This week I joined the Great Plastic Challenge in an attempt to make an effort to cut down on the amount of plastic I send to landfill. It astounds me how no-one thinks twice about sending a huge bag of rubbish (or two…or more…) to be buried in a big heap in the ground every week. How is it ok to chuck a big heap of plastic and other non-biodegradable junk in a big hole in the ground? Just because everyone else is doing it doesn’t make it ok. And what happens when we run out of space to do this? (Even right now as I type this the ocean is full of floating plastic).
Waste incineration (burning rubbish) is often hailed as an alternative to landfill but is arguably even worse as it encourages more waste to be produced and releases toxic substances in to the air. (Read more about incineration and landfill). So, I’ve been trying to follow the 3 R’s – to reduce the amount of rubbish I create, to re-use (or repair) items, and to recycle as much as possible.
Plastic is difficult to recycle. In Camden, where I live, we can only recycle plastic bottles. I don’t actually use an awful lot of plastic bottles. I don’t drink bottled water, and most of the juice I drink is from tetrapak cartons (tetrapaks are also recyclable). But I find that a huge proportion of my rubbish every week is plastic. Where does all this plastic come from? Where doesn’t it? When I look around everything I own seems to be made of plastic. From the keys on my computer keyboard, to the lenses in my glasses and the polyester in my clothes…even the exfoliating beads in my facewash… it’s all plastic. And everything seems to come packaged in plastic. At the supermarket mushrooms are in their own little plastic box which is wrapped in plastic film. Frozen pizzas are placed on a plastic tray before being wrapped in plastic film and packaged in a cardboard box. Yoghurts, soup, pasta, even potatoes, they all come packaged in plastic. I can’t for the life of me find a sensible way to reuse any of this plastic packaging, I can’t recycle it, and as far as I can see most of this packaging is pointless anyway.
So, I’m trying to be more aware of the plastic in my life and to take steps to reduce it. Step one I have already taken, to re-use plastic bags whenever I go shopping. I carry round a cotton bag in my handbag all the time for impromptu shops (see right), and when I know I’m going to go food shopping I take 4 large “bags for life” with me to Sainsburys. I know, “bags for life” are made from plastic too, but I have been reusing them for almost a year now and that’s better than using new plastic bags every time, right?
Step two is also already in progress. I’m trying to forgo putting fruit and vegetables into those transparent plastic bags. This isn’t too difficult. 99% of fruit & veg is peeled before I eat it, and if not, then it’s washed, and c’mon, if I’m fine with the idea of eating mushrooms that have been grown in manure and then washed then I should be ok with eating an apple that’s been washed after some other people have touched in the supermarket.
But…. big but.. it’s so difficult to avoid plastic. Last Thursday I felt too tired to cook and went to Marks & Spencer to buy some nice food…. I brought it home and unpacked it… only to realise I’d managed to buy a whole load of plastic along with my food. Even though I admire M&S’s environmental stance (their Plan A is a brilliant idea and an example to all other businesses), they still mainly sell highly packaged “ready meals”. The chinese spring rolls and rice that I bought were both packaged in huge black non-recyclable plastic trays. ugh.
You might think this is par for the course, that if I’m trying to avoid plastic I should avoid ready meals. But why?! Just because they’re ready meals doesn’t mean they have to be packaged in plastic or non-recyclable materials!
Yesterday I bought a scrumptious pieminster pie (from Fresh & Wild in Camden), whose packaging was an ingenious origami-type piece of cardboard. Below is a photo of the packaging laid out flat. As you can see, it’s just once piece of cardboad. Nothing else. No plastic in sight. Why can’t all food companies do this?
P.S. I’ve just emailed M&S to ask them about this, let’s see what their response is!