January 10, 2011

Michelle C, Week 1

Michelle's plastic waste

Name: Michelle C.

Week: 1

Personal Info:

I am English living on the South West coast of Portugal. In a rural town just a few km from some of the most beautiful beaches in the world.

Two years ago I started to reduce my plastic. After doing a beach clean I read a small article in The Surfers Path, that led me to the Rise Above Plastics website, at that time the video “Entangled” was on their blog, it changed my life overnight.

I am a photographer & videographer, working for myself. I am now about to start work in a studio some 50 km away.

I live with my boyfriend & 3 cats (there are a lot of strays & they seam to like it & stay here.) We divided our time between the house & a camper van, as my boyfriend rents his house out to guest. Last year we were in the camper for nearly 6 months.

In the last year I have stopped eating fish & now try to only eat free range meat – occasionally. So only really cook vegetarian, my boyfriend has been great & when we eat at home we eat the same.

Although my daily habits have changed beyond belief, I was still quite nervous about doing the challenge, but already I can see how it will help. Though this wasn´t a good week to start it would seem… !

Total items: 15

Total weight: about a tonne

Items: Recyclable
Down-cyclable do you mean? None. [Note from Beth: exactly.]

Items: Nonrecyclable
plastic bags for spices, lentils, coffee, toilet rolls, flour,

(the crumpets were a gift)

a plastic lined tin.

The tiny thing that put in oil to make it pour more easily,

Cat flea stuff & eye drops for the new cat that is pretty ill.

[Not shown] A 20 year old – new to us car!

What items can I replace with plastic free or less plastic alternatives?
We need spices to sex up our vegetarian diet, but this week I called a spice man & he said he could do them in paper! So I need to be more organised & order online.

The tin, easy. Not sure why I bought it?

What items would I be willing to give up if a plastic free alternative doesn’t exist?
Coffee. I can´t get fair trade here any way so am not really happy about it.

What items are essential and seem to have no plastic-free alternative?
Toilet roll!

The car…. there is no public transport here. The nearest town is a huge hill away. I loved not having a car when I lived in a city, but here it really is tricky.

The annoying thing is the oil, I´ve tried all the brands they all seem to have them.

What lifestyle change(s) might be necessary to reduce my plastic consumption?
Go to the toilet less! [You’re kidding, right?]

Being more organised & ordering online

What one plastic item am I willing to give up or replace this week?
Once the coffees finished I´ll make it the last.

No more tins.

What other conclusions, if any, can I draw?
I did pretty well at a friends Birthday party, having taken my own plate etc to a restaurant…. (WTF)

I have also done a weeks shop.

But still, 15 items in week one? Argh!

10 Responses to “Michelle C, Week 1”

  1. Sonja says:

    Hello, Michelle
    Check out our war on plastic in Portugal on http://www.zerowastelifestyle.blogspot.com

    We are based in Sintra and are trying to get to zero waste in our home and raise awareness about the environmental impact of household waste at the same time. Please get in touch for local info and tips-lets share ideas!
    Best wishes
    Sonja, Sintra, Portugal

  2. Michelle says:

    may I make a small correction to the above? Squeezy is squeezing glass off the shelves, though in some places glass is still an option.

  3. Beth Terry says:

    Rebecca, you can make your own rules as far as whether to include plastic-lined cans or plastic-coated cardboard or paper. For some people, just collecting the basic plastic is enough to get an idea of the magnitude of their plastic footprint. For people who have already cut back a lot, collecting these other “hidden” plastics is useful. So it’s up to you.

    And the answer about the can is yes. They ALL are lined with plastic. Cat food, people food, sodas, etc. All lined with plastic.

    That’s a good idea… a page of hidden plastics. I did write a post, but you’re right that it got lost. Here it is anyway, to get you thinking. I wrote it a while back, so there are other things that I would add to it now… like chewing gum.


  4. Rebecca says:

    On another note, I have a queston. I’m starting my challenge today, but I’m still unsure about which things count, because there are so many things that don’t look like plastic, but really are. Do cat food cans count? I’m not sure if they’re lined with plastic or not?

    BTW – Beth… not that you need any more things to do, (and maybe you’ve already done this and I just can’t find it) but it would be totally great if you could start a list of “hidden” plastics and put it some place easy to find (as opposed to in a post that will get buried after a few weeks.) Maybe people could add things to it as they discover things that are really plastic… just a thought…

  5. Rebecca says:

    Ha! Michelle, I have found that the more “extreme” I get, the crazier “normal” starts to look!

  6. Michelle says:

    Yes I was kidding!! Hope your critics can take a joke…?

