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Thursday, 30 April 2015

The Plastic Challenge - four months later

The Pitt family have been plastic free now for four months.  Well almost… almost plastic free that is.

Any eco challenge would really be pointless if you didn't use up what you already had and despite the fact that I've been doing my best for naked shopping for a long time now, I feel that at the end of four months of being close to plastic-free purchasing, we are still surrounded with plastic, plastic and more plastic in our house.

By the end of February we had accumulated this little collection below - all from items we already had in stock before the start of 2015. I kept this stock of plastic in a small box in my recycling cupboard.

It came in handy last week when I did a Dustbin Diet workshop at St Christopher's School, in Accrington, Lancashire. I did take great care to gather up all my plastic resources to bring home with me, having littered the stage with them in assembly and then thrown them around the classroom while discussing the difference between valued resources and wasted rubbish.  The students absolutely got the point and they are now working away at their own version of 101 Ways to Live Cleaner and Greener for Free which will be published in July this year, and more importantly they are thinking about how to break the habit of throwing away rubbish and planning ways to reduce, reuse and recycle more.

Then on Friday, while I had the loan of the car, I had a clear out of my recycling cupboard.  I had cards to take to a local collection point to be turned into new cards, which are sold for charity.  I had some clothes I no longer needed - a cardigan that somehow got left out of the children's clothes clear out a couple of years ago and some golf trousers belonging to Mr Pitt's slimmer days as well as some old frayed shirts.  All this was destined for the community shop where they sell the clothes but also get money for 'rags' too.  I had a broken mouse and and a broken iron destined for the small electricals collection bin in a nearby car park and I had my tub of plastic.  Having cleared out my cupboard, the temptation to recycle the plastic was overwhelming and so out it went into the recycling box.  I have the pictorial evidence to remind me.

Then I wondered: what would I use as resources for my next Dustbin Diet session? Time to start again on the plastic packaging box, I felt, and so I've been having a use it up week.

On Saturday, we munched our way through a packet of oatcakes that came in a Christmas hamper. On Sunday we used up some biscuits in a lovely lime cheesecake.  We finished up a layer of a box of chocolates that had been hanging around a while, and we finished one layer of the cheese crackers we bought at Christmas.  That was already quite a lot of plastic!

Then, I finished up an old packet of yeast that had got left behind in the back of a cupboard. (It still worked fine.)  I emptied out a few things from their flimsy plastic packaging and put them into reusable storage jars. I also rounded up the bottles of various products such as shampoo and conditioner in the bathroom and finished them off this week, rinsing out the last dregs.  In no time at all I have filled my plastic resources container ready for the next school!

But all that is plastic we already had, so what of our plastic free purchasing this year?  I have to say, that as we are trying to live our lives as close to 'normally' as possible, we haven't managed to succeed in keeping our purchases 100% plastic free.  I think we have managed to cut down significantly though.

Here's our single use plastic purchase list for the first four months of 2015.

The necessary stuff...

  • 2 small plastic bubbles from the new batteries for our kitchen scales,
  • plastic packaging from cat wormer and flea stuff,
  • plastic packaging from various medicines.

The stuff we could have avoided if we had been more organised…

  • 2 plastic lids from tetrapak orange juice when we decided we needed extra orange juice for a party (we normally buy orange juice from the milkman in reusable glass bottles).
  • The plastic wrapping from three birthday cards when I didn't remember to buy suitable cards from our wonderful local charity cards (These are still plastic wrapped but I return the wrappers for reuse.)

Stuff we could have avoided but didn't notice or think about...

  • 4 lots of plastic wrap from round wine bottle lids - while most of these seem to be metal, we haven't discriminated between those wrapped in plastic and those wrapped in metal.
  • The very annoying bit of plastic that the person serving me in Oxford Covered Market wrapped my cheese in without me noticing, EVEN WHEN I HAD SPECIFICALLY ASKED HIM NOT TO!!!

Stuff that we could have avoided but cracked (i.e. the complete fails!)...

