- 2 Sep 08, 13:00 GMT
My month without plastic is now over and you can read about my conclusions here.
This blog will remain in the archive but will be closed to new comments shortly.
Thank you again for all your comments.
My month without plastic is now over and you can read about my conclusions here.
This blog will remain in the archive but will be closed to new comments shortly.
Thank you again for all your comments.
My plastic-free challenge is almost over.
In part, I'm relieved, as it's been hard work to deal with such a big restriction on what we as a family can buy and eat.
I'm looking forward to little things like yoghurt (yoghurt pots are polystyrene, I never did find it in glass), crisps and celery.
My husband is particularly keen to see bin bags making a reappearance in the kitchen. And, truth be told, so am I, but will I revert back to all my previous plastic-wrapped ways tomorrow? I don't think so.
I will be writing a piece about my conclusions this week (look out for it on the Magazine index) but until then - and barring any plastic blowouts in the final few hours! - here is the full list of plastic I accumulated this month:
GRAND TOTAL: 116 items
For comparison, the previous month's tally was 603 items including 120 nappies, 68 cups or lids, 33 milk or drinks bottles, 22 food trays / pots, 37 carrier bags and 67 other food packets.
So although I found it impossible to give up plastic completely, I have cut my plastic waste by 80% this month.
Finally, thank you to everyone who has taken the time to comment on the blog.
The views, experiences and knowlege you have shared are far wider than any one person could muster and you have illuminated the complexities of this topic enormously.
There is an internet community of people blogging about reducing plastic in their lives (see blogroll) and they have all been at it far longer than I have.
So I asked some of the most prolific non-plastic bloggers for their top tips for easy ways to reduce plastic consumption.
Californian environmentalist Beth Terry writes Fake Plastic Fish, a comprehensive and witty blog.
Her tips are:
She adds: "The biggest thing I do to avoid plastic is to shop natural foods stores that have bulk bins where I can fill up my own container, but I hesitate to put that on a list of easy things to do because many folks don't have access to stores like that."
Sustainable Dave is another Californian and the author of 365 Days of Trash - not, in itself a non-plastic blog but one which chronicles his family's attempts to limit all their waste.
Life Less Plastic echos the above points and adds some extra ones of her own:
And my own top tip? I've said it before but it has to be the reusable water bottle - such an easy habit to get into, cheap and simple.
As several people rightly pointed out on yesterday's post, I have neglected to tackle the issue of sanitary protection. I meant to write about it in the bathroom post but forgot - so here goes.
It is an important waste issue, as women in the UK throw away 4.3 billion items a year - which either go to landfill, incineration or get flushed away and risk ending up on beaches or in the sea.
Thankfully, this last problem has significantly reduced since the Marine Conservation Society and other bodies launched their Bag It and Bin It campaign. But it has yet to be eliminated.
The average age for onset of menstruation is now 12.5 years and a woman can expect to continue having periods until she is about 50, meaning 37.5 years of using sanitary protection (with a year or so off for each pregnancy).
According to a report by the Women's Environmental Network (pdf) it's estimated that this adds up to 12,000 tampons and towels in a lifetime.
Modern slimline sanitary towels work in much the same way as a disposable nappy. The core of the pad contains sodium polyacrylate gel crystals which absorb moisture. A plastic backing sheet protects underwear and a porous top-sheet keeps the wearer feeling dry.
Tampons are largely cotton but tend to have a proportion of rayon - a cellulose-based fibre which is man-made but not synthetic. They may have plastic or cardboard applicators, while non-applicator tampons tend to be individually wrapped in plastic and have plastic wrapping around the box.
There are plastic-free tampons, such as Natracare, which are 100% organic cotton (and plastic-free towels), but these still have to be disposed of. If landfilled they will be subject to the same problems as any other biodegradable material.
However there are also a range of reusable options, such as washable sanitary towels that fasten into underwear with poppers or Velcro.
After use, they are soaked and can be washed along with a normal load. Many stockists of cloth nappies also sell reusable sanitary towels such as the Minx Pad, pictured right, and instructions for making your own can be found here.
Menstrual cups such as the Mooncup or Keeper are another alternative. These are made from silicone or rubber and are worn internally. They are emptied after a few hours, washed and put back in place.
Finally, natural sponges can be used, although the Women's Environmental Network does not recommend them.
Any of the above options would take some getting used to and experimentation to find the one which suits best but it's worth knowing that alternatives to disposables do exist.
This week I have accumulated:
On Sunday I will post a full list of all the plastic I have got through in the month.
