32: Be a rebel in the supermarket (Part 1)

agriculture cherry tomatoes cooking delicious

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If you can’t find it – create it!
Most of the big supermarkets in the UK are now promising to reduce single-use plastic, particularly around fresh produce. That’s great…but where is it? My local supermarkets still sell most of their fruit and veg wrapped in cellophane. Even bananas can still be bought in plastic bags. Why?! They already come in their own, perfect banana skin bag!!

There’s no need to just accept this. Go for loose fruit and veg wherever it’s available. It’s actually far more practical because you can buy only what you need, avoiding food waste. Sometimes you only need three carrots! Shocking, I know.

‘But I can’t just throw four tomatoes in my basket without a thin piece of plastic to protect them – that would be madness!’ I hear you cry. Well, there’s a solution for that too. Be a rebel and solve the problem yourself. If enough of us do it, the supermarkets will have to change and do what we want, instead of shoppers feeling they have no choice. Here’s how to start:

All of my local supermarkets sell loose mushrooms and provide paper (yes, paper!) bags to put them in. Yet other soft items like loose tomatoes only have plastic bags nearby. There is a simple way around this. The last time I went shopping, I took a paper bag from near the mushrooms, carried it to another aisle, and put my loose tomatoes in it, weighed them as normal, and put the price sticker on the paper bag. Do you know what? Nobody questioned it at the checkout, alarm bells didn’t go off in the salad aisle, and I wasn’t arrested! I then tried my luck and put some brocolli in a ‘mushroom’ bag. Now I felt like a proper desperado, and I liked it. Still nobody called the police!

I have no idea why it’s okay to put mushrooms in a paper bag and not okay to put tomatoes or grapes or anything else in them. The bags are only a means of conveying the fresh produce from the supermarket to my fridge. Once you’ve got them to the fridge, you can put them in whatever you like. Now I head straight for the mushrooms, grab a few paper bags, and put my other loose fruit and veg in them. Except for bananas, of course. They can fend for themselves!

With other, larger veg – leeks or carrots, for example – I just grab however many I need, pop them all on the scales and put the price sticker on one of them. They don’t need bags at all because I’m going to wash them before I eat them. Don’t you?

And even if your supermarket doesn’t provide paper bags for mushrooms, ask them for one of their empty cardboard boxes (they DO have them out the back because much of their produce is delivered in them!), put the box in the bottom of your trolley (or ‘cart’ for our American friends) and fill it up with your loose fruit and veg. Try to be helpful and weigh and sticker them as you go. You can put all the stickers on the side of the box so it’s simple at the checkout. Or if you really are a supermarket desperado, get them all weighed by the checkout assistant. Maybe then the shops will get the point.

Oh, and of course, this suggestion is totally vegan friendly. Although meat-eaters who occassionally eat veg can also get involved.

Try it. Be a rebel in the supermarket. It feels really good!

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28: Crafty little plastic!

Granny cushionsThis one is for all the hookers out there……and knitters! (What did you think I meant?) We’re talking about yarn. Summer will soon be coming to an end, and some of you out there will be getting your needles and your hooks out to knit or crochet some new winter woolies. Before you go and add to your stash, have a think about the type of yarn you choose.

Did you know that acrylic or nylon or polyester yarns are basically just another form of plastic? Of course you did. Their names sound much nicer than ‘plastic wool’ but they’re made from synthetic polymers and, like with other plastics, these are not biodegradable. So, whenever you see ‘acrylic’ on a label, just remember that the jumper you make out of it might fall to bits over time, but those polymers will sadly never leave the planet. Even worse, they could end up becoming small enough to enter the food chain. According to environmentalists, this is already happening.

This applies to clothing you buy too, but I’ll cover that in a future post.

Yes, acrylic yarn is cheap. Yes, it comes in lots and lots of colours because it’s easy to dye. Yes, it’s plentiful. But can you really stand to think of it being here forever? I can’t.

Well, there is an easy solution, and you’ve guessed it: stick to natural fibres that will biodegrade. These days there are masses of different yarns made of wool from sheep or mohair from goats or alpaca from…alpacas! Even silk from silkworms, if you can afford it. But please, please don’t buy angora as this comes from rabbits and is definitely NOT cruelty free. Look for Fairtrade brands and you’ll be helping people get a fair wage too.

And if you’re vegan, or simply prefer not to use products derived from animals, there is a fantastic selection of yarns out there made from cotton, bamboo and even soya. I’ve tried all three of these and can recommend them. I’ve also found yarn made from hemp and banana leaves, but I haven’t tried those yet. All of these animal-free alternatives are usually better for people with sensitive skin too, which is a bonus.

