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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35: Loofahs ain’t just for baths. Who knew?

40952053_10160676075700398_1307394818065825792_nI’ll tell you who knew: my friend Mairead who shared this brilliant tip for plastic-free washing up with me. I shall share it now with you, and I’m keen to try this myself. I must just add that all the puns are her own and I can’t take any credit (or blame) for them!

(From Mairead) I read on a zero waste forum about using a loofah instead of a plastic sponge, and have finally taken the plunge (ba dum tish!).

I picked mine up for £1 in Wilkos, and used a bread knife to saw the bottom quarter off, as my sturdy kitchen scissors didn’t quite make the cut (tishshshsh) .

Then I used it for a week and a day. It has scrubbed roast ham off the roasting dish. Scrambled eggs off the frying pan. And solid porridge out of the baby bowl.
It’s not quite as sturdy as it was 8 days ago, but any fibres shed have been vegetable (it’s a type of gourd, really, Google it!) and it still did the dishes tonight. Popped into the microwave for 20 seconds whilst still damp, and it’s even disinfected.

And it will make another 3 scourers when I decide to replace this quarter.

Thrifty and plastic free

Big thanks to Mairead, and all the other friends who are sending me tips and ideas. You will be shared soon too! 

31: Chop the plastic out of your life!

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We’re talking about chopping boards, not dangerous cutting tools, so relax. For many years I’ve been using plastic chopping boards in the kitchen, mostly made of materials like melamine, without really considering the fact that they are just adding more plastic into the world. I bought them because they were a cheaper option and because they came in bright colours (the second is not a great reason, but it made the kitchen look pretty!).

The problem is, not only is this the worst choice for the environment, but the plastic ones get scratched quite easily by knives and have to be replaced regularly. I don’t know how many I’ve bought over the years, but for the price of 2 or 3 cheap ones, I could have invested in something much better that would last a lifetime…or at least 2 or 3 times as long. That means that, over the time I’ve been chopping stuff up in the kitchen, I wouldn’t have had to spend any more money and would have had a much better product.

The alternatives are plentiful. Pick one, spend a little extra now, and in the long run you’ll be saving money and your little bit of the environment. For example:

  • Marble is almost impossible to damage with a kitchen knife, is easy to clean, and has the quality of being a couple of degrees colder than its surroundings. It looks fabulous too but is heavier than plastic – so try not to drop it on your toes.
  • Glass is extremely hardwearing, also almost impossible to damage with a knife and easy to keep clean. Make sure it’s designed to be a chopping board (don’t just go and buy a pane of glass!) because these are specially toughened with no sharp edges. They come in lots of colours or simply clear so you can see your beautiful worktop underneath – if that’s your kind of thing.
  • Wooden chopping boards need a little bit of research when you buy them. Some woods are perfect for food because they have natural anti-bacterial properties. They look beautiful but can be sliced by knives, especially if you’re heavy-handed. They can also become stained, so they’re not perfect for things like red meat or beetroot, but they are great for bread or cheese boards.
  • Stone chopping boards come in a variety of materials like slate or granite. They are extremely hardwearing and look fantastic in modern kitchens or on rustic worktops. Again, don’t drop a granite one on your toes!

These are just a few suggestions for alternatives, and all of them are natural materials that can either be recycled or will naturally biodegrade. When you’re looking for them in the shops, the price will seem much higher than a cheap, plastic board. But, take it from someone who has been replacing sliced-up melamine boards every year or so, I wish I’d invested in a lovely marble one in the first place. It would still be looking beautiful and, in the long run, it would even have saved me money.

Happy chopping!

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.

26: A Plastic-free pint a day

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We’re talking about milk! Whether you favour a traditional pint (or metric measure) of cow’s milk or prefer a vegan option in your coffee, it’s time to ditch the plastic bottles and go planet-friendly.

Most milk or dairy alternatives are readily available in cardboard cartons (preferably without plastic tops, if possible) or glass bottles. Remember, glass can be recycled indefinitely, so don’t forget to take them to your bottle bank.

In the UK, doorstep milk deliveries are on the increase. One of the largest companies (Milk and More) offer deliveries in glass bottles that they will then collect and re-use, which means you don’t even have to go to the bottle bank. And they have come right up-to-date by now offering, among other things, dairy alternatives like soya, coconut and almond milk. Yes, your local milkman now caters for vegans!

