I’ve given up plastic for Lent.
Having nailed my transition to veganism, I thought the next best thing I could do for the environment would be to try and chuck my epic plastic habit.
I get through reams and reams of the stuff; I nab plastic cutlery from Whole Foods and Pret every day. I buy individually wrapped cereal bars. I have an embarrassing fizzy water habit.
But after going to this year’s Lush Summit and learning that the biggest plastic pollutant right now is food packaging and polystyrene cups and forks, something had to change.
A quick recap on the plastic problem
- 25% of plastic produced globally is packaging
- 14% of plastic is recycled
- By 2050, according to 5 Gyres, there will be more plastic than fish in the sea if figures continue to rise
- In 2014, we were consuming 311 million tonnes of plastic – a number which is set to double in the next 20 years
- The 2017 United Nations Clean Seas Campaign estimates that there were 51 trillion microplastic particles in the ocean today – 500 times more than the number of stars in our galaxy
For the next six weeks, I’ll be sharing tips for cutting down on the stuff.
So, one week down, how is plastic-free living?
Two words: Hard-going.
Shop for the bare necessities
My first tip is to start off slowly, by trying to reduce your food waste as much as possible.
Open your fridge, freezer and cupboards and see just how much food you’ve got in there – and how much has been there for yonks.
If you’re anything like me, you’ll have tonnes thanks to the fact that you change what you want to eat on a near-daily basis.
Back when our parents were starting out (and especially our grandparents), folk didn’t have the vast array of edible options we have today, or the money to spend on them. My mum often reminisces about collecting scraps from butcher stalls on Chapel Market at the close of play and going home to make huge stews and subsisting on little else for days on end.
Roasts would last for days. Peelings and ends were kept for compost. Animal fat was cooked with again and again. Food waste was incredibly scarce.
Today, we buy, buy, buy and chuck, chuck, chuck. And along with all that wasted food goes a load of plastic packaging that really didn’t need to be produced and bought in the first place.
After a quick scan of my cupboards, it became quite apparent that I could live very comfortably for a number of weeks. There were bags of rice, quinoa, cashews. Packets of half-eaten crisps and discarded bunches of pasta. I simply didn’t know what was there because I kept buying new food on a whim.
Saying that, you do need to eat some fresh fruit and veg from time-to-time, so that day, I set out with my various cloth bags to pick up some.
Do you know how hard is it to shop for vegetables without plastic coverings?
Even in Planet Organic, about 85% of the fresh produce is covered in film or comes in ready-sealed bags. I came away from my shop with a bag of the most expensive coffee (yep, £5 gets you a small paper bag of ground beans) and a chocolate bar, before heading to Sainsbury’s. There, I managed to pick up a couple of sweet potatoes, some carrots, a garlic, a pack of tinned tomatoes and chickpeas. Oh, and some Linda McCartney frozen bits which all come in cardboard boxes. God save Linda! Always there for us vegans and wannabe-environmentalists in our hours of need.
But it soon became apparent that ready-made snacks of any kind are out of the question (RIP Snack-a-Jacks).
You literally cannot buy any kind of carbohydrate without some plastic involvement.
And so I returned home to put my existing bag of oats to good use, by making up a batch of flapjack protein balls instead (which cost me nothing and definitely resulted in a much more nutritious snack).
One solution may be to buy whatever you need in bulk – therefore limiting how much plastic needs to be used.
You can buy massive tubs, for example, of Pip & Nut (other nut butters are available but may not be as delicious, soz). Costco sells huge things of rice and oats.
I’ve been reliably informed that you can get big sacks of ecover (environmentally friendly washing detergent) from Big Green Smile; instead of having to buy bottle after bottle, you buy one sack and decant what you need into the bottle you already have.