The plastic problem is all over the news at the moment. It’s been a problem for some time now, but thanks to our pal Sir Davey A and Blue Planet 2 it’s now being far more widely discussed and gaining some much-needed momentum. About bloody time. The problem is, it’s hard. There’s plastic in almost everything we use on a regular basis, it seems; so picking a time and place to start reducing your own plastic use can be tricky. Another thing is, a lot of people ask: why? What can one person do? (Same as the recycling argument which we have tried and still do try so hard to convey).
There was an article in The Guardian recently disclosing that a significant proportion of ocean plastic and waste (90%!) actually originates from just 10 river systems, all flowing through densely-populated areas of developing countries. This is a problem that unfortunately, we can’t fix alone. And without getting into complicated politics I don’t fully understand, I don’t honestly have the answers or solutions for that. But what we can change little by little is the pressure put on corporations and manufacturers by us, the consumer, to reduce over-packaging and invest in more sustainable, eco-friendly alternatives where possible.
This can be done in a number of ways such as making the effort to buy only loose produce rather than packaged, even if it means biting the bullet and paying a little more – although shopping locally is a great and often very reasonably priced way to do this. This goes too for buying fresh bread from a local bakery in a paper bag, which can be kept for storing your broccoli in the fridge (helps it last longer) or putting your sandwiches in for work – I’ve begun getting mine from Nata & Co. Butchers and fishmongers can be a little tricky as most of their packaging is plastic and/or non-recyclable, but if you’re supermarket shopping then making the effort to go to the fresh counter rather than buying it in air-sealed packaging is a positive step.
Critically, making sure to use your own reusable coffee cup instead of buying fresh non-recyclable ones every time (especially if you’re posting some sickening selfie or insta-story with it, just don’t), or stealing 10 minutes for yourself by sitting-in instead, is one small change that can have a big impact (as you may have seen in today’s news). Mine featured right is mostly bamboo from dotcomgiftshop but there are all kinds of options, such as those in this article.
As well as all this, I decided to kick-start my lifestyle changes by ordering a lovely little eco-package from UK-based Save Some Green which contained the following: 3 vegan, handmade castile soaps; 4 bamboo toothbrushes (which were on offer); 4 biodegradable scourers (made from coconut hair and non-stick pan friendly) and a set of 5 reusable bamboo straws.
Firstly, I’ll explain the straws. You may have already seen people talking about this online but straws are actually a huge offender for plastic waste and have been found to not only substantially litter beaches and oceans within a matter of hours, but can also become lodged in the nostrils of endangered sea turtles and pierce the stomachs of penguins. So, I took it upon myself to seek out reusable ones instead and these bamboo straws naturally came in a variety of sizes which has turned out to be pretty useful. I’ll be honest: I’ve loved them when I’ve used them and it has been nice to discuss them when people ask, however I’ll admit it’s been harder than I thought to make it a proper habit so far. Remembering to ask a bartender specifically not to give you a straw is one thing (weirdly, harder than I anticipated) but when someone else buys you a drink it can get trickier still. Maybe I’m over-trivialising this, but my point is that the straws haven’t been as easy to phase-in as I expected. Nonetheless, we persevere.
Secondly, the soap. When I was reading up on how to replace some of my household products with more eco-friendly, homemade alternatives, castile soap came up as a key constituent in homemade washing up liquid. Hence, ordering it serves a dual purpose for washing both hands and dishes. I am yet to make my own washing up liquid as I’ve not finished my pre-existing bottle (also one of the hardest parts about phasing-in ‘sustainable swaps’, you have to wait to bloody finish everything you currently have so as not to waste them unnecessarily) but I’ve purchased a glass container with pump and will be doing so very soon.
On a similar note, the scourers have proved themselves useful in getting greasy spots or burnt-on leftovers from baking trays and pans without affecting the precious non-stick. They are, however, quite sharp to the touch to begin with until softened with water and don’t work as a universal washing up tool as I’d originally intended. In place of a sponge, therefore, (now I’ve successfully knackered-out my pre-existing standard, plastic-based, non-recyclable one) I’ve begun to use a microfiber cloth I already had plenty of which not only does a stellar job but also dries quickly and can be washed & reused again and again. Brill.
The benefits of bamboo toothbrushes to the environment are significant in comparison to the plastic toothbrushes we’ve been brought up on which have a large carbon footprint to produce only to end up in landfill, in the oceans, or sometimes even in the stomachs of birds (follow this link for a great infographic). The ones I purchased from Save Some Green are fully biodegradable, vegan-friendly and can be ordered with varying bristle strengths depending on personal preference. The counter-argument is that huge companies like Oral B spend millions on complicated research to exact the science of brushing and dental hygiene, yet my question is how necessary is this really?
I personally don’t know the answer. But Noel Abdayem, a qualified dentist himself, asked the same question and thus founded the Humble Brush which also boasts a handle made from 100% biodegradable, sustainably-grown bamboo and puts a portion of all purchases towards funding oral health projects for children in need. It’s worth noting though that the bristles of these are not biodegradable like mine claims to be, only the handle. All I know is that my teeth are healthy as they are and besides a little gum soreness in the first few days of getting used to the new bristles (possibly bought the wrong strength), I’ve so far not had any significant issues so feel comfortable with this decision. I even gifted some of my other Save Some Green toothbrushes to family for Christmas to get them on-board, which they did so gladly ☺
Key lessons learned in this first leg of my journey:
- There’s a plethora of eco-info available on the web and it’s been an absolute saviour. A Google search is all you need but some I’ve found really useful are Save Some Green, The Homemade Homemaker series on The Guardian’s website and several Zero Plastic blogs like this one and My Plastic Free Life.
- Waiting for everything you currently use to run out is a pain in the arse, but worth it. It’s got to the point where every time we finish a shampoo or shower gel bottle in our house, we cheer with excitement because it’s one step closer! (Side note: we finally finished shampoo this week so I bought a LUSH shampoo bar; absolutely no regrets. I’m never going back.)
- Discussing it with others is the best way to spread the word and get more people involved. Don’t be afraid to explain why you’re doing what you’re doing and gently encourage close friends or family to do the same. (Gently. No-one likes a pusher.)
- You can’t do everything. This is probably one of the hardest/most frustrating things, but going cold turkey with these things will just never work. In order to be sustainable, (any) lifestyle changes need to be brought into habit, so take it a step at a time. There’s no point throwing away all your perfectly decent tupperware, for example, just because it’s plastic when actually it’s not single-use (and is therefore less environmentally damaging) and serves a good purpose.
I do believe and hope that consumer pressure can be the kick that’s needed to implement changes on a much larger scale. The more people that deliberately reduce by buying loose veg and fresh bread over packaged, complain on twitter when they find something ridiculous (like this single aubergine I found in Aldi, for example. No need…), remember to reuse their own cups, containers etc. and recycle correctly – a topic I’ll talk more about another day – then companies will have to start listening to consumer behaviour and change accordingly.
That’s all for now folks. As I said, I’ll keep you posted on my plastic-reduction journey so will be making this into an intermittent series among the food stuff. Stay tuned for more! And if you’d like to share your own tips and sustainable swaps please do!
Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,
*This post was not sponsored by Save Some Green or any other links in this article.