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Going Plastic Free

 

We all know about the risks and dangers to the planet that are associated with our large dependence on plastic use. In the first minute that it takes you to read my musings and anecdotes on the past week, more than one million plastic bags were used across the globe.

That’s 500 billion used worldwide and that number is only ever going to increase unless we change our attitude towards plastic.

With the way that plastics are synonymous with everything that we do, I started my challenge with a rather moderate pinch of salt. “Surely everything that I use includes the use of plastic” I thought to myself, but this did not put me off attempting my challenge.

There are definitely positives and the world is changing. Renewable energy is becoming more and more important across the world.

We are starting to see the use of Biomass boilers for organic waste and we are seeing Government’s pledge to be plastic free (as of writing Teresa May the PM of the United Kingdom has pledged to ban the use of single-use plastics by 2020.)

The use of carbon energy and other fuel sources are being replaced also with more renewable energy sources but will we ever be able to end our (quite literally) toxic relationship with plastics.

 

Plastic Effect to Ocean

 

Before we get into the details, the basic rules of the challenge were:

 

  1. No plastics allowed to be used (including carrier bags, packaging & boxes)
  2. No drinks that contain plastic (yes tea bags are banned!)
  3. All foods I purchased had to be carried in containers that were re-usable such as tupperware glass.
  4. No wrapping of foods in plastics.
  5. No purchasing of additional products that may contain plastics.
  6. To start with nothing and to begin by heading to the shop to obtain supplies

The Damage to the Planet

 

Before I discuss my week of going plastic free and what I learned about our plastic use, I firstly wish to inform you about the damage that plastics are doing to the planet. The damage that you might think about is the sending of plastics to landfill sites.

Although green and responsible waste management companies offer recycling services in which they sort the plastic that is going to be sent to landfill for recycling, there’s a variety of plastics (single use is one of the most prominent types) that cannot be recycled in recycling plants.

This results in plastics being either unable to be recycled so they are sent to landfill sites to degrade over many hundreds of years or they end up in a rather different environment to dry land.

Sea Pollution From Plastic

 

One of the greatest challenges that we are facing from plastic and one of the main reasons that I decided to try and go plastic free in the first place is the damage that is occuring to our oceans from our love of plastics.

Not only is the life and health of the ocean fundamental to our own healthy environment on earth, one rather optimistically feels that we have a responsibility to protect and preserve the planet rather than voraciously damage it.

Plastics such as plastic bags pose a risk to animals, with animals that swim unexpectedly into a plastic bag may not be able to break free.

Beaches are becoming polluted from our extensive plastic use with eyesores appearing across our historic and picturesque seaside villages and towns.

Plastic in combination with other pollutants is damaging ecosystems within the ocean and causes harm to entire species of plants, animals and other sea dwellers.

My Journey Begins

 

Now that I have discussed the rather morbid reasons as to why I wished to attempt to go plastic free, I will go into the finer details about what happened during my journey and what I learned from the entire process.

Whilst gaining inspiration for this, I stumbled upon a couple of other pieces discussing the viability of going plastic free and the writers’ own personal thoughts on the subject.

Everybody seemed to agree that we need to stop our extensive use of plastic and to look for other methods of packaging rather than using this plastic however there was one aspect which kept cropping up…

It was very, very difficult.

 

Day One – The Caffeine Curse

 

Single Use Plastics

What I didn’t realise (and a fact which still shocks me) is that even tea bags include polypropylene plasticto help the sealing process. Disposable coffee cups were obviously a no go so until I could obtain myself some loose tea or instant coffee, I was unfortunately caffeine free.

Rather groggily, I headed to the supermarket (as I started from scratch) and began to browse the shops, tupperware at the ready.

The first thing that I realised was the sheer extent as to how much food was packaged in the supermarket. Fruit, vegetables, cookies, bread, pizza.. You name it. It was likely to be packaged with plastic.

The supermarket was in fact so plastic based that I had to begrudgingly purchase a few loose items before heading to the greengrocer.

At the greengrocer, I discussed my challenge with him and he seemed impressed although somewhat bemused with my predicament as I headed off with my shopping.

Finally, I finished my day’s shopping by heading to the butchers and cheesemongers (almost all the meat and cheese was packaged in the supermarket) to make some additional purchases. He assured me that my steaks and pork rashers were wrapped in paper rather than a plastic substitute, as I loaded my cheese into my last Tupperware box and headed home.

 

Day 2 – Food Disposal Nightmare

 

Green Solutions

If I had assumed that the limitations of what I could purchase were going to be the thing that made the challenge difficult, I was about to receive a rather rude awakening.

I made it very smoothly through the day at work, typing away at my computer with coffee in hand (no plastic in my lovely mug) and got home with surprisingly little plastic based incidents.

Once I had finished up my meal, I began to consider the second issue that would definitely become highly difficult, the disposal of waste without bin bags or other plastics.

Although rather thin from plastic, my recycling consisting of metal was easy to sort. The organic waste on the other hand was more of a bother.

This had to be put into a makeshift composting container in the corner of the communal gardens of my flat area. Although this was a makeshift solution, I was quite pleased with my innovation.

 

Day 3 – Cosmetic Carnage

 

Plastics in Cosmetics

 

If you didn’t know that there was a cardboard type of toothpaste that you can chew and then rub your teeth with, you know now!

Washing up and washing myself was one of the most difficult aspects of the week. With the amount of plastic packaging used within cosmetics, hair gels and other bathroom supplies I was able to manage.

I had to replace my usual sea grass and lime shower gel for a non plastic fancy shampoo and soaps to ensure that no plastic was used.

Cleaning up my flat was possible although I would have no idea how I would use bleach and other detergents whilst cleaning up without the use of plastic. Perhaps the next 1m dollar idea?

 

Day 4 – Adjusting to the Lifestyle

 

By day 4, it was safe to say that I was pretty adjusted to the lifestyle of living plastic free. Although there are certainly limitations (and it was interesting to see that I was really looking forward to using plastics again) I was managing despite some of the hardships.

Day 5 – Agricultural Aspirations

 

Sheep

On day 5, I was seriously seeing the limitations of living plastic free. If I wanted the convenience of a nice pizza then it was impossible to find an ingredient that didn’t include some kind of plastic in the packaging.

The limitations on what I could eat were starting to get the better of me (which I managed to contain until I got home!!)

One of the more limiting factors was that all of my meals had to be made from scratch.

I almost wish that I could have my own farm of some kind in which I could create a vast range of products without the need for plastics.

 

Day 6 – Snow Storms Hit

 

The spectacular snow displays hit the UK with widespread disruption caused around the country.

With some of the worst weather ever witnessed in February, I was cut off from the outside world on my return home.

This made my predicament even worse as my rather limited supply of non packaged foods was wearing thin.

 

Day 7 – End of the Challenge

 

Plastics in Food Packaging

With the snow still raging, I finalised the final day of my challenge. I feel that I have learned a lot over the past week.

The challenge was possible (although there were certain products that it would almost certainly be impossible to obtain without the use of plastic containers or packaging.)

That said I did enjoy the challenges that were posed and feel that I did surprisingly well in the circumstances.

 

My Conclusion?

 

So would I suggest that we all go plastic free? At this point, especially until supermarkets and other commercial giants do not make active decisions to stop the production of their plastic waste I am rather pessimistic.

However, we can definitely make small changes to cut down on the plastics that we use and by changing the attitudes that we have to plastic, it is certainly possible to reduce the amount and actively act in the interest of the environment.

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Author – The Author works in association with 1st Choice Waste Management, a waste management company based in Redcar, Cleveland.