Junior daughter's list:

  • the wrapping from a plastic punnet of grapes bought while out longer than expected
  • plastic packaging from some flapjack - again while out and about and hungry without enough pre-planned snacks
  • the plastic wrapping from a bag of apples
  • the plastic wrapper from some 'honey barbecue wholegrain snacks'
  • two plastic bags from clothes bought via Internet.

My list:

  • the wrapping from some feta cheese when I'd promised to make a Greek salad for a shared buffet supper

Family shopping list:

  • 1 plastic bag from Emmentaler cheese bought on holiday in Austria
  • 1 large packet of crisps bought on holiday in Austria 

Plastic brought in to the house by others…

  • the flimsy plastic wrap from inside two boxes of cheese straws brought to a party
  • 3 plastic punnets from olives brought to a party
  • a small bit of cling film from something brought to a party

Other miscellaneous items that have appeared...

  • a small pack of Galaxy Minstrels
  • a large pack of M&Ms
  • a small silver packet from some kind of biscuits

Who did they get munched by, I wonder?

And here it all is:
Our 4 months' worth of plastic packaging.

In addition to all this we've acquired:

  • a small piece of bubble wrap which I'll keep for reuse
  • various 2 litre plastic bottles from lemonade and coke and tonic water which we are going to use in the garden as cloches
  • a plastic bag from the butchers when we couldn't resist buying their delicious pasties and hadn't come prepared with a container (we opened the bag really carefully so we can reuse it!)
  • the plastic bag from a 2.5 kg bag of cat food which we are using to store all our plastic for the year
  • two 10kg sacks from cat food - already used for garden purposes
  • three tubs with lids from Philadelphia cheese washed and already reused several times for storage

So how have we avoided having much more plastic than this?

1. Quite a bit of home baking - we have so far made all our own bread, biscuits and even oat cakes and crisps.

2. Always taking our own bags and containers when out food shopping.

3. Buying from shops rather than the Internet and whenever possible buying second hand from charity shops.

4. Being organised about taking drinks, meals and snacks when out and about and particularly for Junior Daughter taking sufficient food to school in her own containers to avoid all the pre-packed plastic covered food available in the canteen.

5. Having a plentiful supply of peanuts, Japenese rice crackers, giant corn, and Bombay Mix all purchased in our own containers from either SESI or Whole Foods Market.

6. Cooking from scratch from fresh ingredients rather than buying pre-packed ready meals - but we have been doing this for years so that's just a habit we already have.

Conclusion?  We could try harder but not a bad effort, dare I suggest?

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

The Virtual De-clutter

Whenever I have a period of being particularly busy away from my desk I always come back to  a mountain of email.  I expect that's not unusual.  It is just part of life these days.

Much as I try to keep on top of my emails by deleting them when they are dealt with or filing them if I need to keep them, I regularly end up with well over a thousand emails in my In Box.  Each one of those emails has a carbon footprint.  Mike Berners-Lee, author of How Bad Are Bananas - The Carbon Footprint of Everything, estimates the carbon footprint of a spam email to be 0.3g (that's slightly more than two pints of tap water).  A proper email (because you spend longer at your computer dealing with it) he calculates as having a carbon footprint of 4g and an email with a 'long and tiresome' attachment can be up to 50g (about two thirds of a banana).  Today after an interlude of being mostly off-line for a couple of weeks, I find I have 2941 emails in my In Box.

So today I've made a decision.  As I try to have a cull of email, each time I find an email that I would normally delete without reading, I will open it (unless it seems like a virus!!) and click on the 'unsubscribe' link.

Clearing out email that is no longer needed has several advantages.

Firstly, it is easier to find that email you do need to find when you have less of it for you or your computer to search through.

Secondly, all that email is taking up disk space on your computer.  So many computers are clogged up with unnecessary emails, poor quality photos and old documents you are never going to open again.  The more clogged up your computer is, the slower it becomes.

Thirdly -well maybe this is just me - it makes you feel better when your computer is nice and neat and organised.

I find an easy way to clear out my In Box is to sort it by recipient and then often you can delete a whole  group of emails in one go.

