Hug a mug

We are currently in the middle of Plastic-free July – an event aimed at getting people to cut down on single-use plastics. Things like straws and plastic shopping bags are relatively easy to give up for most people (I don’t tend to use either now), but some things are less obvious. For example, disposable coffee cups: with their plastic lids and plastic-coated cardboard that’s generally not recycled or, indeed, recyclable, and often can’t be composted. The answer, of course, is simple – get a reusable cup and ask the coffee shop to put your drink in that.

One of the problems with the re-usable (and disposable) versions is that many of them don’t have handles. Last year, I crocheted a cover with a thin handle for my (very elderly and well-used) cup, so that I had some way of keeping a hold of it:


cup holder in use (on a train)

When my friend Katie saw this, she asked if I could make her one too. I liked mine, but I decided that it could be improved upon, so I bought a KeepCup and started to experiment. In the end I came up with a cover that has two handles, so that you can easily hold on to your cup, and also give your mug a hug:

This cup and cover is with its new owner now and I’ve had good feedback. Now, isn’t that so much nicer than a cardboard cup that you simply throw away?

It’s still there even if you can’t see it

Well, Plastic Free July has come round again and so I’m encouraged to think about single-use plastics and what more I can do to cut them out of my life. The actual challenge for the month, if you take a look at the website, is:

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).

I don’t exactly participate in the challenge, but every year I try to think about at what progress I might be able to make to reduce single use plastic consumption.



By this time last year I had already ditched teabags (almost all of which contain plastic in the bags themselves, not just their packaging). Sadly, over the past year I have discovered that whatever containers we take to the shop to transport our loose tea home in, the tea actually arrives at the point of sale in packaging that does include plastic… despite my romantic notion that it might arrive in wooden tea chests! Yes, I know it means it’s fresh and there’s less wasted tea, but it appears that unless we grow our own, we cannot exclude plastic entirely from our tea-chain (like a food-chain, but more beverage-y).

And this sort of highlights the problem. It’s possible to think about solutions when you know that something is there, but when it’s hidden you may not even know you’ve got a problem at all. Perhaps I’m cynical, but when I read those stories on social media about the person who only generates a jam jar of waste in a gazillion years, I just think PAH! Unless you are self-sufficient, there is going to be some plastic waste in your life. Go to a restaurant? I bet some of their ingredients come wrapped in plastic – just because you don’t see it and don’t have to dispose of it doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Grow your own food? I bet there was some plastic in the seed packet or enclosing the compost you bought.

And so, I’m not beating myself up about plastic… yes there’s some plastic packaging in my life, yes I wish there wasn’t, but hey, I’m trying little by little to reduce and otherwise either to reuse it or recycle it…

…instead I’m being concerned about all those hidden plastic fibres being shed from the fleece I bought because it was made from recycled plastic and which are now accumulating in our seas… sigh

Wash and brush-up

I had intended to write a little more in ‘Plastic-free July’ about reducing the amount of ‘short-term’ plastic in our house, but somehow the month got away with me and here we are on the 27th already!

As I’ve said before, I think it’s impossible to cut out single-use plastics without a complete life-style change. However, it is possible to re-use and repurpose plastic items and to look for alternatives to many plastic objects so that we minimise the amount in the waste stream. In recent weeks I have found (or re-found) several plastic-free options related to cleaning and grooming which I thought might be good to share.

More like a hedgehog than a tortoise

More like a hedgehog than a tortoise

I already introduced you to my plastic-free washing-up brush, but it now has a companion at the sink – a tortoise! Years ago I found a vegetable scrubber in a local wholefood shop (alas no more) made with plant fibres and a metal core to hold them together. I used it for years and years until, eventually it started to shed its bristles and I had to give up on it. At the time I assumed that I would easily find a replacement but, despite a thorough search, I had no luck and ended up buying a plastic brush. Admittedly the plastic version did last a long time (certainly not single-use) but recently its bristles flattened and it ceased to function. Luckily, I came across a really great website selling a variety of green household items and they had a version of my old original brush… called a tortoise (although it looks more like a hedgehog to me)! They come in packs of two, so I already have my replacement lined up… or perhaps I’ll pass it on to someone else. On the web site they are shown as coming in plastic packaging, but mine arrived au naturel.

