Plastic Free July – Tips and Tricks

So, we’ve just reached the end of the first week of Plastic Free July, and for those of you who are using this as an opportunity to begin your low waste journey allow me to give you a few helpful tips to get on your way.

1.      Shop loose

This may be a bit of a no brainer, trying to shop for groceries without excess packaging but it’s finding these unpackaged groceries that may be the hard part. However, food loose shops are popping up all over the place and a quick google search should allow you to find one relatively close by, many of these food loose shops also work as part of a charity which adds an extra bonus.

For those of you who don’t want to spend the time trawling the internet for your closest shop then why not try these:

Zero waste near me – this is an ingenious website which allows you to input your locations and gives you a list of local low waste shops from bulk buy shops to farm stores.

Waitrose – You may have seen in the news, but Waitrose has become the first large scale supermarket to offer a zero packaging option. Check out your local Waitrose to see if they have a refill station.

2.      Don’t throw out your old plastic

It may seem like a bit of an oxymoron, but zero waste living can actually be fairly plastic heavy. I myself have plastic Tupperware that I’ve had for years which I have no intention of throwing away any time soon. The important thing is to steer clear of the single use plastics such as packaging. The plastic tupperwares and other tubs and boxes are actually super helpful when it comes to shopping low waste as you can take them to refill shops and bulk shops to fill up. Now there is the zero-waste aesthetic of pretty glass mason jars and I do use these but there’s no need to purge your cupboards of plastic tubs when they can still be useful. In fact, throwing away useful plastic items simply because they are plastic just adds to the pollution problem.

3.      Share with friends

One of the big parts of zero waste living that people often forget is community. There is a massive community of zero wasters out their who are very willing to share their knowledge and experience with you. As well as that why not try and get into the habit of asking your friends and family if they have something that you can borrow if you need it. Most of use will simply go out and buy something if a need for it arises even if we only plan on using it once but buying new should be a last resort. If you have a formal event coming up and need to dress up for it, firstly check out your closet to see if you already have something appropriate and if not ask around, most of the time there will be someone you know who has exactly what you need.

4.      Don’t go overboard

Now its great to be enthusiastic but the zero-waste lifestyle is a journey and not one that you will be able to complete in a month so start small. Make a few small steps this month that will set you up on the low waste journey. Promise to yourself that you will stop buying coffee in throwaway cups, maybe invest in a reusable one. Try preparing your food in bulk, or the night before so that you’re not tempted to buy a heavily packaged sandwich for lunch. And most importantly don’t go throwing money at it until you are more sure of what you need, a lot of the things that we need for a zero waste lifestyle are actually already in our homes and as the old adage goes less is definitely more.

 

All in all any steps you take towards living lower waste this month will help towards a healthier and more sustainable future. But this is a marathon and not a sprint, so don’t be too hard on yourself if you need a quick rest of find yourself stumbling a little.

A walk interrupted

Last week I had a mid-week day off and with it being super-hot and sunny outside I decided to take my camera and go for a hike. I went to a local beauty spot called the Washpool to sit and listen to the gently running water and recuperate in nature. However, my tranquil day out was somewhat marred by the amount of litter I found during my walk. As removed from civilisation as my destination was it wasn’t immune from the detritus of human waste, I found numerous plastic bags, pieces of paper and what seemed to be the remains of a tennis ball stuck in trees and languishing precariously close to the beautiful waterway.

This comes with little shock as recent studies have found that 80% of UK rivers and water bodies have microplastics in them, invisible to the naked eye but dangerous as they can harbour harmful bacteria and easily make it into our food stream.

What did surprise me however was that despite all of this litter there were numerous bins on the hiking trail for people to put their rubbish. How lazy do you have to be to drop your dogs poo bag, or an old receipt when there’s a bin less than 5 metres away. I can give the benefit of the doubt to some of the small bags that were caught on fences as this walk is on a quite exposed part of a hill where the wind can be quite strong, they may have been blown out of someone’s hands and out of sight before it was possible to catch them. What I can’t understand is the full poo bags I found ties to tree branches, what is the though process there?

