My Plastic Free Blog – Helen

It initially seemed a not insurmountable problem- going plastic free for July. After all there were alternatives, weren’t there? I knew it would be much more difficult for the rest of my family as they are meat eaters whereas I’m not.

Photo of two plastic and foil blister packs of medication
Blister packs – irreplaceable?

I knew some things would be impossible; for instance, medication blister packs which are generally a combination of foil and plastic. Not much chance of getting those in bulk or loose. For everything else, surely it would be possible to avoid plastic for one month.

The Changes I’ve Made So Far

Photo of various bits of plastic packaging stuffed into a toilet roll wrapper, ready to be returned to the shop they were bought from
Ready to go back to the shop…

A trip to the usual supermarket was a bit of an eye opener when I counted only about 3 types of vegetables out of the 30 or so on offer that were not wrapped in plastic. Luckily an unsuspecting manager appeared and started checking some nearby items. So I challenged him on the requirement to wrap basic hard veg items in plastic, for instance, hard cabbage. Surprisingly he agreed that they didn’t need to be wrapped and suggested that I take off the wrapping and leave it at the till. That sounded a bit difficult and messy , especially if there was a queue of people so he readily agreed that I could take all the plastic back to the shop and they would return it to the suppliers. So that was quite a relief as my partner likes to shop and buy his meat there which comes in the ubiquitous non- recyclable, black, plastic meat pack.

It seemed easier initially to concentrate on purchases for me alone. Vegetables were relatively easy. We have a Saturday market with an excellent fruit and veg stall who generally have very little wrapped veg so I made an effort to go there each week to buy most of the veg, additional veg came from the super market and any plastic was returned however I tried to only buy things that were not in plastic which called for a bit of creativity in the kitchen.

Soap and shampoo weren’t a problem as they can both be bought in solid form. The solid shampoo bars from Lush are lovely and much easier when travelling anyway and come in a variety of perfumes and ingredients with such delicious scents it is tempting to eat them.

Toothpaste is more of a problem. There don’t seem to be many alternatives, at least, not locally available. I usually use a toothpaste for sensitive teeth which does work so I decided my comfort was more important than the small amount of plastic used in a toothpaste tube which is only bought once every 3 months or so. So that was a failure. However, I have seen recently a recipe for homemade mineralising tooth powder using Bentonite clay so I’m going to experiment. Watch this space!

Tetrapak cartons of juice or milk/milk substitute are very difficult. We buy long-life milk so at least avoid the large bottles of fresh milk. A family member is intolerant of dairy and uses soya which comes in the dreaded Tetrapak. I can’t find an alternative so that was a fail. For myself, I have made oat milk at home which is quite acceptable but does not contain the added calcium and vitamin D so I am going to experiment with that next and be diligent about keeping some made in the fridge. Tetrapaks can be recycled at Purton Tip but it is a bit counterproductive if you have to drive there. The Asda at West Swindon was supposed to be getting a recycling point for Tetrapaks but perhaps someone can confirm that. A partial failure.

Photo of a clear plastic bag full of dried, organic, tofu. Beside it a small glass bowl and spoon containing some of the tofu being re-hydrated in water.

Tofu is a regular purchase and although the rigid plastic trays are useful in the greenhouse as a small plant tray one only needs a few. I had originally put this down as a failure but have since heard about the ‘Zero Waste Shop’ on line where it is possible to buy dried Tofu but at an eye watering price. I have bought some as an experiment but it will have to be a luxury due to the price!

Toothbrush- A bamboo toothbrush seemed to be a suitable replacement and when it needs to be replaced, the handle will serve as an excellent row marker for growing veg. Disadvantages were it came in a cardboard carton, inside was a paper wrapper lined with… guess what- PLASTIC!!! It also had plastic bristles. When I queried this with the manufacturer they said they used the absolute minimum possible and it was for hygiene reasons. Another partial failure!

Washing up liquid. I can’t find a substitute but rumours of a zero waste shop opening locally sound promising and I shall visit next week. So another failure so far.

Looking through my clothes to remove those that contained man-made fibres was interesting. Fleeces will have to be rationed, so they don’t get as grubby or need such frequent washing which is a shame as they are such a cosy, light winter layer. If I can reduce wear by 75% then that will be a big reduction in plastic fibres going into the marine environment. Certain items of underwear are almost always man-made fibre. That will require some more research and experimentation to find a suitable replacement. I did come across a wartime knitting pattern for a bra and pants. Yes, a knitted bra! Fortunately, my knitting skills are far too limited to even give that one a try but if anyone wants to have a go, I can send them the pattern. Luckily most of my other clothes are predominantly natural fibres anyway but it is an excuse to reduce the washing! The same goes for mixed fibre bedding, until they can be replaced with 100% cotton, I will just have to reduce the washing. A partial failure for now.

For other food items like jam, peanut butter etc, I chose brands which were in glass jars but these still often had a plastic lid but at least there is a reduction. Again, there is a price difference with the glass often being more expensive. Another partial failure.

Pulses and grains were bought in the largest quantities available but it would be much better to be able to buy smaller quantities and take my own container. Another one for the Zero waste shop to supply . So only a reduction of plastic on these items.

Biscuits, cakes, bread can be made at home if one has the time but of course, more energy will be used so there is a trade off. So I made some and bought some. A partial success.

The most frustrating items were those that either didn’t need to be plastic wrapped at all or were mixed with other plastics or materials that made them non-recyclable. There is relatively little I can do about that if it is an essential item except leave it on the shelf and do without or keep writing to the manufacturers to get them to stop using plastic. New innovations are coming out all the time so it is worth seeking out alternatives.

My New Year’s Resolution

Luckily we didn’t need any major purchases like white goods or big items of furniture which would have required lots of plastic packaging but it was a very interesting exercise. It has definitely changed my behaviour and now, I am constantly looking how to reduce the use of plastic or buy products which don’t contain any. It didn’t take a major change in lifestyle. Just a bit more planning and a few extra minutes when shopping to seek out an alternative or choose the best option and it was fun trying to be more resourceful.