I haven't got a panda to test it on, but I quite like it

I haven’t got a panda to test it on, but I quite like it

It was from the same website that I bought myself a new toothbrush to try out – bamboo handle and bamboo bristles. We still have an electric toothbrush that I use once-a-day and this is mainly plastic, but the rest of the time I’m using the bamboo one and it’s holding up rather well (I am usually rather hard on my toothbrushes). There are a number of bamboo toothbrushes on the market, but this one seemed to get the best reviews. It’s quite small and has a small head, but it does seem to work and none of the bristles have fallen out, so I am reasonably impressed so far.

And finally, my little plastic-free shopping spree yielded a coconut shell soap dish. I have been using soap rather than shower gel for some months now. First because I can buy it locally-made; second because it reduces that amount of water that is being transported round the country; and third because it’s packaging-free. However, soap goes soggy if left in a wet place. Above the bathroom sink we have a magnetic soap holder:



but for the bath I wanted a soap dish with drainage holes. I had hoped to find a locally-made wooden one because I wanted one that wouldn’t break if dropped. I was unsuccessful in this, but this coconut shell one is simple and does a grand job:

Carved coconut shell

Carved coconut shell

And you can even see that I’m using every scrap of soap by sticking the remnants of the old bar on top of the new one in a decorative swirl!

All-in-all I’m pleased with these small steps to reducing plastic in our home… now if I could just find plastic packaging-free pumpkin seeds, I’d be a happy snail.

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:



Plastic tea update

Some further research has revealed (thank you Linda) that one sort of teabags in Britain may be plastic-free. According to Gardening Which? Jacksons of Piccadilly make tea bags that are free of polypropylene.

So, I’m just off to write them an e-mail…

Plastic tea

There are a number of folks currently taking part in ‘Plastic Free July’  – a challenge to reject single use plastics for a month. You can read about how people are getting on on various blogs, but the one I am particularly following is Westywrites. And it was through her blog that I discovered my teabags have plastic in them – and yours almost certainly do too!

My favorite teabags

My favorite teabags

I know that some of you (Kate Chiconi) are tea purists and only use leaves, but I like the convenience of a tea bag and I find them easier to deal with when it comes to collecting them for composting. I thought I was safe buying Clipper Organic Teabags made of unbleached paper. Sadly I was wrong… visiting their website I discovered that the two halves of the bag are stuck together with plastic. At least they are open about it and I didn’t have to ask, as seems to be the case with most companies. Anyway, Westy has been encouraging her readers to write to companies and highlight their concerns about single use plastics, so yesterday I e-mailed Clipper:

Dear Clipper
On your ‘our story’ web page you publish the following statement:
“Always a pure, natural product – there isn’t a single artificial ingredient in any of our products.”
However, in your FAQs, I discover that
‘Square “pillow” bags do have a very thin layer of polypropylene plastic’.
Oh, I’m so disappointed! As someone who is trying to live more sustainably, I want to eliminate as much single-use plastic from my life as possible. I love your organic tea bags, but feel that I’m going to have to revert to loose tea because of the presence of this plastic. Yes, I know it’s a small amount, but it’s still there and it all adds up.
Please, please could you consider ways of making tea bags without the plastic? I know it would make you very popular with customers like me who care deeply about the environment and the products we buy.
Many thanks
Dr Jan Martin

And I quickly received a reply:

