Even if you live on a remote island in the Indonesian archipelago, it would be hard to avoid the world’s plastic problem. In fact during a recent ocean clean-up, residents of Bali were removing 100 tonnes of plastic from beaches each day – so what was in my mind the tropical idyll, turns out to be the second biggest consumer/polluter of plastic in the world, after China.
Here in the UK, plastic is near the top of the environmental agenda. David Attenborough highlighted the crisis in his awe-inspiring Blue Planet II series. His most thought-provoking moment, was seeing a baby albatross lying dead, its stomach pierced by a plastic toothpick fed to it by its own mother, having mistaken it for healthy food. A small tragedy, which highlights the bigger one we have all become aware of in recent years. It takes 450 years or so to break down a plastic bottle and because we use so much of it – it is ruining our planet. Future archaeologists will be able to date this era in hundreds of years, from the sheer amount of plastic in the ground.
Environment Secretary Michael Gove, who is so far proving more radically pro-environmental then anyone expected – is understood to be considering introducing refundable deposits on plastic drinks bottles, encouraging retailers to use fewer types of plastic, as well as a standardised recycling policy for councils. For example, there are two dumps close to me, one takes plastic, the other doesn’t.
Like with booze, I was always aware I should cut down on my plastic consumption. But jeez, it was tricky and I have only recently got bang on it. It is, inadvertently, humungous. For example, I ordered some dog food from Amazon before Christmas and in a box that could have housed a desktop computer was a tiny bag (plastic obviously) of dog food surrounded by loads of inflated, unrecyclable plastic. Amazon says it is doing more to recycle, but that obviously hasn’t filtered down to warehouse staff. Other supermarkets and food manufacturers are upping their game. Following the 5p per supermarket bag levy, the government has realised when it comes to carrot or stick for waste reduction, stick works, and are now thinking of introducing a 25p charge on coffee cups (although these are most often or not paper, they have a plastic lining, which is hard to separate and thus recycle). According to an environmental audit committee report, in the UK 2.5bn disposable cups are thrown away each year, of which less than 0.25% are recycled.
I bought a Quavers multipack recently (a throwback to the 80s, but my daughter’s favourite crisp) and they had reduced the amount of plastic in the outer wrapping by about 40%. This meant a tight and snug packet instead of the large, billowing one which presumably made customers think they were getting more crisp for their quid. Whilst I applaud their effort, what took them so long?
Some of my favourite things are plastic. My computer for example. The mascara I use every morning. The Suckie yogurts my 9yo adores, which despite their cool branding don’t seem to be recyclable in the least.
But I have managed to cut back on…
Plastic water bottles
I manage this about half the time. I am trying to make leaving the house without a reusable bottle, as ridiculous as leaving the house without my phone, wallet or keys. I need to find a good reusable water bottle…. one that isn’t plastic for that matter. My kids ones regularly break and therefore often need replacing. I am sure there must be a better alternative. I am all ears.
I bought this bamboo one yesterday. It lives in my handbag. Although I forgot to wash it before road-testing my first cup, which tasted of rubber…. hopefully this was teething trouble.
I have swapped to bars of soap instead of bottled soap and shower gels. It is such an easy switch, that leaves me feeling virtuous. I have bought – but not tried – a shampoo bar – which looks just like soap but feels a little lentil-munchingly* radical still, and I would love to find a mainstream alternative, so if you have any recommendations please let me know. *I love lentils, but you get what I mean.
OK, so I know a soda stream is made from plastic, but if I buy one to make fizzy water, it will save me from buying those giant 2l plastic bottles. The other option is to buy fizzy water in glass bottles. Glass is recyclable. It is made from sand and can therefore be ground down back into sand again and absorbed back into the environment.
I no longer buy plastic cartons of milk, but get bottles delivered to my door from milkandmore (owned by a big dairy, but I have yet to find any organic or more sustainable alternatives). It means my recycling box is no longer full after just one day and I love waking up to a pint of silver top on the doorstep.
With straws, we have ditched plastic for paper, and now think twice before taking plastic cutlery for takeaway food. Plastic toothbrushes don’t breakdown either, so I guess it is a good prompt to move to electric ones, as the disposable heads use less plastic.
So that is what I am doing so far…. Any ideas what else we can do?
PS Whilst I am here, Claire wrote a while back about the “Who Gives a Crap” loo roll which is beautifully and wittily branded (my children, now see wiping bums as an act of subversion) and available to buy in bulk. It is made entirely from recycled paper, bamboo or sugar cane and 40% of profits go to building loos for people who don’t have them. I order 36 rolls at a time and store it in the cellar – making it is just as good value as big brand names.