More on Plastic

A recycled photo…

Another post about plastic. You can read my first one (‘Out of Sight, Out of Mind’) here.

Because it isn’t going to just sort itself out.

As regular followers of this blog will know, grandchild #4 arrived the other day. And I worry about what our planet will be like for my grandchildren’s generation, 20 years from now.

Hell, I worry about what it will be like for my generation, 20 years from now.

I started to collect all of my single-use plastic waste. It’s only a couple of days’ supply, because I ran out of space on my kitchen bench, and people were starting to look at me funny. And I think that in itself speaks volumes about, a) just how much single-use plastic we get through and b) our attitude to rubbish – it’s OK to pile it up somewhere else (somewhere like, oh I don’t know, Malaysia maybe), but we shouldn’t pile it up on our own kitchen bench.

But anyway, here it is, in all its glory.

The question is, what to do about it. And it isn’t an easy question to answer. I’ve looked at these 9 individual items, and tried to think what I could or should do about it. What are the alternatives? And are they viable/sustainable alternatives?

In no particular order –

  • Plastic takeaway container – they used to do takeaways in tinfoil boxes with cardboard lids. Is that better? Can they be recycled? I seem to remember the card had a shiny surface underneath, maybe that makes it unrecyclable? At least you can keep the plastic ones and re-use them, I suppose.
  • Yogurt pot and lid. The yogurt pot is card on the outside, lulling me into thinking that it’s recyclable – but it’s plastic on the inside. And of course you don’t find that out until you’ve brought it home and eaten the yogurt. And why does a pot of yogurt need two lids? Could we just have one lid at least?? If the card/plastic combo pot means it’s harder to recycle, I think I’d rather it just came in a plastic pot.
  • Biscuit wrapper – we want our biscuits to be crisp, it’s going be difficult to do that without the protection that plastic offers. And I think that’s the main problem – plastic is just so darn useful.
  • String bag for oranges. I think some of us think this is actual string. It isn’t – it’s plastic. We could buy our oranges loose and put them in a paper bag (although I thought we were supposed to be saving paper?). This would also have the advantage of meaning we could buy exactly the number that we want, rather than the number the supplier wants to sell to us. The suppliers won’t be happy about that. Actually, oranges come in their own wrapping, so maybe we don’t need the paper bag either.
  • Milk bottle and lid. I remember when milk was delivered in bottles to the doorstep – and mothers didn’t go out to work, and everyone watched Morecombe and Wise, and there was always jam for tea. I also remember a lot of milk being wasted or having to be ‘used up’ because it was about to ‘go over’. Add in the cost of transporting the extra weight of glass milk bottles, and the cost of delivering them, collecting them and cleaning them, and I don’t think that’s a viable alternative. And that’s without the inconvenience of milk going off if it’s left out too long, or being nicked which I suspect it would be these days. I can buy 4 pints for £1.09 which is 27p a pint. There’s no way that I could have it delivered for anything like that amount. And does anyone really know if you can recycle the lids??
  • Sticky tape – I think genuine Sellotape is biodegradable? It certainly seems to degrade pretty quickly if you use it to stick the pages of a book together. But what about Scotch tape? Or the cheap stuff you get at the Pound shop? There’s always string.
  • Cling film. Well, we could just stop using it – but it does a very good job at keeping leftovers fresh. There would certainly be a lot more wasted food in this house without it. Some things keep well if you put them on a plate with a bowl over the top – but not everything. Maybe we could wrap things in paper? I remember when the butcher wrapped the meat in paper – and by the time you’d got it home the blood had seeped through. Not nice. And besides, I thought we were supposed to be saving paper?
  • Punnet (cherries) and film lid – buy them loose and fill a paper bag? With the added advantage that you could buy exactly what you wanted, which the supermarkets won’t like. That could work – but again, I thought we were supposed to be saving paper?

We’ve chosen to use one of the most durable materials on the planet as if it’s disposable. We’re not going to stop using plastic – but we really really need to get smart about it. We need to use and re-use and recycle our plastic over and over and over again, so that we never actually throw any of it away.

Because with plastic there is no ‘away’.

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8 Comments Add yours

  1. anglosvizzera says:

    We’re also trying to stop accumulating plastic, so here are some thoughts…

    The plastic container can be used over and over, and has the advantage over foil that it is probably less likely to contribute to Alzheimer’s Disease (see Professor Chris Exley’s research with aluminium and AD) – we have been using ours for freezing leftovers etc – they keep going for ages if you’re careful. As we already had these in the house, we might as well delay their disposal for as long as possible…

    Yoghurt pots – you could make your own yoghurt in a wide-necked thermos flask as an alternative to buying it – I used to do that back in the 70s when I was an art student (where I met your artist friend, Jane 🙂 ). Add fresh fruit, honey, cacao, vanilla etc as flavouring. You did used to be able to buy glass pots of yoghurt, but I don’t know if they still exist and probably cost a lot more. Admittedly I’m not actually practising what I’m preaching, as we buy the large tubs of Greek yoghurt from Lidl and it’s mainly my husband who eats it. However, those pots are great as protectors against slugs if you cut the bottom off, and place the pot around the young plant (veggies, I mean, as they would be rather unattractive in the flower bed!!) And there’s still the bit you’ve cut off and the lid to dispose of, of course.

