Plastic is news

Since I last wrote, I’ve been seeing a huge amount in the media about the evils of single-use plastics. It feels like, finally, the rest of the world is catching up with what many of us have known for ages. I’ve seen discussions about un-recyclable coffee cups, drinks bottles, straws, microbeads, microfibres, plastic bags, cotton buds, vegetables wrapped in plastic… the list goes on. I hope that if you’ve read my posts over the years, the issue will not come as a big surprise to you. Perhaps it’s something you have already taken action on – remember every piece of plastic we don’t use, is one less that could become pollution. Some bigger things are afoot, however, as this wave of public concern starts to penetrate the consciousness of politicians and makes retailers and manufacturers worry that sales will suffer. For example:

  • Here in the UK a ban on microbeads in cosmetics came into force earlier this month.
  • There is increasing pressure for a deposit scheme on plastic drinks bottles, and this is the recommendation of the UK government’s Environmental Audit Committee in a recent report.
  • The supermarket Iceland announced this week that they plan to eliminate plastic packaging from all their own-brand products within five years.

But it is important to remember that you don’t have to wait for someone else to take action or to make a difference. You can vote with your wallet and you can, as an individual, make a difference. It’s easy enough to find lists of simple changes to make – say no to plastic straws and disposable coffee cups, buy cotton buds with paper sticks, take your own shopping bags and so on. You might, however, think a bit more creatively.

IMGP4905

home made moisturiser

Cosmetics are particular culprit when it comes to over-packaging, but it is possible to cut down on this if you think about your purchases. It’s easy enough to buy soap in paper rather than plastic, for example. I always used to use shower gel because I found soap too harsh on my skin, but a little bit of experimenting and I’ve found lovely mild soaps that I use all the time now. Similarly, I’ve stopped buying liquid hand-wash and now just use bar soap – my favourite in the kitchen is one that has coffee grounds in it to act as a mild abrasive (what a great alternative to tiny bits of plastic). I also use solid shampoo now, which again comes plastic-free. These days I make my own moisturiser (and I also supply my sister with it) because I got so fed up with all the packaging and the difficulty in avoiding palm oil. The ingredients do come in small plastic bags, but the amount of single-use plastic involved is tiny compared to the lotions and potions I could buy in my local chemist (drug store). In addition, it’s fun to make and very easy (I started with a kit from Aromantic).

In fact, if you have time, making all sorts of things yourself can cut down on plastics. My homemade biscuits involve relatively little plastic packaging (cocoa container lid, golden syrup lid, organic chocolate chips bag) and absolutely no palm oil. My bread only encounters single-use plastic around the yeast and salt, and my leek and potato soup is plastic-packaging free. I know it takes time to shop for plastic-free ingredients and then to combine them into the food you want to eat, but it is such a worthwhile activity – healthier for you and for the planet.

 

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43 Comments

  1. I’ve started to make a ‘family’ of mesh drawstring bags in different sizes to take shopping with me for weighing out vegetables and other loose items, instead of the plastic flimsies that supermarkets would like you to use. I’m also considering waxed wrappers to take to the butcher for wrapping meat, instead of plastic and paper. I wish our state government would follow the example of South Australia and introduce a deposit scheme; it’s worked well in SA for years. It’d stop the dreadful litter of plastic bottles in our waterways and in our seas.

    Liked by 4 people

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    • I made a few drawstring produce bags out of some old muslin that had been curtains, but I could really do with some more. Much of our produce comes from a greengrocers that only has paper bags, so it’s not a huge problem if I forget or don’t have enough… and the Friday market people don’t have bags at all, so everything goes in your shopping bag or basket or in a spare box and it never seems to be a problem because all their customers are well-trained!
      I agree about deposit schemes for plastic bottles… anything to reduce the number I see discarded in hedges and washed up on the beach.

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  2. We have a long way to go here. I recently drove down Adderley Street (city centre) on a Saturday afternoon and was utterly shocked and disgusted by the amount of litter blowing around the streets, most of it plastic. I hate to say it but most people don’t actually give a s**t.

