My Drastic Plastic Fast part 2 – Have I bitten off more than I can chew?

14th June 2012 by

It’s reached Day 3 of my Drastic Plastic Fast: my quest not to buy any plastic or plastic-packaged thing for one month. Part 1 explains why. And if you still need persuading that this is a subject that demands attention and action, have a look at this astonishingly beautiful but devastating video by Chris Jordan (who is trying to raise crowdfunding for what looks like a film well worth supporting).

My decision to try this plastic fast was a sudden one that I hadn’t given much thought to, and on the evening of Day 1 we sat down to figure out what it might mean for our household.

At first glance, it seemed like a piece of (unpackaged, home-baked) cake, which would need a wee bit of planning and few minor tweaks to our habits. So we wouldn’t buy plastic-wrapped vegetables? No problem! We tend to avoid them anyway.

But the more we thought it through, the more we realised just how much we’d bitten off – just how much plastic has pervaded our lives and our buying habits, including what we tend to think of as necessities as well as a lot of our favourite luxuries. Cutting down? No problemo! Cutting it out altogether? Ay caramba!

So here’s a list of the things that on Day 1 we quickly came to realise were going to present serious headaches if we were to find plastic-free alternatives. If you’ve got tips that will help, please get thee to the comments box below.

  • Coffee! Our Fairtrade organic coffee, bought from Oxfam, comes in a plastic pouch. We’re going to have to find a paper-wrapped alternative – but would it also be Fairtrade and organic?
  • Parmesan - aaargh!
  • Hair products – are we facing a month of dirty, fluffy hair when our shampoo and conditioner run out?
  • Saturday’s newspaper – we’re going to have to cancel it thanks to that plastic bag the magazine comes wrapped in – so no lazy Saturday morning in bed with the paper.
  • Cleaning materials – yes, we do already get refills of old bottles for our laundry liquid and washing up liquid – but have you ever seen toilet cleaner refills? Me neither. And what if we hadn’t wanted a plastic refill bottle in the first place?
  • Cooking oil and olive oil – even the glass bottles come with those plastic glugger things under the caps.
  • Compost – our organic peat-free compost comes in… plastic sacks of course.
  • Contact lenses!
  • No more money-saving big tubs of peanut butter
  • Cigarettes and lighters (obviously this is A Good Thing and a hurdle that I welcome!)
  • Washing up sponges – we’ve been using those plasticky foam ones (they’re so cheap, a pound or two for 10), and go through them quickly.
  • Our staples: couscous, rice, pasta.
  • Medicine – if we get sick, is it possible to have pills dispensed loose?!
  • Toothpaste – I’m stumped…
  • Bike bits – parts, tools, accessories.

To cut a long story short, we’ve got a lot of research to do, possibly a lot of travelling to find what we need in the packaging we need, and probably a bit of heavy lifting, for example if we need to upgrade to those massive hessian sacks of rice you can get in cash’n’carries (though aren’t even those sacks mostly plastic now?).  But it’s going to be really interesting, hopefully a lot of fun, very revealing and, I feel pretty sure, inspiring.

I’m sure we’ll come across some amazing alternatives that will take us by surprise, and I’ll be sharing those here when we find them.

So here’s find number 1: the washing up sponge issue is resolved already, thanks to a trip to Otesha’s local organic shop at Spitalfields. Here you see poor Sam on the right unhappily modelling the oil-derived, plasticky sponge of old. The happy fellow on the left, however, is sporting a luffa sponge. A fairly traded product from the Philippines, the label says it’s made of “a plant material that locks in carbon then biodegrades”, and grown without petrochemicals. The claim is that they last for up to a year, so I’ll be curious to see if that holds true. The cherry on the cake is that the makers encourage me to “recycle in your compost or wormery”. Happy to oblige.