London, Ontario that is. The Canadian city's council last week voted to cease sales of bottled water at municipal buildings and facilities including parks and community centres.
The restrictions will begin on 1 September but will only apply to locations where water fountains or other easy ways of accessing drinking water are available.
Councillors, who voted 15-3 in favour of the move, say it is aimed at cutting the 40 million plastic drinks bottles sold in the city each year, of which only half are recycled.
The ban follows similar initiatives in other North American cities including Seattle earlier this year and San Francisco last year. In January, Chicago added a 5 cent tax to bottled water sold in the city.
This side of the pond, Liverpool council voted for a similar ban in 2007.
The new mayor of London, UK, Boris Johnson has promised to look into "a new era" of public water fountains in the city and the previous mayor, Ken Livingstone, launched a campaign to get customers in restaurants to ask for tap water, rather than bottled.
One of my new habits which I do think I will continue once September comes is to carry an aluminium water bottle around with me.
It really is just as easy as buying a new plastic one each time and at £2.99 for the bottle, it has paid for itself within a few refills from the tap.
It may seem from my posts about farmers' markets, local butchers and fruit stalls that I have shunned supermarkets this month. This is not the case.
I have managed to find a decent amount of non-plastic goods in several major outlets, from naked cucumbers and boxed rice in Lidl to lasagne in cardboard and crackers in paper at Sainsbury's.
That said, my choices have been extremely limited and if I want the convenience of one-stop shopping come September, I will have to go back to plastic.
Every food retailer is aware that packaging is a hot issue, and plastic packaging is arguably the hottest.
Waste Minister Joan Ruddock says at least a third of her postbag is about excess wrapping, much of it railing against plastic pollution.
But more than half of our food is now wrapped in the stuff: is this for consumers' benefit or that of the retailers?
Both, argues Marks and Spencer's head of packaging, Dr Helene Roberts. Lightweight plastics, she says, enable the customer to get their food protected in the optimum way for the least cost - both environmental and financial.
"Plastics are hugely efficient and on a carbon footprint basis they're very effective. They also provide a range of options: I could put meat into one [type of] plastic wrapping and it wouldn't last a day. I can put it into another and it will last 21 days."
The 21 day example she cites is vacuum packaging for steaks and joints as an alternative to the usual rigid plastic meat tray with a film lid.
It is not recyclable because it is made from seven layers of different plastics - but it is, she says, 69% lighter than the tray option, meaning there is less to transport and less to landfill at the end.
However, to aid recycling, the company is also looking to simplify its plastic packaging across the board so that in general terms it will only use three types: PET, HDPE and polypropylene (PP).
But, says Dr Roberts, consumers "should not have to be material scientists" and sort plastic packaging at home, a mixed plastics infrastructure needs to be in place so all trays and bags can be thrown in together by the householder and sorted at recovery facilities.
Under the 2005 Courtauld Commitment the UK's major food retailers pledged to halt packaging waste growth by this year (achieved in July) and reduce packaging waste by 2010.
Tesco says it is saving over 1,000 tonnes of plastic a year by doubling the concentration of its orange squash so the same amount of diluted drink can be obtained from bottles half the size.
Meanwhile, Morrisons has introduced new bags for cauliflower and broccoli which it calculates will save 85 tonnes of packaging per year; Asda has focussed on cutting the weight of its glass jars and bottles and Sainsbury has introduced recycled bottles and compostable food bags and trays.
Marks and Spencer is next week launching a new range of packaging for its pizzas which will cut out almost 500 tonnes of cardboard and 83 tonnes of plastic.
I am not defending the big food retailers in all their packaging choices - I doubt I will ever understand plastic-wrapped lemons for instance (didn't nature do that job rather well?) - but the Courtauld Commitment efforts are beginning to feel like the top goal of the waste hierarchy: to reduce first, then reuse and then recycle.
My fridge is a plastic-free zone but the bathroom is a different matter, with plastic bottles and tubs, disposable razors and even products containing plastic.
Hygiene, personal preference and regard for anyone who comes within 10 feet of me all dictate that giving up toiletries is not an option, so, what's a girl to do?
Well, the first thing to point out is that bottles for shampoo and similar products are often easily recyclable.
They tend to be made from HDPE or PET, the same plastic as milk or water bottles, and can be recycled in the same way.
Furthermore they can also be made from recycled plastic. The Body Shop has just announced that its Wellbeing range will be packaged in 100% post consumer recycled plastic.
