oil toothpaste!) The only other option would be for me to ask someone else to buy the medicine for him, but that seemed equally stupid as ultimately it wouldn’t save any plastic at all. So I just got on with it and bought it, plastic cap ‘n’ all.

So officially, that’s it, the world of single-use plastic has beaten me; but hang on…no, I’m not giving up because I don’t think buying medicine for a toddler who can’t buy it for himself counts. Like I said, this is my challenge, not his!

But this incident has really begged the question of what I will do if I get ill or simply get a headache? Is it even possible to get paracetamol or ibuprofen packaged in anything other than single-use plastic and foil packs? You can still get aspirin in bottles, but they’re plastic of course – no surprise there.

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No sign of paracetamol sold in glass jars

When I asked in the chemist about non-plastic options, the lady reminisced with me about glass jars but thought that health and safety regulations had probably put a stop to them: It appears that ill people may simply be more likely to drop glass jars than people who frequent health food shops.

 

 

 

DAYS 6 & 7 – SCRAMBLED EGGS AND SLS

DAY 6: So after the disappointment of my first try with bicarb shampoo, I had high hopes for eggs! It may sound a bit grim but I remember my mum using duck eggs to condition my hair as a child, so surely there must be something in this?

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Eggs and Lavender oil –  and yes, the glass bottle from my cupboard has a plastic cap.

There are a few references to egg shampoo around but here’s the one that I used. Essentially, all you do is crack an egg into a cup, whisk it up with a fork, then add a couple of drops of lavender essential oil. Take this into the shower with you, wet your hair and then pour it on. Rub the mixture into your scalp and leave for a couple of minutes, then rinse in coolish water to prevent scrambled eggs on your head!

MY VERDICT:

EGG SHAMPOO – I really, really wanted this to be the answer. I have long, fine hair which is prone to being greasy at the roots and a bit dry at the ends, so maybe I’m asking a lot of the humble egg?

I have to say that I definitely dislike the smell of raw egg, but the lavender oil did help. Also, pouring egg onto your head is actually quite difficult because it’s very runny, so I lost a lot of it down my back (urgh – cold slime!) But, I still had plenty left to apply to my hair, and after a couple of minutes rinsed it out in a slightly cooler-than-usual shower to prevent  any scrambling. The idea of the eggs cooking on your head in the shower sounds like a myth but I didn’t have the time or the inclination to test it out. The cool water was fine as it’s nearly summer and the bathroom is warm but I’m not so sure how pleasant this would be in the depths of winter.

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The view from above of egg-washed hair – not as bad as I thought!

After drying my hair, overall it felt, quite honestly, still a bit dirty and greasy. It looks okay, but I think it still feels a bit unwashed at the back once again.

DAY 7: SHAMPOO BARS & SLS:

I’ve had suggestions to use shampoo bars available from Lush, which I used to use during my teenage years of endless festivals and camping (no spillage!) It turns out that the reason you don’t see shampoo bars around other than in Lush shops is because they own the patent. Good for them; not so good for the environment as it turns out. According to their estimates the shampoo bars have saved around 30 million plastic bottles from heading to landfill. Imagine if the big players in the shampoo industry were doing this too!

Personally, I was reluctant to use Lush shampoo bars as they contain the dreaded Sodium Laureth Sulphate (SLS) which I have spent many years avoiding as it is allegedly a carcinogen. So I wrote to Lush asking if they plan a non-SLS version, which they don’t, however, they have said this: “please rest assured that the SLS we use is completely safe and we use less than half of the industry maximum level” and they went on to say that “any part of it that may be a carcinogen is removed.”

I’ve asked for a bit more information before I’m totally satisfied, so until then, next stop on the no-poo shampoo train is…ketchup!

 

Day 2 – SALTY TOOTHPASTE

HOME-MADE TOOTHPASTE:

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Like most people, I want to start the day with lovely fresh breath and I have used eco-toothpaste to do the job for many years. But I’ve been unable to find toothpaste in anything other than plastic tubes. They are recyclable, but that’s not the point of this challenge, so even though I have a perfectly good and tasty stash of toothpaste staring at me in the bathroom, I’ve ventured into the realms of a home-made, no plastic version.

Actually, it  turns out that toothpaste is incredibly quick and easy to make: it’s literally just coconut oil and bicarbonate of soda mixed together with peppermint oil for that minty fresh taste. The recipe I used is here.

Bicarbonate of soda is a well-known ingredient of many commercially available toothpastes and allegedly helps to remove stains and restore the mouth’s pH balance. Combine that with coconut oil, which is said to have antibacterial, antimicrobial and antifungal properties (the ancient Indian technique of swishing coconut oil around your mouth or oil pulling has been shown to reduce plaque and gum disease) and this all sounds like a good recipe for fresh-breath to me.

Sadly, our bicarb from the back of the cupboard is in an overly-sturdy plastic pot and has already been around for a number of years (and no doubt will be here for a few hundred more). I remember being annoyed about this over-packaging at the time but lack of choice is one of the joys of shopping local.  I’m sure I have bought bicarb of soda previously in a cardboard box, although it would have had a plastic bag inside it, I’m sure.

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MY VERDICT: Home-made bicarb toothpaste tastes pretty foul! There’s no getting away from it. Imagine putting a teaspoon of salt in your mouth and scrubbing, although I have to say that my teeth do feel super clean and the aftertaste is coconutty, so it’s not entirely unpleasant. I didn’t use peppermint extract as I didn’t have any, so maybe this would help (if I can find it being sold in a glass bottle).

I can cope with a bit of saltiness twice a day but I must sort out storage. I mixed the toothpaste in a glass ramekin but it needs a lid and as the coconut oil is fat, I don’t want to store it in plastic due to the leaching, nasty chemicals. What I need right now is a small glass jar. Until I find one, a little piece of foil will have to do (which I’ll recycle afterwards of course!)

***UPDATE*** 3/6/16

Hooray! I have found a local shop that sells unpackaged bicarbonate of soda, and here’s the proof in an old (but clean) takeaway tub:

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If you were wondering – it didn’t cost 4p – that relates to the weight of the tub which they minus off the price of the goods.