Blog Posts

The Plastic Challenge concludes. Or does it?

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The official challenge is over and it’s time to take a little stock…

It’s been very time consuming, on many levels.  The phrase ‘Obsessive Plastic Disorder’ was coined by my sister at some juncture along the way…this is what you get for a living with a humorous psychotherapist…

Personal highlights and achievable achievements included salad on every window sill; ordering an organic local vegetable box delivery; granting a permanent home in my bag to a KeepCup and a snazzy refillable water bottle; making houmous, soap, deodorant, oatcakes and sourdough bread (more on that in due course…); making a plastic bottle top box collection to go to Lush for recycling; the discovery of paper cotton wool buds and plant-based washing up sponges; the friendly cooperation of local fishmongers, butchers, grocers and the New Leaf in Marchmont for its many loose produce options – I salute you! Joining the Marine Conservation Society as my own personal carbon off-setting strategy. The eventual discovery of feta at Waitrose in a recyclable plastic container – that was a jump up and down in the aisle moment. Biodegradable foil and clingwrap; compostable food waste bags from the Council at a £1 – buy at your local library (!) And general plastic awareness truly raised. And the many conversations and insights gleaned at home and out and about. There are a lot of people who care about this stuff.

Low-lights and going-slowly-nowhere moments included the behemoth of toothpaste packaging communications with the Council and various suppliers; salad on every window sill does induce the odd Oliver Twist moment (‘Please Sir, can I have some more?) and isn’t actually enough for three people; getting plastic hijacked at unexpected moments, for example, the plastic spoon under the ice-cream lid at the cinema. (When did that stop being wooden?) And peering into the underside of the olive oil bottle lid – ‘Er, is this plastic I see before me?!) The conveyor belt of apparent unsolvables from butter wraps to magazine subscription covers to dental hygiene brushes to medicines to plastic freebie packaging with every online order you make. Argh! The fact that there are a lot of people who care about this stuff, who don’t feel able to do much about it because  plastic is so pervasive.

And that brings me rather neatly to my next point. Personally, then, I think I need to keep going but more slowly and in full consideration of my personal limitations. And this needs approaching from a much larger perspective. More help is needed! There are so many roads to go down here so I just picked one – enlisting the supermarket.

I motored my way around the Waitrose aisles in my secret fantasy guise as Plastic-Champion-of-the-Universe and on basis of distilled findings, drafted three page document of requested changes for Waitrose buyers at head office. Showed proof to Doug, who gave me kind and skillful feedback, in which somewhere the words ‘middle class’ and ‘eccentric’ might have briefly popped up. I paused in my Haze of Optimism and recalled my own time of working in management, remembering what it was like to receive lengthy complaint letters from people who had no grasp of the context they were writing into. And how that makes you want to make pretty boats out of the said letters.

So I’m still working on that letter and it’s going to start with a very short list of achievable requests…

And on we go….

 

 

Baking your way out of trouble…

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When faced with the prospect of No More Nairns, Doug was originally pretty sanguine about it.

This may have been due to the hefty stash still lurking in the cupboard at the time.

Thing is, when you have an oatcake habit, eventually the stash runs out.

So we reached that day and Doug, cold turkey looming, piece of Mellis cheese in hand, rose to the occasion by making his own.

He acquired a recipe from his pal Tracy at work who got it online from Craigies.

Here is the method:

Ingredients

8 oz medium oatmeal

A good pinch of salt

1 tbsp butter

¼ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

About 3 fl oz hot water (6 tablespoons)

Mix the oatmeal, salt and bicarbonate of soda together. Melt the butter and pour it into the centre, then stir in enough hot water to make a stiff dough. Sprinkle some oats onto a surface and turn the dough out and knead it thoroughly. Divide the dough into two. Roll out to ¼ inch thick. Cut into shape wanted. Bake in an oven at Gas 3 / 325°F / 160°C for about 30 minutes. (Courtesy of http://www.esfw.com.)

Doug’s variation included removing the bicarbonate of soda (‘don’t need it!’ and ‘can’t work out the point of it in the recipe’) and adding garlic and black pepper for added va va voom.

If oatcakes float your boat, these would get you to the Isle of Mull and maybe even beyond….

Travel-to-Wales-plastic-free-kit…

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So eight hours on the train coming up. Plastic pitfalls waiting aplenty…

So here’s the kit…

  1. Sandwich, large. Local baked sourdough doorsteps (Wee Boulangerie.) Chopped local organic toms (New Leaf.) Hummus (Homemade.) Sprouting sprouts (Home sprouted.) Salad leaf (Window sill.) All wrapped in biodegradable tin foil from ‘If You Care’ (there’s a brand not pulling any punches..)
  2. Plastic water bottle with tap water.
  3. Recycled paper bag of organic almonds.
  4. Apple (local veg shop, not sure where it’s from as it has no plastic label on it. Hurray.)
  5. Organic dark chocolate with sea salt from ‘Seed & Bean.’
  6. Keepcup (tasteful blue number from Marine Conservation Society, incentive gift when you sign up as member…) Small glass bottle of decanted soya milk. Small glass jar with decanted honey. Neon pink plastic tea spoon that came free this morning with a muesli sample from the New Leaf. So can buy tea from the train trolley. (Shrewsbury to Aberystwyth only.)
  7. Some bits of Eco loo roll (unused) doing service as napkins..

