We make 300 m tonnes of plastic a year 5m tonnes of which objective up in the oceans. How easy is it to ditch the excess packaging and learn to love shampoo in solid bars?
ts in shampoo bottles, toothbrushes, clothes and biros. Its even in I teabags. Plastic is everywhere.
In some occurrences this brings clear benefits plastic has brought advances including domestic pipes, composite materials for lighter aircraft and wind-turbines, as well as blood suitcases but, for customers, it is largely cosmetic: a inexpensive signifier of hygiene and a mainstay of convenience.
The result is all around us, from mundane sights such as plastic rubbish on the roadside to alarming figures: every year, about 300 m tonnes of plastic are produced globally approximately equivalent to the entire weight of mankind. Production has increased 50% in the past decade and will grow another 20% in the next five years. At least 5m tonnes of it objective up in our oceans. By 2050, there will be a greater weight of plastic in the oceans than fish,
according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.
Plastic was introduced as a mainstream product merely 70 years ago and most of the plastic created since then still exists; it is believed to take at least 500 years to decompose. As small children, I went on a school trip to a landfill site the image has stuck with me all my life.
But is it possible to live without this excess plastic? I think it must continue to be. To demonstrate it, I agree to go a normal week without buying the stuff.
There is one condition I dont have to stop using plastic I already have. Is that cheating? Perhaps, but since the only plastic-free toothbrush I can find is made of timber and swine hair, Im not going to quibble. Overnight, I go cold turkey.
On day one, my fridge is a wasteland, so a supermarket sweep after work is in order. My expectations are low, but I dont have time to run all over London and I figure that, even if plastic-free items expense more, there will be a choice.
There isnt. The only ripe bananas are in plastic bags, pasta is wrap in cellophane, and my hazy memory of paper-wrapped toilet rolls turns out to be a dusty mirage. Thankfully, I dont need any deodorants or sanitary products only one plastic-free alternative of the latter lurks at the end of a shelf.
At the fisheries sector counter, I have a breakthrough and order a couple of fishcakes wrapped in brown paper. I tweet a triumphant painting but doubts are instantaneously raised. Does the paper have a plastic lining? How has it been heat-sealed? Traversing my thumbs that the paper has only a wax coating, I email Waitrose and wait.
Without supermarket milk even Tetra Paks have plastic linings and lids I go back to basics. A quick Google hurls up a milk delivery service in my home town. Milkman Stephen, I am informed, will deliver on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Sure, milk in glass bottles is twice as expensive as in plastic bottles and I have to order some eggs I dont need to cross the order threshold but, heck at the least it will be waiting for me the next morning.
Only, it isnt. Apparently, there has been a flaw. I place the order again.
Meanwhile, my shampoo runs out. Another search uncovers it is possible to buy solid bars of the stuff though not where I live. Schlepping into London, I track some down, balk at the cost 6.25 a pop and take comfort in the label stating it will outlast three standard bottles even though it appears as though it might crumble at first use.
I try it out the next morning. I am astonished to find that it actually runs. Moreover, it doesnt leave a grotty film of suds in my hair. I vow there and then to trench bottled shampoo for good.
By now, the milk has arrived. I find it on my doorstep, feeling all the thrill of a kid at Christmas a season, incidentally, that my parents always said began with the arrival of holly published on the foil eyelids of the milk bottles. Admittedly, glass bottles are probably more energy-intensive to transport than plastic, but empties can be collected by milkman Stephen and refilled.
With the food situation becoming pressing and the supermarket no help it is time to change tack. I try searching for somewhere I can buy loose pasta and rice, but I draw a blank it means travelling miles. Doable, but expensive and, candidly, I dont have time.
I switch to my towns independent stores and marketplace. Surely local shops will embrace jaunty striped paper bags? Yet there, too, plastic is the default. Asking the butcher to wrap local( and therefore expensive) sausages in newspaper causes something of a flap as he hunts in a cupboard for what looks like remnants of greaseproof before asking, eyebrows created, if I am sure I will be OK with them like that. God knows what perils he envisages.
A trip to the fruit stall in the market is even more depressing a paper bag is rustled up for some nectarines, but merely after I repudiate a plastic one, while in shopping for other items I describe a complete blank. I look in on the haberdashery stall for some sewing cotton but it too is riddled with plastic, from cotton reels to buttons. And I still dont have any plastic-free toilet roll.
I put out another plea on Twitter. All kinds of people leap to my rescue, suggesting everything from a bidet to mailing me a roll, even utilizing a well-known tabloid. Others offer links to online companies that make paper-wrapped rolls. But it turns out I can only buy these in batches of 24. I will simply “re going to have to” ration my remaining supplies and hope a stomach glitch doesnt strike.
Online shopping flings up other conundrums, from whether a supplier will throw in plastic packaging to whether the
delivery person will be on a zero-hours contract.
And still the fridge is a wasteland. My staples are off the menu hummus, yoghurt and even nuts all seem to come in plastic packaging. I think of constructing my own hummus, but I dont own a blender and cant buy one, since everyone is plastic-clad. In the end, it is easier to do without.
Slowly, my food selections contract; before the week is out, Im back to 1940 s fare of toad-in-the-hole and fish cakes with broccoli. I begin to have visions of my
microbiome the mixture of bacteria that guarantee good intestine health collapsing like a house of cards.
The novelty has worn off: the inconvenience of dodging plastic is huge. I cant even buy paracetamol for a fury headache the tablets come in plastic blister packs.