The downside of doorstep deliveries is that you will pay a little bit more for your pint. The upside is that you’ll save a trip to the shops and your milk (or milk alternative) will be waiting for you when you get up in the morning. If you prefer to save the money and go to the shops, just walk past that plastic bottle and head for the cardboard or the glass. Go on, just keep on walking.

Special Note: The primary purpose of this blog is to promote the reduction of single-use plastic by all. As such, I have tried to make it as inclusive as possible. Whether you’re vegan, a meat-eater, a drinker, a smoker, teetotal or anything else, that’s up to you. It’s not for me to judge. But all of us can make changes. However, if you’ve never tried one of the dairy milk alternatives, you might want to give them a go. That way you’ll be reducing your impact on the planet even more.

24: A very British plastic problem!

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Did you know that almost all of the big brand tea bags contain plastic? Yes, plastic in your tea bags! When did that happen?

That means that, even if you’re eco-conscious and putting your tea bags on the compost heap, you might be adding to the little bits of plastic that are getting into the soil and eventually even into the food chain.

There is, of course, a simple solution to this problem if you’re a person who likes a regular brew (I’m a coffee drinker myself), and the solution is…go old school! Buy your tea loose, find that teapot lurking in the back of the cupboard, and brew it the old-fashioned way. Buy yourself a little metal tea strainer and off you go. It might not be quite as convenient, but it is ‘proper!’ Look for boxes or packs that are self-sealed rather than covered in cellophane, of course.

Not all the tea bag manufacturers use plastic (most of them do), and some supermarkets, like the Co-Op, are planning to de-plastic their own brands. PG Tips, one of the UKs biggest brands) have said they are changing to totally biodegradable bags with no plastic. Check if your favourite brand uses plastic by looking on their websites. If their websites don’t tell you – ask them. Email them, tweet them, ask in your local supermarket and, if enough people make a fuss, they’ll stop doing this.

Time to put the kettle on…

23: Don’t bag it – grow it!

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This one is inspired by my good friend, Andrea, who has just grown her first ever tomatoes!

Some of us are lucky enough to live near a street market, farmer’s market or ‘proper’ greengrocer that still sell our 5-a-day by weight and without the plastic. Of course, by now you’ll be taking your own reusable bags when you go shopping, so buying fruit and veg loose makes it easy to go plastic free.

BUT we don’t all live close to a fresh produce vendor like the ones described above, so instead of buying the cellophane-wrapped stuff from the supermarket, why not grow your own? I’m not suggesting that we all go out and buy an acre of land – some of us don’t even have gardens – but there’s lots of ways to start growing your own food. Even if you just grow one or two items, it’s a good start, and think of all that packaging that you’re not putting into landfill.

Tomatoes are very easy to grow in containers – I know because I’m useless at gardening and have still managed to grow them successfully lots of times. You can even grow them on windowsills if you don’t have outdoor space. Herbs too grow perfectly in containers, as do lettuces, and these are almost always sold in plastic packaging.  Start with one thing that you know you’ll eat and that will give you the confidence to try more. Most fruit and veg can be frozen too if you have a surplus.

To go completely plastic-free, buy seeds rather than young plants in plastic pots, but if you do have to buy young plants, keep the pots to grow more things from seed next year.

So far, with very little prior knowledge, I’ve managed to grow (and subsequently eat!) tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, courgettes, blueberries, strawberries and even sweetcorn in containers on patios and roof terraces along with all kinds of herbs like mint, rosemary, thyme, oregano…and all of them taste so much better than they do from the supermarket. A big bonus is that I know exactly what’s gone into the soil – and no pesticides! Of course, that’s perfect for vegans too.

I’m no gardening expert so I hesitate to give you lots of growing tips, but get yourself a beginner’s guide to growing fruit and veg or just look for advice online. There’s lots of it.

Have a go. Remove one plastic-clad item from your regular shopping list this year. Next year it might be two or three. And here’s an idea: get together with a couple of friends and all grow different things that you can swap with each other. You can have one of my peppers for a handful of tomatoes, Andrea!