Read below about a local family’s experience cutting down single-use plastics.
Watched the last episode of Blue Planet, we were all nearly in tears. It was heart-breaking to see the devastation caused by many types of plastic to so many wonderful sea birds, mammals and fish. And with David Attenborough’s closing words about how it’s all our responsibility to act to save the planet ringing in my ears I am resolved to quarter this family’s consumption of single use plastic by the end of January.
But Christmas is coming up and there’s so much to do maybe I will leave it until the new year! But have resolved to try and buy non-plastic glitter for the children to use and try and avoid cards and wrapping paper that are plastic coated. (That all proved impossible.)
Until Blue Planet I had always kidded myself that as long as I tried to recycle everything and picked up any plastic litter I found lying around I was doing my bit. Now I realised I really did have to cut down as well.
New Year’s Day 2018
That’s it! Along with the usual resolutions to lose weight and get fit, this year is going to see this family attempt to eliminate single use plastic from our home. And unlike the first two resolutions I am determined to keep the last one.
My first act is to buy more plastic, but not the single use variety. I have invested in a Soda Stream and a water filter jug. My grandson and I like sparkling water, my daughter likes coke and my granddaughter likes fruit squash, all of which come in plastic bottles. No more, it’s a bit of a faff but we are getting the hang of fizzing up our own water and, if wanted adding some flavouring from a bottle of concentrate (sadly single use and not very easy to find). Sometimes it’s too much of an effort so we have to fall back on simple tap water and find we all quite like it. We are saving at least 4 large single use plastic bottles a week (and a load of sugar and artificial flavourings) this way and I feel quite smug.
Even smugger now I have put the last plastic hand soap dispenser ever to be allowed through the door, into the recycling. I had forgotten how long a tablet of hand soap can last and how nice and nostalgic some of the smells are. True the children can turn them into a soggy pulp if they get left lying on a flannel and I certainly have to clean the basins more often but it’s a small price to pay for the ever-increasing sense of virtue and the money saving. And this change could not have been easier to do.
Must confess we haven’t yet quartered our consumption of single use plastic but the purple recycling bag that gets put out each week is certainly less full.
Another easy win has been switching to butter in foil wrapped pats from plastic tubs of “spread”. The improved taste especially on toast has been remarked by everyone.
Reducing single use plastic in our purchase of fruit and vegetables has not been so easy. I buy loose when I can but in Chepstow that is really limited to some potatoes, carrots, onions and occasionally broccoli. As far as fruit is concerned the only unwrapped types are some citrus fruit. Apples, pears and all soft fruit are always wrapped in plastic.
I approached customer services in both Tesco and Marks and Spencer’s to ask if there were any plans to reduce their use of plastic packaging. Given the amount of publicity recently over the problems of single use packaging I had expected both to have some carefully prepared statement of good intent to give me but no, both stores greeted my question with polite astonishment and said they were not aware of any change in approach. Marks and Spencer did add though that they are entirely carbon neutral in all their operations!
I could go to the market in Newport for fruit and veg most of which is still sold loose there and I resolve to do that from time to time. However it isn’t a realistic option on a regular basis and I wonder what the net environmental impact would be when the petrol involved in the 38 mile round trip is taken into account.
With two young children in the household one of the biggest items in our weekly shop is milk. This comes in large single use plastic bottles and about 6 of these go into the recycling every week. I investigated what the alternatives might be but there don’t seem to be any. Even the very few doorstep milk-rounds left deliver in plastic bottles and local farm shops also only sell milk in plastic bottles.
But we have had another success this month. I now buy laundry liquid, fabric conditioner and washing up liquid from the fantastic Monmouthshire Upcycle centre down by the station. I take down the old bottles and get them refilled. It’s a bit more expensive than the stuff in a supermarket but is very good quality and less full of questionable chemicals and additives.
Easter like Christmas proved a difficult time to omit plastic. After some dodgy looks from shop staff I gave up squeezing and peering into Easter egg boxes to see which contained least plastic. Interestingly when the boxes were opened by the children some contained virtually no plastic while others had everything triple wrapped. These were all common high street brands so if some can do it why can’t others?
