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 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.

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 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!

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.