Author: Vanessa Collins, GreenFest Organiser
Plastic Free July is a campaign led by the Plastic Free Foundation. Each year, millions of people around the globe take the challenge and choose to refuse single-use plastics.
As we head into what is looking to be a sweltering Plastic Free July, I thought it was a good time to go back to basics. To be blunt, the situation is pretty desperate. Marine life from sea birds to whales are starving to death because their bellies are packed so full of plastic, there’s no space for food. Even us humans are eating and drinking plastic. The chemicals leeched by plastic affect our hormones, detrimentally impacting functions such as growth and fertility. We are poisoning the world around us and it is poisoning us back.
The truth is terrifying and can overwhelm us to inaction. But there are simple steps we can take to keep our rubbish out of landfill and waterways at least. Quite clearly, reducing and reusing is the ideal and we can all achieve this to a greater or lesser degree, but until businesses change the way they supply goods to us (and this is happening – check out TerraCycle’s new Loop business model), it is incredibly difficult to stem the flow of single use plastic into our homes.
So, the question is, how do we stop the unstoppable polluting the world around us?
So, who in West Berkshire puts their yoghurt pots into plastic recycling? 2 years ago, that would have been me. I believe the voices in my head were of the opinion that if the packaging is labelled as recyclable, I should surely be able to recycle it. End of story.
Sadly, this attitude, brought about by a lack of information and the confusing fact that kerbside recycling varies so much across the UK, is bad.
Now, I’m not guaranteeing that assuming more responsibility over your recycling means it will definitely get recycled (God knows what’s happening right?) or that you won’t peer at an item of packaging ever again without a little confusion over whether or not you can drop it into your recycling bin.
However, it will give you piece of mind that you’ve done all you can to make sure it wasn't you who contaminated a few truckloads of plastic. It will also open your eyes to just how much plastic you still need to send to landfill.
Substitute or eliminate
The next step is to look at what you buy. Are there equivalents that come in plastic free packaging? Olives in glass jars instead of plastic pouches, squash in glass rather than plastic bottles, same for milk etc….
There may even be easy switches you can make that are packaging free. Loose fruit and veg from the local market, supermarket or a veg box scheme. Many butchers and fishmongers these days are happy to pack your purchases straight into tubs you've brought from home.
If you have the time, there are plenty of zero waste style shops springing up around the country. Check out Thatcham & Newbury’s local zero waste pop-up Lonely Lentil, for dried food staples and Scoop, which brings the same business model to Oxfordshire. The Hampstead Norreys Community Shop, Thatcham Refillable and The Mix in Wantage all supply refills on a whole range of SESI cleaning products.
There are plenty of options to go plastic free and we’ll be sharing many more ideas as we move through July.
Seek out other recycling routes
You’ve made all of these changes, but you still have a steady flow of single use plastic into the house.
The fact is, we don’t have to rely on kerbside collections anymore. There’s a multitude of recycling programmes and initiatives out there. TerraCycle recycles tonnes of waste we consider to be unrecyclable, from coffee capsules to pens to plastic gloves. Enval recycles plastics with a foil appearance while Polyprint recycles stretchy plastics such as bubble wrap, cling film and carrier bags. LUSH collects milk bottle tops to manufacture its product containers, Walkers takes crisp packets and Wyatt and Jack repurposes your broken or unwanted inflatables, into stylish bags and accessories! Locally, Thatcham Waitrose has a tetrapak recycling collection point while the Sainsburys in Calcot has a bin for your yoghurt pots and marg tubs.
And to make things even easier, there are a growing number of individuals such as Thatcham local Jana, who have volunteered to act as collection points for many of these programmes, so it really couldn’t be easier to participate.
Even after changing so many habits, you may still find you have a surplus of plastic that is destined for the black bin. Why not put it to good use? By packing plastic bottles full of your clean, dry, unrecyclable plastic waste, you can create bricks and donate them to one of the many ecobrick projects springing up across the country.
At GreenFest, you’ll be able to see what we’ve done with 600 of ours!
If you want to learn more about ecobricking, the Hampstead Norreys Community Shop can send you a helpful leaflet as well as provide ecobricking advice and tips. Just send them an email.
You're not alone
We know we need to make significant adjustments to the way we live, but these can feel too overwhelming to identify and action and we’ve all succumbed to that sense of futility many a time. Accessing communities where members have been there, done that and got the shampoo bar to prove it, lend help, support and experience to guide you in the changes you're considering.
These groups are everywhere on Facebook and many of them are local, which can be of even more value. Check out “Thatcham & Newbury Plastic Free, Recycling and Zero waste” as a starter for ten. The first group I joined was Journey to Zero Waste in the UK and one of the things that struck me was that similar questions and topics come up over and over again. Changes I would never have contemplated at the start of my journey began to feel like a natural progression after a while, normalised through repetition.
And of course, this is what GreenFest is all about. Individuals and communities coming together to share information, advice and inspiration, but making sure we have plenty of fun on the way.