So here goes, I'm off to unsubscribe from a few newsletters I never read, to tidy up a few loose ends of work and have a good virtual de-clutter.  I know I'll feel cleaner and greener as a result and no doubt save a few bananas-worth of CO2 in the process.

Saturday, 28 February 2015

The plastic challenge two months in

We are now two months in to our plastic challenge and I think we can now say that we are getting in to the swing of things.

There are some things, that I don't think we can avoid, but even with such things we are finding ways to lessen the plastic packaging just by doing things slightly differently.

At the end of January, I had to buy more cat food and so returning to Countrywide to purchase their own make cat food again, I found them out of stock of the 2.5kg bags, but they did have 10kg bags.  I checked the ingredients against the photo I had taken on my phone and found them to be the same, but first I had to solve the problem of how to store this much larger quantity for a much longer time.  Countrywide couldn't help with that, but Poundstretcher sell a 'Pet Pantry' at a cost of £14.99 which seems to do the trick.  Even with the expense of the pet pantry it was a lot cheaper buying it in bulk. I'm hoping the pet pantry keeps the food fresh for long enough.

Smarty is checking out the new cat food
One of the most annoying things we're finding is that some shops charge more for unpackaged veg than for packed veg.  That seems totally wrong, to me. We haven't really been monitoring the price differences up to now, just getting annoyed by them.  But, I'm planning to monitor them carefully from now on to build up an accurate picture of who is doing this, when and where.

Today's challenge is a fundraising event in our village - the cricket club quiz - which involves bulk buying beer and wine and we usually serve various low budget salty snacks at each table.  The snacks will look a little different this year as we'll be serving Bombay mix, peanuts, giant corn and Japanese rice crackers all of which I've bought in  bulk in my own containers at Whole Foods Market on my way past earlier this week.  We were worried that the beer would be a plastic problem.  At Booker, we compared the price of crates of cans of beer which are wrapped in plastic with the crates of bottled beer wrapped in cardboard and the price of the cans was much cheaper.  We looked at the possibility of barrels of beer but we don't have enough people drinking it to warrant a barrel of bitter plus a barrel of lager plus a barrel of cider and once these are started, my understanding is that they have limited shelf life. On the other hand, we always just keep any left over cans to sell at the next event.  However, we checked out Sainsbury's and found that their cardboard wrapped cans were on a par with the plastic wrapped crates at Booker so we managed to purchase everything plastic free.

We've been asked to provide dips and crudités for Junior Daughter and at first she seemed reluctant for me to do this with her or for her 'because of the whole plastic thing', but I persuaded her that home made dips would be a lot nicer than shop bought dips and she agreed.  I wanted to buy a cucumber and some celery along with peppers and carrots, but as we were timing our trip into town to pick up glasses for the Quiz night (you can borrow glasses from Waitrose free of charge) I didn't manage to get to the market in time.  Waitrose and Saisnbury's only had wrapped celery and wrapped cucumber, so I took the decision to just buy peppers and carrots.  I pointed out that these were always the favourites anyway, so Junior Daughter didn't seem to mind.

All in all our plastic purchases are minimal, but we have still generated lots of plastic packaging from things we already had in the house.

Two months worth of plastic packaging

Never-the-less, it certainly makes a mountain of difference.  I'm pretty sure I used to put out this much plastic every week.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

The plastic challenge - week three

This week's shop was pretty successful.  I bought quite a bit of meat including some for my grandmother.  She decided she wanted hers in a container rather than in a plastic bag - it's catching on.  Fortunately our local butcher is extremely supportive and is more than happy to fill up my own containers.

We went shopping on Saturday for some more vegetables, and the one thing we didn't come back with (aside from peas of course) was a cauliflower.  We were in Waitrose and all the cauliflowers are in a plastic bag.  We know that it is the same in Sainsbury's.  The last cauliflower I bought was in Whole Foods Market where they are not in plastic bags.  We could maybe have found one at the market, unpackaged but we decided we would do without as we had bought sprouts in one of our own Onya Weigh bags.

