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Back to plastic?

  • Chris Jeavans
  • 31 Aug 08, 03:21 PM GMT

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:

  • 62 Disposable nappies (made with bio-plastic)
  • 15 Nappy bags
  • 4 Small juice bottles and 1 big one
  • 5 Lids to glass bottles
  • 4 Drinking straws
  • 1 Packet of nappy wipes
  • 1 Plastic cup
  • 1 Fork
  • 4 Containers from takeaway meal
  • 1 Strawberry punnet
  • 1 Carrier bag
  • 2 Milk bottles
  • 1 Lid to a jar of chilli sauce
  • 1 Wrapping from a wooden toothbrush
  • 4 Pieces of sticky clothes cleaning paper
  • 1 Paper / polystyrene cup
  • 1 Balloon stick
  • 2 Takeaway tea lids
  • 4 Beer widgets

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.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Dear Chris,

    this was an amazingly informative blog where you received many comments, stimulated a lot of discussion and generated a lot of support. Well done for highlighting such an important topic.

    I am sure we are all more informed as to just how insidious plastic is in our lives and now we have a better understanding of the limitations of recycling plastics.

    thank you!

  • Comment number 2.

    Having lived in london for 9 years, Vienna for 5 and Switzerland now for 8, it is somewhat depressing to see how far behind the UK is with personal responsibility to recycle. I'll never forget the scene at our west-London dumping spot; no sorting, no control of dumped items, one huge area of dirt, wood, building materials, bikes, etc. Embarrasing.

    Here in Switzerland you can easily get yoghurt in glasses, but nearly all (98 plus %) food plastic is made of special "PET" plastic, designed to be reused in countless ways. All Supermarkets and recycling points take it back. Our local recycling point is well organised, simple to sort everything in huge skips or bins. Glass, carton, clothes, corks, newspaper, green items, old oil, machines (pc's, printers etc.) and building materials. The community even compostes the green stuff, and resells it with ease.

    vienna was almost easier. 30 yards away from our flat, large, clean containers were stationed for all the usual stuff (glass etc.) plus oil, plastic bags and old metal. It was simple, and the containers were emptied weekly.

  • Comment number 3.

    Perhaps it would be more environmentally friendly to discourage people from using the internet because computers use huge amounts of plastic as well as copper, mercury etc. You could broadcast the blog on Radio 4 instead - except, of course, bakelite is a non-biodegradable platic and the valves use cadmium to provide the electrons needed! Seriously, one BBC type forswearing plastic for a month is like those Tory MPs who pretended that they understood poverty after going without meals for a few days and living on the Embankment! Staring from the four meal a day habit with the certainty of returning to it negates the whole exercise. What is needed is not tree-hugging projects - what we need are serious scientists and technologists looking at solutions based on a possible doubling of population in the next fifty years!

  • Comment number 4.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 5.

    Hi Chris,

    Congratulations on a fine reduction in plastic waste. Others will follow suit and achieve their own figure.

    A return to some plastic is inevitable but I hope you have decided to keep some reductions in plastic waste material. In our trend everyone who has started has achieved some level of waste reduction.

    Thank you for enabling myself, and like-minds, to express our views on Zero Waste.

  • Comment number 6.

    What a fantastic challenge. Congratulations! In case you decide to do it again, you can buy yoghurt in glass jars with a metal foil top from a certain farm/manor house near Guildford that also sells delicious ice cream. It's definitely stocked in West Sussex by a supermaket whose corporate colour is orange!

  • Comment number 7.

    Wow Chris - an 80% reduction is amazing; just imagine if everyone in the UK achieved this.

    You've done brilliantly, and of course there will be some 'convenience' products that you return to, but even so, I feel sure you will keep to at least a 50% reduction.

    Loseley sell yogurt in glass jars. It's vastly expensive, but my daughter assures me it's worth a 12 out of 12 LOL!

    Enjoy the celery and the bin bags and thank you for such an excellent blog. I've really enjoyed reading it, everyone's comments and sharing some information of my own.

    We're starting our own zero waste challenge tomorrow, along with another 60+ people which we are really looking forward to.

    Anyone who is interested in joining in and being in with the chance of winning some great prizes for reducing their waste can find all the details on our pledge and win page.

  • Comment number 8.

    116 is great considering what it must have been before your 'awakening'!

    I know the experiment is over, but I am sure the knowledge you've gained and the plastic facts you've trawled through, have changed the way you dispose of your rubbish, for life!

    ...and perhaps more importantly, it's changed the way you 'allow' it into the house in the first place!

