Whilst many people over Easter celebrated the end of Lent with chocolate and other sweet treats I was grateful to be able to buy a pot of cream and some shampoo … not to use together you understand!! Way back in March I embarked on a challenge to go plastic free for Lent – is it me or has it been longer than usual this year – just to see how achievable it really is.
Some things I found super easy. A simple phone call to the local dairy and you can get milk delivered straight to your door in glass bottles together with yogurt in little jars – very continental! I also spotted bottled milk in Aune Valley Farm Shop where you can also recycle your bottles. In Dartmouth we are lucky enough to still have a bakery, butchers, green-grocer and fishmonger which meant that I could easily get most basic food stuffs either in paper bags or bio-degradable sealed bags in the case of meat. Once I’d got used to it I also started taking old pots into the local delis to be refilled. I did feel a bit of an idiot at first but most of them didn’t bat an eyelid. A weekly veg box delivery also helped and thankfully gin and Prosecco come in glass bottles…
Of course things got harder as the weeks went on, as at first I was simply using up supplies of stuff I already had. Cleaning materials proved to be a particular problem especially as I will admit I am a bit addicted to those antibac wipes. I swapped to cleaning cloths, hot water and good old fashioned elbow grease for a lot of stuff but reverted to off the shelf cleaning products for the loo. A friend told me about Cleaning Pods from OceanSaver which are concentrated, water-soluble pods that transform into liquid cleaner when added to water. They are fully biodegradable and breakdown to natural elements once back in the environment. I didn’t get around to trying these but they’re certainly worth a look. I swapped to washing powder in boxes instead of the liquid capsules and although hubby thought we had reverted to living in the 1940’s I must admit the smell did transport me back to my nan’s washing day (always a Monday) where there was much use of a mangle and wash-board ! I had been meaning to try them for ages but this challenge gave me that extra push to buy from Who Gives A Crap – who sell toilet paper and kitchen towel which are made without trees, contain no dyes or scents and who give 50% of their profits to help build toilets for those in need. Best of all though, they come wrapped in pretty paper which you can re-use for crafting!!
Being unable to use cling film I made much more use of a set of cotton covers that I bought years ago from Hunter Gatherer – but you could make your own if you’re nifty with a needle and thread. I also came across beeswax food wraps on my travels which aren’t cheap but do last for about a year and can be composted afterwards.
Most frustrating was the fact that most dairy produce (yogurt, cream and cheese) comes in plastic containers/packaging. I did find some yogurt in little glass jars as I mentioned, but of course these are a lot more expensive. Buying cheese from delis isn’t really much better as they have to use cling film to wrap it while on display but I must admit I let this slip. If I’d been a real purist I could have bought cheese that comes ready wrapped in wax, eg Godminster or Black Bomber. Rice, pasta and grains also posed another problem until I shopped around (see below) although I did find spaghetti in paper packaging. I was a bit miffed to find that it’s virtually impossible to buy flowers that aren’t wrapped in plastic – so in an effort to save the planet I’ve planted a cutting garden (but of course some of those plants came in plastic pots ….).
Much to hubby’s disgust no more shop bought cakes and biscuits made their way into the house but I did the dutiful wife thing and made him some instead. This was going OK until I needed more brown sugar and then I hit a brick wall in my local shops, as although granulated and caster sugar comes in paper packets, brown sugar doesn’t. I did find I was cooking more from scratch overall, as it is terribly easy to buy a ready made meal when you’re busy. I even made my own bread on occasions and missing my weekly take-away discovered that I make a mean Massaman curry …
Thankfully some local shops have cottoned onto the fact that people want to reduce the amount of plastic in their lives. Ben’s Farm Shop as well as selling loose fruit and veg also have a self service unit for dry goods which means you can stock up on rice, pasta, lentils, nuts, seeds and lots more in whatever container you choose to bring in. They also offer refills of laundry materials and washing up liquids. Annie’s Fruit shop does the same thing.
But my best find was The Zero Waste Shop in Totnes which was opened about 2 years ago by Nicola and Richard who are passionate about creating a healthier planet. They have gone from strength to strength and so keen to spread the word about zero waste that they have produced a guide for other people wanting to set up a similar type of business themselves. As well as the usual suspects they also sell dried fruits, loose leaf teas, dried mushrooms as well as vinegars, oils and syrups. In fact they have over 100 products for you to choose from. You can even grind your own nut butter ! Non food items are also stocked and include cloth sandwich wraps, bamboo cutlery, soy wax wraps, metal straws and wooden toothbrushes. I have to admit I’m not keen on the shampoo bars and natural toothpaste wasn’t for me either. And washable reusable sanitary pads … sorry but no way Jose !!!
Now I know what some of you are thinking. “Doesn’t this woman have anything better to do than drive around the county seeking out plastic free packaging”. Well yes I am lucky in that I don’t work full time and we don’t have children to look after so I do have the time to shop around. I’ll be honest and say that if I had to shop in a supermarket all the time going plastic free would be virtually impossible. I am constantly amazed by the amount of excess packaging used in these places particularly when it comes to fruit and veg – I even spotted shrink wrapped coconuts in one store !!! These companies really have to do better. On the plus side I think we actually spent less than we usually do on food as our meals were really stripped back to basics and we mostly went without a lot of the expensive ready made meals, treats and snacks. But I probably clocked up more miles in the car and spent a little more on petrol. Easily solved I guess if you do a huge monthly shop and perhaps share the journey with other like minded eco-warriors!
So all in all I would say that I did substantially reduce my purchasing of plastic without a massive effort and I actually found it quite fun. I recognise that for people who rely on convenience foods and/or supermarkets it would be much harder. You do have to think like a boy scout and “Be prepared” – it has started to become a bit more of a habit to take empty containers and a reusable coffee cup with me whenever I go out. Some practices I will keep up and some I’m afraid will probably fall by the wayside. But it has opened my eyes to how much excess plastic we actually buy without really thinking about it. A case in point being my impulse purchase of a very fine pink neon flamingo after a bit of a boozy lunchtime …