Tips For Reducing Plastic
One of the hardest problems in trying to go plastic-free is that retailers are still miles behind, and offer certain types of goods only in plastic. Unless you are willing go really extreme in your pursuit of the greener life, and let’s face it, most of us aren’t, you are stuck with unwillingly buying quite a lot of plastic every week. So what can you do? Here are a few tips to cut down on your plastic consumption without overburdening yourself and sucking out all the joy in life.
One place to start is milk. Over a period of years, I went from Sainsbury’s to Ocado, to Ocado Duchy Originals because each stocked milk in cartons and then switched to polythene bottles. It eventually got to the point where no online supermarket stocked milk except in the plastic bottles. I wrote to Duchy Originals suggesting that its ultimate owner, the Prince of Wales, might not approve of its switch to plastic. I received no satisfactory answer. I bought plastic for a few years until I discovered that a traditional dairy served my area and would deliver milk in reusable glass bottles. A great solution! I have never looked back, although I must admit that it’s more expensive than buying milk in plastic from the supermarket. A pint of semi-skimmed milk costs 86p vs. 80p from Sainsbury’s. The milkman also provides fruit juice in glass bottles and other products.
Vegetables is another promising area. Recent years have seen a growth of vegetable box companies like Riverford (www.riverford.co.uk), Abel & Cole (www.abelandcole.co.uk ) and Farmdrop (www.farmdrop.com), which provide a regular box of local, in-season vegetables to your door. The main focus on these companies is not so much on reducing plastic as on organic food and supporting local farmers (worthy causes in themselves). There is the added benefit in that their food is not flown in or transported over long distances. They do use plastic, on things like meat and dairy products but they use much less, mostly because their vegetables tend to be loose.There is a price to be paid in convenience, though. You get the vegetables that are in season, and at some times of year, they are not very exciting. I remember several months of boxes with large amounts of turnips and curly kale, which put some strain on my willpower. Our provider of choice is Oddbox (https://www.oddbox.co.uk/), a company that delivers vegetables that would otherwise have been thrown away. We get a wide variety of fruit and vegetables, even tropical ones, and the quality is high. It amazes me how such perfectly good food is rejected! We have also found it is slightly cheaper than the companies listed above.
What about meat and fish (assuming, like me, you’re not yet ready to go completely vegetarian)? The hygiene demands here make wrapping in plastic very hard to avoid, especially if has to travel any large distance. A good solution here is to go traditional. Our local butcher and fishmonger not only have better choice than a supermarket, but lower prices too. A kilo of beef mince costs £10, compared to £12 at Sainsbury’s. We can take glass containers (like these) with reusable plastic lids to the butcher; he fills them up; and we come home with exactly the desired quantity of the meat we want. Exact quantities are another advantage: we are not bound by the fixed amounts in plastic packs. Fish works similarly, we use the fishmongers section in Waitrose, which is cheaper than the plastic packs on the shelves. Local shops may not be a solution for those who buy all their groceries online and don’t have time to visit a shop, but they’re great for the rest of us, support local businesses and deliver food which has probably been transported less far.
After the meal, cleaning the kitchen with supermarket products results in a lot of plastic waste. Plastic bottles for the washing-up liquid, plastic brushes and plastic sponges and scourers for pans and kitchen surfaces, wrapped in plastic. Dishwasher tabs are sometimes wrapped in biodegradable plastic, but all too often are not. The plastic sponges and scourers end up as microplastics. There are substitutes for most of this. Avoid dishwasher tabs altogether. They have been introduced by the manufacturers to supersede dishwasher powder, which is becoming harder to find. By selling tablets to us, the manufacturers make sure we use a big dose of their product with each run of the dishwasher, and since tablets in a box leave plenty of air gaps as they stack, allowing the pack to look bigger – they’re selling us air. Dishwasher powder in cardboard boxes is still available. It’s a simple, non-plastic option, which also avoids the manufacturers’ sneaky shrinkflation wiles. Scourers and washing-up pads are available made of loofah plants (e.g. from Green Seas here), and thus biodegradable. A harder problem to solve is washing up liquid. There are solid dish-washing soaps available (e.g. here), but they are quite hard to use. You have to put them on a surface and rub a wet brush on them. We use washing up liquid bought from a bulk market. This way we do not have to compromise on quality but still avoid plastic.