The one bit of plastic we came back with this week was a tub of Philadelphia cheese.  I've decided this purchase is exempt from my plastic challenge as I buy it for making cheesecake or tiramisu which is a good way of using up leftover/stale cake.  We had half a chocolate log in the fridge which had really been there long enough so it got mashed up into the base for tiramisu and soaked in Tia Maria and strong coffee.  Then I whipped up the Philadelphia with some icing sugar and spread that on top and covered it in grated chocolate. It is now all eaten up as pudding after Sunday lunch.

Making tiramisu out of the leftover chocolate log
There was some extra chocolate sauce left over from the chocolate log, and so I turned this into a fridge cake.  This was another plastic challenge as I have up to now made my fridge cake by lining a loaf tin with cling film.  This was easily overcome though, by using a pork pie tin which has a loose bottom, lined round the edge with some Bake-o-glide.  It worked really well and was easier than the cling film method.

My new method for making fridge cake

So why do I consider the Philadelphia cheese packaging to be ok?  Well, it is most certainly reusable in our house.  I always keep the empty pots, wash them out and reuse them for example for snacks like peanuts and raisins or grated carrot and celery sticks which I take when I am working away from home and Junior Daughter takes to school.  There is no other plastic packaging other than the tub itself.

Mid week I decided I needed to buy my cat food as they say you should introduce new cat food gradually.  I did buy the Countrywide brand and the cats like it. So again more plastic, but at least it is in a useful bag.

Here's the Pitt Purchased plastic tally to date:

2 toothpaste tubes with lids
2 plastic bubbles from the battery packaging

In addition, but with plans to make use of the plastic:

1 tub with lid from Philadelphia cheese
1 bag from cat food washed out, dried and back in use.

I have also pulled out of my plastic store a small plastic bag when I've needed one. It was from apples. I'll be keeping this and no doubt reusing it again, because apples from now on will only be purchased loose.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

The plastic-free challenge - we can no longer buy The Guardian

Mr Pitt's Parmesan Bites with Chilli and Rosemary

So, after feeling the glow of success last Saturday, we went out on a mission to acquire more good quality plastic tubs to continue our naked shopping.  Senior Daughter is also keen to join in even while living away, so we will be needing lots more re-fillable pots to manage our mission.

We also needed butter, cheese, toothpaste and some small round batteries for our kitchen scales.

The butter we buy is wrapped in paper, so there's no change there at this stage as although our aim is to reduce single use anything, we are at the moment concentrating on plastic.  We headed to the market with a suitable cheese sized plastic tub to see if there was a cheese stall.  No luck there, so we decided to give Waitrose a try.  We did come away with a chunk of cheese in our plastic container but the young lady who served us looked a little perplexed and it took some explaining that we didn't want any plastic packaging in the box with it.  She used a sheet of plastic to hold the cheese while she cut it and to transfer it to our box.  I think she then threw away that sheet of plastic. However, if we hadn't taken our own container, not only would the cheese have remained wrapped in the sheet of plastic, it would have been placed inside another plastic bag, so at least we are saving on waste if not entirely.

The toothpaste, however, was our first failure.  Dental hygiene is a big worry for people and I had done a little Internet research about alternatives to toothpaste in plastic tubes.  I occasionally use LUSH toothy tabs, which I really like and I always use these when travelling.  As I understand it they are basically toothpaste in solid form.  They are packaged in recycled cardboard, which itself is recyclable.  I have probably been using them on and off for about a year, but unless I use them consistently and completely ditch the tube toothpaste then I won't really know if I pass the dental check.  So, I've decided to try to be more consistent on my use of the toothy tabs.  I realised that one thing that stops me is that I haven't been keeping them in the bathroom for fear they will get wet.  So my plan is to find a small jar to keep them in, so they stay dry and are always to hand.  Old habits die hard, they do say, and sure enough I find myself reaching for the toothpaste tube more often than not.

