29: Watch your language!

yellow tassel

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Since setting myself this challenge of finding 365 different ways to reduce our use of plastic, the world appears to have gone plastic crazy. It’s like when you get a new car and you suddenly start seeing them everywhere. There are no more of them than before, but your brain has started looking for them…and there they all are.

I look around the house, I go shopping, I go and meet a friend, and everywhere I look I see plastic. Why didn’t I see it all before? Simply because I wasn’t looking in the same way. Also, it’s because I wasn’t consciously naming it. I would go shopping and say ‘I need some shampoo.’ I didn’t say, ‘I need a plastic bottle with some shampoo in it.’ And that’s when I realised that I was making a difference in my behaviour because I had started to make it CONSCIOUS.

Try it for one day. Name everything you see made of plastic – at home, at work, at the shops, on a night out – out loud to yourself (or in your own head, if you think people might point and laugh!). You will be shocked at how many times you say the word ‘PLASTIC.’ Then think about the things you can replace with something that isn’t plastic and you’ll be away. It will start to become conscious and (hopefully) you’ll feeel that you have to do something about it.

And while we’re on the subject of words, let’s stop using a big one incorrectly. And that word is…DISPOSABLE! Most things we call ‘disposable’ simply aren’t: Disposable fork, disposable lighter, disposable nappies, disposable coffee cup…most of these things are not! All we do is dispose of them out of our sight and shift the problem somewhere else. In fact, plastic will never dispose at all, it will just move around the planet or get buried to reappear some other time. Unless you can put it in your compost heap, or use it again, it’s not disposable. So let’s stop calling it that.

Language is a hugely powerful thing. Think about what you call things. Is that what they truly are? Make it conscious and you’ve started making a big difference to your life, to others and to the planet.

And so endeth a bit of philosophy for today. This blog is getting deep!

 

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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….?

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!

Rodin 1

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

24: A very British plastic problem!

drink tea green natural

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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!

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!