Depressingly I realised that not only were things like crisp bags and biscuit wrappers all plastic lined there also seem to be no alternatives, even the premium brands use plastic. While we are cutting down on things like crisps for health reasons I fear we cannot eliminate that source of plastic from our weekly shop, the children would never forgive me.
Is buying things in glass or cans better than plastic? I decided to try and find out but my on-line research was inconclusive. Glass and tin is more easily re-used and more widely recycled but is more expensive to produce and, because it is heavier, increases the fuel needed to transport it. But, I rationalise probably does less damage if it ends up in seas and rivers. I therefore look for glass or tin alternatives where possible, things like cooking oil, jam etc but more and more of those products traditionally sold in glass bottles and jars now are only available in plastic.
My grandsons school has organised a plastic litter pick. We set off to the local playing field and playground with two carrier bags which were full to overflowing within minutes with drinks bottles and crisp packets. I meant to go back with bigger bags but never managed to, but I do now always try and carry a spare bag when walking and pick up what I can. The main culprits round us seem to be teenagers, one tells me they would be laughed at if they were seen putting their litter in a bin rather than tossing the empty bottle into a tree. Somehow it needs to be made something to be admired amongst that age group.
We went away for half term and all my good habits went to pot. Nearly all drinks and food in airports and on budget flights are now served in single use plastic.
The Chepstow Sunday Market however got me back on track. Lovely produce available, most with no plastic packaging. The Upcycle people were there so I got our laundry liquid, fabric conditioner and washing up liquid refills. Also discovered that the Tell Me Wine shop in Rifleman’s Walk has a refill system for oil and vinegar and best of all wine!
And… stop press… Tesco have now increased the amount of loose fruit they sell to include four different types of apples and some pears. Hope they keep up the good work.
So nearly six months on what have we achieved?
A reduction of single use plastic in:
Laundry liquid, laundry conditioner, washing up liquid, soap, shower gel, toiletries with micro beads, soft drinks. And wine!
Failed to reduce single use plastic in:
Milk, soft fruit, most veg. In fact most supermarket food.
Wimped out on:
Not buying crisps (the children would leave home)
Washing and reusing cling film. I did give it a go but it was really fiddly and didn’t look very clean
Still to do:
Buy other refillable household cleaning products
Buying more veg at markets or pick-your-own
Read more about the Plastic Free Chepstow campaign!
So far, 20 Chepstow businesses have signed up to say that they are committed to reducing single-use plastics as part of the Plastic Free Chepstow campaign. Some have already cut out at least three items, some are completely plastic-free, others are working on it.
“We’re not expecting anyone to go completely plastic free – the key is to keep it simple and make a difference by changing one or two habits. Our washing up liquid is a good example – it’s very good, it’s made in the Forest of Dean, it’s at least as cheap as competing brands and you can use the same bottle again and again.”
Nadine Jones, Deputy Manager, Monmouthshire Upcycle
Cherished Earth Wholefoods also sells refill products and will refill customers’ water bottles. Owner Iain Mills is a founder member of Plastic Free Chepstow, and the business is trying to cut out all single use plastics. At neighbouring Tell Me Wine on Riflemans Way customers can refill wine and olive oil bottles, they are using paper packaging where possible and encouraging customers to re-use bags.
“All this stuff that’s just thrown away – it drives me crazy!”
Christine Voisin, Tell Me Wine
Nearby Love and Light, alternative medicine practitioners, are also phasing out single use plastics.
Gareth Collins of The Beaufort Hotel is a long-standing supporter of Transition Chepstow:
“Obviously, we all have a responsibility to think about what sort of environment we are going to hand over to our kids. They are only small changes we’ve made – giving up plastic straws, plastic cups and so on, but all these small changes help.”
Gareth Collins, The Beaufort Hotel
Tiffin Tea Rooms has phased out plastic straws, uses refillable bathroom products and offers a 10% discount to customers who bring their own cups for takeaway coffee.
“I’ve always tried to be plastic free – the rest of the world is catching up with me!”
Nic Meyrick, Owner, Tiffin Tea Rooms
The Greenman Backpackers Hostel is also looking to get rid of all single use plastics, for example using paper bags instead of plastic for packed lunches.