The batteries for the scales were another fail! They had a small plastic bubble to keep them in place on a piece of card.  However, we do want to get our scales back into use and return the ones we had to hastily borrow from my Dad on Christmas Eve, when ours packed up.

The next challenge, I think is going to be cat food.  We did a bit of research, to see if we could find a local bulk buy place where we could fill our own container, but no joy.  We looked at brands like Go-Cat that come in a cardboard box, but the meat content is around 3.8% rather than 38% like our current brand.  My thought so far is to switch to the Countrywide own brand which comes in a no-nonsense clear plastic bag, which would be recyclable, or washable and reusable if opened carefully.  It seems to have largely the same ingredients as the current cat food.  I've got a couple of days to make a decision. In the meantime, I would be grateful for any suggestions.

I'm also on the lookout for somewhere to buy frozen peas in my own container. So far, we have just done without, but we are missing our peas :(

Last but not least - we realised we can no longer buy The Guardian at the weekend as it comes wrapped in plastic. NO OTHER NEWSPAPER on the shelf in Waitrose had a plastic wrapper so why does The Guardian feel it is necessary?  I'm sad about that, but I'm sure the unread sections of the stash of Guardian's we already have will keep us going for a while.

To date the 2015 Pitt purchased plastic tally is this:

2 toothpaste tubes with lids
2 plastic bubbles from the battery packaging.

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Scrapping the single use plastic packaging

Can it be done? What will life be like without single-use plastic?

I thought I was going to lose junior daughter and Mr Pitt on day one. New Year's Day in the Pitt household is traditionally a day for chilling out and eating snacks.  Junior Daughter had friends staying for New Year and so when she took them home Mr Pitt instructed her to buy snacks. Please remember the plastic free bit, I urged and received back a 'don't worry, Mum'.
Soon I get a phone call asking what she could buy. Maybe tubs of nuts, was my suggestion. But she couldn't see anything in a reusable tub. Then I cracked and said that I couldn't think of anything and I wasn't going to be eating them anyway. (Not true!)
A few minutes later I get a text:
"There is 100 per cent nothing I can buy."
I wasn't sure what to expect. But she did indeed come back with nothing. I raided the snacks cupboard and pulled out a few unfinished packs of crisps and found a tub of Yorkshire Crisps from a hamper I had been given for Christmas. I thought it was bound to have a plastic inner. But No. The tub is on its third use now full of roasted peanuts from Whole Foods Market. It has already transported sugar from SESI Oxford to the fairly heavy glass storage jar I use. Mr Pitt also came to the rescue with a yummy tortilla - a Spanish tapas dish he made from fried potatoes, onion, marjoram and thyme, fried up then transferred to a quiche dish, covered with beaten egg and then grilled.  So we had a lovely film and snacks evening after all.

The snack attack issue was solved on my trip to SESI Oxford. When I stocked up with dry goods like flour and sugar, I bought peanuts and raisins in my own Onya Weigh bags. JD is taking these to school daily in a Philadelphia cheese tub. Then in Whole Foods Market I filled my Yorkshire Crisps tub with salted peanuts and bought dried salted broad beans, giant salted corn and Taiwanese Chilli Rice Crackers in my own containers. Today we will make a batch of mini cheese biscuits and some banana bread.

So far we have still been producing plastic from using up stocks, but we've managed to do all our shopping totally naked. So, off to a good start.

Using up the stocks.  This is the plastic we have generated in a week.

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Happy New Year!

If you've read my blog before, you might know that I love a New Year's Challenge.  In 2013 I did a year of Swishing which changed my attitude to shopping completely. This year I pledged to buy no  new books (except as birthday presents).  I've managed far more trips to the library and got pretty organised about ordering books for collection - a great service that libraries provide.  I've also given away 10 books each month - well - at least up until November.   When I finish this blog post I'm going to select my final 10 books for 2014 and then contemplate whether I can possibly carry this on into 2015.

But even if I do carry on the book challenge, I always like to have a new challenge too.  And next year will be, without doubt, the toughest yet…

A year without single use plastic.

