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….?

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

12: It’s getting hot in here!

macro photography of black sunglasses on sand

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As the UK, and many other parts of the world, bake under an unseasonably hot summer sun, thoughts turn to one thing: No, not barbecues and sun cream…deodorant!

Of course, this is an essential for all but the most naturally angelic-smelling people, and it goes without saying that it’s better to buy a deodorant in an aerosol tin can than a plastic one – at least a tin can be recycled. But I’ve found a better solution.

Lush Cosmetics, among others, now make a solid deodorant that looks like a bar of soap. Completely plastic-free (they wrap it in paper), lasts for ages, and it’s even vegan friendly. I’ve tried it, and it really works! It’s not an anti-perspirant – most of those contain aluminium, which is not only bad for the environment, but not great for your body either – so you will still sweat a little, but when you do, you stay smelling beautifully fresh.

Another bonus with a bar deodorant is that you can slice a piece off, wrap it in paper and take it on holiday with you without having to surrender it at the airport. Because, of course, it’s not a liquid. To use it you simply dampen it and rub it on.

Lush solid deodorants start at about £4.95, which is about twice the price of a ‘regular’ deodorant, but it easily lasts about 4 or 5 times longer (depending on normal use – you might use more if you’re a blacksmith or fire eater!) so it’s actually much cheaper in the long run. I’ve had mine since February, used it every day and still have only got through about 10% of the bar.

You can also buy crystal deodorants, mostly available from places like health food shops, but I’ve yet to find one that isn’t sheathed in plastic. So, while these are healthier for you and the ozone layer, the purpose of this blog is to eliminate single-use plastic so they’ll have to stay on the shelf for now…unless you find one in a glass container.

So, get out there, enjoy the sunshine, and stay smelling sweet without filling the world with more plastic. It can be done!