“This is a really positive move. We have to get rid of as much single use plastic as possible, as soon as possible. And my customers will appreciate it.”
Mick Lewis, The Greenman Backpacker Hostel
Diner Route 66 is replacing polystyrene cups and food containers with non-plastic alternatives, and using wooden stirrers and skewers.
“It’s good for business and good for the town.”
Gamal Omran, Route 66
Jenny Skelton of jewellers Silk Road Bazaar is also delighted to see the Plastic Free movement taking off in Chepstow.
“I’ve always been passionate about not using plastic. We use paper bags and cellulose-based packaging, and a lot of our jewellery uses recycled materials.”
Jenny Skelton, Silk Road Bazaar
Laura Jones of fashion and lifestyle business Eden Rose is keen not to create additional plastic. She has replaced plastic carrier bags with recycled paper, and is now using brown paper instead of plastic mailing bags – as well as a reusable coffee cup for her coffee breaks! Near Chepstow, Maybee Glamping has given up all single-use plastics.
“It’s always been one of our policies to have a low carbon footprint. Most of the fittings in the shop are re-used or recycled, and we use paper carriers or tissue paper. I’m working on my suppliers to do the same!”
Angela Seymour, Runway Fashion
Chepstow Bookshop will be cutting out plastic bags and plastic-wrapped greeting cards, and is looking at alternatives to plastic packaging for its mail-order businesses. Matt Taylor explained that what motivated him to sign up for Plastic Free Chepstow was reading the book No.More.Plastic. – whose author Martin Dorey spoke in Chepstow recently.
“It made me think about what we can do, both as individuals and as a business.”
Matt Taylor, Chepstow Bookshop
Toytastik stocks a range of recycled and plastic-free toys, is replacing plastic bags, and working where possible with suppliers who don’t use single-use packaging. Jon Amphlett was influenced by watching Sky News Ocean Rescue.
“It made me realise how much damage we are doing to our planet. So we have been trying to do our bit, both at home and in the business.”
Jon Amphlett, Toytastik
Gail Gilliland of pottery studio Paint on Me gave up plastic straws when she learned that they could last for up to 200 years. Since then, she has also moved to paper bags and tissue instead of plastic-coated boxes, gave up disposable plates and cups and also switched to bio-degradable glitter.
Language specialist Moore Language Solutions has switched to refillable ink cartridges and given up plastic parcel packaging.
“I’ve been keen to make a difference in Chepstow since moving back here. Working with Plastic Free Chepstow and signing up to reduce my plastic use is a step in the right direction.”
Charlotte Moore, Moore Language Solutions
Estate agents Moon and Co. are phasing out all the single-use plastics in their business, and have also signed up to refill water bottles, as has another leading local estate agent Archer and Co. The Preservation Company and Stone Rock Pizza are the latest two companies to sign up.
It is no coincidence that these are local, independent businesses.
“Local businesses have more freedom of action, and also more stake in the local environment. If you support these local businesses, you are strengthening the local economy and also helping to cut down on plastic.”
Sue Kingdom, Secretary of Chepstow Chamber of Commerce
It makes business sense too. Although some substitutes for plastic are a little more expensive, there is inevitably going to be more and more legislation on single-use plastic over the coming months and years. Companies who are looking at alternatives now will be ahead of the game.
Plastic Free Organisations
It’s not just commercial businesses who have a part to play. Chepstow Town Council resolved in March 2018 to cut out single use plastics from its own premises and the events it supports. Local community centres Bulwark Community Centre and the Palmer Centre have signed up to become plastic free, cutting out items such as plastic straws, cups and cling-film. Chepstow Methodist Church and Chepstow Baha’I Faith are taking similar measures. Chepstow Library is also participating.
“We enthusiastically endorse all efforts to go plastic free in Chepstow as we are committed to caring for God’s creation.”
Minister of Chepstow Methodist Church
If you are running a business in Chepstow and want to reduce the amount of single-use plastic in your business please get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org or through our Facebook page. We are aiming to get at least 30 businesses formally signed up as being plastic free by the end of 2018.