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

Monthly challenge: Catch the compost fever…

8th February 2011 by

This month we challenge you to start composting. Where there’s a will – there’s a way and we’ve got a wheelbarrow full of different ways to do it.

Why compost you ask?

The UK sends more waste to landfill than any other European county, with more than 27 million tonnes of waste going to landfill each year. This has earned the UK the title of the ‘dustbin of Europe’. More than a third of this household rubbish is kitchen or garden waste. Green waste in landfills does not break down through natural composting and instead gives off methane, a greenhouse gas which is around 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide and since the 1960s has increased in the air 1% per year (twice as fast as the build up of CO2). Organic substances need the proper environment to biodegrade and landfills aren’t one of them. Most landfills are too tightly packed, and there’s a possibility of industrial processing which skews the biodegradation process. Quite aside of the issue of wasting all that food, the environmental benefits of keeping green waste out of landfills are pretty clear!

If you need even more reasons on why to compost, read on:

1. Economic Benefits: Using compost can reduce the need for water, fertilizers, and pesticides. It serves as a marketable commodity and is a low-cost alternative to standard landfill cover and artificial soil amendments. It can also aid the government to cut disposal costs for waste and spend it on other social services.

2. Garden and Soil Improvement: Compost can improve soil texture, nutritional quality and can help regenerate poor soils. It has also been shown to suppress plant diseases and pests, promote high yields of agricultural crops, prevent erosion and silting on embankments parallel to creeks, lakes, and rivers, and prevents erosion and turf loss on roadsides, hillsides, and playing fields.

3. Helping Biodiversity: Currently, peat bogs are being destroyed to make potting compost. When making your own compost, you can avoid purchasing it from the shops at the same time as encouraging worms and keeping birds happy.

One of the most obvious ways of keeping green waste out of landfill is not to throw away so much in the first place. Some amount of food waste is going to be inevitable, so home composting your peelings and egg-shells along with greenery from your garden can be a big help. Even if you have almost no wastage and a tiny garden, home composting can still make a worthwhile contribution to solving the bigger problem.

And in the future, perhaps the government could turn it into eco fuel.

Make Your Own:

If you’ve got some outdoor space, creating your own compost is easy in a bought compost bin, a homemade bin or a big pile. Earth Friends have loads of advice on all three options and some advanced composting tips.

If you’re feeling adventurous go all out a build your own wormery.

If you’re short on space make your own mini composter.

Or find out if your local authority is subsidising compost bins (and water butts and all sorts of other garden goodies).

Get your food waste collected:

If you don’t have an outside area to create your own compost, you still have plenty of other alternatives.

1. Home collection for garden and kitchen waste
Many local authorities and community organisations will collect waste from your home for composting. Many of them compost this waste and sell it for use at home. Green waste collections are often free but some councils charge a small fee.
To find your local council website that deals with disposing of garden waste click here.

2. Taking garden waste to a recycling centre
You can also take garden waste to your local household waste and recycling centre (civic amenity site). You will find skips for garden waste that will be composted, and the compost sold or used locally. Your council looks after local waste and recycling centres and can advise you on opening times and locations. To find more information in your borough, click here.

3. Community composting
Contact an organisation like the Community Composting Network to get involved in composting projects and for other examples of Centralised Community Composting Schemes around the UK, click here.

Pester your local authority:

Council collections of food waste are on the up, but not all of us have access to them yet. So let your council know that you’d like them to collect your food waste that you very much and encourage your neighbours to do the same.

We’ve even made you a template letter/ email to get you started:

To Whom It May Concern,

I am concerned about the millions of tons of rubbish going to landfill each year in the UK and the greenhouse effect of methane caused by green waste and food waste in landfill sites. I think I can reduce my household waste by at least 30% by recycling food waste, but I have no way to do it myself. I would like the council to help me by providing a doorstep food recycling scheme, or by advising other ways that I can recycle my food waste.

Thank you in advance for your assistance,

Yours sincerely,
[insert name here]

[insert address here]


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