But hang on, doesn't the Body Shop (now owned by French beauty industry giant L'Oreal) offer refills of its products?
Once but no longer, according to a spokeswoman for the firm. Uptake was reportedly poor as customers found the hassle of remembering the old bottle inconvenient and the policy was ditched in 2003.
One non-plastic option is to lather up with a shampoo bar - a solid version of the liquid stuff. These can get a little messy to transport if you're going on holiday but Lush sells a tin to keep its round bars in.
A more hardcore alternative espoused by some other bloggers such as Life Less Plastic and Fake Plastic Fish is to abandon commercial shampoo completely and use bicarbonate of soda with a vinegar rinse.
Apparently this "no 'poo" regime (as it's known) starts to work after a couple of weeks of greasiness. I am sceptical but I have to admit being too chicken to try it so far.
Bicarbonate of soda is also hailed as an effective deodorant by some. Again I have my doubts but I had my doubts about the wool nappy too and that does work so maybe when my current roll-on finally runs out I will dare to try it.
There are also BO-bashers available with mainly glass packaging or a small amount of plastic although some of the more "natural" ones have received mixed reviews.
Shaving is without plastic is tricky. Men can go for an old school cut-throat razor but I'm not taking one of those to my ankles although I am willing to give a metal safety razor a go.
My usual product is a pack of 10 disposable razors, packed in a plastic bag with two plastic holders, none of which is currently recyclable.
In the US, Recycline offers disposable razors made from recycled plastic and will take back the used razors.
Wax strips suffer from the same problem as throwaway razors in that they are designed to be discarded after use.
But hot wax or sugaring can be done using reusable cotton strips (although some products wash off better than others).
Finally, skin care and cosmetics. As well as being packaged in plastic, products such as exfoliants can contain microscopic plastic beads, as this article from Slate Magazine explains.
Nail varnish contains synthetic polymers and lengthening mascara can achieve its effect by adding polyester fibres to lashes.
And then there's the packaging - almost all cosmetics are largely packaged in plastic although some companies are experimenting with card and metal combinations.
It's all hugely difficult to navigate. But there are some easy changes: I've ditched cotton wool (packaged in plastic) and gone back to a flannel for cleansing my face. Not an exfoliating micro-bead in sight.
Cheap buying is dear buying, as the old Lancashire saying goes. But I ignored it earlier in the summer when I bought a £15 pair of sandals which have now, unsurprisingly, fallen apart.
They are definitely uncobblable so I'm on the hunt for another pair - and I do need them as I'm not a shoe queen with hundreds stashed in the wardrobe.
The old pair had leather uppers with plastic heels and soles, a popular and economical combination for High Street shoes.
You can get footwear made totally from leather, but, as with many of the other non-plastic products I have looked at, this in no way equates to being "greener".
Leather tanning tends to be an environmentally taxing process, involving large amounts of hazardous chemicals and chromium salts.
However, some eco shoe manufacturers now offer leather which has been tanned in other ways.
London-based Terra Plana uses chrome-free and vegetable tanned leathers.
Under its Worn Again brand, the company also recycles materials from as diverse sources as seat belts, parachutes and blankets and turns these into new shoes.
US company Simple sells shoes soled with old car tyres and tied with recycled polyester laces.
And earlier this year sports shoe giant Adidas brought out its Grun range which makes use of recycled materials and easily renewable fabrics such as bamboo and hemp.
Natural rubber (latex) is also popular with several shoe firms. London-based Ethletic claims to the be the first in the world to use fairly traded Forest Stewardship Council certified rubber for its flip-flops and canvas shoes.
As for unwanted pairs of old shoes, those in reasonable condition can be recycled either at council shoe banks or by donating them to charity shops.
But for a more radical approach, Nike's reuse-a-shoe scheme gives cast-off trainers (of any brand) a new lease of life as playground and sports track surfaces.
But my broken pair of cheapo sandals are not suitable for reuse or even grinding down so they will have to be binned. Cheap buying is indeed dear buying.
Plastic I have accumulated this week:
A tale of serendipity and human ingenuity has emerged on two blogs being updated from the Pacific.
The two-man crew of a raft made from plastic bottles and a British woman rowing solo across the Pacific have managed to meet mid-ocean for dinner and a vital sharing of water.
Each found out about the other's proximity via avid readers of their respective blogs and, over many days, engineered a rendezvous for a meal of mahi mahi and a good old chin wag.
Roz Savage's two water makers had both broken so the Junk pair were able to help her out from their own supply, and, as the weather has since turned hotter she now says this may have even saved her life.
