Plastic diet

Currently we are a week into Plastic-free July:

The challenge is quite simple. Attempt to refuse single-use plastic during July. “Single-use” includes plastic shopping bags, plastic cups, straws, plastic packaging…basically anything that’s intended only to be used once and then discarded. If refusing ALL single-use plastic sounds too daunting this time, try the TOP 4 challenge (plastic bags, bottles, takeaway coffee cups & straws).

It may be ‘quite simple’ to write down, but trying to cut single-use plastics out of my life completely is very difficult in the world I occupy. In fact, although I don’t use anywhere near as much single-use plastic as I might, there’s still quite a bit coming into our house and going out via the recycling.

If I really wanted to cut out single-use plastic completely , I’d have to make a lot of changes to my diet and my life in general. However, the TOP 4 challenge outlined above is way behind me:

  • I’ve been using cloth shopping bags for years – many are home-made from fabric off-cuts, and I also have my crochet string bag.
  • We use bamboo charcoal to improve the quality of the tap water we drink, and have (metal) water bottles to transport it in when we are out and about.
  • We have insulated cups to use on the rare occasions that we have take-out coffee. Mine was bought in Boston MA more than 15 years ago.
  • I can’t remember when I last used a straw; apart from anything else, they are bad because they encourage you to suck your drink between your teeth, where it’s difficult to clean.
We've already dealt with the TOP 4

We’ve already dealt with the TOP 4

I have cut down on the use of other plastics too, for example: making my own granola means that many of the ingredients (oats, mixed seeds, malted wheat) come in paper bags (which I compost) although I can’t yet source paper-packaged pumpkin seeds and dates; buying from our local farms and greengrocers means completely packaging-free or at least paper-wrapped vegetables; growing our own food eliminates all packaging; using loose tea not tea bags takes out that source of hidden plastic; taking our own containers when we buy tea and coffee and using locally-made soap means no packaging. In addition, we try to reuse as much plastic as possible, for example saving and reusing plastic posting bags and padded envelopes.

Some things, though, I can’t find a plastic-free option for. Milk and yoghurt, at least round here, only seem to come in plastic containers. I try to minimise plastic by buying in large containers – more product per unit of plastic – but it would be lovely to have access to milk in glass bottles or to be able to take my own container to be filled. I often make my own yoghurt, but the milk still comes in a plastic bottle to begin with.

So, I’ve decided that I can’t eliminate single-use plastics from my life entirely, but I can do more than I have been… and that’s what I’m going to do (and write a bit about) this month. And so, I’m embarking on a ‘single-use plastic diet’… I’ll let you know how I get on!

Oh… and if you’ve read the suggestion (I’ve seen it on blogs and Facebook several times) that all the plastic ever made is still in existence, I can tell you that this is not quite true… if you burn it, it stops being plastic, but may turn into ‘nasities’ in the air and residue. However, take heart, because there are bacteria that can help us; take a look at the film below to be inspired by a couple of young women scientists and the work they have been doing:



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  1. The argument between plastic and glass is a difficult one. It would be nice to be able to buy things in glass. But glass makes the item heavier, so it cost more to ship and takes more petrol to deliver. It’s a quagmire I’ve been stuck in for a while. Doesn’t seem like anyone’s come up with a clear answers.

    • So true… wouldn’t it be great to buy local and use your own containers for things like milk? I do like the fact that I can refill my washing-up liquid etc containers easily now. The thing that really annoys me is unnecessary or excessive packaging – I like, for example, to be able to buy my cauliflower au naturel… no need for any plastic there despite what some supermarkets think!

  2. Plastic yogurt pots get reused here as seed pots. Plastic bottles getting a turned into indoor watering devices and water containers for picnics. Play groups etc could probably use both for home made musical instruments! Love hearing your recycling ideas.

    • I’d like to think that there was no such thing as single use plastic and that we could reuse all of it at least once! I make plant labels out of cut up plastic milk bottles.

  3. There are some plastic lids that make great saucers for those plastic pots.

  4. Debra

     /  July 7, 2015

    I have been trying to do this for years and it is so hard to completely eliminate it. Plastic is everywhere and I too have been shocked to see things like apples wrapped in plastic. As bad as that sounds the story gets worse: they were organic apples. That shop clearly didn’t understand who would consider buying an organic apple and why. Same for the organic bananas. They come wrapped up in a plastic band that proudly states they are organic while the conventionally grown ones come plastic free. Crazy. We are so close to zero free waste at our house but it bothers me that the waste we do still take to the curb is nearly all plastic.

    • We occasionally have some sort of composite thing that we can’t recycle or compost or reuse… it’s very frustrating, but the pointless plastic is downright annoying.

