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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?