I guess my few take-aways from this short semi-rant are this:

  • if you are going to create rubbish when you are out and about, especially when you are out in nature then there is no justification for not holding onto that rubbish until you can safely dispose of it.
  • If you find rubbish whilst you are out and about only pick it up if it is safe to do so. E.g. There are no sharp/broken bits, there are no body fluids (human or otherwhys) on it, and there is no danger involved in reaching it.

Ecobricks – A Review

What are Ecobricks:

Ecobricks are a way of safely disposing of/ reusing waste plastic and other non-biological products that cannot be recycled. Ecobricks are made by packing these waste items into plastic bottles until you reach a set density. These ecobricks can them be used to make lego-like modular structures such as furniture, walls and even buildings. These cheap and resistant building materials allow for the building of durable and affordable items whilst simultaneously helping to reduce waste.

Pros:

I believe many of the pros of this product speak for themselves. It’s a great way to find a use for something that was originally useless e.g. waste packaging. It helps us to keep plastic and other harmful materials out of the environment, and it allows for the building of affordable homes all across the world. Plastic is non-biodegradable which means that once made it will never break down in the way that organic material such as wood will, there are pros and cons to this. The Pros are that plastic items last for a really long time, but one the item become obsolete or not longer wanted then this pro turns into a con. Ecobricks is a solution to this as it puts the utility of long-lasting durability back into waste plastic. Ecobricks keeps plastic out of our environment and helps to protect vulnerable flora and fauna. The very process of creating an ecobrick also helps to raise individual consciousness of the environmental problem that plastic creates, by taking the time to collect the waste that you have created and pack it into an ecobrick you can see how much you actually produce and take steps to minimise this.

Cons:

The final point in my pro list also leads onto my first and really only con. The possibility of this becoming an easy out for people. By making ecobricks I am concerned that people will make no further steps to change their behaviour, people may start to think, ‘well my waste plastic is now going somewhere useful so why should I stop buying it?’ What we really should be aiming for is a culture and a lifestyle where ecobricks are not needed, where we are not producing such high levels of environmentally harmful, pointless plastic. Whilst individuals may make changes once ecobricks has caused them to think more critically about their consumption, the large corporations that produce these plastics may very well use ecobricks and solutions like them as a way of justifying their continued existence.

Would I recommend:

As the pros of Ecobricks far outweigh the cons (which are also currently just conjecture on my part, I have no data to prove that Ecobricks will not cause a drop in the production of useless plastic) I would highly recommend checking out the Ecobricks website and look into creating some yourself.

If you liked this review style post and would like to see more focusing on specific products and movements then please drop a comment below or on our facebook page.

Plastic Free Communities

Plastic Free Cheltenham

Two Wednesdays ago I went to a ‘Plastic Free Cheltenham’ open meeting. Plastic Free Communities is a movement created by Surfers against Sewage in the UK and has spread over the country. Currently there are 448 plastic free communities in the UK, with the goal of reducing the sale and distribution of single use plastics in an area. During this meeting we were told that the main focuse of Plastic Free Cheltenham is to reach out to local businesses and get them to pledge to remove at least 3 single use plastics from their shelves. Coffee cups, plastic straws, plastic bags etc. The other focuses are increasing public knowledge through educations, in schools, at festivals etc, and cleaning up your local area.

The Last Straw

During the open meeting we had a speech from a local awareness business called ‘The Last Straw’. Run by two brothers in secondary school, their aim is to offer sustainable, cheap alternatives to plastic straw’s. They currently sell bamboo and wheat straws, and approach businesses across Gloucestershire to try and get them to switch to these reusable alternatives.
After the meeting I approached the brothers and asked them to say a few words about who they are and why they are doing what they are doing and the gave me this response:

‘We started this as a challenge to do something on our behalf to save the environment. This is our mother earth and we need to do something to protect it. On our own we can t make a huge difference but if everybody did something small together we can make a large difference.
What motivates us is our passion for the environment and our love of nature and the need to feel we have to protect it. Our parents guide and support us and we have seen just by making a few changes in our own household we can make such a big difference eg we have now switched to bamboo toothbrushes, we now use beeswax wraps to pack our lunches in instead of foil or clingfilm, we all have refillable water bottles and we try to buy fruit and veg loose as much as we can. If we can do so can you! Replacing your straws with reusable ones is just the start we want to see individuals and businesses making as well. We looked at this and decided not to go for paper straws as they lead to deforestation whereas bamboo is one of the fastest growing plants and does not need to be replanted as it self generates from its own roots. It does not need fertilisers or large amounts of water either and is highly sustainable. Our bamboo straws are 100% degradable and reusable. We also supply wheat straws which are by products of wheat harvest and the stems would normally have been burnt leading to gas emissions so converting them into straws is ideal. They are 100% degradable too.’

Now some of you may be concerned, as I was, that wheat straws would be unusable for people with a wheat intolerance but they assured me that as they are made from wheat by products they can be used by everyone.

The Litter Pick

One of the ways in which Plastic Free Cheltenham are helping in cleaning up our community is by performing organised litter picks. The first of these litters picks happened this Saturday, over 50 individuals turned up to help us clean up our streets. We went in groups of 4 and moved street by street for 2 hours picking up discarded waste and marking down how much of each type of waste we collected. Unsurprisingly the most common form of litter that we found was cigarette butts, what was more surprising though was the sheer amount of them, we couldn’t move two steps without finding a discarded cigarette butt. Some unusual forms of rubbish that we found included, school trousers, a cut up credit card, and a large part of a car door!

Below are some photos of the bags of rubbish that we collected in our 2 hour stint.

Why not check out if there are any plastic free communities near you, and if there isn’t why not become a plastic free ambassador and create your own community.

Don’t Use It As An Excuse

A few of my recent posts, namely ‘‘Never Fear Failure’ and ‘We All Have a Part to Play’, have unintentionally softened the message that this blog is trying to send. Which is that we must all do our best and try our hardest to reduce our impact on the environment. I don’t want to put you off, or come across a bitter and angry (which I totally am so it might happen anyway) I only bring this up as I have been seeing a lot of posts on various social media platforms about how the framing of climate change as a personal failure is wrong because companies are the biggest polluters. But whilst it is true that big companies and multimillionaires are to blame for the vast majority of environmental degradation and climate change (around 70%) I fear that people are using this as an excuse to stop trying.

Just because others have a bigger impact doesn’t mean that you get to stop trying to reduce your own. We don’t live in a vacuum, that one plastic bottle that you bought because you couldn’t be bothered to fill up a reusable one and bring it with you isn’t really just one plastic bottle. It’s millions, because there are millions of others out there that are doing exactly what you are doing and we need to stop.

And conversely, those of you who are saying that your actions don’t matter because large companies are doing more damage than one person can repair, what are you doing to hold these people accountable? I haven’t seen petitions or marches for harsher restrictions on companies so much as i’ve seen people using these facts as a scape goat to stop looking at their own behaviours. You can bitch and moan that the fashion industry is ruining our water supply, or that animal agriculture is causing more greenhouse gas emissions than cars but as long as you keep buying and consuming their shit they’re going to keep doing it.

So yes, it’s true that eating the owner of one fortune 100 company would do more to help the environment that becoming a vegan ever could (and i’ll talk about some of the drawbacks of veganism on environmental protection another time) but I don’t see anyone killing Jeff Bezos anytime soon so until then do something to reduce your own damaging impact!

There will be things that you can’t give up, there will be mistakes that you make because hey! nobodies perfect. But you have to try. Refuse that plastic straw the next time you order a drink, so that someone who actually needs a straw can still use one. Take public transport, or ride a bike to work so that someone who can’t physically do those things and has to rely on cars to get places still can. Push yourself to do better, if you forget to take your reusable coffee cup out with you then you don’t get a coffee, don’t reward yourself for failing because then you won’t get better. And for those of you out there (once again mostly rich people)  who think that your own personal enjoyment of something somehow negates the damage and is somehow more important the the protection of our planet then maybe take a hard look at yourself.

And if you are the owner of a multinational corporation or a fortune 100 company (although I doubt there are any of those reading this) stop fucking destroying our planet for your own profits and take some goddamn responsibility.