    You've inspired hundreds, maybe even thousands of people to get to grips with their rubbish and that's fantastic - top work on a spangly blog!

    Tracey Smith
    Author of 'The Book of Rubbish Ideas'

  • Comment number 9.

    My first reaction to Chris' experiment was that I'm already doing well environmentally, since I don't have a car, bike everywhere (I rent cars, but only a few times/year), I use cloth grocery bags, recycle the recyclable stuff. I rarely put out a trash can.
    But it made me realize how much plastic is in my life *anyways*, and that there are other things I can do. When you go to solve a problem - the answer that you find when you go to the store, is often: Plastic.
    One gets numb to it. It makes me wince a little to throw out plastic, and over time, not knowing what to do about it and not enjoying wincing, I become less conscious of it ...
    One might ask, if you drive and are careful not to use plastic, does the driving outweigh the environmental benefits of not using plastic by so much that it's only a symbolic feel-good measure?
    I don't know - but it would be interesting if some car-addicted person would do a similar blog: not driving for a month!!!
    Or is that unthinkable, and its unthinkability itself a comment?
    It would be pretty timely. There are a lot of wobbly new bicyclists since gas has gotten so much more expensive, in the US at least.
    Laura

  • Comment number 10.

    Great blog, Chris! The first time I've been inspired to contribute on the BBC, it's certainly made me think more about what more I can do to reduce my waste even further.

    Tomorrow here in Leeds is monthly 'green bin' collection day; that to me means putting out two full-size green wheelie bins full of recycling, plus one black one of non-recyclables (my once a month for both even though the council empty black bins weekly). I thought was doing pretty well till I saw what you and some of the other guys here have achieved.

    #9 I'm 37 years old and have never had a driving licence, never intend to. Most 'car addicts' seem to think public transport is costly, inconvenient and time-consuming. It doesn't take much effort to get hold of timetables and route maps, and it can actually be quite pleasant to just sit back and enjoy the ride. I've travelled most of the south of India, all of Egypt and most of Eastern Europe by either bus or train - if it can be done simply in another alphabet, let alone language, it must be easier than drivers think it is in their own countries!

    Yes, it's a three-quarter mile trek up a very steep hill to my nearest bus stop, but the walk to get there is good for my health and fitness; I'd recommend that anyone take the 'car free' for at least a couple of weeks :)

  • Comment number 11.

    Chris,

    I have really enjoyed following your progress this past month and, of course, been inspired.

    An 80% reduction is not to be sniffed at and as for the naysayers - pfft wonder if they'll change their minds when pay as you throw type policies start coming in.

  • Comment number 12.

    Firstly well done for trying, the thing is that only sustained effort can change things for the long term, have you considered doing this for a year.
    I would like to say that it is ridiculous about the yogurt and celery. Both in London and Cumbria, through my own experience found yogurt in glass jars with a foil (recyclable) lid, even supermarkets have them. Celery should and mostly does come froom the grocers/ farmers market stall, shelf with at most a paper bag.
    One thing my parents did in the seventies, if couldn't buy things without plastic packaging, the items would be unpacked at the checkout and put into a cloth bag and the packaging left at the checkout- when loads of people do this it can really work.

  • Comment number 13.

    #12 - 'One thing my parents did in the seventies, if couldn't buy things without plastic packaging, the items would be unpacked at the checkout and put into a cloth bag and the packaging left at the checkout- when loads of people do this it can really work.'

    Whilst I agree with this stance, it could technically be construed as flytipping. The supermarket isn't licenced (or won't have registered an exemption) to accept this material, so there are all sorts of legal issues.

    However, when this sort of thing becomes commonplace, then this could be your answer :-)

    http://www.wrap.org.uk/retail/news_events/news/wrap_funds.html

  • Comment number 14.

    I have followed your experiment with interest.

    By the way, Loseley's makes a lovely yoghurt in a glass jar with a foil lid.

  • Comment number 15.

    Congratulations Chris on a fantastic blog that has highlighted how we can look closer at the products we buy.

    You have added to the growing awareness of waste, which is fantastic. It's a shame the blog is coming to an end and I wish you well in the future.

    For those who are interested in continuing the debate, I'd thoroughly recommend you have a look at theoriginalmrsgreen's zero waste week challenge, mentioned in #7.

    So Chris - I hope you'll be able to recycle all those bits of plastic that you've accumulated. If you can't, drop me a line and I'll see if I can recycle them for you.

  • Comment number 16.

