Tuesday, 27 February 2018

A Plastic-free Planet - Pie in the Sky or Achievable Dream?

It's been a while since you heard from me.  I didn't feel like I had anything new to say so I kept quiet.  That all changed last week.

There has been a lot of coverage in the media recently about plastic, particularly plastic that ends up in the oceans and travels thousands of miles around the globe, polluting the oceans and harming corals and other aquatic life. 

David Attenborough has also shown us in Blue Planet II the extent of the damage it causes as it is not biodegradable and moves around causing trouble for years.  My husband and I both enjoy scuba diving and we have seen first hand some of the plastic at the bottom of the ocean.

This (see link below) is why we need to start finding alternatives to plastic. Please read the points that the writer, Richard Horner, makes and watch the video.  If this deosn't make you want to ditch plastic, I don't know what will.

VIDEO _ Ocean plastic invasion in Bali

In the Bali video you can see jellyfish swimming past the diver.  The plastic bags look very similar to them.  Is it any wonder marine animals that normally feed on jelllyfish end up eating plastic and dying?

We have the #refusethestraw campaign going on just now because apparently plastic straws are one of the most frequent finds in beach cleanups.  The Scottish Government is currently taking steps to introduce a deposit scheme to encourage people to return plastic bottles for re-use or recycling, although I'm hoping it will include cans, like a similar scheme in Finland.  However, none of this seems enough to solve the plastic problem.  It's a lot more than straws and bottles.  Here's one piece of non-biodegradable junk we found off the east coast of Scotland:

I remember when the stem on cotton buds used to be made from paper as were straws, and bottles were all glass.  The milk man would leave bottles of milk on the front step every morning.  We'd use the milk, rinse the bottles and put them back on the front step for the milk man to collect while he was dropping off fresh bottles.  Some of the milk floats were ahead of their time as well.  You could hear the humming of their electirc motors as they moved along the street delivering milk.  My milk now comes from Tesco or Morrisons in plastic bottles.  Is "milk man" even a job any more? Probably not.

When I was at primary school I used to walk a mile or so to school every morning.  I used to pass The Creamery on my way - a big building set back off the road that usually had metal milk churns and crates of glass bottles sitting outside and little rivers of spilt milk running across the tarmac in front of it. (Yes I am that old.)  That's where the milk bottles came from and went back to every day.  As kids it used to fascinate us.  Sadly, it was demolished a long time ago and replaced with bungalows and all that's left of it is its name.

Why do ready made pizzas always seem to have a polystyrene base (which is not generally recyclable) these days?  There must be other options.  Our recycling bins are full to overflowing every fortnight when I put them out for emptying but not everyone is as zealous about recycling.

If we can transport eggs around in moulded cardboard boxes without too many breakages why do we have to package so many electrical goods in massive blocks of polystyrene for protection?   My biggest gripe is about blister packs though.  Why can't this toothbrush be packed in a cardboard box with a product photo on the outside?  Why does it need an evil blister pack?

I have drawn blood multiple times trying to open pointless blister packs.  I could go on and on..... but I won't.

Something that we all buy is food, whether raw ingredients, cooked meats or ready meals. From what I can see, the vast majority of food products nowadays are packaged in plastic, usually a moulded plastic tray with a film lid and a cardboard sleeve, not all of them recyclable.  Fruit and vegetables are usually in a plastic bag when paper would probably do.  Potatoes used to come in string bags when I was young.  Some suppliers of ready meals do at least provide a recyclable packaging option, such as an aluminium tray for oven-cooked ready meals or a re-usable glass dish for cold desserts.

In my house we don't tend to buy many ready meals as we like to cook everything from scratch.  However, now and then, when you're tired, short of time, or don't have the right ingredients in the cuboards, a ready meal can hit the spot.  A few weeks ago, we saw a new ready meal brand in our local Tesco called Charlie Bigham's.  The meals looked a bit different from the rest of the brands around them in the fridges so we checked them out.  I paid absolutely no attention to the packaging at the time but really enjoyed the meal.

A few meals later I started to appreciate the packaging as well.  Most of the ready meals come in a thin wooden tray that is lined with paper that's a bit like a giant cupcake case.  The wooden tray can be used in the oven.  The first ready meal we bought was Thai red curry with rice. (yes I know it's lasagne in the photo - I liked the photo.)

The rice and the curry both came in separate wooden trays in a carboard sleeve, with a little piece of aluminium foil in between, just the right size to cover the rice tray in the oven.  It's not 100% plastic free as it's all held together with a small piece of recyclable plastic film.

Last week I was ill and my husband went out and bought Bigham's chicken and mushroom pies.

 When he served them up I noticed that they were in re-usable ceramic dishes.  They came wrapped in tissue paper, inside a cardboard box.

Charlie suggests that,if you don't need any more ceramic dishes, you should consider donating them to a charity shop rather than throwing them out so that the charity can benefit from a small amount of income from the dishes. It was the ceramic dishes that made me stop and think.  The wooden trays are biodegradable but have other uses too. Keen gardeners could use them as seed trays, for example, instead of shop bought plastic trays.

This is a relatively small company in the grand scheme of things but they have done their research and have managed to reduce the amount of plastic in their packing to almost nothing.  They are probably not unique so, if you have encountered another company that goes out of it's way to exclude plastics from their brand then please let me know in the comments. Let's promote these brave, pioneering companies and try to encourage everyone else to follow suit.

I will be writing to the major supermarkets to ask them to consider changing their packaging and I would encourage any like minded readers of this blog to do likewise.  I probably also need to write to manufacturers of electrical products to ask why they continue to shroud their products in masses of un-recyclable polystyrene or blister packs.

Some supermarkets are already starting to make a difference like the one at the link below, in the Netherlands:

Worlds first plastic-free aisle opens in Netherlands supermarket

There's even a petition in progress if you would like to add your name (not my doing but I've signed it):

Petition - uk-supermarkets-to-stop-using-plastic-packaging

This could keep me busy for the rest of my life.

If you are like-minded feel free to share this blog and the petition far and wide.