That’s it.

I can’t see if I’ve missed anything because a whopping halo just slipped over my eyes!

Feeling the squeeze now…

K Kuprat

Approaching the subject of sustainable toothpaste packaging is like entering a room with no doors or windows or like trying to land a helicopter on quicksand or any metaphor that speaks to not being able to see the way really…

I am unspeakably irritated by it. It’s horrible and complex. (I just flail internally, I do.)

I will try and explain why.

I wanted to find a toothpaste that didn’t involve non-recyclable plastic or any plastic even.  The journey I subsequently went on combined writing to a few companies and galloping haplessly through the Google Forest so I’m not claiming any sure and certain knowledge here.

What I gather is that we don’t recycle toothpaste tubes because like Pringles they’re a fusion of different materials that need to be separated in order to be recycled. So I assume they all go to landfill.  We’ve got a population of 65 million give or take so that’s a lot of toobs….

The possible exception to this is pump action tubes, which apparently are easier to recycle.

Looking for alternatives led me to brands that offered recyclable packaging but at a cost that immediately takes them off the table for most people, given the average price of toothpaste comes in at a couple of quid (or more if you’re buying into something pro-enamel and complicated involving whitening.) But if you want to explore this, I give you ‘Prabhupada’, which is apparently the first truly bioplastic toothpaste tube. You can get it via a site called allVeggie but have to order 15 tubes at a time. (It’s in Sweden.) Or Georganics (smells of wholesome purity and promise) which comes in a glass jar with metal lid. It will set you back about £7 and may challenge your notions on what the texture of toothpaste is all about. And oddly, comes with a miniature plastic spatula. Oh, and that strip of unnecessary plastic around the lid to prove it hasn’t been tampered with.

There’s also Weleda toothpaste, which again is more expensive (around £4/5) but their tubes are made of aluminium, which they say are recyclable.

I’m going to check in with Edinburgh Council about all this because it is not clear to me what they will take in the tube realm and I will report back.

Another point of interest is that in the US, Colgate got together with Terracycle to create recycling programmes for oral stuff, including all those pesky toothpaste tubes. However, although the latter offer programmes for a variety of ‘waste streams in the UK,’ toothpaste tubes are not one of them. I asked.

So the technology exists but again environmentally, it doesn’t appear to be very high on the agenda. What’s a planet, after all? (Sorry. Sometimes agitation makes me sarcastic.)

A little light here is that Colgate-Palmolive, which you may already know, have committed to delivering 100% recyclable packaging in their ‘personal care, home care and Hill’s pet nutrition categories’ by 2020. (What is it about Hill’s pet nutrition, I hear you ask?)

That leaves other possible routes of exploration including making my own toothpaste. There are oodles of recipes online.  I will attempt this but I’m very culturally pre-conditioned to foam at the mouth (as it were) so this is not my first choice.

Over a bite yesterday, a visiting friend also spoke wistfully about the merits of refillable bottles. Of course! (But I couldn’t find anyone online doing that.)

So there’s a little glimmer…and here and there, the wheels of progress are turning, albeit slowly, but I’m not sure how impressed Yoda would be with all this.

 

Granny Weatherwax saves the day…

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I had some difficult news yesterday. It doesn’t really matter what it was except that it was the kind of news that could send tendrils of fear into the days ahead and leave you feeling a bit preoccupied.

And I woke up this morning in fear and preoccupation and with an awareness that the cupboards were heading towards empty-ish again and that I needed to get some food again amongst all the other jobs in the day.

And then it started to rain. And it rained and rained. And it rained some more. Actually that implies breaks in the rain. There weren’t any. It was the kind of rain where you know that some soul somewhere is about to get flooded and the drains will start to burst in the pavements and that it’s going to sheet down the front of your rain-proof coat and pool like a waterfall down your knees until your trousers are soggy bags and your feet are squelching.

So I’m skin-wet. I’m preoccupied. I’m on my way home. To get what I need, the nearest shop is at least 30 minutes walk away and I’m walking down a long, main street that has nothing but supermarkets in it. And I want to go home. I really want to go home. This is the point where a van drives past and heads at high speed into a build-up of water directly next to the pavement where I’m cogitating. I don’t have to paint a picture of my thought processes for a short time after that.

And I can feel the urgent desire building just to whip into the nearest Tesco and grab a few things wrapped in the plastic and dispense with the big detour. Who could blame me? I’m soggy. I’m sorry for myself. It’d be a kindness. What’s the harm? I can always start again tomorrow, can’t I?

At this point, something arises internally that is not especially familiar to my sofa-lovin’, inner Libran. It’s a Granny Weatherwax moment. It says, “Personal ain’t the same as important.”

My personality sags. “Oh, Come ooonnn!!! It’s such a long way. I’m soaked. I have issues. What’s a little packet of tomatoes between friends? And besides, it’s not my fault that there isn’t a veggie shop anywhere along the entirety of South Clerk Street! I mean, what’s with that!!?”