Dear Dr. Martin,
Thank you for contacting us here at Clipper – it is lovely to hear from you!
With regards to your concerns about their being plastic within tea bags we can confirm that certain types of tea bags do contain polymer fibres. Standard square or round tea bags which are the most common in the UK market will all contain a type of polymer fibre as they are made using heat-sealable filter paper. The tea bag filter paper requires a means of sealing the two layers of paper together as paper will not stick to paper and glue is not used. The filter paper Clipper uses for this type of tea bag contains polypropylene to provide the heat-seal function. The filter paper is food grade for its intended purpose and meets all relevant UK and EU Regulations.
The filter paper used to produce tea bags with the string and tag attached does not need to be heat-sealable, as it is closed differently, and therefore does not contain any polymer fibres/plastic content.
In terms of Clipper packaging in general we can confirm that we do not use PLA material (the biodegradable material used for some pyramid bags and other plastic packaging) as it is derived from corn which may be from GM sources.
Best regards

Hayley Butler
Consumer Care

Is it time to ditch the bags?

Is it time to ditch the bags?

Well, it’s disappointing, but at least they responded. However, perhaps if lots of people wrote to them (and other companies that make teabags) they might start to take notice. So, I’d like to ask you to write a single e-mail, letter or tweet to the company who make your teabags and ask them whether they use plastic in them and, if they do, to stop it!

If you want to join me, the e-mail for Clipper is:

Plastic fantastic?

I now use a Pyrex roaster rather than a roasting tin and foil

I now use a Pyrex roaster rather than a roasting tin and foil

In my push towards a more sustainable life I’m always keen to avoid ‘single-use’ products where possible. As a result, every piece of aluminium foil in my kitchen is used multiple times, getting progressively smaller and more wrinkled until it finally enters the recycling bin. This makes good financial sense too, as I haven’t bought a new roll of the stuff for about five years. Where possible, however, I try to avoid using it at all – a Pyrex chicken roaster with a lid, for example, means that I never use a roasting tin and foil any more.

However, there are some occasions when it’s very difficult to avoid single-use items… plastic bottles of shampoo, for example. I’m happy that I only use the shampoo once (it’s a consumable after all), but what about the container? OK, I put it in the plastic recycling bin, but making a bottle for a single use seems really inefficient. The Body Shop used to refill bottles of shampoo, but they haven’t done so for many years now and I don’t know of anywhere else that does.

So, it is with interest that I have been reading Westywrites’ blog posts on just this subject ‘Plastic-free Me’. Westy is working up to taking part in ‘Plastic-free July 2014‘ which

aims to raise awareness of the massive consumption of single-use plastics throughout the world. The goal is to cut out completely (eek!) those plastics that we use for sometimes just a matter of minutes that potentially end up in landfill forever more
(Plastic-free Me: introduction)

Once you start thinking about all the single-use plastics that we encounter, certainly here in the UK, you begin to realise how much energy and how many resources we are being wasted. Even folks like me, who really do think about this sort of thing quite a lot, are still responsible for lots of plastic that’s only used once; for example, the bag my muesli comes in, the wrappers around magazines I subscribe to (although some of these now come in paper or cornstarch envelopes), my shampoo bottle, milk cartons, wrappers around plastic cd cases… I could go on.

We take our own containers when we buy coffee

We take our own containers when we buy coffee

Over the past few years we have reduced our use: we take a container to the coffee merchant and get that refilled rather than taking it away in a fancy plastic/foil/paper multi-layered bag; we buy unwrapped soap; we get bottles of various cleaning products refilled; we buy in bulk (this does not eliminate packaging, but does reduce it); we save small plastic bags, wash them out and reuse them; we never accept a plastic carrier bag and always have a cotton one or basket when out shopping; we reuse plastic bottles and containers when possible; we save bubble-wrap for re-use; and we try to buy food in paper rather than plastic packaging.

Buying in bulk and in paper packaging. We'll probably store potatoes in the bag once the oats are eaten.

Buying in bulk and in paper packaging. We’ll probably store potatoes in the bag once the oats are eaten.

However, without making my own shampoo, I’m at a loss to know how to avoid this single-use plastic. And there’s a limit to the number of small plastic bottles you can make use of round the house. So, I will be reading about Westy’s journey to a plastic-free July with interest and hopefully, I’ll get some new ideas along the way…. or perhaps you have some for me now?

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