I Had The Bottle To Go Without Plastic For A Week. Here's What Happened.
Has the phrase “I really need FOUR whole leeks today” ever crossed your mind when you’re half a trolley deep in the produce section?
But that’s how many of Britain’s largest supermarkets are stocking them. In groups of four, encased in plastic packaging.
It seems highly unnecessary to me but I’m sure there’s some method or reason to their madness, such as giving consumers a false sense of a bargain, when deep down we all know at least two of those leeks will be left to rot in the veggie crisper, or worse, they’ll only make it as far as the bin.
Plastic waste has revolutionised the way we live. From how we preserve food and how we transport products, to how we store our medical supplies.
But what was once hailed a scientific wonder is now considered a menace to the environment. In fact, the situation is considered so critical it’s predicted by 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish.
No doubt the public disdain toward plastic waste has gained momentum thanks to the likes of David Attenborough’s Blue Planet (BBC) and Australia’s War on Waste documentaries, which have both shone the spotlight on the issue and encouraged modern consumers to make a change.
Making a change, however, is harder said than done. Purchasing a reusable coffee cup and drink bottle or avoiding plastic straws might sound easy (and it is!) but ridding it from our lives completely is almost impossible -- for now.
I say this because I’m about to give you a run down of my (attempted) plastic-free week where I quickly realised there are genuine scenarios where plastic still feels like (and in reality, is) the only solution.
Firstly, this plastic-free challenge, a trial run which I hope to one day lead to a more sustainable lifestyle, needed some ground rules.
Well, one rule.
To commit to generating zero plastic waste for an entire week.
That’s seven days, 168 hours and 10080 minutes. Oh boy.
Take just one quick scan of your home, particularly the bathroom and kitchen, and you’ll find almost everything comes in plastic. From our shampoo bottles to décor and furniture.
It would take a colossal clean-out and major lifestyle change to rid of it completely so I decided I’d take things slowly and make a change in one area I can easily control -- I wouldn’t purchase or use any plastic that was going to be thrown away.
The challenge has been made even more difficult by the fact I’m living in the UK where Brexit isn’t the nation’s only issue.
Here, everything is wrapped in plastic. You can rarely snatch a lone broccoli that isn’t suffocating in cling film (you can hear the florets’ screams over the constant crackle of punnets and polystyrene) unless you have time to visit your local market.
So how did the week go, you ask? Well, it all started with a dozen loose mandarins and a muddy pair of football boots…
Reusable coffee cup. Check.
Reusable water bottle. Check.
Leftovers for lunch packed in a tupperware container. Check.
This can’t be too difficult, right? Wrong. So very wrong.
Day one was going swimmingly for about a grand total of about three hours before my local fitness studio offered me a card with three free smoothie vouchers. Free breakfast is a welcomed nod from the food Gods.
But, oh. We have a problem.
The smoothies come in plastic bottles, forcing me to choose between the angel on my shoulder saying, “you could just wait a little while longer and blitz some fruit at home or buy an 80p ($1.50) box of bran flakes for the fourth week in a row” and the devil arguing, “eh, what harm is one little plastic bottle going to do?”
Answer: Plastic bottles take between 450 to 1000 years to break down. Less than ideal.
This was going to be harder than expected.
The next plastic development arrived while attempting another weekly shop in the torture chamber. I usually have the foresight to bring a number of reusable tote bags with me but am often guilty of purchasing fruit and vegetables wrapped in plastic which essentially defeats the purpose.
This is a hard ask because unlike in Australia, brown paper bags for your mushrooms are rarely available and it’s difficult to source loose spinach or lettuce.
By the time I reached the aisle housing all the citrus fruits I was well and truly over it. It sure didn’t help that it was 4.45pm on a Sunday and supermarkets close at 5pm. AT 5PM! But this was one opportunity the produce section had given me to make a sustainable decision, so I scooped up a bundle of loose mandarins -- a fruit blessed with nature’s forcefield -- and threw them in the trolley.
The cashier looked at me in horror like I was pulling some kind of tasteless joke when I loaded the loose fruits onto the conveyor belt.
“I don’t like the plastic,” I mumbled without making eye contact.
I feel like she wanted to tell me to ‘go forth and multiply’ (aka f**k off), but she didn’t. Instead she kept her cool while trying weigh at least a dozen ‘easy peelers’ as they one-by-one continued to escape onto the floor.
And then there was that fateful Saturday at football training -- I’ve joined an Aussie rules team in London and to be honest I’m more here for the social aspect.
It’s the middle of January, London’s winter, and not only is it cold, it’s rainy, which means one thing, at the end of training my footy boots are absolutely caked in mud.
Normally this isn’t a problem, because I’d throw them into a plastic bag and into my backpack. But no, straight in they went, completely naked of plastic and now the contents of Regent’s Park is sitting at the bottom of my rucksack. *For the sake of the challenge, I remind myself.*
Carrying on. My partner, bless his domesticated soul and genuine adoration for Jamie Oliver, loves to cook. One of his specialities is a slow-cooked minestrone soup -- hence the leeks. Yeah, I know I’ve done well.
There are almost always leftovers and it makes for a fantastic, ‘help me I’m poor,’ take-to-work lunch. Though, packing a container of soup into my handbag instills a kind of fear inside me I cannot explain.
I’ve had my fair share of disasters.
This is where I truly caved. I wrapped that soup container into cling film before putting it in a plastic bag and Googling ‘how to pack soup without it leaking’. Turns out, there aren’t many remedies that don’t involve some type of plastic –- though, I will be putting my trust in a Thermos next.
Nobody’s perfect. Right?
There were at least a handful of times during the week where I wanted to grab a few items from the supermarket on my way home from work but had to forego the plastic bag. In turn, I’ve become really good at putting on an impromptu juggling act in those busy aisles.
Generally, you probably can’t remove plastic from your day-to-day life with the click of a finger. It’s been ingrained in us since single-use plastic bags appeared at checkouts across our now stifled world. It’s going to take time, and probably money, during this transitional period.
However, I learned that despite encountering a few obstacles, reducing our plastic waste output is certainly not impossible. It just requires planning.
There are myriad reusable, eco-friendly or sustainable options on the market. From wrapping food in wax sheets or storing them in glass containers before transporting them in thermoses or tupperware to investing in reusable cotton mesh bags for fresh produce and a washable cloth bag for those muddy football boots.
And don’t be afraid to ask your local cafés about the materials they use for their cups because if they’re up with the times it’s likely many will have a compostable option.
Also, if you have a Nespresso machine at home, there are countless eco-friendly coffee brands which will deliver biodegradable pods to your home which are compatible with those machines and much more environmentally friends -- Nespresso coffee pods can take up to 500 years to break down.
And ladies. Consider investing in a reusable washcloth designed to remove make up because those single-use face wipes are being sent straight to landfill.
To put it simply, all my setbacks are an affirmation that problems can be solved in a way that’s environmentally conscious. It might not be the fastest, most convenient or cheapest option but remember, any change is a good change and one step closer to preserving the existence of mother earth’s spectacular marine life.
My top tips for reducing plastic waste:
- Invest in a reusable coffee cup and water bottle
- Say no to plastic straws (what’s wrong with drinking directly from the rim?)
- Always have a tote bag handy
- Get yourself some cotton mesh bags to package loose, fresh produce
- Take time to visit the local market or butchers
- Choose cardboard over plastic
- Bring your own cutlery
- Avoid products with microbeads