The newly-acquired inner Weatherwax simply shrugs. Too late. The inner committee has committed. We’re going to walk the big walk and get the plastic-free stuff. I feel like a schlepper, teeth-gritting heroine (and tuna fish) all rolled into one.

And then it happens.

It is a miracle.

(This actually happened. I’m not making this up.)

There ten yards ahead, where there’s never been one before, a VEGETABLE shop, complete with a bounty of loose fruit, vegetables and even, get this, a bit of plastic-free salad. (It’s not surrounded in a soft, shimmering glow but if I squint…almost..almost…)

I stagger in. I think, a la Terry Pratchett, that maybe it’s one of those magical shops that appears just once when you need it and that as soon as you leave it will disappear like Brigadoon.

(But actually, I asked the guy behind the counter and he opened it six weeks ago.)

There’s some moral here but I’m still too saturated to think about it. But good, huh?!

Parsley, lettuce and glass recycling in Montana…

KK

Saturday’s observations run thusly…

What used to be a twenty minute online shop for the week became two and half hours around various shops for a couple of days, spending much more money than usual.

I met a young woman in one shop, who thanked me for bringing in my own bags and containers. She told me she was from Montana, which despite being one of the largest US states, wasn’t managing to recycle its own glass and at the other end of the spectrum, she’d lived in Seattle where you could get fined for not composting. She then went on to tell me what happens to old UK tyres – they go to China and get burned she said. I have no idea if any of this is true but I am as gripped by environmental gossip as the next person (may not be…)

The rest of the day was spent in various activities of food preparation, including de-bugging, sorting through, trimming and chopping a lettuce from an organic veg box, an activity that previously consisted of turning a pre-washed packet of ready-washed rocket upside down into a bowl.

It also included chopping an enormous loose bunch of parsley bought for 99p locally, which could be frozen for further use in order not to waste it, as opposed to the previously bought microscopic bouquet from supermarket, which is done and dusted in one meal.

The food quality of lunch and dinner that day went up enormously (organic freshness abounded) as did the drudgery component.

When I told my mother about all this on the phone later, she was reminded of being a housewife in Germany in the Sixties and we remembered that some of the innovations that led to all this convenience helped to get a lot of women out of the home at a time when they really wanted to experience something different.

I had to plan my shopping more carefully as I was going to some shops where I could only get certain things. I also needed to remember an assortment of Tupperware, paper bags and cotton bags. I walked around a lot more and I carried a lot more too. I didn’t have strong feelings about this either way and from a fitness point of view, all to the good.

Overall, I felt very virtuous…and a lot more tired…What is environmentally sustainable may not be personally sustainable…

But there is something more human and ordinary for me about engaging with folk in smaller, local shops that is lost amid the cool glitter of the supermarket aisles. That said, it would be easy to romanticise activities that my grandmother would gladly have dispensed with. The  Way of it must lie somewhere in between it all. I haven’t found it yet but the search continues…

It’s not rocket science…

…but it might be a complex salad issue…

KK

As a sustainable alternative to buying salad, there’s always an upbeat article somewhere that will tell you just to grown your own in a window box. This is what I am in fact doing. They don’t mention the sticky windows and the over-interested neighbourhood pigeon though. Nor the fact that the compost you need for the seeds will come in a large plastic bag…

Salad in the city is a tricky one. Yesterday I visited six supermarkets just to peer at the rocket leaf bags. They all say the same thing – ‘Plastic – currently not recycled.’ Sainsburys I noticed had the occasional plastic wrapper on the odd vegetable, which pointed out that it could be recycled with the plastic bags in larger stores. I was standing in a smaller store as I was reading this.

The path of the potential plastic recycler is a circuitous one.

What are my options here?

  1. Grow my own salad. Yes, fine, see above but not an immediate solution and may have some challenges all by itself.

 

  1. Give up salad. Seems extreme – surely an enterprising upbeat, window box grower in the city can find a way or two…?

 

  1. Get a vegetable box delivered, with salad in it. I’ve looked into this. I’ve been in touch twice. So far no response. But this is just life so will keep exploring that option.

 

  1. Put a note up at work asking if anyone has excess salad in their garden and would they like to sell me some (in a paper bag..) Might work but possible only a seasonal option and most people at work not landowners..

 

  1. Write to the supermarkets of my choice and ask them to change the salad packaging. That shouldn’t take too long…. This is worth doing I know but my inner cynic senses that supermarkets will be part of some complex larger machinery involving EU food laws and will not roll over like good dog. Also there’s a whole, other argument about putting leaves in a plastic bag in the first place….so worth getting clearer about what I would actually want to get behind in my consumer feedback.

 

  1. Go wild foraging! Not as fantastical as it sounds on one level as I can remember what Garlic Mustard looks like from my studies in Herbology but city greens at leg-cock level are going to be a bit potentially contaminated and where’s the time to make all this happen…?

 

  1. Prepare to change personal food habits. Oh yes, that one again – this may take some time….

I’m beginning to understand why people fail here or can’t or won’t take this into their consciousness very easily.  And why we need to be part of larger value-based networks to succeed with this. I may have to change in more ways than one!