I am also racked with anxiety about stealth plastic triggered in part by a glass vase I have bought. It was loose and packaged in paper, but when I unwrapped it I saw a tiny, colourless plastic sticker beneath the price tag, proclaiming the vase was handmade.
Little luxuries have become big luxuries: a cheap bunch of supermarket flowers devotes style to a pricey posy from a flower stall. Instant coffee( glass jar but plastic lid) was out of the question and, without a caffetiere, cant even be replaced with paper-packed ground beans.
It has become clear that changing the main responsibilities for plastic misuse on to consumers instead of companies will never alone tackle the issue: without low-cost, accessible options, someones pay a heavy price for the complacency of businesses, be that for everyday staples or small perks.
But things look up when a friends birthday reminder flashes up on my phone. Cards, at the least, must be available loose.
In fact, every store I visit is the same jaunty cards wrapped in cellophane. Tired and frustrated, I decide to knock up my own. God knows if there is a plastic-free glue out there, but by the time I have rooted a Pritt Stick out of a drawer, I have stopped caring. I whip up a card and head off.
Im not usually one to carry a plastic bottle( around the world
1m are sold every minute ), but it is nearly 32 C and I need a drinking. I cant buy water, but it is possible to buy a glass bottle of sticky iced tea with a metal lid. It is a 1.85 triumph.
Six days into the challenge, even the smallest of plastic-free items sends me into transports of pleasure. A paper straw! A tote bag! A tiny and vastly expensive supermarket cheesecake in a glass ramekin and foil eyelid Ill take two!
Going without plastic, it seems, is possible but only with period, fund and an inordinate degree of planning.
And then the email from Waitrose arrives. The verdict is back on the paper fish wrapper. It is coated in plastic.
Waging a war on plastic against one another …
Two colleagues go head to head in a challenge to eradicate plastic packaging
I bet my boss, Emily, 10 that I could go longer than she could without buying anything at all containing plastic. The first few hours were relatively easy I went to the pub and drank out of a glass. Beyond slight jealousy of a friends packet of crisps, it all ran smoothly until closing period, by which phase I was hungry.
A rummage in the refrigerator and cupboards turned up only a cucumber and a jar of pickled herrings, but after five pints I wanted something warm and stodgy. The nearby 24 -hour off-licence sold me a tin of macaroni cheese one of the only things in the shop that didnt have plastic packaging. It was disgusting, but I slept comfortably with a belly full of carbohydrates and the knowledge that Emilys 10 was still in sight.
The next day, I was unable to buy the pears I usually eat for breakfast because of their plastic stickers, so had to eat porridge from the work canteen. I had lunch in the canteen and supper in the tavern. Living plastic-free was expensive, but I was confident I would be able to offset the cost with the crisp 10 note Emily would be forced to hand over.
Day three meant more porridge and the other canteen lunch, but I knew that in the evening I was going to a gig at a venue that induces “youre using” plastic beakers and that the value of not getting dehydrated on a hot night is higher than 10. I would definitely crack; I merely had to hope Emily did first. And, fortunately, she did: I received a text in the afternoon disclosing that she had failed just two days into the contest, so I got my cash. But I still felt guilty about drinking out of plastic cups that night.
Im a terrible plastic criminal, my desk piling up, shamefully, with empty sparkling water bottles. So, trying to give up plastic altogether was a good workout for me, even if it meant drinking tepid tap water out of a stained mug and feeing toast from the canteen instead of a chocolate croissant that comes wrap in plastic packaging. However, every time I left run I was struck anew by how altogether reliant our civilisation now is upon plastic. And this is how my brief plastic-free existence came to an abrupt aim. On day two of no plastic, I went to pick up and pay for some prescription pills. They came in a paper packet, and inside that a cardboard box, but of course when I opened the box … the pills were nestled in plastic.
Emily Wilson Top tips to avoid plastic
Who Dedicates a Crap sells plastic-free toilet rolls.
Environmentally minded Guardian readers shared their top plastic-avoiding tips on Twitter utilizing #NoMorePlastic. Here are their notions 😛 TAGEND
1. User @ DrLizS recommends toilet roll distributor Who Gives a Crap, whose rolls come with compostable wrapping and are good for the Earth.
2. When it comes to periods, @susie_hewson recommends the brand Natracare, which sells plastic-free, organic and disposable tampons.
Natracares sanitary products are plastic-free, disposable and organic.
3. A bit of planning means you will never have to eat your lunchtime salad with a plastic fork, says @reeniekeith: Bringing your own utensils is as easy as saying no to plastic straws.
4. And, speaking of straw, for a plastic-free answer, try A Better Straw, which is made of glass and can be reused over and over again, tweets @k3schultz, who only had their own straw delivered.
5. As Davis identified, there is an alternative to plastic bottles of shampoo: bars wrap in newspaper or sold in tins. Our readers recommend various stockists including Lush, Dr Harris and Simply Soaps. Its also possible to construct your own. A quick online search brings up a range of recipes for homemade shampoos, most with a base of baking soda mixed with something acidic such as lemon juice or apple cider vinegar.
6. If you love organic, pesticide-free fruit but detest the plastic packaging, you might consider @__thegraduates answer: I may see whether there are any strawberry fields near me where I could pick my own and put them in a brown bag. Blackberries are also in season through July and August.
7. Ultimately, @WiseOceans tells us that arts and crafts fans such as Davis can still live plastic-free. They suggest that organic cotton on wooden reels and pins and needles in cardboard boxes can be sourced from a stockist called Offset Warehouse.