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    • Yes, sadly there needs to be some centralised drive to sort things out… and lots and lots of education. And goodness knows the resources that need to be put into the clean-up of the oceans.

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  3. Absolutely!

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  4. France has made us take our own shopping bags to the supermarkets for years now so I’m used to it but the markets still use them which is annoying. I have to say though that, when I was in the U.K. recently, I was a bit peeved to be handed some underwear I’d just bought that I then had to shove in my handbag. That was M&S and, say what you like about Primark, their bags are all brown paper. Why can’t all the shops use paper bags? I would still pay for it if necessary but wouldn’t resent it so much.
    Bottled water drives me mad. The shops here are stacked high with it and people buy it by the multipack. I can’t bear to think of the mountain of plastic bottle waste throughout the entire world.

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    • Yes, bottled water really bugs me… people think it’s better than tap water, but in fact that’s generally not true.
      I try always to carry a shopping bag with me, but sometimes I forget and you are quite right, the option of paying for a paper bag would be very helpful.

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  5. This is something I’ve become aware of recently. I know, I know, it’s terrible that it’s taken me so long. I have used reusable shopping bags for a good 10 years so I’m not as bad as I could be… I sew up old worn duvet covers to make them. I’m currently trying out bar soap (which I’d avoided because of my eczema but have found a good one), bar shampoo (I like!) and bar conditioner (I hate this! Any suggestions for an alternative?). I’m a bit worried about making my own moisturiser due to my sensitive skin and eczema. I’ve joined a couple of facebook groups/pages and I’m trying to make a difference.

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    • take a look at the Aromantic (link in the main post) web site for ingredients for sensitive skin moisturiser and ask them questions if you are unsure – they are very good.
      I don’t use conditioner on my hair, but do wash it with castile olive oil soap (from allnaturalsoap.co.uk) if I think it needs some tlc.
      Every single thing that you do, however insignificant it seems to you, will make a difference! Keep up the good work.

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  6. Laurie Graves

     /  January 23, 2018

    Wonderful suggestions! And they come at a great time for me as I have been thinking about how I can reduce my use of plastic, live greener, and all that jazz. Many, many thanks! I’ll be rereading this post.

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  7. With Faith in Nature shampoos/conditioners etc. there are places where you can refill your bottles just as with washing up liquid.

    I have seen it suggested on another wordpress blog today that paper bags actually have a higher carbon footprint than plastic ones. The blog didn’t give a source so I haven’t checked it out.

    Sadly I think the only way to really stamp on this is a significant tax on all single use plastics and even a tax on the plastic bags for life.

    And lastly, unless they are made from recycled fabrics, avoid cotton bags as they have a horrendous water and carbon footprint. Hemp, Jute and a few other fabrics are much better.

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    • I too have read the carbon footprint claim, but I think it’s a bit of a red herring when clearing up plastic pollution is not taken into account in the equation and the value of actively managed tree plantations for carbon emission limitation is only just being quantified (see http://nordicforestresearch.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/tryck-engelsk-A4.pdf). However, by far the best solution is to minimise packaging entirely… like the refills idea. I love refills – we now get our olive oil that way too.
      I have several cotton shopping and produce bags – I make them myself out of old fabric that’s had a past life as something else… as, apparently do several of the other commenters today. The problem is that, in general, we are trained to think that the answer to everything is to buy something, rather than not to buy anything or repurpose something or repair it or make a new one from old materials.
      You may be right about (dis)incentives, though… we just haven’t got a culture of creativity yet

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  8. Our bug bear is food wrappings, and we do try to use the local farm shop when ever possible. Our own produce is increasing, so year on year the waste will reduce. We are guilty of some frozen produce trays and bread bags, but the trays are often kept for various things and the bags get used to keep cheese fresh. As we don’t eat that much bread we tend to run quite short of them. After that they can be used for more goopy waste. I’ll dig out a post a friend posted to make your own bin bags, which look good.
    But what about chocolate? A girl has to have chocolate… No good me making cake as it wouldn’t keep. Hehe!

