Dreaming of a plastic free life

I have been heartened recently to see the general public starting to get revved up about the dangers of plastic rubbish on our wildlife. David Attenborough and his team on the wonderful TV series Blue Planet II seemed to kick start this. Images of birds feeding plastic to their chicks and marine life throttled by the rings from beer cans do tend to pull on the heartstrings.Now it seems that every other news programme or article features people clearing rubbish from beaches or reports of school children dumping the single use water bottles for reusables. Instagram is full of folk living plastic free lives, or at least attempting to reduce their use of plastic items.

Being plastic free is not mainstream

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Photo courtesy of @strawlessinchico. Check them out on Instagram!

It is tempting to think the anti-plastic campaign is becoming mainstream. However, if I look around my office I see single use bottles on many of my colleague’s desks. Lots of them turn up in the morning with plastic lined disposable coffee cups from a well known coffee chain. To my annoyance, I frequently pull plastic and other recyclables out of the general waste bins in our kitchen area and put them in the recycling bin.

When I go to the supermarket, I see little evidence of a reduction in plastic packaging. Very few items are available in glass or cardboard. Practically every non-canned item is packed in plastic. It’s tricky even to buy your fruit and vegetables loose some of the time. If you can, they are sometimes more expensive! Paper bags are rarely offered, except for mushrooms. Even if shoppers are really motivated to reduce plastic in their lives, manufacturers and retailers aren’t making it easy for us!

I have been carrying my own reusable carrier bags for years. It made me very happy when the 5p levy was introduced on plastic bags in shops, but would prefer it retailers were only allowed to sell reusable fabric ones. Shoppers would soon get into the habit of carrying a couple if they had to pay more for them.

plastic free

Plastic free shopping costs more

Plastic free shopping involves taking your own containers to the butcher, baker or greengrocer. Let’s face it, how many of these independent shops survive? If you live somewhere trendy you might have a plastic free food store where everything is sold loose. These are great (if a little pricey), but my nearest one is 50 miles away. I also don’t have time to go from shop to shop. I work full time, as many of us do, so one trip a week to the supermarket is all that is feasible. Because we need to stick to our budget, Aldi is our supermarket of choice and it’s full of goods carefully wrapped in layers of non-recyclable plastic film. Buying cheaper seems to involve more plastic sadly.

Even my local market – which used to give you everything in paper bags – now throws it all in plastic, unless I manage to stop them first!

A glimmer of hope

All isn’t lost. There are faint glimmerings of hope for a plastic free life. Iceland, for example, is the first supermarket to pledge to get rid of plastic packaging in their own range foods by 2023. This is great news!

I hope the other supermarkets follow suit. What stance are they taking currently?

Aldi states: ‘…in March 2018, we created a wide-ranging packaging reduction strategy and committed to ensuring that all packaging on our own-brand products will be recyclable, reusable or compostable by 2022’.

The Co0p says: ‘Our long term ambition is for all packaging to be recycled where possible’.

Sainsbury’s policy states: ‘We’ve agreed to hit a series of ambitious targets by 2025, including making 100% of our plastic reusable, recyclable or compostable.’

Tesco has pledged to ban all non recyclable plastic packaging by 2019.

This all sounds like a drop in the plastic filled ocean. What about all the products they sell that aren’t own brand?

The solutions?

Sadly, I don’t believe retailers or the general public will do enough to reduce single use plastics – and the subsequent damage to the environment, our health and wildlife – unless they are forced to by Government. It is up to us to pressurise our politicians to do more!

I would love to see a return to deposit return schemes. It was quite a thrill as a kid to collect up glass bottles  and take them back to the corner shop for pocket money! It might even get some of our children off their games consoles…

Greenpeace are currently running a petition to try to persuade the supermarkets to ditch throw away plastic packaging altogether. You can sign it here. You can also find some of my ideas for ways to ditch plastic here.

What do you think about our current levels of plastic waste? What can we do to reduce it in our lives?