  5. What’s particularly annoying is that they could use cellulose for their pointless plastic, and we could then compost it. Peak Oil is eventually going to make plastics too expensive to produce, and there’s a lot of research going on into alternatives – corn starch, for example. But the most imaginative I’ve seen is using cow poo to ferment a plastic using bacterial action. Take a look:

  6. excellent post! I am very happy with my two supermarkets, one uses paper bags (re-usable!) and the other collects plastic shopping bags for recycling. Of course, I try to avoid plastic as much as possible all together. Also, I was relieved to discover that none of my beauty products have the micro plastic in it..I was shocked when I found out about this! And this article is a promise for the future I’d say:
    Thank you for sharing and making us all aware, Johanna

    • I wrote about microbeads a few weeks back and lots of readers were appalled… fortunately many of us seem to use more natural products and so we’re not washing these tiny bits of plastic down the drain.
      A saw the story about Lego a few days ago too. It made me smile to think of our ‘family’ Lego – some of which originally belonged to my brother, who is now in his 60s. We’ve started giving it to other children outside the family recently, because there are currently no youngsters inside the family. It’s great to think, though, that the original Lego is so long-lived and still enjoyed by new generations (I’m not sure that the current trendy stuff will have the same appeal in years to come).

  7. Interesting. I reuse almost everything, so don’t think too much about the amount of plastic. Since I’ve thought about it, I realize it isn’t that much, but I do have a bag of recycling to take out, so perhaps I could still do better!

  8. I carry my own reusable take out containers when dining out since I always have a second meal from the leftover. Some of our restaurants (actually many) have started using paper or recyclable take way containers but I just keep using mine over and over. I have to use plastic straws but have been going on the same box for years. I carry them in my purse in a plastic ziplock bag to keep them clean. The bendy kind because I can’t drink from cups or glasses without them. I tried the metal and glass straws. to long and unwieldy. I have been using cloth bags even when the clerks sneered at me because they were awkward to load. In Germany they charged for plastic bags. Everyone brought their cloth bags. I keep 2 hooked onto my handbag that are nylon and roll into themselves.

    I knew someone would come up with a solution to break the plastic back down. First we create a problem, then the solution. It’s what humans do. I prefer things in glass especially stuff like food and tomato sauce. Hard to find in glass. The weight thing is an issue. I’m old and somethings are hard to handle now. But the issue really is use prudence with everything. If we need to use anything, doing it with forethought and conscience. Be thrifty with everything. Except out tolerance and kindness. Good luck with your challenge. I’m anxious to hear how it goes.

  9. This has been an odd evening of reading. I just popped over to another blog and found the plus side of plastic. I adore Alicia and you may too. Take a peek if you have a moment .

    • It is true that plastic has all sorts of positive uses… I just feel there is a time and a place… and round a cabbage isn’t it!

      • Someone explained that the transport of some veggies caused them to lose flavor if not wrapped. So the end result is we should all buy local or grow out own. I’m not fond of excess wrapping either. Go out of my way to avoid it. It’s that thing about moderation and balance. And not needing more landfills. Alicia opened my eyes a little as to why those little pods were possibly a good thing. I guess lots of people have to buy the convenience so people like her have it. Me, I go for the bulk stuff but glad there is something to make her life easier.

  10. Completely off topic but I found this pattern for the sweetest snail yesterday and immediately thought of you. I haven’t seen this one around the tracks before. You need Google translate to get the pattern but it’s free and lovely πŸ™‚

  11. sarahfoto

     /  July 9, 2015

    I think it’s crazy, the amount of plastic we have to take to the recycling station every week, quite scary actually. One good thing about living in Sweden though is all milk- and yoghurt containers are made of paper. They have been for as long as I can remember. Also you get money when you bring back your empty drink bottles and cans to the shop. Which at the same time helps prevent littering since there homeless people and kids picking up all the cans some people leave behind.

    • I’m so envious that you don’t have all that plastic packaging for milk and yoghurt… the only thing I can think to do is to find a farm that will sell me milk direct… although I know there are all sorts of health regulations 😦

  12. Those two young scientists are great. What an inspiration.

    • They are, aren’t they? I found all sorts of other stuff on the web about degradation of plastic by micro-organisms, but I really wanted to share the work of two bright and vibrant young women at the start of their scientific careers.

  13. Every now and then I go on an “avoiding plastic” drive but it’s just too difficult to sustain. If I scan and pack as I go at the supermarket at least I can take things out of their bags and leave the rubbish at the shop. Apparently there’s less wastage on a shrink wrapped red cabbage – the outside leaves don’t degrade so you can use them. But … surely the outside leaves are simply organic packaging.

  14. Nice post. We have been working on reducing our plastic use/purchases for quite some time. Though some things seem to only come in plastic. It continues to be a struggle for us, but we do make conscience decisions on what we buy… opting for items that can be recycled, composted, or reused.

    • I think that’s all we can do – think about our choices and take action where we can. Removing all single-use plastic would just be too difficult without completely changing my life. However, I have realised that I can reduce some other plastics in my life and I’ll be writing about that soon.

  15. Thanks for bringing up this topic and, yes, I agree with your other readers, it can be difficult. We got rid of a lot of plastics several years back and since I hunkered down and really learned how to cook from scratch, it’s much easier. And not really that time-consuming if you plan well. The biggest struggle can be giving up that “on-demand” convenience thang and seeing how that trade-off is not always the healthiest let alone tastiest option. Good luck with your goals! πŸ™‚

    • Thank you… when I stopped going out to work (I now work from home) I started cooking pretty much everything from scratch and I’m sure that has made a difference to the amount of plastic waste we generate. This is partly because I now buy lots of things in bulk because I know they will get used up; as a result there is less packaging per unit of product. Fortunately we can afford to do this, but many others are not so lucky.


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