I was set a challenge recently; to make up a gift box of treats for a colleague ( thank you lovely Jennifer) and to make it plastic free.
'Piece of cake' i thought. After all, I watched the blue planet. Im good at recycling and being responsible.
I took out my pen and started to draw up a list of all the goodies I could include. This was exciting. I LOVE buying thoughtful gifts..
Lovely Jo Malone candle. Oh. Its wrapped in cellophane before its put in the pretty box.
Nice bath salts - sealed plastic bag
Pretty lipstick - plastic tube. Plastic outer tube.
Chocolates share bag - plastic
Face mask - plastic sachet
I know. Maltesers. They come in a cardboard box - but the box is wrapped in cellophane.
Pretty necklace from boutique shop - oh for goodness sake. WHY does it need a plastic wrapper.
Expensive Hand cream - I give up.....
So it turns out that I nowhere near as good at this as I thought. I spend hours pouring over the internet to work out what was going on.
Why are we using so much plastic?
And why havent we noticed?
why arent we aware that EVERY SINGLE TOOTHBRUSH WE HAVE EVER OWNED STILL EXISTS.
We all know that plastic is bad. 95% of plastic ever made is still in existence. A lot of that is in the oceans causing irreparable damage to the ecosystem and marine life. Manufacturers note in the cryptic small print that the item is (theoretically) recyclable, but councils have neither the technology nor the inclination to recycle anything but the most basic classes of plastic, therefore recyclable or not, the majority ends up in landfill.
Why arent we shouting the message that plastic is bad from the rooftops instead of continuing to use it in vast quantities in a mindless fashion . Has our refuse system become so efficient that we have become disconnected - that we think that things simply disappear when we throw them in the bin?
I refuse to believe that its because we dont care. We definitely care. I think it has become so ingrained in our sense of normality that it actually takes a wake up call to remind us to be more mindful.
Supermarket bags, plastic coated takeaway cups, water bottles, plastic wrapped sandwiches, plastic wrapped everything. All being pushed in us by supermarkets and big chains under the guise of 'convenience'
The cheap, disposable lifestyle is running away with us and reeking havoc with the environment; but is is really all that inconvenient to take a bag with you? Or to take a water bottle out instead of buying water every time we leave the house.
Plastic is being pushed as the easy answer. The panacea of food quality, ease of transport of out of season foods, convenience and instant gratification. Surely none of those things mean anything in comparison to killing sea turtles and irreversibly damaging the delicate ocean ecosystem
I think that this argument may have been lost along the way when it was being championed by hippies and eco warriers. People considered the message to be too far from the mainstream and lost amongst so many other campaigns to be truly heard.
But the tide is slowly turning. The Blue Planet, (spectacular piece of work led by the wonderful David Attenburgh) made us all sit up and think. There is a slow but steady trickle of people pulling out cotton bags at the supermarket, refusing straws in drinks, taking packed lunches to work. Every single action that reduces plastic is an action that is nothing short of heroic. You dont need to do it all. But you should try to do something.
I have now been (mostly) plastic free for a month. Im a professional who enjoys being polished and glamorous so I am definitely not going to suggest going shampoo free or disguising the smell of your sweat with lemongrass oil. It is a steep learning curve, but it is taking me back to a lifestyle which is more mindful and considered. Its also saving me a lot of money! I want to prove that it is possible to live a normal life; a better life, without plastic; and if I can do it, anyone can.
Nothing hits large companies more than the weight of public opinion and spending, so every time we refuse plastic is a small incentive to supermarkets to offer better options. This seemingly inevitable slide to self destruction CAN be stopped. And all it takes is for each person to decide that enough is enough. Its about choice. If we all choose to refuse plastic, then things will change. At present, it is nearly impossible to be plastic free, but if we can aim to significantly reduce or use of disposible items, we could reduce our plastic use by 90% without even noticing.
I challenge you to join me in becoming a plastic hero for April.
TOGETHER, WE CAN START A PLASTIC FREE REVOLUTION.
10 tips to get you started:
1. MAKE A PLEDGE TO SAY NO. Never accept bags from shops. If you forget your bags, either fill up your pockets and carry what you can, or go home empty handed. Its so easy to forget your bag for life, but if we all institute a rule of never accepting new bags, then we will significantly reduce the quantity of bags being generated. When your plastic bag for life is done, replace it with a cotton or canvas bag. They are sturdier and can be thrown in the washing machine to freshen up. I forgot my bag at the greengrocer so stuffed fruit into every pocket and into my sleeves. I havent forgot my bags again...
2. Give up straws. Drinking straws have no real purpose in life, are used for 20 minutes then litter beaches for hundreds of years. You need to be quite clear about this because most bars and restaurants will pop a straw in your drink without you asking. Make sure to specifically ask for No straw. They will get the message if enough people ask. If you really cant live without straws, buy bamboo or steel straws for a plastic free straw experience!
3. NEVER EVER buy fruit and veg packaged in plastic, and dont pick up small bags to keep your fruits separate. There is just no need for fresh items to be packaged - your oranges honestly dont mind if they are touching your apples. Choosing loose items means you have more choice over quantity and ripeness too. Your supermarket should have everything you need loose, but go and have a look at your local fruit market or greengrocers. Take a cotton bag and fill it with goodies.
4. Choose items with plastic free packaging wherever possible. Buy bread from the bakery instead of off the shelf. Buy cheese from the counter and ask them to wrap it in paper or to put it in your own container. Choose chocolate that is foil or paper wrapped rather than a plastic bag of sweets. Be mindful of deliberately rejecting items that are wrapped in plastic. If you are lucky enough to find a store with loose grains, take jars along and fill up.
5. If you really need an item in plastic packaging (eg shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste) and cant find an alternative then choose the largest bottle you can. One large bottle contains FAR less plastic than many smaller bottles.
6. Dont buy packaged lunch foods. Either bring your own lunch from home or sit in a cafe and eat. Dont ever accept plastic cutlery. It might seem like a small thing, but if we all make these small changes then demand will drop and production will slow down.
7. Carry a water bottle. Find a bottle you like and carry it with you at all times. In the uk our drinking water is safe and pleasant to drink, so you can refill anywhere. In europe, water is safe but often has an unpleasant taste. If it stops you buying bottles on the go, buy a water filter bottle, or filter for the house. These are cheap and readily available, and can significantly improve the taste.
8. If you enjoy takeaway coffee, take your own steel takeaway cup. Coffee shop cups are made of plastic lined paper and as such are not recyclable. Most coffee shops offer a discount if you take your own
9. Switch to bar soap. Modern soaps are much kinder to skin that their older counterparts; and one bar will outlast 2-3 bottles of handsoap and showergel
10. MICROBEADS are causing havoc with marine life. These are now banned however there is a good chance that you still have products containing them. If you do, either return the item to the manufacturer and make them take responsibility for disposal, or seal the product in its packaging and put it in the NON recyclable rubbish. If you remove the contents and recycle the packaging, the microbeads will leach into the water system.
Good luck and let me know if you are joining in. I will be running a separate plastics blog so as not to spam the Aer medical page - come over and have a look x