After some difficulties with satellite phones and timezones (were they on Hawaii time, 11 hours behind UK time or Pacific time, eight hours behind?) I managed to speak to Dr Eriksen.
He said it was "wonderful" to meet up with Ms Savage in the middle of the ocean and added that the achievement was "one of the highlights of my life".
Read the full story here.
Dr Eriksen and Mr Paschal are making the voyage to draw attention to the plastic pollution in the North Pacific gyre - the circling ocean currents which concentrate debris (you can see a sample of seawater from the "plastic soup" in the North Pacific below).
He said: "There are nine gyres in the world and we assume that every one of them is hoarding plastic.
"We can find plastic on every beach around the world. All the oceans are linked and they are all exchanging nutrients and debris.
"Plastics have been found in or around the bodies of 267 species. Entanglement is a huge issue for marine mammals and also many sea creatures eat plastic.
"Plastics in the marine environment are like sponges for toxins like DDT, other pesticides, PCBs, another group called PAHs that come from the burning of fossil fuels.
"They stick to plastic and what happens is a plastic particle becomes a toxic pill.
"So the animal consumes these plastics or debris thinking they are food and those toxins will likely come through plastic into the animal's body. They can then appear up the food chain and potentially onto your dinner plate."
It's just not the Pacific which is affected by plastic debris, the UK's Marine Conservation Society says plastic is the number one litter item on British beaches too.
Avoiding plastic is all very well when it just impacts on my own choices but trying to keep it up in company is more difficult.
Some friends organised a picnic on Saturday which was lovely - we even had sunny weather.
I had made sure that the food we contributed was plastic-free: two pizzas from a bakery, paper bags of cherries and tomatoes, a wax-wrapped cheese and drinks in glass bottles.
But I fell down on the receptacles: I forgot to bring any cups and our hosts had plastic disposable ones. I didn't even realise what I was doing until half way through the first "glass" and I wasn't going to be so churlish as to protest.
Everyone had metal cutlery and paper plates so we were "safe" on that score.
There are, however, many other non-plastic options for disposable tableware.
Plates can be made from bamboo, cassava starch, reed starch or bagasse - the waste fibre from pressing sugar cane.
Wooden cutlery is available as well as bio-plastic versions made from corn or potato starch mixed with vegetable oil.
The manufacturers claim that their products are compostable or biodegradable under the right conditions.
However, as with all biodegradable products, the challenge is ensuring they end up in a composter (whether home or large scale) or anaerobic digester rather than landfill.
When biodegradable matter breaks down in the low oxygen environment of a landfill site it creates the powerful greenhouse gas, methane.
Some of the methane is captured by a system of pipes and can be used as fuel but the rest escapes into the air.
Latest government estimates (2007 provisional) put the amount of methane emissions from UK landfill at 0.96 million tonnes, 41% of the UK total of 2.3 million tonnes.
In an anaerobic digester the same biodegradation process occurs but because it is a closed unit, all the biogas (methane and carbon dioxide) can be trapped and used for energy.
Composting works aerobically and so does not create methane.
But Friends of the Earth's senior waste campaigner Mike Warhurst warns against assuming that just because something is bio-degradable it's "greener".
"I'm seeing a lot of confusion happening where people are using disposable items and then implying that they're good because they're biodegradable.
"Whatever it is it required energy to make it. So if you're in a café, you're far better off having a cup which is washed up than having so-called biodegradable cups.
"There's not much point in stuff being biodegradable if it goes in your normal rubbish bin and ends up in landfill or in an incinerator."
Which is also where that non-biodegradable plastic cup I used at the picnic is destined.
The butcher was a little bemused when I asked him to wrap the chicken breasts in greaseproof paper but said "yes of course" and went to get some sheets from a hook on the wall.
I had brought my own just in case, as I wasn't sure butchers even used paper any more.
He confirmed that plastic sheets and bags had been in use for at least 20 years but said that he would still sometimes wrap a joint in paper.
I got some minced beef which he parcelled up in the same way, with a warning that I should transfer it to a container when I got home so it didn't dry out.
So I made sure I used the mince that evening and put the chicken straight in the freezer as letting meat (especially beef) go off is not only expensive, it is environmentally wasteful because of the amount of resources required in raising the animal.
Meat packs bought from a supermarket shelf last longer than those from a butcher's counter because they are contained in "modified atmosphere packaging" in which some or all of the oxygen from air is replaced with carbon dioxide and nitrogen.
