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

shirtless baby boy in galvanized tub

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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!

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! 

34: Log the small successes – it will keep you going!

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Tip number 32 – ‘Be a rebel in the supermarket (Part One)’ was all about ignoring the plastic bags in the fruit and veg aisle and putting things that weren’t mushrooms in the paper bags provided for mushrooms. (“What? Are you crazy?!) Yep. I didn’t conform. It felt great! I’ve been doing this for a few weeks now, and I’ve even distributed the mushrooms bags to other shoppers I saw who were just about to put their loose leeks, tomatoes, courgettes, in single-use plastic bags. Without exception, they all said ‘thank you.’

Last week I was back in the same supermarket to do my weekly shop. I found myself back in the fruit and veg aisle because I needed some carrots (you don’t need to know that. I’m just filling in the back story!). Before I had a chance to head to the fungi selection to grab some paper bags, guess what I saw?….There were mushroom bags everywhere!!! Yes. In the little receptacles where the plastic bags usually are, there were piles of paper bags that said ‘mushrooms’ on them next to the tomatoes, the parsnips, the carrots….things that aren’t mushrooms at all! Sainsbury’s clearly has a rebel in the shelf stacking department.

Now, I can’t know for sure if I had anything to do with this. Maybe the manager saw me on CCTV giving out mushroom bags to strangers; maybe they saw me presenting random fruit and veg at the checkout in the same bags; maybe someone actually read this blog who lives in my local town and they decided to do the same – who knows? It doesn’t matter at all.

The fact is, a large supermarket has now thrown conformity out the window and is encouraging shoppers to put parsnips into bags that say ‘mushrooms.’ What next? Raspberries in rucksacks?….(Sorry, I got carried away at the end there.) There are still plastic bags where they used to be, but now at least shoppers like us have the option to not use them without walking all the way to the mushrooms.

Go on. Have a go. Move those mushroom bags, take your own containers, a friend of mine even uses the old plastic bags from loaves of bread to put her veggies in so that she can use them over and over again. Try it. Be a rebel for a day. It feels great!

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!

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.