In September one of our UK team members decided to try to go a whole month without buying any new disposable plastic, this is his story:
In preparation for a plastic free month I did plenty of research about what swaps I could make in order to try to achieve my goal of a month free of buying anything that was in pointless packaging or single use plastic. After completing this rewarding exercise, I could sum it up in two words: FRUSTRATING AND EXPENSIVE
In my first week I ditched the local supermarket and their meat aisle full of sausages in trays wrapped in cling film and their bacon again all wrapped up in favour of my local butcher. I went armed with my Tupperware tubs and explained to the guy behind the counter that I wanted chicken breasts, sausages and bacon. He seemed surprised when I asked him to put the meat in tubs I brought with me but he obliged. When it came to the chicken however he said 'we only have chicken wrapped up behind you in plastic but I could take it out and give it to you' - obviously I explained that this defeated the object. I left the butcher frustrated, without my chicken, but was adamant I would find it in another butchers which I did but it required a 25min walk through town to get there. In summary, going plastic free is possible but time consuming. This trip took me over an hour and I also found parking was difficult by the local shops - nipping in to Tesco to pick up some meat is far more convenient.
During my research before the month started I did notice bread would be an issue as almost all the supermarkets wrap it up in plastic. Even when you buy from the bakery section, the paper bags you are given it in has a plastic window! - Is this incase you forgot what you just put in there?? I did wonder if Warburtons in the waxed paper might have been ok but the reports I read online seemed to show mixed results. I went to my local bakery and they were able to give me bread in a paper bag provided I asked for this - the standard was to give it in plastic.
I love cheese and so I went to my local deli hoping to be successful at ditching the plastic. I was wrong, of the selection of around 30 cheeses I was able to choose from 3 that were not either wrapped in cling film or vacuum packed. One was wrapped in wax and the other two in foil. I had got pretty good at taking my YETI mug out with me to use when I buy a coffee but on one occasion I left it at home so I asked for a coffee but without the plastic lid. I explained what I was trying to do but the girl at the deli said she was unable to pass a coffee cup to me over the counter without a plastic lid due to health and safety. Politely I asked to speak to the manager but he also reiterated that he could not pass it to me with out one. FRUSTRATING!
Being a teacher I like to bring research to life and in September I did a conformity experiment with my students that required filling a jar with Gummy bears. I went to Tesco and could not find a single bag of sweets that I could use to fill the jar. I was on the brink of failure until I remembered the pick and mix with their paper bags! In order to get the amount of sweets required to fill the jar the weigh scales revealed a price of £19! This was so EXPENSIVE as I could have filled it with 8 or 9 packets of the supermarkets own brand at 45p a bag! I explained to the girl at the checkout what I was doing and recommended she pass my frustration on to her managers - unfortunately she was more concerned with getting her colleagues to take a picture of the £19 bag of pick and mix than why I was having to purchase it in the first place.
Some of the easier things during my time doing the month was switching to getting my milk delivered to my front door a few times a week! I am pleased to say this is something which I have continued to do. It was easy to also switch out my bottle of shampoo to a shampoo bar which I got from LUSH. This was however quite expensive £5+ and I got around 40 washes out of the supposed 80 the label said I would get. I did run out of toothpaste and this did present a real problem as apart from a couple of places online, I could not find a single plastic free alternative so I had to take the plunge with that one.
In summary, it was a very rewarding experience and I did enjoy getting out there and using the local bakery, butchers and grocers but after totalling up my monthly spend I easily spent upwards of £100 extra on what I would have done buying plastic wrapped products from the more convenient supermarkets. It takes time, can be frustrating with silly rules such as the health and safety ones and is expensive. I have changed a lot of my practices since doing this but I have to say that in 2018, we are not anywhere near to being close to plastic free being a viable option for most people living busy modern lives. Many of the people I spoke to during this time wanted to use far less plastic and would pick these alternatives if they were options in the major supermarkets which unfortunately for now, they are not.
I continue to highlight pointless plastic use to as many people as possible and the reason this is so important takes no more than a couple of seconds searching on the web for the impact discarded plastic has on marine life - but I understand the difficulty people face on a day to day basis, I think the answer lies with the major supermarkets, they after all have the power to have a huge impact on reducing plastic waste.
I challenge you to try a month of not buying any disposable plastic but be prepared for a potentially expensive month!