In December 2017 David Attenborough, through one episode of Blue Planet II managed to catapult the issue of plastic waste squarely into the public eye. Although some have been campaigning for decades, it has now been a cause taken up by many who have had no prior interest in environmental issues and we’re all being challenged to make small swaps which could lead to a big change.
Reducing our waste had always been on my radar as part of our ‘toxin free’ experiment and throughout this year I have invested in several plastic free proucts such as wax wraps, reusable coffee cups and bottles, shampoo bars and biodegradable toothbrushes . However, the amount we were still sending to landfill was shocking and I came to realise that the majority of this plastic waste was coming from our food.
I normally do a weekly online delivery shop with Tesco, and honestly I was hesitant to change my habits. It works well for me as a mum of three in a rural area to be able to do my shop from home, without having to drive or drag young children around a shop. I knew that attempting to go plastic free would require a significant amount of effort so it wasn’t until November that I felt ready to make a change. I decided to shop as plastic free as I could for a month to give me some idea of how realistic it would be long term.
It has been an eye opening experience!
My first trip to a local farm shop was an immediate fail when I realised that their meat and veg was pre-packed in plastic, so my next stop was the local high street where the butcher happily let me use my own containers for meat. I bought the majority of my veg package free from the greengrocer and dry goods were purchased from an online plastic-free shop. I made my own bread, biscuits and cakes and simply stopped buying many items that couldn’t be bought package free. Of course I didn’t go completely plastic free and I didn’t want to deny myself everything as I knew it wouldn’t be sustainable (I love my snacks!), so I did three ‘top up’ shops at Tesco which contained quite a few packaged items.
So, after a month what were my conclusions?
It is undeniable that shopping plastic free is hard work. Even though generations before us have shopped locally, multiple times a week, when you’re used to a big online delivery being carried straight through your door it seems like a greater chore to physically drive to, and walk around several different shops juggling children and bags. Of course, shopping locally has its own benefits to the community and the local economy and I have found lots of my plastic free swaps have lead to me supporting small family businesses…however, I think you’d really have to want to do this badly to keep it up long term.
I am finding more and more that we are addicted to convenience, both in our food and lifestyle choices. We do whatever is easiest and quickest, and when it comes to food that most often means it will be wrapped in plastic. It is almost impossible to buy convenience or processed food without packaging, and most of it is unrecyclable. Of course in an ideal world we would be giving up all these (generally) unhealthy options, but it takes new habits and dedication to start making things from scratch again, and regaining some of the skills that have been largely lost in today’s society.
I was actually quite surprised by how much extra time I managed to find to make my own biscuits, cakes and bread. I think I’ve been convincing myself that with three children it would be overwhelming to plan to do that, but it’s a hobby which has been on the backburner and I enjoyed picking it up again. In reality it doesn’t take long to whip up a batch of (plastic free) scones from an afternoon snack. However, all the ‘little jobs’ do add up and you also have to consider the mental burden of trying to plan all the extra trips and cooking. It is much easier to get it all done in one place at one time!
…and that leads me back to the supermarkets. As the month wore on I got more and more frustrated at the power that the supermarkets wield and how little they seem to be doing. Compared to my local green grocer, our local supermarket is a sea of plastic. I understand that due to transportation and storage issues some packaging needs to be used, but surely not this much? It’s nice to believe that we’ll revert back to the old ways of shopping locally, but in reality the supermarkets need to be the pioneers in the change or reducing plastic waste on a large scale is not going to become mainstream. We so often need to be told what to do; forced to make a change which then becomes habit – how many of us regularly take our own shopping bags now that we have to pay for plastic bags?
Having said that, I was encouraged by the small changes that we could all do that make a big difference, even shopping at a supermarket. I asked for no produce bags to be included in my online delivery and two out of the three times they honoured it – that was at least five plastic bags out of landfill a week. Imagine if we all made these pro-active decisions every time we shopped? If we took our own produce bags and containers? If we refuse plastic bags. If we vote with our wallets and choose plastic free products over packaged? What a difference we could make.
Part of me is relieved that my challenge is over, but I’m not sure I can go back to supermarket shopping without feeling guilty every time I buy something wrapped in unrecyclable plastic. We don’t live close to zero-waste shops, or even a deli which could make this easier so we won’t be giving up the online delivery any time soon…but I hope that the independent highstreet shops will be my go-to from now on. I’ve seen what a difference it can make – even from just one family – so how can I look at my children and grandchildren in future years and say I didn’t try to make a change?
You can see more of my day-to-day plastic & toxin free swaps on Instagram