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Sunday, 28 February 2016

A year without plastic - the good bits

Trying to avoid single-use plastic for a year is the hardest challenge I have tried. The reason behind this strange decision that we took was this: I wanted to see if today’s highly packaged lifestyle is necessary and beneficial or not.  How uncomfortable would it be to manage without plastic packaging?

For me, the most uncomfortable part of the whole challenge is that it involved my family and not just myself.  When I have set myself challenges before, which I do most years, it has really been only up to me whether or not I succeeded in my challenge. Involving other people is always going to be harder, but it can also seem more rewarding - or at least that's what I feel now, looking back on what we achieved as a family. 

It was at times frustrating, like when I asked at the covered market in Oxford if I could have some cheese without any plastic wrapper - the guy said "yes, of course" then snuck in the plastic wrapping anyway. Uhh!  Like when I carefully look for packaging that seems plastic free - I open up a cardboard box and find that inside the contents are wrapped in plastic. But I'm getting wise to that one now!

So, it wasn't 100% successful.  However, it was certainly not all bad. In one year we’ve ended up with a 2.5kg cat food bag filled with scrunched up plastic.  It weighed 770 grams.  Even though I can’t say we achieved our challenge, we have cut down our packaging enormously. I’m pretty sure I used to produce about that much plastic in a month, never mind a year.

Here’s what I’ve learnt.
1. Living without plastic requires organisation. It’s when I haven’t planned ahead that I’ve had to buy plastic packaged goods. Having a good stock of dry goods, store cupboard ingredients and buying cat food in bulk helps.
2. Plastic avoidance requires making sure you take lunch, snacks and drinks with you when you are out and about (a huge money saver!) I have a stainless steel flask for water and I make a lunch of leftovers, or a couscous or pasta salad in a Tupperware container. For that boredom/comfort eating I take a small pot of dried fruit and nuts, which I buy in bulk from refill outlets such as Wholefoods Market in Cheltenham or SESI in Oxford when I’m passing by that way.
3. I bake my own bread, cakes, biscuits and oatcakes. Much tastier than anything shop-bought.
4. I cut out crisps, sweets and other plastic wrapped snacks. For me crisps were the hardest challenge, but finding other snacks like nuts, olives, roasted giant corn and dried fruit has helped. Much healthier!
5. Going plastic free gets easier as you learn how and where to shop. At first I thought I was spending more money, but now I’ve learnt where to shop, I save money.
6.Fresh fruit and vegetables are easily found. Sainsbury’s and Waitrose have plenty of loose fruit and veg, and Coop has some availability. I'm sure other supermarkets are the same. However, the best place I found was a local green grocer - the traditional kind - my local is Alan’s Orchard in Carterton and it really is excellent.
7. I buy good local meat and eggs, unpackaged (as you can take your own tubs/reuse your egg-boxes) at my local Butcher's - Patrick Strainge in Bampton.  If you are in the area - don't miss it! It is well-known for its award winning sausages. They also have wonderful pasties, sausage rolls and that sort of thing, which we've used as a way of keeping our holiday travel plastic free.  We have just taken a big tub with a clip lid with us on the day of departure (or the day before) and filled it with goodies.  Much nicer than anything I've ever had from a plastic packet.

So that's the good bits. What about the bad bits? Cheese, cucumber and peas unpackaged? Forget it. Way too stressful!