I’ve been struggling with how much plastic is in our home and how much gets thrown away for a while now. Toddlers are basically plastic magnets. It’s not until you actually start to think about it and become conscious of every single piece of plastic that you handle, or throw away, that you realise just how much we’re surrounded, and to an extent reliant on this shiny, smooth material. We are The Plastic Age. And that’s not a good thing – especially when so much of it ends up in landfill. There were some really shocking photos of Henderson Island, a UNESCO World Heritage site in the Pacific, covered in rubbish recently. That’s right, a beautiful island with an ecology system virtually untouched by humans that is now covered in about 18 tonnes of rubbish, washed up from the sea. Our impact on the planet will be enormous. Yet when thinking about how to minimise our plastic consumption – where do you start? There’s just so much everywhere, it’s so entrenched in our everyday lives, that cutting back is a really daunting prospect.
And then I caught sight of this post on my Facebook feed a couple of week’s ago:
Image originally from: 1 million women
This really caught my attention because it’s such a potent reminder of how much stuff we consume, use for minutes or even seconds and then chuck away. And often without even thinking. And here was my inspiration. I could start to reduce our household’s plastic consumption by starting with one time use plastic items. And my starting point would be cutting out the 4 items shown in this picture. Thanks 1 million women!
So I’ve decided to set myself a little challenge. Can I ditch the 4 plastic disposable items shown in favour of more environmentally friendly non disposable alternatives? I’m going to try and see if I can change my ways over the next few weeks.
Starting with coffee cups. I love coffee. I very rarely drink fizzy drinks and I try to keep my cake and biscuit consumption low. So, coffee is my go to pick me up and treat all rolled into one if we’re out and about. And I quite often end up with a take-out cup because I’m quite often on the go with hectic small people, not sitting leisurely watching the world go by with a hot drink in a china cup (basically, ask any parent of any small child and sitting in a cafe with a hot drink is The Dream). The take-out habit, when I think about it, is terrible for the environment. All of those plastic lids!
And there isn’t really an excuse. There are great reusable options available. I have a Contigo insulated mug that I bought about 2 years’ ago. It’s brilliant. It’s never leaked, the drink inside is always hot, and it’s very, very easy to clean. I usually take it to the park or if we’re doing something outdoorsy, where take-out isn’t an option. When the Little One was a baby I got into a great habit of filling it with tea or coffee at breakfast time. I would then have a hot drink, in a spill proof container ready-to-go for the day ahead – regardless of whether we were staying home or going out. I’ve found that the contents will stay hot (depending on if you add milk or cold water and I generally do) for about 6 hours. I need to get back into this habit. I could even cut back on my habit of buying coffee when out and simply taking my own from home. There are loads of benefits to taking your own coffee out. It’s cheaper to start with – if you buy a coffee every day (I’m not quite that bad) that’s about £15 per week (almost £800 a year!); you can make it exactly how you like it (strong and milky, please!); and you can be fussy about your ingredients. So, for me, that’s Grumpy Mule coffee or strong Clipper Everyday tea with a generous splash of organic full-fat cow’s milk or Koko coconut milk.
However, there will be plenty of days when I’m not organised. Sometimes just getting everyone out of the house in clothes is a tall order so organising flasks of coffee or tea will simply not happen. I’m not sure if I could get my flask filled at a coffee shop, but it might be worth asking. An alternative would be to keep a ceramic cup or one of these glass JOCO cups in the car or my rucksack. I’ve had my eye on a JOCO cup for a little while now. If I was commuting and grabbing a coffee on the way to work, I’d definitely invest in one. I think they look really stylish and I love the colours available. However, I haven’t commuted for years and I already have my Contigo. Plus the JOCO is a barista cup and not leak proof, so it would be hard for me to take it from home pre-filled or even just carry whilst pushing the buggy / holding toddlers hands. Even so, I might just put one on a wish list for the future.
I don’t think it will be too hard to stop using disposable take-out coffee cups.
I hadn’t really considered just how many straws we use. It’s vast. Just think about when you go to a restaurant, pub or petrol station for a quick drink. If you’re a gin and tonic drinker like I am, you’re often given a straw with your drink; if you’re picking up a carton of juice, a plastic wrapped plastic straw is attached; if you’re in a cafe straws are usually available on the counter to pop into your glass or bottle. Straws are synonymous with drinking out. Children love straws too, I know I did and I know my children do. We’ve tried paper straws at home but they’re completely useless. Soggy in a matter of seconds; especially if they’re being sucked at the top.