This is not something I've just dreamt up today… oh no.  I, or rather we - the Pitt family - have been contemplating it for a while now.  I think it was around October time that I first suggested the challenge to Mr Pitt.  He was tucking in to a packet of crisps at the time.  "Can't be done!" was the initial reaction.  But then gradually came more and more comments like "We won't be buying anymore of these, then."  Soon after that came Mr Pitt's home-made potato peel crisps.

We've been doing our bit for naked shopping for a while now, so we are well practiced at buying fruit and veg packaging free and in recent months I've discovered options for buying a whole range of goods packaging free.  You can read more about this in previous blog posts.

A fairly typical Pitt shop.

So why are we doing it?
Firstly, we have been a 'Zero-Waste' household for quite a while now.  It is many years since we had a rubbish bin in the house and because of that we always think of our 'rubbish' not as 'rubbish' but as 'resources' and as such we put what ever it is we have finished using into the appropriate place to be reused or recycled.  We don't just 'throw away'.

But, over the years that I've been researching waste management and recycling for my books, and talks as well as my own family life, I've started to look more carefully at what I do and at what businesses and organisations do in terms of waste.

As I see it now, there are two schools of thought about Zero-waste.  There's firstly the 'Zero-waste to land-fill' school of thought and that's what we've managed to achieve for many years now.  But how?  Well, there has for a long time been very little in Oxfordshire that doesn't get collected for recycling.  The local council here even collect quite a lot of 'flyaway plastic' as long as it is clean and bagged up so that it doesn't fly away to pollute the countryside when they are collecting.

But there're still a few things that aren't recyclable - and guess what - these are all mainly plastic or plastic based packaging items.  We have generally tried to avoid such items, but when we have had them, we have disposed of them by using them to light our wood burning stove and wood-fuelled cooker.  Plastic is much better than paper at this task, doesn't stink like firelighters, but I don't know the full extent of the pollution it may be causing in the atmosphere.

The second school of thought is not just Zero-waste to landfill, but Zero waste at all. And that's where I want to be a year from now.  I'm not wanting to demonise plastic completely, but it is responsible for a great deal of pollution on our lovely planet.  Our oceans are full of the stuff and it is high time we did something about it.  So I've taken a good look at what we consume, how we consume it and how we pass it on to its next purpose - whether that  is to be reused, recycled, composted or burnt by us or by the local council at its new energy from waste plant.  My conclusion is that to move from Zero-to landfill (we are 99.99% there) to being Zero Waste, it is the single use plastic that we have to say goodbye to.

Home-made potato crisps

Home-made butternut squash crisps

Dry goods you can buy in your own containers at SESI, Oxford

Weighing out dried mango at SESI

My packaging free dry goods will come from SESI.  It is easy
 to buy and store enough for three months.

Now why do I think it is going to be so hard?

Our lives are so full of plastic.  It is everywhere we turn.  In the last couple of months I've been really taking note about how much stuff we have that came here by means of plastic packaging.  We use plastic all day, every day it seems.  If we wanted to say that from the 1st of January to 31st December 2015 I would use nothing that involved plastic a whole lot of stuff would go to waste - and we don't do WASTE.

So what can we do to achieve our plastic free - zero waste lifestyle?

These are the Pitt family rules for our plastic free 2015:
1. Buy nothing new that has any plastic in it or around it.
2. Collect and weigh all recyclable plastic that arises from purchases already made in order to raise awareness of the plastic in our lives.  We will recycle or keep this plastic for reuse.
3. Collect and weigh all non-recyclable plastic that arises from purchases already made.  We will accumulate this and photograph it and hopefully see it diminish month by month.

A selection of oils and vinegars I can buy in my own containers
I will hopefully be keeping you posted of our progress as we gradually eradicate single use plastic from our lives.  If not then I'll be sharing a moan or two.

Locally made washing up liquid.
  I'll take my own bottles to refill.

Can we do it?  How long will it take to be single-use plastic free?

One month?
Six months?
A whole year?

We'll see.  Bring on the 2015 challenge. Happy New Year!