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18 thoughts on “Dreaming of a plastic free life

  1. I am sure you are right. There has to be legislation to prevent the proliferation of plastic. And also to stop some items actually being produced, such as straws in plastic. Who apart from an infant or an invalid requires a straw with which to drink, anyway? I drink every day (I don’t mean alcohol) and I’ve never in my life bought straws for the purpose.
    Of course, if food and drink is packaged in glass there are other things to consider – the weight so cost of freight goes up, and also the danger from broken glass – a dropped plastic bottle might bounce, the same can’e be said for a glass bottle. People will have to be prepared to pay more if we are to eliminate the use of plastic, or bring it down to acceptable levels.
    We accept ‘free’ coffee in Waitrose with our My Waitrose cards, but we have reusable coffee cups.
    I fear that as well as plastic, the next problem, although perhaps not such a bad one as plastic, is the vat amount of cardboard being used with so many goods being bought online. Yes, it can be recycled, but the recycling lorries are having to make constant return trips to their depot to dispose of it once it’s been collected, and now the recycling lorries are far behind in our area with their collections.
    Margaret P

  2. I remember years ago packs of four tins of soup and baked beans etc used to be contained with cardboard then all of a sudden it became the thick plastic that is still used today.

    • Yes, I remember this, too, Joan. But the cardboard sometimes used to break and this is why they are now packed tightly in plastic I think. And it’s lighter again for transporting (unfortunately!)

  3. You are spot on Jane. The solution to this huge problem needs to come from the source – stop the plastic packaging before it even reaches the shelves, because, as you say, the individual can only do so much.
    What good is 7 billion individuals doing their bit, when compared to the 700 billion (my guesstimate) plastic bottles of water or fizzy drinks that are being produced. Production always seems to outstrip demand .
    Pressure need to be put on the big companies to change their ways for any real difference to be made, but as Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall discovered when trying to get Kelloggs to switch to the traffic light system on just one of their products, is not easy! 🙁

  4. I have recently bought dry food items from a company called ‘Plastic free pantry’. I ordered online and if you order over £50 delivery is free. I ordered various pasta, porridge oats, rice etc. Everything was delivered in a cardboard box and packaged in paper bags. There service was very helpful and friendly would definitely use again.

  5. I’ve just Google’d it and yep, it’ a UK company. How fab. Slightly dearer than the shops but if you want to do plastic a free shop, then it looks worthwhile, if it fits in with your own beliefs.

  6. I was thinking about this the other day when I washed my plastic yogurt pot out to put in the recycling bin. How else can they package yogurt?

  7. If it’s possible to produce biogradable bags for food waste caddies (provided at no extra cost by our council), surely it must be feasible to develop a type of plastic that eventually rots down , say after a few months, but which leaves no harmful residue in the environment? Perhaps some kind of financial stick or carrot is needed for companies to invest in this.
    Hope you are feeling better next week! Vicki

  8. I never use the little plastic bags when buying fruit and veg – it just gets put in the trolley loose and I’ve used my own bags for years for groceries. I’ve also stopped using shower gels and buy bar soap that is wrapped in paper. I have my own reusable coffee cup. I think there was an article, possibly in the Daily Mail, about a family who tried to go ‘ plastic free ‘ for one month and their overall shopping bill rose by about £100. I’d love to be completely plastic free but certainly couldn’t afford that sort of increase in my budget.

  9. I have been a soap advocate for donkey’s years, Jane and Fiona. But it must be fine quality soap otherwise it just goes mushy. But you get what you pay for, and quality soap is also one of life’s luxuries. I once tried shower gel and didn’t like it at all, nasty slimy stuff and, again, in plastic.

  10. The bulk of our produce here in Canada is sold loose. It amazes me when I see people put a bunch of bananas in a plastic bag.

    In France, and now here, some brands of yogurt are sold in glass pots. It’s roughly twice the price of yogurt sold in plastic.

    Most deli counters will fill your containers with coleslaw or potato salad if you bring them.

  11. It’s great to hear the news about Iceland going plastic free; although I can’t imagine what it actually looks like! Another side of things is that ready made veg in plastic bags etc do make things much easier for those with certain disabilities however.

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