    What did they used to wrap biscuits in? I can’t remember! Some food wrappers were/are made of cellulose which is a natural material from plants and is compostable as far as I know, but often it’s mixed with dyes etc. I’m sure cellulose could make a comeback at some point. I remember buying rice and other dry goods in clear, cellulose packets. They ripped easily, which is probably why plastic took over, but otherwise seemed ok. We went to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Food Fair in May and all the containers used for food and drink were compostable, even the beer ‘glasses’ – I think they were cellulose. However, some of these ‘compostable’ packaging materials still take years to break down unless in ideal conditions.

    My children have started using small cotton drawstring bags to take to the grocers or supermarket to put fresh produce, bread etc in. Some of them have a weight printed on a label, although I’m not sure how that would work in practice in the supermarket. At least you aren’t obliged to use their plastic bags though. I should make my own really, although we don’t put our loose fruit and veg in plastic bags anyway if possible. Trouble is, we find, that as we prefer organic produce, in the supermarket much of that is wrapped in plastic to distinguish it from the cheaper, non-organic stuff that is loose. We could get a veg box delivered, which I’ve done in the past, but often found there was a glut of something or other that made meal-planning rather boring. I went right off globe artichokes when they kept appearing in one box scheme I joined. I’d never have bought the damned things in the first place…

    We have started having our milk delivered in bottles. It is horribly expensive (95p a pint for organic milk) but we don’t drink loads of it and have only had one pint nicked in 6 months (which was refunded by the company). The milkman delivers it before 7am (actually about 3.30am) so it doesn’t go off, and the online system means it’s easy to adjust to avoid having a ‘feast or famine’ situation. The lids are foil, and our kerbside collection includes that.

    As for the plastic bottle tops, my ex-husband and one of my daughters are in the architectural field and try and use recycled plastic components when designing, to try and ‘close the recycling loop’ (ie if there’s no market for recycled plastic, where does it end up otherwise?) My daughter showed me a lovely multicoloured plastic material that was used to build a counter in a cafe (I think, it was a while ago) which was attractive, durable and easy to keep clean. However, it is difficult to actually know what does happen to these bottle tops that people often collect for charity.

    I imagine Sellotape might have been made from cellulose at one time? I have no idea though and try not to use that sort of thing too often. Brown gummed paper tape is an alternative that can be used in some cases.

    The cherry problem. There used to be punnets made from thin cardboard, so they must still be around. Or maybe we could start taking our own containers to buy the cherries (eg old takeaway containers!)

    Is paper ‘green’ or not? I understand that paper, if ‘grown’ sustainably (ie pulped from fast-growing coniferous trees) is a fairly eco alternative, because the trees are absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere while they’re growing and then they are replanted at a rate to replace the ones being used for paper. Has that scenario changed recently? It’s all so difficult to find the information to be able to make an informed choice.

    I remember decades ago getting some official government correspondence from Switzerland (as I’m half Swiss) and seeing that their headed paper and envelopes were ‘grey’ with a stamp on them saying they were made from recycled paper. It struck me that I hadn’t seen this in the UK, especially from a government body who should be setting an example. We used to be able to buy recycled loo paper too, but that’s somehow becoming less common and more expensive. I don’t know what happens to the paper and card that the council collect…is it really recycled? Or does it go into landfill?

    We have a cat that has adopted us, which we feed daily in case she doesn’t have any other ‘owners’ and have started using those pouches of food. We have a pet shop in a nearby town that collects them (cleaned and dried) so every few weeks we take them along. They use a scheme called Terracycle that collects various different things (pet food pouches, crisp packets, toothbrushes etc) and you can search on their website to find local collection points to drop off items or even sign up to be a collection point (you have to pay for the box, unless you’re a charity, I think.)

    One thing I have a problem with is those padded envelopes which are a mixture of plastic and paper. I try and reuse them as much as possible and people on Freecycle often ask for them, so hopefully they reuse them too. But there must be a constant supply of them entering the system.

    Slightly off track – I noticed that one independent clothes shop I occasionally visit has decided to ‘go vegan’ and ‘plastic free’ and be otherwise ethical. I am happy not to buy any clothes made from acrylic or polyester etc, and tend to get things from charity shops or from eBay. But they are going to stop selling any kind of wool products or ordinary cotton, because the sheep are treated badly when shorn (I’m sure some aren’t though) and cotton uses huge amounts of water to grow and process. I asked what would be an ok material for clothing and was told ‘viscose’ as it’s made from plant cellulose. I think they also have linen, which is plant-based. It’ll be interesting to see what clothes they have left after the cull though – but I suppose, and hope, I’m being fairly green by buying second-hand!!

    I have a neighbour who is going to teach me to spin on her wheel in the winter, so maybe I could start collecting cat hair to make my own clothes?


    1. You sound very green already!! The trouble is, all the alternatives come with their own costs, one way or another. And how does one decide? Should we stop using plastic at the cost of using more paper?

      Liked by 1 person

  2. oldhowie says:

    Well I’m informed that the plastic milk bottle makes a great model elephant, the orange bag an ideal support for inside swimming shorts, the plastic tray for seedlings with cling film to get then started, the yogurt pot can be placed on the nose whilst playing air piano and singing in a nasally manner ‘sitting at my piano….”, the rest land fill !


    1. We’re doomed!!


  3. oldhowie says:

    Mmm another thought on the plastic problem if we had to retail all plastic within our houses ( included politicians) then we would soon cut our plastic use


    1. oldhowie says:

      That was ‘retain’ bloody spell cheque lol


    2. You’re absolutely right. If we could see the problem, there wouldn’t be a problem!!


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