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    • Yes, food wrappings are very difficult to avoid… but the main thing is that we avoid plastics where we can… which I know you do. I buy my chocolate for cooking in bulk, so although there is a bit of plastic, it’s relatively little and I’m hoping that this sort of thing will disappear as manufacturers come under pressure.

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  9. In this country several of our big box stores have been charging for plastic bags for a few years now. I don’t think 10 cents is enough of a dis-incentive though. My local supermarket, which carries a large and increasingly varied amount of organic and wholefoods, is discontinuing plastic bag supply within two years and I have noticed more and more of us rocking up with our own bags. I buy much of my cosmetic needs from Wendy who makes and sells as Tumbleweeds here in NZ. She’s a bit of a whizz with her soaps and skin care range. I’m sure every country has someone beavering away in their little cottage industry making good products ethically. It’s a good initiative to support if you can’t make for yourself.

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    • My friend Val makes soaps and solid shampoos in Cornwall and some of mine come from her – one of the great things she does is send her stuff out in reused packaging.
      Here in Wales there is a statutory charge for plastic shopping bags that has been in place for years now. Most people don’t really think about it now, but on the rare occasions I go to a big supermarket, I still see some people happily forking out for flimsy plastic bags – like you say, they aren’t nearly expensive enough, charge £1 each and people really would think twice..

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  10. You are so right on all fronts, particularly your points about just starting somewhere, and reducing plastic use, even if we cannot, at first, eliminate it. I wrote about this myself recently – see https://leapinglife.wordpress.com/2018/01/21/solving-the-global-pollution-crisis-means-reducing-waste-generation-lets-get-to-it/ – in response to the recent Good Housekeeping article on how to reduce waste, which I thought was practical and helpful – did you see their list and what did you think?

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    • I didn’t see their list, but I will check it out now. At the moment I feel that getting people to do anything and raising awareness is the most important thing. Once people are more educated I think more big companies will see the commercial benefit of doing their bit. The UK government’s targets are woeful, so the drive has to come from elsewhere.

      Liked by 1 person

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      • As ever, people need to vote with their feet. It’s a bit chicken and egg, because part of what makes them do so is economics – like the success of charging for plastic bags. As individuals we need to ramp up pressure on each other, the government and companies; at the same time businesses need to embrace innovative ways of helping consumers to operate differently.

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  11. It’s disgusting to see how much plastic packaging companies will use for a small item and I refuse to buy anything that has a plastic fortress around it. And single-use plastics (like this stupid coffee pods) drive me batty!!! Any plastic around my house gets reused like crazy, but it’s frustrating that so many organic items in the grocery store come in non-recyclable plastic containers, whereas the non-organic stuff is in packaging that is fully and easily recyclable. It’s a conundrum over wanting to do the right thing by going organic, but feeling guilty over the plastic. Anyway, your moisturizer looks lovely…just don’t confuse it with the mayonnaise :)).

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    • Funny you should say that about the mayonnaise, but I was reading up on all the ingredients and the company they come from states very clearly that all of them are edible… so, in theory it could be eaten… not that I’m going to try!
      You are so right about organic produce from the supermarket coming in the worst packaging. This was one of the reasons I stopped using supermarkets for fresh fruit and veg – it is so frustrating.

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  12. Murtagh's Meadow

     /  January 23, 2018

    Great post. I have been thinking about this topic quite a bit and looking at ways of reducing plastic in our household.

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  13. I read an article earlier about how we’re now looking to the past for a plastic-free future – with particular emphasis on cloth nappies and glass milk bottles.

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  14. It’s good so many of us are trying to be more conscientious about our treatment of the earth. I don’t even use make up and haven’t for well over 10 years. I think that all this new information coming out is such a wonderful thing. I know growing up in Germany, we brought our own bags when we went shopping down town but the base commissary gave us paper bags. They didn’t want to mess with the cloth bags way back then. Maybe all this waste stuff started her to begin with. Sad. Now that we all know better, we can do better. I am so much more thrifty about everything now that I’m more aware. Maybe the pendulum will swing the other way again soon.

