37: What difference can one person make? Count it up…

This is the plastic question I get asked the most. ‘I’m only one person. What difference does it make if I stop using a bit of plastic?’ The truth is one person can make a huge difference. Try counting it up….

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Let’s take a look at just some of the ideas that have been posted on this blog so far and what happened when I personally made those changes:
1. Switching from liquid soap to bars of soap saved 2 plastic bottles a month (one in the bathroom, and one in the kitchen). That’s 24 bottles a year.
2. Switching from shower gel to bars of soap saved 1 plastic bottle a month. That’s 12 bottles a year.
3. Switching from laundry liquid to washing powder in a cardboard box saved one large plastic bottle a month. That’s 12 bottles a year.
4. Buying less fruit and veg in plastic bags and choosing loose options in the supermarket plus buying more fresh produce in markets saved at least 5 plastic bags a week. That’s at least 260 plastic bags a year.
5. Switching from liquid fabric softener to using white vinegar (in a glass bottle) saved one large plastic bottle a month. That’s 12 bottles a year.
6. Not buying bottled water any more, investing in a water filter jug at home and taking reusable bottles out with me saved at least 2 large plastic bottles a week. That’s at least 104 plastic bottles a year.
7. Saying ‘no’ to plastic carrier bags every time I do any kind of shopping and keeping a cloth bag with me or bags for life in the car saved at least 4 plastic carrier bags a week. That’s at least 208 plastic bags a year

24 + 12 + 12 + 260 + 12 + 104 + 208 = 632…at least!

These are just 7 of the changes I’ve made (I’ve made more) and all of them are simple, and none of them have cost me more than what I was previously spending. In fact, some of them have saved me money. But it means I have stopped at least 632 pieces of plastic from polluting the planet. Even if some of these could have been recycled (and not all of them can be) it is only possible to recycle plastic a handful of times. After that, it’s buried in the ground or ends up in the oceans. We’ve all seen on recent documentaries, just what this can cause.

If I’ve inspired just one person to make the simple changes above, then together we’ve stopped 1,264 more pieces of plastic getting out into the world. If I’ve inspired three people, then between us we’ve stopped 2,528 in one year.

Try the suggestions above for one month and then see how much emptier your plastic recycling bin is. Multiply that by 12 months to see the difference you can make in a year. Then encourage one friend and multiply that by 2….and one more friend…

Of course, the mountain of plastic continues to grow, and probably will do for some time. Do you want to be responsible for slowing that down, or for adding yet another plastic bottle to the top? And don’t wait for the corporations, the manufacturers, the supermarkets to make the change for us. They’re too slow. In any case, they will only sell us what we want to buy. That’s commerce. If we don’t buy it, they can’t sell it and, more importantly, can’t make money from it.

Still think one person can’t make a difference? So did the other 7 billion people who put their empty plastic water bottle on the mountain.

Do the maths.

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Photo by George Becker on Pexels.com

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36: Scrub myself with plastic? That’s a bit odd, now I think about it!

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The last post spoke about using loofahs outside the bathroom. For all of you who are troubled by things like that, we’ve put the loofah back where it belongs with this post!

We’re talking about exfoliants….things we use to scrub the dead skin of our bodies and leave ourselves feeling all soft and lovely. Not so lovely for the planet if we choose to do that with plastic.

For quite a while, there’s been a fashion for those plastic, scrunchie, flower-shaped things (I call them buff-puffs, but I’m sure they have other names), and you can find them in thousands of bathrooms, hanging in the shower or perched on the side of the tub. They worked well because the scrunched-up plastic was a good abrasive on the skin without ripping a couple of layers off, they were waterproof, and you could even disinfect them in the microwave. Of course, a big selling point was that they last for ages. That’s also the worst thing about them – they actually last FOREVER! When you, your grandchildren, and their grandchildren are gone, that pretty piece of plastic will still exist somewhere in the world. It’s quite a thought.

So, please consider never buying one again. And please don’t buy them as a gift for a friend either (I’ve been given several over the years, in lovely little boxes with other bath products). There are plenty of alternatives. Loofahs, of course, do a brilliant job and are totally natural. Or there are lots of lovely wooden brushes with natural bristles for scrubbing the skin. Or pumice stones. Or there are tons of different body scrubs and soaps featuring all kinds of ingredients, from oats to sea salt, that make great gifts too. (Obviously, look for ones that don’t come in plastic pots.) Or you can buy lovely cloths or ‘mittens’ made of natural, abrasive fabrics like hemp. The Body Shop even sell one made of cactus fibres – you can’t get much more abrasive than cactus! Is that enough options to be getting on with?

It’s odd now to think that we accepted, as perfectly normal, that it’s nice to scrub our skin with plastic. All those little fibres that have gone down the plughole and into the water systems of the planet will be there forever, going round and round and round. We can’t remove it, but let’s stop adding to it. Grab that cactus fibre body mitt and start scrubbing!

30: Aaah! The smell of plastic

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We’re talking about air fresheners! Many homes have them. If you have a pet, small child, or perhaps some digestive problems, you might need to use an air freshener regularly.

