Plastic Bye Bye
by becky howarth
“Lent starts tomorrow and I’m giving up plastic,” I wrote on Facebook, and with a click I shared the first of my Plastic Bye Bye blog posts.
“Can it be done?” I wondered as I trolleyed around my local Asda grocery store. “Snacks on the run, body care products, bathroom and kitchen cleaners?” I wondered as I finished the last of my (plastic contained) cream. “Living between three houses in different towns and a job in a fourth, is my life too rushed and nomadic for this?” I wondered, rolling on my deodorant. “The organisation, the timely preparation?”
Doubts aside, I was sure that this plastic life I had been surrendering myself to day by day needed to be resisted, and a publicised religious fast was an ideal framework.
As a child, my love for Earth was pure, and instinct for protecting it fresh. In a nutshell, the automatic reach of a fish and chip seller for his stack of polystyrene trays one summer had sent child me running to the car, returning with a faded cardboard ice cream tub which may or may not have been the family’s emergency puke box. “I don’t like plastic waste.” I explained as the seller dumped his floppy chips in the tub and folded a battered haddock on top.
It is specifically this mindless right hand that reaches so easily for plastic which I wanted to confront and slap this Lent with the zeal of my younger self. My weapon - love. A fierce and enduring fuel.
So without further ado and with plastic on my mind, this is what I saw this Lent:
I saw that in my 2017 England, dashes in and out of convenient Tesco Expresses, Sainsbury’s Locals and coffee shops will inevitably result in a plastic slap to Earth - plastic films, trays, lids, laminated cups etc. The alternative is to prepare and pack food at home for the day(s) ahead. I have actually found it reassuring to have the simple things like food and water planned and prepared before I leave the house. And besides, this habit is so much cheaper than take-outs.
I learnt that in 2016 my country sent 67% of its ‘to be recycled’ plastic over the horizon (to China, etc.).
I discovered that plastic is quite literally our bread and butter. Within the cyclable radius of mum’s house (in a city centre) not one shop sells a loaf of bread without plastic. When asked, though, Sainsbury’s in-house bakery team have a special request book: “Becky, Tuesday 10am, 800g Multiseed loaf unpackaged.” With persistence, this is now working like a well-oiled machine and I am still enjoying the routine of a weekly 40 minute cycle ride for the loaf.
I learnt that, contrary to many recipe books, plastic tubbed soft margarine isn’t the only fat that cakes can be made with. A tasty cake can also be made with the blocks of margarine you find sold in greaseproof paper. Recipes can be adapted.
Soap wise, I looked for and found plasticless bars of soap suited for my body, face, hair and, my purse. Whilst I am pleased with these alternatives and don’t envisage going back to my plastic bottled soaps, there was a dark side to this shopping experience. I had to really look for these alternatives. In central Birmingham’s Boots store (the UK’s leading health and beauty store), their long aisle dedicated to bodywash had just two brands of bar soap, and these were on the bottom shelf. As for shampoo or soap recommended for washing the face, I searched in supermarket aisles too, but nothing was on sale. In the end headed, I headed for Lush.
For period care I was encouraged by my blog readers’ loud and enthusiastic response to a post about Mooncups titled ‘Periods: normalising the options.” Fantastic!
Rice and pasta are only sold in plastic. You can cook potato and make pastry in many, many ways and can even make pasta but, still, I missed rice and thought it extremely silly that rice is only sold in plastic.
My right hand has twirled plastic pens ever since I passed a handwriting test in primary school. This Lent though, my handbag pen was replaced with a wooden pencil and sharpener, a fine substitute and perfectly sufficient for daily scrawls.
Cereal and porridge (sold only in plastic) are refreshing breakfasts but so too is toast, marmalade and a bowl of fruit salad.
Adverts, teachers and parents have put plastic deodorant in my trolley for the past 10 years. Actually, regular washing of armpits, non clingy tops and a morning application of homemade talcum powder (bicarbonate of soda and arrowroot) are sufficient for me.
I found that in my 2017 England, the supermarket section for Vegetables and Fruit is Bonkers with a capital B. To give you an idea of the level of bonkers I speak of, in Worcester’s mega Asda store every green coloured food is plastic packaged and the price per kg of loose, unwashed potatoes is double that of plastic packaged clean potatoes(?). What to do in this situation? As an individual I wanted to encourage supermarkets to keep the few unpackaged vegetables they still have, so during Lent I bought carrots, tomatoes, red cabbage and mushrooms from Asda. But to satisfy the variety of fruit and veggies I was used to, I went elsewhere. A 10 minute walk during my lunch break takes me to Birmingham’s outdoor market, an incredibly cheap and colourful shopping experience. I am really grateful to have this market on my doorstep!
This Lent I realised that these towns of mine do not support ‘mindless environmentalism’. With eyes closed, the current will take you to plastic. As a young adult, with the world’s brutal realities apparent and this plastic current so strong, we as individuals may ask ourselves “What’s the point?” In 2016 the world population clock chimed 7.5 billion, the news is filled with political giants, books tell me of global oligarchs, economics informs me of the complexities of supply and demand and walking around mega-supermarkets, among teetering aisles of packaging is enough to send anyone’s environmental gusto toppling. In the face of reality and figures, love for Earth can be reduced to a hopelessly subdued frown.
Sometimes we need to take a step back and feel that simple child’s love. Sometimes we need to have some faith, some religious guidance and conviction. Sometimes we need prompting.
Once we begin to change ourselves, we must then make a loud noise about excessive, nonsensical and/or hypocritical use of plastic to wake up the ears of those who write our laws, those who package our products and those who toss items in their trolleys with minds elsewhere.
Let’s become proud of how we treat our big home.