Plastic free July
The first few days had gone well. I continued to carry my reusable bottle with me and we had become much more strict during our food shops. We checked out our new mall in Simons Town where we have a new Woolworths and Pick n Pay. I was sad to see so much of the refrigerated space filled with plastic bottles full of so many different types of juices and drinks to go, however, we managed do do a decent enough food shop between the two supermarkets.
I headed back home to the UK from South Africa earlier than expected so ahead of me was a long journey involving planes and trains. It’s funny how when you start these month challenges you become so much more aware. Upon entering the airport a sound immediately made me cringe, the sound of plastic wrap. Now, I have never felt the need to wrap my suitcase in plastic. It’s a suitcase, does it need protecting? I turned around and there was a long queue of people waiting to have their suitcases wrapped and boy are they wrapped thoroughly, more layers than an onion!
On the plane I was very limited, so as expected failed here. When asking for water I was given a small plastic bottle, it was a long flight so I ended up having a few of these as they were pretty small. Other drinks, however, were poured in to plastic cups that I would imagine they wash and reuse from the type of plastic they were.
After landing in the UK I then had a 2 hour train ride ahead of me. I picked up a National Geographic magazine for my journey, this particular issue was based on plastics in our oceans. On one page some bold words stood out “Do you remember how the Titanic was considered unsinkable? We have a similar foolish notion that this planet is indestructible”, meanwhile, I was surrounded by people who had just picked up coffees and water in single-use packaging from the food carriage.
The UK was facing a heatwave, we hadn’t seen a summer quite like it for sometime, and everyone was advised to carry around water. I was impressed to see so many people with reusable bottles. I have 3 reusable bottles, one large Nalgene BPA free plastic bottle (great for hikes because of the size), a Typo glass bottle and a Chilly stainless steel bottle. My favourite is the Chilly bottle because of it’s practicality, you can buy it in different sizes and it keeps your drink cool. Stainless steel is one of the best materials you can drink from so it is definitely worth the investment.
The weekend brought me to Henley Royal Regatta a rowing event held annually which attracts thousands of people. Most take picnics and if you are prepared then you can bring your food in containers rather than picking up “on the go” food from the supermarkets and stalls often involving a lot of single use plastic. I was surprised to see so many paper straws which was positive to know that the issue of plastic straws has spread. However, the bars were putting the paper straws in to plastic cups which were littering the streets of the picturesque town. More than 20,000 pints of Pimms are drunk during Henley Regatta – that’s a lot of plastic cups.
If you have a loyalty card at Waitrose then you are able to help yourself to free tea and coffee at the self serve drinks station. In April 2018 Waitrose stated that all the single-use hot drink cups will be removed by Autumn as they realised what impact this was having on the environment. I was happy to see they had been removed in the Waitrose I popped in to and a selection of reusable coffee cups were for sale, now customers are only able to use reusable cups for their free tea and coffee. There certainly needs to be more incentives at coffee shops and cafes to encourage people to use their reusable cups there.
At a local supermarket I also noticed a few products that were now being sold in plastic free packaging. I managed to buy some strawberries in a cardboard punnet and it was inside a compostable wrapper. From a distance it looked like there was plastic everywhere but on closer inspection this one wasn’t. There is still a real mixture and it is a shame not all fruit and vegetables were easy to buy. Some fruit and vegetables were loose which was great, I always choose not to put loose fruit and vegetables in a small plastic bag. Other products were in compostable packaging, however, mostly there was plastic packaging everywhere. Perhaps this is slowly changing?
I was invited to go to a pre-school trip, a day out to the park, with my younger cousins who attend the school. The park had great facilities which was really handy, before lunch the pre-school teachers took the children to the toilets to wash their hands. Upon arriving back to their picnic spot the teachers then handed out a large number of wet wipes so the children could wipe their hands before eating. Most of the children took 2 seconds to wipe their hands then dumped the wipes in a pile. I know this isn’t strictly “single-use” plastic, however, wet wipes contain plastic and are not biodegradable, they actually cause quite a problem to the environment. It seemed very unnecessary after the children had just washed their hands!
At the end of the week I went for some drinks at the pub for a friends birthday. I immediately noticed plastic straws, everywhere, obviously paper straws had not caught on here. I noticed a few people take a plastic straw to stir their drink and then leave it on the table and people getting a fresh straw for each new round of drinks. I thought this was the perfect opportunity to mention the big plastic problem and the fact every piece of plastic ever made is still on this planet, unless burned which is bad for the environment too, they were shocked and I heard a few mention that they had no idea and this really changes their view on using a straw in the future. Not all heroes wear capes.
Mike had also been doing well on his #plasticfreejuly challenge in South Africa. He had popped into Pick n Pay last minute, admittedly forgotten his reusable bag as we all do sometimes, but refused a plastic one. The cashier looked bemused at him wondering why he didn’t just take a plastic bag instead of awkwardly holding everything. Mike explained why and the cashier informed him that they will actually be bringing in paper bags in the near future, good news Pick n Pay, although we will always prefer to bring a reusable bag.