Use the choices that are available wisely. The next time you browse the supermarket shelves for some stink-masking fragrance, walk straight past the ones that come in plastic containers – please. There are many other options available:

  • Many air fresheners of the spray kind come in metal containers. These are better than plastic because they can be recycled (at least the metal parts can) and they will biodegrade quicker, but they may still end up in landfill for a long time.
  • Diffusers produce a more subtle, longer-lasting smell, and in the long run work out much cheaper. Choose the ones in glass bottles with wooden ‘sticks’. When the oil in them runs out, you don’t have to replace them with the slightly expensive refills. You can fill them with water and add a few drops of your favourite essential oil. It will last for ages and they’re perfect in a bathroom.
  • While we’re on essential oils, there are lovely little ceramic options available that are made of porous stones that you can drip lovely-smelling oils onto. You’ll have to look around craft fairs and gift shops for these, but they’ll last for ever if you don’t drop them on the floor! This is an even more cost-effective way to keep your air fresh and they make lovely gifts.
  • Scented candles are another way to go, and another lovely gift for friends, but make sure you keep them away from children and clumsy adults – obviously!
  • If you prefer the scent of a 1960s hippy commune, (just kidding!) joss sticks come in many flavours – not just patchouli! Again, treat them with care, as you would a candle. They’re not expensive but, of course, they burn down as you use them so they’re not as cost-effective as re-usable options.
  • Fresh herbs on a kitchen windowsill are perfect for those with green fingers, and you can eat most of them too. In days gone by, people used to dry lavender and hang it over doorways. It not only smells good, it keeps flies at bay too.
  • A simple way to keep a dustbin fresh in the kitchen is to sprinkle a little baking soda (bicarbonate of soda) in the bottom of the bin. It’s amazing stuff!
  • Pot-pourri (like your grandma used to have!) comes in lots of different kinds and doesn’t have to smell like an old lady’s handbag anymore!

These are just a few suggestions. I’ve heard that you can cut an onion in half and leave it in a room overnight to trap bad smells. I’ll leave you to have a go with that one. Or half a lemon will deodorize your fridge – that one really works.

Take your pick, just don’t pick up the plastic air freshener. Eventually, the manufacturers will get the point and stop producing them.

27: It’s a big plastic headache!

So, the other day I had a headache. I don’t get them often, nor do I suffer from migraines or anything like that, but this one hurt enough to reach for some relief. I went to the cupboard to fetch an aspirin. There were none. I’d have to go out and get some.

I went to the first chemist (Lloyds Pharmacy) and asked if they had any painkillers for headaches that didn’t come in plastic blister packs. Preferably some in a small glass bottle with a wad of cotton wool in the top (I’m old enough to remember those!). They said ‘no.’

I went to a second chemist (Superdrug) and asked for the same. They also said ‘no.’ Then I went to a third chemist (Boots) and decided to speak to the professional pharmacist. I asked her if it was possible to buy any brand of painkillers that didn’t come in a plastic blister pack. She said she couldn’t think of a single brand. I asked her why they had to be produced in a blister pack. She said it was to stop the individual pills becoming damp or being damaged. That’s what she said.

Now, call me cynical, but I’m not sure that’s the real reason. I could be wrong, but I think it’s more likely purely a packaging exercise. By law, over-the-counter painkillers in the UK can’t be sold now in packs of more than 16 tablets or capsules, and 16 would look a bit measly rattling around in a bottle. A cardboard box containing a blister pack, where the pills are more spread out, looks like better value for money. The number limit has come about for a good reason – to make it harder for people to buy large quantities and then overdose (suicide is on the rise in the UK, like most Western countries), but this has obviously come at a cost in terms of packaging.

So, what can we do? Currently nothing. Even supermarket own brands (the cheapest way to buy paracetamol or aspirin) come in blister packs now. And that plastic is not recyclable at all because it has foil attached to one side. The only way we can reduce this kind of single-use plastic is to only buy what we need and use them sparingly. Of course, sometimes you need an aspirin for that headache and we just have to accept that some single-use plastic is unavoidable.

You can buy some liquid painkillers for children in glass bottles, and if you need cough medicine, look for the products in glass bottles, but that’s all we can do – for now.

Of course, lots of people out there use alternative remedies to relieve pain. That’s a great way to ensure your pain doesn’t cause more pain to the planet. But if you do need to buy over-the-counter drugs, think about buying only what you need. Don’t stock up and end up throwing away out-of-date medicine. And when you’re there, ask your pharmacist why they don’t sell plastic-free pain relief. If enough of us ask, maybe the packaging will change.

Finally, I reckon this is a good time to remember the so-called ‘Serenity Prayer.’ It doesn’t matter if you’re not religious, it’s very apt when we discover a plastic problem like this one that we just can’t budge.

“Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.”

PS: I ended up having to buy the aspirin in a blister-pack!

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15: Smile!

This one is for the serious plastic-free warrior. Why? Because it will either take a bit of effort or cost a little more money. We’re talking about toothpaste.

We all use it (hopefully) but pretty much every squeeze of the white stuff that you’ll find in your local supermarket comes in a plastic tube. And it’s not re-usable and not easy to recycle. There must be millions of empty toothpaste tubes in the world. But there are solutions and ways to replace them in your bathroom.