This inhibits rotting and bacterial growth and means the meat has a longer shelf life.
Some producers also use vacuum packaging for meat which slows the rate at which it goes off by removing all the air.
Buying my meat from butcher was more expensive than grabbing some packs from the supermarket but the quality was very high.
The editor of the Meat Trades Journal, Ed Bedington, said that while the number of high street independent butchers had fallen dramatically in the past 30 years, the decline appeared to have levelled off and customers appreciated a good butcher.
"The key reason that butchers have kept in business is if they are good. If they have great service, top quality and a good choice of products then they have survived."
Mr Bedington added that the number of farm shops where farmers sold direct to the customer was growing fast, raising the choice for rural shoppers.
But back to my plastic tally. This week I have accumulated:
That aluminium can is not only metal, your cardboard drinks carton is more than just cardboard and a disposable coffee cup is unlikely to be mere cardboard and wax.
Given that plastic is very good at being waterproof it is perhaps unsurprising that many drinks containers have a plastic lining - although this knowledge is making it very difficult for me to get a drink when I am out and about.
In the case of aluminium fizzy drinks cans, the lacquer lining is to stop the acid in the beverage from eating into the metal which would weaken the can and taint the drink.
As shown on the website of colourful US television science presenter Steve Spangler, it is possible to dissolve the outside of the can to reveal the thin polymer (resin) inner.
However, this does not affect aluminium's status as one of the most fully recyclable materials.
Furthermore, the lacquers are burnt off in the recycling process and the resulting gasses used to help power the furnace.
Cartons used for juice, milk, soup and other liquids are made up from layers of paperboard and low density polyethylene (LDPE).
Those which need a long shelf life also have a layer of aluminium foil to protect the contents from light and oxygen.
In the past, this mix of materials has made cartons problematic to recycle but the Alliance for Beverage Cartons and the Environment (Ace UK) has funded a £1.5 million recycling programme across the UK.
Most local authorities do not allow cartons in doorstep recycling collections because they do not have the sorting facilities to deal with them.
However, 85% now have recycling points where residents can take their cartons - although this may mean extra car journeys.
The Ace UK website has a map showing which councils collect cartons, as well as details of a postal scheme.
The collected cartons are baled and shipped to a Swedish paper mill for recycling - a process in which the cartons are mushed with water to form a grey sludge which is used to form new paper. The polyethylene and aluminium are used to help power the mill.
The UK's leading carton manufacturer, Tetra Pak, says it offsets the carbon emissions involved in shipping the bales to Scandinavia.
A paper mill in Fife which used to take cartons, closed at the end of 2006 but a new British facility is currently under discussion.
Finally, waxed paper cups. These do still exist, made from cardboard with a paraffin or microcrystalline wax coating.
However, many cups, especially those used for hot drinks, are coated with a thin layer of polyethylene.
In a recent development, some manufacturers have started using a bio-plastic - corn-based polylactic acid (PLA) - instead of polyethylene.
This means the cups can be composted although this is not necessarily a preferable option to recycling.
Environmental groups such as Friends of the Earth also argue we should be cutting down on disposable items, no matter what material they are made from.
All of which leaves me with limited options for drinks on the go: at the moment, it's water, water or water.
Especially bin bags as the kitchen bin is starting to pong and I have a pang of dismay each time I open it and realise I can't just scrape what I like in there without wrapping it first.
The milk situation has also soured: the delivery didn't turn up this morning. It's not clear if this was a mistake at the depot or whether it has been nicked but so far it's looking like the former.
The last remaining pint from the previous delivery had been sloshed across the kitchen floor by the youngest member of the household who is used to plucking plastic bottles from the fridge with impunity.
So this morning I had to go and buy some more before any of us could have breakfast.
As I said in my previous post about milk, it is a close run thing as to whether glass or HDPE milk bottles have the greatest overall environmental impact.
But buying that bottle of milk this morning certainly breaks the terms of this experiment which is to attempt to live without buying new plastic for a month.
The aim of doing so is to look at the pros and cons of the way that we use and dispose of plastic.
I think I found another downside to going plastic-free this morning when I bought a loaf from the baker.
The woman offered to slice it, I accepted and then realised it would have to go in a paper bag, which I suspect will mean it goes stale more rapidly than in plastic (or an unsliced loaf in paper).
I have wrapped it in a reusable shopping bag to try to extend its lifespan.
And the cloth nappies which I put on the line to dry have been rained on twice today.
Yes, I am definitely missing plastic.
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