Here Sam Taylor, our Recycling Coordinator (and driving force behind the challenge), discusses the highs and lows of the first month of Zero Plastic Fantastic with the team.
Living plastic free, even if the only plastics you are realistically cutting out are “single use”, is hard. I don’t think any of us had expected or anticipated how much extra planning goes into living a zero plastic life. You may have heard Ivana (our Events Coordinator) and I discussing the challenge two weeks in on Jonathan Cowap’s BBC Radio York show. We are now a month (wow!) into the challenge so here’s an update. You can read up on the rules here if you’d like to get involved.
What’s been the hardest aspect of the challenge?
Tom: Unavoidable usage by other people – for instance our wedding required the purchase of a large volume of tomatoes. Usually in our veg box they come in compostable boxes and we hadn’t realised that the cheaper, bigger boxes would be made of plastic. I’ve also struggled with knowing how harsh to be with myself and where to draw the line. One example is the items we buy loose in paper bags, I know the shop is buying them in large unrecyclable plastic bags. In the end we decided that one large bag was better than potentially hundreds of small bags.
David: Getting food “on the hoof” and finding toilet roll not wrapped in plastic (I ended up giving in). Annoyingly, I have had to cut down the amount of money I spend in my favourite local shops as almost everything I would usually buy is packaged in single use plastic. I’m buying much more food items in tins which I feel isn’t as healthy?
Sam: For me it’s been the level of organisation I need. I’m used to being able to just pop into a local supermarket and getting everything I need in one shop. Now I’m having to think ahead and organise when I can get to the local grocers to buy the fruit and veg I can’t get loose in a supermarket.
Have there been any unexpected side effects?
David: I haven’t bought any meat or cheese since the start of the challenge. I’ve eaten it when I’m out and about but none at home!
Sam: Not sure it was unexpected but I hadn’t really thought about the cost differences between buying fruit and veg loose vs prepacked and I really notice now when prepacked veg is on offer (and get resentful!) I also don’t think I’d realised how many other questions it would raise. For example Tom’s point about one large bag vs many small or the potential for food waste.
Tom: I’m thinking more about things like my toothbrush which I reuse for cleaning but at the end of the day will still end up in landfill. I am also more aware and feeling guilty about the other bits of plastic I’m using. Also the cost/benefit argument I keep having (internally); for instance, does it make sense for me to be spending time making my own toothpaste or should I save the time and accept that I’ll have to send a tube to landfill every few months? Why does it (toothpaste) even need to be wrapped in plastic instead of sold in glass bottles or tin like it used to be? On the plus side, I am spending less money on impulse purchases and I’m eating better.
What do you miss about pre-challenge life?
Sam: Convenience! If I’ve been busy or there are no leftovers I can’t just grab something from the shelf for lunch (luckily though the corner shop does AMAZING samosas in paper bags…)
Tom: Pizza! (the shrink wrapped supermarket variety) although that has been quite good for my waistline…
David: Cheese! Oh, and pickled fish from the market… and the reduced section of supermarkets at the end of the day as 99% of the items there are wrapped in plastic. Does that mean more food is going to waste?!
What changes do you think you will be able to sustain long term?
Tom: Being more forward with shops/people about how they use plastic i.e. taking my own tubs to shops/delis, it’s no longer embarrassing!
David: Being much more aware of what I’m buying and I won’t be buying individually wrapped flapjacks at work.
Sam: Leftovers for lunch, which admittedly I did do pre-challenge but now I make extra food so that I always have leftovers. It’s so much more satisfying!
Is there anything you are relying on now that you didn’t really use before?
Tom: Hard to say for me at this point as it’s not been a normal month. (Tom got married and had his honey moon early-mid April). Maybe I’ll have more to say on this question by the end of the challenge.
David: Muesli from my local weigh shop!
Sam: My partner’s home-made granola and risotto rice since it feels like the only carb (apart from potatoes) I can buy easily as it’s in a cardboard box from the supermarket.
Anything else you’d like to mention?
David: I’m worried about what I’m eating; it feels less healthy to be relying on tinned food. For some reason I’m equating healthy foods with plastic.
Sam: I feel like more companies need to be proactive and actually start reviewing their use of plastics. There are a few really good alternatives out there such as food wrap made from cellulose rather than plastic so you can compost it. I don’t know of any reason that it can’t be used more widely. Also the new recycling labelling has helped with this challenge, you can see straight on the packet (especially if it’s a cardboard box etc.) that there is plastic inside, rather than getting funny looks for shaking the box…
Tom: If we need to supplement our veg box we try to buy organic, which all seems to be wrapped in plastic so options seem more limited. As a household we are having to discuss what we are willing to compromise on (i.e. what veg we are prepared to eat if it’s not organic) in order to be plastic free.
So far it’s hard to see what progress we are making with this challenge. Our sin bins feel obnoxiously full… Hopefully by the end of it (May 31st) some of the changes will have become habits so it will feel like we are not thinking about plastics 24/7.
Keep an eye out for our upcoming blog on planning an eco wedding and come to our Wastebusters Fest on June 17th to see our sin bins and all the horrors therein.