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  15. You still lead from the front as usual Jan.It’s a pity the local authorities don’t start educating people more and put pressure on local businesses to change.
    xxx Massive Hugs xxx

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    • Local government could do so much, but they seem completely oblivious to almost everything in their communities – I have no idea what decade they are actually living in most of the time!

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  16. Great post! And you’re right it does feel as if the rest of the world is finally waking up. Well, some of it anyway. I was thinking recently about making my own cosmetics, particularly moisturiser. Do you have book you could recommend or a link to any good home made cosmetic recipes?

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    • If you look at the Aromantic site, they have recipes and all sorts of information; they also run courses. I started off by buying one of their kits with all the necessary ingredients plus recipes. It’s actually not a difficult process – you have a fatty/oily part and water and then you combine them in the presence of an emulsifier and they turn into something that looks like commercial moisturiser. The real shock is when you realise that 75% of the stuff is just water and that’s what you are mainly paying Olay (or whoever) for. My latest moisturiser has a small proportion of cocoa butter in it and it’s lovely.

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  17. Just to say I found a toothpaste sold in metal tubes. They could be re-cycled, but they make great plant labels when flattened out. Also a switch to bamboo toothbrushes set me off in style this year. The bottled water problem gives great scope to stitchers and knitters out there – water bottle holsters on should straps or on those climbing hooks are easy to make and sell V. well at craft fairs, school fetes etc. Fabric sample books provide lovely cloth at just the right size. One can even re-cycle a plastic bottle by adding an empty one to each holster and thereby showing customers the potential of what they are buying. Plastic tops on syrup? The one I use is still sold in tin cans with wonderful tin lids. They make great string tins when emptied (or tin can telephones or stilts!).

    Liked by 1 person

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    • Yes the golden syrup is a conundrum – the organic stuff comes in a glass jar, but the metal lid is plastic coated inside. The syrup in tins (which may also be plastic coated inside, I haven’t checked) is not organic. It’s the endless problem of addressing one issue only to be faced with a different one!

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  18. I’ve been carrying my own shopping bags for thirty years, but until recently it was considered “quaint” at best. San Jose banned plastic shopping bags entirely a few years back, and they charge 10 cents if you want a paper one. Eventually other communities passed similar bans and now the entire state of California banned plastic shopping bags. We’re nearly 40 million people now, so the impact is huge. Many cities are banning styrofoam packing, and a lot of take out containers are now biodegradable. Every little step in the right direction makes a difference. I do use plastic bags for disposing of cat waste. It’s not safe to compost it and it can’t be flushed either. I’ve found some biodegradable bags for the purpose, so that helps. You’re amazing, Jan.

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  19. I tried not using shampoo for about a year but my scalp got in a terrible state, so I’m back to shampooing. However, having been made of shampoo soap (thanks to your post) I will look into this.

    I also used to make my own toothpaste, which was effective for cleaning. However, again, the downside is that I have sensitive teeth and am currently back to plastic tubes of commercial toothpaste to give myself some relief. I’ll keep looking for alternatives…

    One thing I have been able to maintain is making my own dish clothes. I realise there will be plastic or oil involved in the production/transport of the yarn but I get the joy of crocheting and then the clothes last years. My daughter is mortified that I am making one as a present for her childminder but I’m determined to spread the word one way or another.

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  20. I must admit to being a bit OCD about packaging and even go so far as to remove it at the checkout after having paid so the supermarket has to deal with it themselves! We’re talking about the polystyrene trays that pre-packaged meat comes in and fruit nets when there are no loose lemons available.

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  21. I have never ever thought how plastic my baking is before, and now I’m actually noticing it’s terrible! I’ve got plastic baking powder tubs, tops for my cocoa powder and yeast, edible dye pots, margarine tubs, milk bottles. I really need to take a look at cutting down.

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  22. It is an eye opener when you check your kitchen and bathroom cubboards! Its all plastic or wrapped in plastic. Very aware today and making changed in our family!

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