Diary of a Wimpy Reducer

Read below about a local family’s experience cutting down single-use plastics.

December 2017

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.

January 2018

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.

February 2018

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.

March 2018

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.

April 2018

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.

May 2018

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.

June 2018

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!