 Head to Part 3 for some inspiring solutions

8 Responses to “My Drastic Plastic Fast part 2 – Have I bitten off more than I can chew?”

  1. I love you’re challenge. Never having attempted to become totally plastic-free I can’t offer a total solution, but I wondered if the following might help:

    Re shampoo, high-street retailer Lush sells shampoo bars, also deodorant bars if that’s any help for the future. They are packaging free, not even wrapped in paper. :)

    Toothpaste replacement: Lush can help here too as they sell boxes of toothy tabs, small tablets which are chewed and begin foaming when you apply a toothbrush and water. Definitely an acquired taste but worth a try.

    Oils: some Holland & Barrett health stores now have refillable services. I’ve also spotted refill ’boutiques’ being set up for olive oil and spirits in places such as York, so there may also be some nearby.

    Are you able to get to Unpackaged? It’s a shop in Islington that encourages you to take your own containers for all sorts of basic products. It would be great to have such a store in every retail centre. Some independent health stores offer limited refill options, but this particular grocer provides a great range of produce.

    Hope these help in some way. Good luck with the rest of the challenge, looking forward to seeing how you get on.

  2. Gavin says:

    That’s brilliant, thanks Karen. Those are really useful tips. I was totally stumped about toothpaste, so I’m going to try out these tabs. We’ve got a Lush not far from us, which is really lucky.

    And Unpackaged I’m really excited about – it could solve a lot of my problems in one place, though it’s a trek across London from my home. So this weekend I intend to go armed with a load of empty containers and see what staples I can stock up on.

    Thanks for your encouragement!


  3. polythenepam says:

    Ecover do toilet cleaner refill – they have a link on their website telling where refill services are offered…. and you could take a steel bottle.

    Compost? Try a worm bin – you can one (plastic) or make one – again you could try a steel bucket.

    Parmesan? Try a posh cheese shop and take your own bags – failing that you might have to go to Italy.

    Deli counters? get some PLA cornstarch pots and you can still have delightful things. You have to convince them to use them but one that bridge is crossed.

    Lists of suppliers can be found at on my blog.

    Boutique oil shops – York? I never knew. Can I really have plastic free oils???? joy!

  4. polythenepam says:

    you can still get matches – but what’s the point if you cant smoke. What’s the point of anything ……

  5. polythenepam says:

    Here are places to buy your own compostable and reusable bags and PLA deli pots for plastic free shopping – if I can submit links? Soon find out x

  6. Constantino says:

    I hope I am not too late with some suggestions.

    If I remember correctly monmouth coffee comes in paper bags. There used to be an outlet in Bermondsey market and a larger shop nearby in Borough but this was some years ago so a) they may now be selling each coffee individually cellophane wrapped, or b) closed.

    As for hair, it may not be ideal but a small drop of olive oil can stand in for hair product in the short term, if you manage to find olive oil that doesn’t come in a plastic bottle. You could go one further and try engine oil, which comes with the added benefit of leaving you smelling like a mechanic.

    That’s all for now, good luck!

  7. Gavin says:

    Thanks, Costa. Unpackaged has helped with the coffee issue, but it’s a bit too coarsely ground, so we may check out Monmouth – but is it Fairtrade…?

    Engine oil, eh? You’re a one.

  8. Kerry Lane says:

    Brilliant! I think most of your problems have already been addressed, but if you cannot find cleaning products with out plastic then there are lots of really good ways of cleaning with bicarb and vinegar etc.

    Not for you specifically but demijohn in york, glasgow and edinburgh do oil refills as do quite a few wholefood shops.

    Some wholefood shops also have peanut butter makers so you can take your own giant tub along and it is usually cheaper than the jars anyway.

    Compost, either make your owner or find someone who owns a horse…

    I’m guessing you are just going to have to wear glasses rather than contacts although a google search suggests that biodegradable contact lenses are on the horizon..

    If you get ill then you might have to look into herbal medicine, it works better for most things anyway.

    And then you might have to get a bit heath robinson on the bike parts!

    Good luck!

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