    For non-plastic yoghurt can I recommend a 'make your own' kit from Lakeland. They have several kits that you can use, ut I recommend the set that has lots of small glass jars that you can re-fill. The good thing about these kits it that you can choose your flavours and the sugar/fat content. The only thing I'd say about them is that you can't put them near freezers/fridges or washing machines. Anything that causes a vibration will not let the yoghurt set.

    This blog has been fascinating and I've learned a lot from it. I just hope a lot more people can make these positive changes tot heir lifestyles.

  • Comment number 17.

    Just wanted to say thank you for this very informative blog which has kept me entertained over the past month.

    I think that it has clearly demonstated to us all that even if we do not give up plastic altogether, there are many things that we can do to reduce our waste and to help the environment.

    I at least hope to be putting some of the suggestions by people on this blog into practice.

    Thanks!

  • Comment number 18.

    #15

    Well said, Mrs A. I, too, would recommend Mrs Green's blog (MyZeroWaste.com) for any concerned consumers.

  • Comment number 19.

    Is there a definitive verdict on which form of nappy is best for the enviroment? Disposables obviously have many problems, not least of which is their bulk in landfill but cotton ones require cotton to be grown which is normally VERY enviromentally damaging, and once made into nappies require large amounts of energy to wash at 95'C. They also result in large quantites of bleach and detergent ending up in waterways. Overall which is greener?

  • Comment number 20.

    Well done - But why?

    It's very interesting but I don't see how using less plastic is any more environmentally friendly than using less wood or using less glass. It just happens plastic is more likely to be used these days. If glass was used for packing then your bin would be just as full with waste glass.

    What we need is more consistent use of plastics (i.e. limit packaging to say 5 common plastic types) and better recycling.

    And don't tell me it's about oil running out, when that happens we will have far bigger problems to worry about,. Like how will the food be gathered from the fields or delivered to your home.

    Kev.

  • Comment number 21.

    Actually you can get yoghurt in glass pots. Our butcher sells it. And why is celery wrapped in plastic? Take it out of the plastic bag and leave the wrapping at the shop! Come to think of it why don't we all do that as a matter of course, where the product does not need to be thus wrapped. Inconvenient, maybe, but effective. Cellophane is a biodegradable alternative to plastic, so I am told.

  • Comment number 22.

    Chris, many congratulations on your month's experiment. I've been watching your blog (and the comments) with interest although haven't commented myself before as I know nothing about any of this stuff. I am also intrigued by the bokashi bins now though...

    It's a vastly complicated subject, and of course the floor remains open for debate about what the 'best' way is to deal with waste, but your blog has certainly made me more aware of all the little bits of plastic surrounding me from day to day. I think increased consciousness of waste is the best solution to apathy regarding it, so thank you for that - I will try to do a little better myself in future!

  • Comment number 23.

    Well done! It must have been a real challenge to do this, especially with a young child. Hopefully, you will be able to keep your plastic count down in the future - I'm sure I've seen eco-friendly bin bags in the Lakeland catalogue somewhere! Plastic usage is something that is worth cutting down on, and it's surprising to see just how many things involve plastic that never used to.

    On the other hand, it's a shame to see sceptics saying that cutting down on plastic isn't more environmentally friendly than cutting down on any other packaging material. On the contrary, plastic is far less efficient to recycle than aluminium (which saves 95% of the energy used to make a new can) and is more widely used than glass. It is also far less likely to be recycled in the first place. Where I live you can't recycle most plastics, whereas glass is easy to recycle. It also uses oil in both its production and as its base ingredient. Congratulations again on your (nearly) plastic-free month! Enjoy your yogurts and binbags!

  • Comment number 24.

    Chris Jeavens

    As a major contibutor to this debate, both professionally and personally I have enjoyed it enormously. Many have said "why not go a month without glass" or a "month without aluminium" or even "a month without paper". Yes any of these routes would have been challenging and yes you would have reduced your waste. However to have done so would have taken away the one thing that drew attention and focus over the last month, 'fantastic plastic'.

    By far one the best inventions man has ever come up with. In being versatile, cheap and easy to manufacture it has slipped into every corner of our lives. It's in our TV's, aplliances, cars, windows, cables, pipes, phones, healthcare, and yes, we use it to package our goods, including our food. So good is plastic that we now take it completely for granted.

    Plastic is a victim of it's own success. A material so widely pervasive it's now become conspicuous by its very presence. Plastic has become a totem for our rally against the throwaway disposable culture we have all created. It's also become a totem we look for to deliver the nice warm feeling inside that people desire when they want to 'do their bit' to save the planet. They think, plastic, there's just so much of it - it must be killing the fish in the ocean, it must strangling the planet and draining it of its resources. I know, I will ban plastic from my life and do my bit.