First, the easy but slightly more expensive alternative is to buy toothpaste products in plastic-free packaging. They do exist, but will cost you a little more than your normal brand. Lush do a range of toothpaste and mouthwash ‘tablets’ that really work and are cruelty free, but sadly they come in little plastic bottles – come on, Lush, find an alternative!

Georganics do nothing else but make smile assisters (do you see what I did there?) that are totally plastic AND cruelty free. They are also vegan friendly, unlike most toothpaste brands you’ll find on the high street. Their natural toothpastes (in glass jars) cost about a pound or two more than Colgate or Sensodyne, so if you’re struggling with the shopping bill, you might have to count the pennies. But if you can, it’s worth it on so many levels! They also sell bamboo toothbrushes, floss, dental supplements and ‘toothsoap’ (I’ve got to try that one!). Their online shop can be found at https://georganics.co.uk

Second, the less easy but very cheap alternative that will save you money and increase your range of skills….make your own toothpaste! Yes, you can. Some ingredients will need to be found at the chemist, but most may be in your cupboard already. The people at Plastic Free July have several recipes for you to try. Why not get the children involved, if you have some to hand? Only be careful with some of the ingredients around little ones. Check out four homemade toothpaste recipes here: https://www.earthcarers.org.au/library/file/Plastic%20Free%20July/Toolbox%20-%20Living%20Plastic%20Free/Recipe-HomemadeToothpaste.pdf

So, grab your bamboo toothbrush and smile!images

2: Marine animals don’t need cotton buds.

This now famous picture was published recently by National Geographic. It broke my heart, like it did to many other people, and we HAVE to stop doing this. So, cotton buds: we’ve all stuck them in our ears (I’m obliged to say ‘Don’t do that!’), they’re very useful for removing make-up, cleaning nails, and parents of little ones use them a lot. Seahorses, on the other hand, really don’t need them at all.

This is a very simple one to change, and we do it like this: STOP BUYING PLASTIC-STEMMED COTTON BUDS! That’s all. In fact, the plastic-stemmed ones are relatively recent. They always had paper/cardboard stems when I was a child, and it looks like the manufacturers are listening and going back to those. And they don’t cost any more than the plastic ones.

In the UK you can now buy own brand paper-stemmed cotton buds in Sainsbury’s, Asda, Waitrose, Morrisons, Superdrug, Boots and many other stores. I’ve checked. The most famous maker of buds – Johnson & Johnson – have also gone back to rolled paper stems (hooray!), and you can buy those pretty much anywhere in the world. There is only one problem. Almost all of these manufacturers put their lovely, newly biodegradable products in…wait for it…plastic or part-plastic containers! (*sigh!*)

Do we really need to see what’s inside the box? Couldn’t we have a cardboard container with a picture on it? I will happily believe that there are cotton buds in there and not razor blades. I am planning to write a series of letters to these people to say just that, because you never know, they might do it. I’ll let you know how I get on. You are also free to write to them yourself, by the way. In the meantime, why not use the empty cotton bud boxes for something else? They’re usually quite sturdy and are the perfect size to hold a bar of soap (see post Number 1). They even have lids to keep your soap dry.

On that note, here’s a maxim that I’ve just come up with (at least I think it’s original!). Ready?…

“PLASTIC – IF YOU CAN’T REFUSE, RE-USE!”
Feel free to share that one, but tell everyone where you got it from. Thank you. And remember, (disclaimer coming…) Don’t stick them in your ears!

1: Go wash your mouth out with soap!

This all started when I was walking round the house one day counting how many products there were encased in plastic containers. There were far too many! The greatest number were in the bathroom and kitchen, and four of them contained soap for washing  – four plastic bottles that we just didn’t need: 1 x handwash in the kitchen, 1 x handwash in the downstairs loo, 1 x handwash in the bathroom, and 1 x shower gel in the bathroom. All of these could be replaced with simple bars of soap, especially if they come wrapped in paper. Or better still, not wrapped at all. Your budget will determine what kind of bar soap you buy. If you’ve got lots of spare cash, there are plenty of lovely smelling, artisan type soaps that can cost anything up to £5 or more. If you don’t want to pay that, why not ask for some as a gift on your birthday or Christmas? If your budget is down the other end, pretty much all supermarkets and high street chemists offer their own brands of bar soap at a surprisingly low cost. Sainsburys, for example, sell 4 x 125g of Pure Soap for £1.20 – That’s just 30p per bar. Swapping your plastic-clad shower gel for a bar of soap – even an expensive one – will last longer, save you money, and put a little less plastic into the world. If you prefer to choose cruelty free or vegan products, Lush Cosmetics have a fabulous range of soaps. Superdrug, Sainsburys, Waitrose and other high street stores also boast that their own brand products are cruelty free (you can check who is cruelty free here: https://www.crueltyfreeinternational.org/LeapingBunny ).
Don’t forget to visit craft fairs and independent gift shops for bar soaps too. Why not give them to your friends as gifts and help them to start reducing the plastic? Happy shopping.
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