How hard is it to go plastic free?

11 March 2019

We all know that plastic is a big problem, and that it’s important to cut down on single-use plastic where we can. But how easy is it really? Daisy, our Social Media Executive, talks about how she’s finding the move to living a plastic-free life.

Why do you want to cut out single-use plastic?

It wasn’t until I’d moved away from home and had to start putting my own rubbish out to be collected that I really noticed just how much I was sending to landfill every week.  I thought about the fact that there are over 65 million people in the UK likely doing the same thing, and wondered how anyone could think that this system is sustainable.

I hosted Christmas for the first time last year, and despite my best efforts to use recycled brown paper and string to wrap my presents and buy plastic free crackers with wooden toys inside, I was amazed at how much waste a few people could make across a few days. So as my New Year’s Resolution I decided to try my best to not send anything to landfill.

What is the Friends of the Earth plastic-free timer?

The Friends of the Earth #DrasticOnPlastic Timer Challenge is a campaign to highlight how difficult it is to avoid unwanted plastic in everyday life. The idea is to start the stopwatch on your phone in the morning and time how long it takes for you to encounter any unwanted plastics.

What was the longest that you went without encountering single-use plastic?

Across the week the longest I managed to go without encountering single-use plastic was 33 hours and 50 minutes. I think the fact that I am actively trying to not use single-use plastic anyway meant that it was slightly easier for me to achieve a higher time. I’ve already invested and set myself up with some of the plastic free basics such as toiletries and kitchen utensils.

I thought I was going to have to stop the timer much earlier on this day as I actually forgot to bring my lunch to work with me! I was sure I wouldn’t be able to find something in town that was both vegan and not wrapped in single-use plastic, but luckily I managed to find a soup.

I ended up having to stop the timer when I started to cook some dinner. I get all my dried foods like pasta and rice from a plastic free shop in Salisbury, so I decided to make a pesto pasta with some veg. I managed to do the whole meal completely plastic free until… I decided to add some frozen sweetcorn to the dish. Frozen food is really hard to get plastic free, and is one of the only things I still get that comes wrapped in plastic. All my fresh fruit and veg I get from the organic veg stall at my local market (which means it’s seasonal too!) but I still buy frozen peas and sweetcorn.

I get them as they are convenient when I’m feeling lazy, which isn’t a good enough reason. In the future I would like to bulk buy foods when they are in season – such as corn on the cob – and then freeze some myself to use in winter months.

My shortest time was 5 hours and 18 minutes. I had to stop the timer that day because I had to go to the Post Office to send a letter to my pensions company. I used the self-service checkout and the stamp it printed for me had a plastic backing.

What will you do with the plastic that you come across?

Although I’m not set up to be completely plastic free yet, I am still committed to not putting anything in my black bin. Any unavoidable plastic I come across that can be recycled I recycle, and anything that can’t ends up in my Ecobrick – which can be used in sustainable building projects.

Any plastic that ends up in the brick needs to be cleaned (so that there isn’t any organic matter which could turn mouldy) and then dried of any water. I then cut the plastic up into smaller pieces – around the size of a 2p coin - and put inside a large plastic bottle.

You’d be so surprised at how much you can fit into one bottle! I’ve been doing this for three months now and I’m still on my first bottle! It takes a little bit of effort to organise, but I think it’s worth it.

What has been the hardest part of this challenge?

Getting food on the go is really challenging to do plastic-free. Meal deals and convenient foods all seem to be wrapped in single-use plastic. I don’t tend to eat anything ‘on-the-go’ anymore - I usually make a packed lunch with dinner leftovers and have pretty much stopped snacking altogether. Not only does this stop me using plastic but it’s much cheaper and healthier for me too.

I quite enjoy the fact that I am limited by what I can eat when I’m out and about. It’s stopped me mindlessly buying things I probably don’t need, and that probably aren’t very good for me either. Sometimes it means I might be a little bit hungry, but it’s never so bad I can’t manage without.

There are also some things that just seem to be completely beyond my control. I always get junk mail through the front door which is often plastic wrapped, and most letters have those annoying plastic windows.

Having people over can also be really difficult. It’s lovely that guests bring snacks and drinks when they visit, and I wouldn’t ever want to sound unappreciative, but having to deal with the packaging after they’ve gone can be problematic. I guess it would be the same if someone buys you a gift.

What would be your advice to other people trying to go plastic-free?

You are going to have to initially invest in a few essentials before you do anything. There is a really good range of stuff available online now – Ethical Superstore even allows you to apply a ‘plastic free’ filter on their products.

When I decided to stop putting things in the bin, I did that overnight. Taking the time to prep my plastic waste to put in my Ecobrick was hard work, which made me want to stop using plastic even quicker!

When Daisy isn't at Ecotricity, she's organising vegan events across the Cotwsolds, that have a focus on eco-living too. Find out more about her Vegan Fairs here.

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