Sunday, 23 August 2015

Plastic Free June

It's been a long while since my last post.  Seeing as this blog is about our great adventure, and we haven't been very adventurous lately, there hasn't been much to write about!  Luckily, our life as landlubbers should be drawing to a close in the next few of months and we can get back out there.

I wanted to write about plastic waste because my eyes have been opened to a huge problem that most people, including myself until recently, have no idea about.

Collecting plastic litter along the canal on our commute to work

I stumbled across this issue when we were on holiday in Portugal.  While searching for a local restaurant to visit, I found an article about how Arrifana restaurant is saving 5000-6000 single use plastic cups a year.  This was a post on a blog called My Plastic Free Life and after reading Beth's story of why she does her best to remove all plastic from her life, I decided that I wanted to do the same.

Home made packed lunch to avoid
SUP in an aircraft meal
Kate has previously written about how we want to reduce the mountain of waste that we leave behind us as we go about our modern lives, so we were already on the right track.  The problem with plastic is that it lasts pretty much forever.  According to the Marine Conservation Society, up to 20 million tons of the stuff finds its way into our oceans each year.  It can get smashed into smaller and smaller pieces, but it doesn't ever disappear.  Wildlife confuses the plastic with food and ends up eating it, or getting caught up in it.  Once an animal's stomach is full of plastic, there's no space for real food and the animal dies.

Loose leaf spinach has plastic tags
attached to each bunch
Plastic is literally everywhere these days.  It's an amazing material.  It's durable, easy to form, comes in any colour you want, is light, strong and cheap.  These are all great attributes, but why on earth do we use this material for disposable products and packaging?  It's designed to last forever, yet most of the plastic in our lives is intended to be used just once and then thrown away.

By total coincidence, at about the same time as discovering My Plastic Free Life, my mum emailed me about the Marine Conservation Society's Plastic Challenge 2015, as she thought it's the kind of thing that would interest me and it certainly did.  The challenge was to give up single use plastic (SUP) for the month of June.  It turns out that this is incredibly hard.  It also turns out that when you're looking, it's unbelievable how few products are sold without any plastic packaging.

We like to buy a lot of vegetables and we found that this was impossible in our local supermarket while avoiding SUP.  At first glance, it seems like there are some things that aren't packaged in plastic, but when you look closer, this isn't the case.  Loose items are often on plastic trays, or the whole lot comes in a large plastic bag.  A lot of the fruit and veg also either has plastic stickers on them, or small plastic tags.

None of this fruit is free from single use plastic
We ended up doing quite well with our challenge.  For most of the month, we had less than a handful of small pieces of plastic.  These mainly came from avoidable 'accidents', for example not thinking about the fact that a drink in a restaurant might come with a straw and failing to make sure they wouldn't give us one.  We learnt as we went along, so most of these mistakes were only made once.  I won't go into details of how we reduced our plastic consumption in general, as there is already lots of information about this online (here, here and here for starters).  We did, however, come a cropper when we went camping for a weekend!

We failed to prepare properly and ended up having to hit the supermarket for our food on the way to the campsite.  Even trying to buy as little plastic as possible, the following photo shows how much we finished up with after the weekend.  In a way, it was quite useful to see the volume of plastic waste that we used to generate without even thinking about it.  I bet we would ordinarily have created at least twice as much SUP waste as this.

Our SUP waste from one camping weekend
Towards the end of the challenge, my sister helpfully pointed out that there was also a Plastic Free July challenge.  We decided to renew our efforts and carry on for another month!  Now well into August, we're still trying to keep our SUP use as low as possible.  Having finished the challenges, however, we are buying small amounts of plastic again, but we think hard before doing so and have started writing to companies to let them know whether we're happy or unhappy with their packaging.  If manufacturers and retailers don't realise that we have changed our buying habits, our efforts are unlikely to make much difference.  Once enough people start caring, however, and the suppliers realise that this is the case, then we can hopefully see some real progress in reducing the amount of SUP making its way into the oceans.

After a single weekend, the campsite bin was literally
overflowing with plastic waste