When I food shop in South Africa I always seem to be battling against small plastic bags. You turn up with your reusable bags but if you buy meat, cleaning or health care products the cashiers seem to have this process of putting them in a small plastic bag while you are not looking. It seems to be the norm there to be extra careful to “make sure nothing drips”.
Meanwhile, in the UK I was due my next dental check up so off I went for my appointment at Sunninghill dental practice. I came prepared. I knew that if I needed to rinse then there would be a single-use plastic cup there waiting for me, therefore, I made sure to bring my reusable bottle of water. Upon entering the surgery reception area I straight away noticed an uncomfortable amount of single-use plastic in front of me, in the form of interdental brushes and floss. Eeek.
Once in the examination chair I got to catch up with my dentist and I told him about my plastic free July challenge. We spoke about the plastics that are used in a dental surgery and how actually a lot of the single-use plastic used could be replaced with more environmentally friendly products. Dr Ganeswaran explained how he is always careful at home with single-use plastic but hadn’t thought about the changes that a dental surgery could make, and it is certainly something they will be looking in to. We discussed alternative product ideas and it was great to see the passion Dr Ganeswaran had towards the issue.
Ahead of me was a long weekend Glamping with friends and we were continuing to be blessed by the hot weather. We had some walks and games planned so I gave everyone a heads up before the trip to remember their reusable water bottles (everyone needs that one annoying friend). It was great to see everyones effort, one friend forgot their bottle but made the decision to buy a glass bottle of water at the supermarket then reuse it. When we stopped for lunch at the pub they kindly filled our water bottles up from the tap, I believe legally pubs and bars have to provide tap water for free. We had a BBQ lunch at the Barge Inn, Wadworth, to deal with the volume of people they were using disposable plates. I was happy to see that they stuck with using metal cutlery and the disposable plates were not plastic!
During our Wiltshire glamping trip we all went for a lovely walk along the canal and stopped for an ice cream to cool off from the strong sun. We heard the ice cream was very good here. I noticed that if you went for a scoop of ice cream in a paper pot then it was served with a small brightly coloured plastic spoon. I went for the scoop of ice cream with a cone, a choice including two edible items and zero plastic, win-win.
The last week of plastic free July. I have certainly become more aware and more strict on what I buy, often making more of an effort to find the best option to ensure I do not use single-use plastics. I do not mind making the extra effort for it is our need for convenience that has led to this huge problem. Eventually it will be easier to get what you need not smothered in plastic because more and more people will stop buying it. I am certainly going to continue my efforts in reducing my plastic waste.
On Wednesday morning I met with a friend for breakfast and a catch up at a local cafe. My friend ordered an ice coffee, I was pleased to see it came with a paper straw. Straws are pretty unnecessary most of the time but I think having the option for a paper straw is great, hopefully those who regularly use straws will get to the point of carrying their own reusable one. I ordered a cup of tea and a croissant, unfortunately mine came with a side portion of plastic, the jam, it came in one of those small square plastic pots. Ideally I wish I could have been asked if I wanted jam and if I did then it served in a small bowl (taken from a larger container), surely that is still cost effective I understand glass one portion jam jars can be costly.
Although I have been doing well I have to admit to another failure. Dog bags. I didn’t even think about it, for years I have walked my dog and when nature calls I have had a plastic dog bag there to deal with the problem yet adding to another problem. As soon as it occurred to me I straight away went online to research biodegradable bags, and yes they do exist. I am very aware of plastic and even I let that one slip, oops.
At the weekend we went to a beach club in London for a friends birthday celebrations, the weather was cooler but still sunny and it being a weekend the place was busy throughout the day and night. Were my eyes sore from the sand being picked up by the wind or the sight of straws?…everywhere. I manage to avoid them, I must say it was a lot of plastic waste for one place to produce. Alcoholic drinks were served in plastic cups, however the kind that are washed and reused. If you wanted water however, then you helped yourself using single-use plastic cups. I kindly asked the bar staff if I could have a reusable plastic cup for my water and this wasn’t a problem. I am not sure why it would have been problem and actually I think they were impressed I actually cared.
On Sunday Mike supported a big clean up event at Millers point just around the corner from Cape RADD HQ in South Africa. He was pleasantly surprised to see how many people turned up to help clear the popular picnic and diving spot. Some people cleared while SCUBA diving, some helped clear while free diving and others cleared the beach and in-between the rocks by foot. Rubbish collected that day were mostly water bottles, sweet wrappers, plastic bags and Polystyrene packaging.The people that turned up to help were probably not the people actually littering, however, we all have contributed to the planets plastic problem and it was so great to see so many people care and want to change it. Everyone also had good fun getting outdoors and meeting new people.
We should all continue to reduce our plastic waste and we shouldn’t be afraid to voice what we want as consumers. Everywhere I go I see products that could be offered in different packaging or without packaging at all. Currently trying to avoid single-use plastics is really challenging, and while you are being really good at making efforts to avoid it, it seems it surrounds you still. Do not be afraid to speak to people, kindly encourage people to use less plastic because not everyone realises how bad this problem is, how it is effecting our planet and ultimately our health.