    As we have found out through this excellent blog plastic just aint that simple. It's lightweight, it's efficient, it's cheap and above all it's carbon efficient. If we can capture it through controlled LA collections for recycling and really close the loop then no other packaging material today comes close to it's carbon efficiency. Capturing the inherent calorific value and energy trapped within plastic that cannot be recycled further adds to sustainability of the versatile material. Glass, Aluminimum, Wood, Paper and Steel may "feel better' for the planet but as we have learnt, that just is not the case.

    I think the blog has been excellent throughout and that the vast majority of contributors have been ready to debate, to listen and to learn. Of course debates have become passionate at times, but surely any debate worth having should involve passion.

    On reflection I think your blog has achieved three things:-

    1. A peronal reduction for you of 80% of your former plastic consumption. A fantastic effort, well done.

    2. A balance in the presentation of all sides of the arguments. Your personal header blog posts have always told the story from both sides. For that I thank you.

    3. A much needed public platform for all stakeholders and interested parties to openly debate and to learn. this can only serve well for the future debate as more people become engaged.



    I have enjoyed it enormously. I have also enjoyed watching some begin to shift their perceptions and assumptions based upon hard facts and evidence. The fact we have had the public debate of the last month has, for me been the biggest success of this whole experiment. If we could only find the channels to continue.

    Good luck with the future, thank you and enjoy your crisps!

  • Comment number 25.

    #23 - actually, plastic is even more efficient to recycle than aluminium, as it takes less than 1% of the embodied energy to do so provided you have a clean segregated stream to start with (and the energy cost of production of aluminium is even higher than that of plastic.)

    Here's a mass balance for virgin aluminium vs recycled.

    http://www.msm.cam.ac.uk/doitpoms/tlplib/recycling-metals/aluminium_production.php

    260MJ/kg to make, 6-10MJ/kg to recycle from scrap. I make that 2.3-3.8% of the virgin aluminium cost.

    Now plastic.

    http://www.doitpoms.ac.uk/tlplib/recycling-polymers/end.php

    84MJ/kg to make, 0.52MJ/kg to recycle. I make that 0.6% of the virgin plastic cost.

    http://www.doitpoms.ac.uk/tlplib/recycling-polymers/energy_recycle.php gives the recycling figures.

    [Obviously, these figures do not include collection and transport impacts, which will be more for plastic than for aluminium, due to ease of segregation of aluminium, and its greater bulk density. But I'll bet these don't outweigh the above gains when you work them through.]

    So plastic would appear to be more efficient than aluminium when you just look at the energy balances.

  • Comment number 26.

    Yogurt is very, very easy to make yourself without a special yogurt-maker. You just need a thermometer and a Thermos. Here are details of my successful attempt. I got this recipe from Melanie Rimmer at Bean Sprouts, a blog you should check out if you haven't yet.

  • Comment number 27.

    Congratulations for trying this what now seems a very difficult task.

    I've managed to find a yoghurt that comes in a glass jar. www.loseley.com,
    Loseley sell a range in plastic but they also do a few in small glass jars, unfortunately it has a plastic coated foil lid, but it is only a small part. It doesn't say on the jar it's recyclable but the web site does say it is "a 100% glass jar".

  • Comment number 28.

    About 2.5 years ago, when I last used Tesco online shopping, I ordered about 50-53 items and they came in 18 carrier bags. I even had a carrier bag just containing 6 Oxo cubes. If I purchased the same items in the actual store, I would only use 7 carrier bags and put things such as kitchen roll loose in the boot of my car.

    Has Tesco cut down on the number of bags?

  • Comment number 29.

    #28 - pinkfloydareace

    You can now 'tick a box' for "no carrier bags" when ordering on-line. Most supermarkets now do this.

  • Comment number 30.

    I'm not sure if they still do it. but Onken used to sell a yogurt in Tesco which came in a glass pot - for anyone who's interested.

  • Comment number 31.

    Well done you. To have achieved an 80% reduction in plastic consumption for one month is an amazing achievement in its own right, but to have raised the issue and proposed alternatives is even more commendable. From the number of comments and the proliferation of 'plastic free' blogs/websites it's clear that this is a matter of great concern to many people. Let's hope that the government and business take heed and respond.

  • Comment number 32.

    On reading the comments that Chris and her family acheived in this exercise I was surprised to read they could not wait to go back to there former plastic habit. Weather or not the campaign to reduce waste is justified we should reduce waste in all reduce other recyclable products and not continue to exhast the natural resource that are after all only on loan to us

 

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