While we’re at it, next time you have to buy a new pair of knitting needles or a crochet hook, look for brands made of bamboo or metal rather than plastic. The bamboo kind are really lightweight, and the metal ones will last you a lifetime.

I’m even working on a couple of patterns to include here in the future so that you can replace some of your plastic-filled items with handmade ones. Watch this space, and give me a little time! Now, where did I put my bamboo crochet hook….?

26: A Plastic-free pint a day

baking basket book bottle

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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.

25: Plastic-free beauty?

pink lipstick with green case

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Some things are easier to replace than others. Some products have become so enshrined in the plastic stuff that finding alternatives is almost impossible. Last week I set myself a challenge to fill a make-up bag with products that were totally free of single-use plastic. I made it even more difficult for myself by limiting the products to ones that were not tested on animals…I failed!

I live near a small town in England. Luckily it still has a thriving town centre with lots of shops – both chains and independents. I visited three chemists (pharmacies, for our American friends), two department stores, the Body Shop, a health food shop and a couple of clothes shops that sell cosmetics. All I could find were a small selection of pencils (for eyes, brows and lips), nail varnish in glass bottles with plastic tops (as most of them are), and a handful of make-up kits/palletes that were in cardboard boxes with metal liners.

Although I’m sure they exist, I didn’t find any lipstick, mascara, face powder, concealer or bronzer/blusher that wasn’t contained in plastic. Standing in front of a wall of make-up in Boots the chemist, I was staggered by just how much plastic was sitting there, all shiny and new, and all of it destined to float around our planet for ever. I must admit, it was pretty depressing.

So, what can we do? Well, we can start by choosing the few non-plastic options that do exist; for example, pick a wooden kohl pencil instead of a plastic-sheathed eyeliner and look for make-up kits in the cardboard boxes when you want to treat yourself. I found lovely sets made by Urban Decay, Bleach London, and Marks & Spencer, all of them cruelty-free and none of them very cheap. Alternatively you can stop wearing make-up altogether! Too much?…Yes, fair enough. For some of us that is a step too far.

There is one other thing we can do. Talk to the shop assistants. If you have time, write to the manufacturers too and ask them to do something about it. There was one bright spot on my almost failed mission. When I went into the Body Shop – where everything was pretty much all plastic except for some sponges and hair brushes – I asked if they sold solid bar shampoos. The lady behind the counter said they didn’t but they were currently in the process of developing them. She said I was the third customer who had asked her for some that day, and it was the same around the country. She said the company can’t ignore what the customers want. Of course they can’t! They’d be crazy to! So, the next time you’re passing your favourite make-up supplier, ask them when they’re going to change the plastic packaging; when they’re going to sell bar shampoo or mascara in metal containers, or whatever else you’d like to see. The more we ask the more it will change. And it just has to, doesn’t it?

Finally, if you want to make sure your make-up is also cruelty-free and/or vegan, you can search for your favourite brand on the PETA website at https://features.peta.org/cruelty-free-company-search/index.aspx

23: Don’t bag it – grow it!

food salad healthy red

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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!

19: Softly, softly, plastic-free!

white textile

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Today the sun is shining, there’s a gentle breeze in the air, and it’s a perfect day to get some washing out on the line (I know – I should really get out more!).

I recently swapped my laundry liquid for washing powder in a cardboard box (a little less plastic), but nowhere on my local supermarket shelves could I find fabric softener that wasn’t in a plastic bottle. I live in a very hard water area, and if I don’t use some kind of softening agent in the washing machine, we end up looking like cardboard cut-outs in our clothes.

According to the Plastic Free July website, you can use white vinegar instead of fabric softener in the washing machine. Really?…surely not. Unless you want to smell like you work in a fish and chip shop. Well, I ran out of fabric softener yesterday and duly put the plastic bottle in the recycling bin. What have I got to lose? And there’s all those sheets to wash.

I can now report that I have just done my first wash with white vinegar in that little compartment where the fabric softener liquid usually goes. You only need a capful…..and it works! Not only do my sheets smell fresh (not a whiff of chips about them!) but the white vinegar is descaling my washing machine at the same time. It goes without saying that you will buy white vinegar in glass bottles and not plastic ones. Most supermarkets stock it as well as some hardware stores.

As a bonus, white vinegar is not usually tested on animals (unlike a lot of fabric conditioners), perfectly fine for vegans and vegetarians to use, and is great for people with sensitive skin. AND it’s a whole lot cheaper than fabric softener to boot….although don’t put your boots in the washing machne. I learnt my lesson.

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