I’ve just bought some stainless steel straws to have at home and to take out too. The set contained 4 bent straws, 4 straight straws and comes with a cleaning brush and carry case. Annoyingly, the carry case is plastic, I didn’t really think about it properly when I ordered the set. On the plus side, the case isn’t single use and will be used so not a complete disaster. The straws look really stylish; I will definitely be popping a couple into my bag in the carry case for us to use when we’re out and about. If we get on with them well I’ll probably buy some wide ones for milkshakes and smoothies.
I think we’ll see reusable straws being used more and more. There was an article in the Guardian a few weeks’ ago, which reported that a chain of 17 pubs has stopped using disposable straws since it’s owner saw a film of a turtle having a straw removed from it’s nostril. I’ve heard of other pubs (notably in Brighton) giving up plastic straws too and of course, there is the zero waste restaurant Silo, which I’ve yet to visit.
I still think it will be hard to stop using straws completely. We’ll see how we get on.
I always have a drink on me for the girls, but quite often forget a drink for me. I often end up buying bottles of water when we’re out, especially if we’re not sitting down. I’ve had several cheap-y plastic water bottles: all of them have broken in a matter of months, which is really disappointing and wasteful. In my quest to drink more water and to buy less bottled water, I started to look for a reusable alternative. Something that will last this time! Here was my list of requirements:
- not plastic, for obvious reasons;
- no or few moving parts – likely to break and tricky to clean;
- preferably not glass, as it’s heavy and can break – I often have loads of stuff crammed into my rucksack or under the buggy and we have a stone kitchen floor.
- ideally made by an ethical company.
There are a lot of different water bottles! When I started googling, I didn’t really know where to start. So much choice. In the end I found this Jerry bottle. It’s stainless steel with a recycled bamboo lid. I opted for the smaller 550ml version. I went for this one because it looked really sturdy and all of the profits from the sale of the bottle go back into clean water projects. Jerry are a really fantastic company who are doing all they can to be super efficient so that they can squeeze every drop of profit into their projects. You can also look up the coordinates on the bottom of your bottle to see where it was made. It wasn’t cheap at £22 plus postage. However, assuming that I take it everywhere and don’t buy any bottled water when out and about, it should pay for itself in a couple of months. I’ve been using it for a few days now and it’s been brilliant. It’s such a simple design and works really well. As it’s been so hot over the past couple of days I’ve been filling it up and putting into the fridge before going out. I’m really impressed so far.
We do our main shop from Ocado. I know that this isn’t the most ethical way to do food shopping. I know that we should try better. However, it is the most convenient way of shopping with 2 small children and based on where we live. In defence of Ocado, with regards to recycling carrier bags, you can hand over any plastic bags you have at home at the end of your delivery and they’ll deduct 5p for each bag handed back from your shopping before they charge your card. We asked what happens to the bags given back and our most recent driver confirmed that Ocado recycle or reuse them.
I feel pretty virtuous about our veg box, which comes from Barcombe Nurseries. Based near Lewes, Barcombe are really mindful about plastic and try to minimise their use of it where possible. I love that they are so careful. Root vegetables come in a large thick paper bag with a soup recipe on the side; peas, mushrooms, plums and other bundles of small fruit and veg come in small paper bags. It’s just greens, salad and the occasional punnet of berries in summer that come in plastic.
On the odd occasion that I have to pop into a shop to buy some extra groceries I either put a small number of items in my rucksack or under the buggy or I buy plastic bags. I’m hopeless at remembering either my bag for life or a cloth bag. I guess that I usually rush around like a headless chicken approaching domestic tasks with as little thought as possible and as I don’t do the “big shop” in an actual supermarket I’m not on autopilot with my reusable bag at the ready. I also switched buggies in February from a large buggy with a basket on the side to a very small, neat and light weight buggy. I could fill the basket with lots of shopping and could then just take it off and put it into the car. This was brilliant for last minute shopping trips and toddler stuff In general. I’m still getting used to having a tiny basket underneath my smaller buggy, there is so little space. Carrying a plastic bag for life in my rucksack hasn’t seemed like an option as I think it’s too much of a potential suffocation hazard. I stupidly hadn’t considered a cotton tote bag. Head, table. So, in the spirit of reducing my disposable plastic consumption I’m going to start carrying a spare cloth bag or 2 with me in my rucksack.
We won’t completely stop using carrier bags because of the way we shop. However, I’m going to make sure I’ve got my cloth bag with me so that I don’t need to buy any more bags on top of the Ocado carrier bags. And we’ll be extra vigilant with giving our carrier bags back to Ocado to ensure that they are all recycled.
Clockwise from the top left: Contigo Westloop 470ml insulated mug in Stainless Steel, Jerry water flask with recycled bamboo lid 550ml; reusable stainless steel straws and cleaning brush; organic cotton cloth bag from Infinity Foods.
I’ll keep you posted on how it’s going over the next few weeks.