    But then I start to think about it & think hang on, I do use a lot of paper. So I try & cut down how many squares I use. Believe me, no one´s more shocked than myself by my “extreme” behaviour! It seams the more “extreme” I go, the easier it becomes. We do have a bidet, being in Portugal all the houses have them. All I ever done is dust it, is it time to use it….? Maybe it is. Ok Rebecca, you´ve raised the bar with your jar. I´ll give it a go!

    Maybe I could get coffee from there, I´ll check it out. No there isn´t anything here that is stocked in pour-it-yourself thingy´s. Wish there was.

    Thanks for asking Beth, I first came to Portugal 4 n half years ago, 3 years ago I came here more permanently, though I ended up heading back a lot & staying in the UK longish periods of time (long story) so I´ve have been here about 18 months full time.

    I noticed plastics in England as I use to wash so much up! (ie I use to buy so much) Now the recycling where I lived only bottles are collected. I wonder if I´d been putting it in the bin, whether I´d bought so much? Probably not, so I think the fact they are only collecting bottles now is good. I honestly never considered the whole story of recycling plastic, assuming it was like glass. I just put it in the box & felt good about it… But then, there are those chasing arrows, how are people to know?

    The main thing I´ve noticed – as the last 4 years have been quite significant – is how there is alot more plastic, in both places. For example, “squeezie” has literally squeezed glass of the shelves & when I drink out I have to ask for a “real” spoon & sometimes a “real” plate, which was not heard of four years ago. I generally avoid supermarkets now. There are independent shops & Local Farmers Markets who sell items loose. Although the cashiers are on a “plastic bag commission” I´m sure, it is totally alien here to not take one & the looks I get are classic! I use to feel bad in a way, it´s as if they want to give you something extra – for free – & I´m turning down their generosity. On one occasion I was in a supermarket, they would not allow me to take a bunch of bananas with out a bag. They would rather loose my business (which they did) A friend told me the other day she has the same problem all the time & has to take bags. In the UK the “take your own bag habit” is more common, but, as the supermarkets have a larger percentage of the market there & independent shops drastically decline, plastics are harder to avoid. In a supermarket in the UK (world over?) pretty much everything is plastic packed. So all those canvas bags are busting with plastics. I noticed that last time I went back. But, if you do wanna seek out an independent shop that have bulk bins etc they do exist in the UK, in Portugal I´ve yet to see that. But then I do live in a small rural town, maybe in the cities they have them.

    Plastic bottled water in Portugal is so cheap. Yes, more expensive than the tap of course, but a fraction of what it costs in the UK. Which doesn´t help to put people off buying it, it´s the norm here.

    It´s a lot sunnier, that´s for sure :-)

  7. Rebecca says:

    OK… well, at the risk of sounding um… extreme…

    A year or two ago I decided to do the “No Impact Week” challenge after reading Colin Beavan’s book. There was a big deal made about the fact that they didn’t use toilet paper during their no impact year, but he wouldn’t elaborate on the topic because he thought it took away from the larger message. So I went on a mission to see how this might be accomplished.

    I did a bunch of research and was shocked to discover that many people throughout the world find our use of toilet paper to be disgusting and totally unsanitary! So I tried a bunch of different methods including washable towlettes, home made bidet and a lota: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lota_(vessel)

    My conclusion was this:

    For number 1 it’s easy. You can just rinse with some water (I keep a dedicated jar by the toilet for this purpose) and dry yourself witn a small dedicated towel. Really, when you think about it, it’s no less sanitary than the towel you use after the shower, and it couldn’t possibly be worse than the “3 shakes” method that most men I’ve known use!

    For number 2… there is just no good substitute for toilet paper!

    I’m not sure what this means about me… perhaps I have gone totally off the eco deep end, but it seems to work, and I’ve cut my toilet paper use down to a small fraction of what it was before!

    • Beth Terry says:

      Hi Rebecca! I don’t think it’s extreme to find alternatives to toilet paper. I was referring to Michelle’s comment that she could go to the bathroom less. I’m pretty sure that was a joke because people who “hold it” end up with kidney and bowel problems. Anyway, I have a friend who just uses a pot of water and his hand, like they do in India. Don’t know if I could go there, but I might give water and a towel a try for #1.

  8. Kelsey says:

    Can’t you just bring your own cloth bulk bags and get your coffee from the pour-it-in-yourself thingy’s at the store?

  9. Beth Terry says:

    All we need is one of our critics to use your suggestion about going to the bathroom less as an example of how extreme we are. *Sigh* :-)

    Can you get tea in paper — maybe from the same source as your spices? Would that work for you instead of coffee?

    Also, I’m curious to know what differences you’ve noticed in plastic packaging/waste between Portugal and England. I don’t know how long ago you lived in England. Did you notice plastic then?