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 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 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 13 & 14 – RETURN OF THE JARS

Saying no to single-use plastic has made me change my shopping habits. Now, instead of wandering the supermarket aisles adding various unlisted things into the trolley, I now have to go to high street shops for very specific things. It’s great visiting the bakers and the green-grocers, but as anyone with small children will appreciate, it’s actually much more difficult and time consuming. Preventing a toddler knocking over displays and eating the produce is way easier if they are confined to a shopping trolley! And don’t even mention pushchairs – I can tell you that where I live, it involves bumping up and down a lot of steps into narrow shops where goodies are all within the “swipe zone”. Then you have to hang on to shopping bags whilst manoeuvring yourself and the pushchair around irritated customers before renegotiating the steps to get out. For everybody’s sanity, this is something I won’t even attempt anymore.

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Bulk buying peanut butter is now out because of the plastic container

As a result I’m tending to shop during my child-free moments, rushing around like a blue-bottomed fly to get it done as quickly as possible. I guess it’s inevitable that this is likely to result in the odd mistake.

For me, shopping in the supermarket nowadays consists of a list of about three or four items, and I’ve often come away with only two due to the lack of non-plastic options. Day 13 was no different; after a whizz round the local shops, I nipped to the supermarket to get a couple of items including peanut butter and jam, knowing that both came in glass jars. Easy, I thought…

The peanut butter is slightly annoying because we used to buy it in large (plastic) containers as it’s way cheaper considering the vast quantities that we consume. And as for the jam, I knew they sold St Dalfour which contains only fruit rather than added refined sugar, so I opted for that, plus a glass jar of peanut butter, then trotted off home.

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The sneaky transparent plastic jar lid seals

The bad news came later on, when my partner was having a piece of toast: “Um, you know this jar has got a plastic seal around the lid?” he shouted. “What? No! OMG! How did I not notice that?” I actually filled with panic, distress and self-loathing at having fallen foul of the plastic-gremlins who seemed determined to trip me up.

Okay, so the jar will have to go back and I’ll simply look for another brand (easier said than done as Meridian peanut butter has a metal rather than plastic lid and doesn’t contain palm oil). But, to add insult to injury, I realised this morning (Day 14) that the jam jar was just the same: another sneaky transparent collar of plastic around the lid.

I actually feel a bit stupid for having not noticed the plastic wrap at the time, particularly as it’s something that even prior to this challenge used to irritate me regularly – why is it even there? What happened to the old pop-top lids which meant it was obvious if a jar had been opened. And if it’s so essential, why do only some jars have them?

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Why are plastic jar seals used instead of pop-top lids?

I’m also starting to think that organic and eco-products are often the worst offenders when it comes to single-use plastic which is somewhat ironic considering the consumers that they’re hoping to attract.

Next job; it’s back to the supermarket to stand in a queue at customer services for half an hour to return the plastic-sealed jars. A fitting penance for my time-saving, rushed-shopping mistake. At least the toddler will be safely confined to a trolley.

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 3 – BULK BUYING

I started my third day (3rd June) of being single-use plastic free with my second venture into our local bulk-buy shop (I had a quick nose around it before the challenge started).

Inside there are lots of containers with scoops, including an actual pick ‘n’ mix for sweets (bonus!) although I did manage to resist them this time. You can get a good variety of stuff including dried fruits, muesli, washing powder (no eco-brands), salt, sugar and rice, but the organic options are limited to flour which I can buy in paper bags anyway.

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The lady behind the till was friendly, helpful and not in the slightest bit judgemental about me bringing my own containers unlike when I had visited previously to enquire (different lady, different attitude). We soon established that although most of my containers (old takeaway tubs) were identical, the price she needed to deduct from each filled tub would depend on what it was filled with. She explained that this slight complication was due to them having a fancy hi-tech till rather than an old fashioned one. In reality, all this meant was that I had to tell her what I wanted to buy first, then she weighed the tub at the appropriate cost and wrote the amount on it that she would deduct at the end. For example, the tub for the bicarbonate of soda was 4p whereas for mixed nuts it was 23p, because their cost per 100g was different.

The good news is that once this has been done I either simply use the same tub with the label already on it next time, or write a list of the tub weight/product prices and take it with me. Good job we’ve had the odd takeaway in our time as we’re going to be using a lot of tubs! (I’m sure I’ll get to blogging about non-plastic container options at some point but for now I’m using the things which are already in our cupboards).

Whilst this might all sound like a big hassle, she did say that if I left all the tubs with her in future she’d fill them all and do the calculations so that I could simply pick them up later in the day. And to add to that, there’s the bonus that it is a genuinely cheaper way to buy many of these products.

I think we’re actually really lucky to have a bulk-buy shop nearby as I’ve been unable to locate any others. I’d be interested to know how common they actually are, so keep your eyes peeled and let me know!

DAY 1 – DIRTY DISHCLOTHS & PLASTIC PUNNETS

A NEW DISHCLOTH?

It’s 8.30am on Day 1 of the challenge and I’m already stumped. I dropped the dish cloth onto the floor and into the “biohazard zone” under the high-chair, so it’s now residing in the washing machine. I automatically peered into the cupboard under the sink for a new one and…oh…we’ve run out. So, my first challenge of the day is: Where on earth do I find dish cloths not wrapped in plastic? Until I work out the answer to this question or think of a suitable alternative, the kitchen table is left un-wiped.

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I am going to admit that whilst I have pre-prepared a number of plastic-free alternatives for this month, I felt it would be ridiculously wasteful and prohibitively costly to throw out things already opened and in use. As a consequence, I’ve been running things down in preparation (as the dish cloth scenario proves!) and my plan is to replace items with single-use-plastic free alternatives as they are used up or as I spot them in the shops. As I’m also inflicting the Plastic Challenge on my partner and toddler, they will both, no doubt be happy to mop up any hint of packaged food on my behalf.

SEARCHING FOR UNPACKAGED ORGANIC BERRIES:

At lunchtime I headed for our local, large organic veg shop with the aim of stocking up on all kinds of goodies: unpackaged fresh fruit and veg at very least. I had my old takeaway tubs in the car at the ready as I was determined to come back with berries of some sort, and as it’s an organic shop, I hoped they wouldn’t think I was entirely mad for taking my own containers (I’m easing myself in gently before facing the high street).

Whilst I managed a good crop of plastic-free shopping which should keep us going for a few days (hooray for brown paper bags which not only contain your vegetables but slow their inevitable demise), I failed completely on the berries. The strawberries were in plastic punnets (no lids) and the blueberries were in plastic punnets with lids. Undeterred, I put them in my trolley knowing that I had my handy takeaway tubs ready for them to be decanted into at the checkout. However, when I asked if they would re-use the containers I was greeted with a mumble about how legislation regarding re-using food packaging is very strict and they couldn’t possibly change the way they operate for the odd person like me. People like me? Odd! A customer who cares about the environment shopping at an organic store you mean? Hmphhh. Then I asked when the neighbouring Pick Your Own would be open and received a grumble about how they spray their crops. Yes, I said, but they will let me use my own containers…I feel a stern email to the shop manager coming on.

On the up side, I did manage to get most things on the list and was able to buy a slice of double chocolate cake packaged in only a brown paper bag. Now, I really do need to find something to replace that dish cloth!