February 18, 2012

Plastic Challenge: Rhiannon, Week 1


Eating vege without masses of plastic packaging seems really difficult, especially when there is time-pressure, disorganisation, and people missing the flavours and textures of meat and cheese.

Location:Leeds, United Kingdom

Name: Rhiannon

Week: 1

Personal Info:

We’re a three person household of young adults: one PhD student, one full-time worker, and one about to start work after an MA. We try and eat vegan at home (I was vegetarian anyway, which my housemates kindly adapted to, and became vegan last year in an attempt to reduce my carbon footprint), but also need to accomodate other food needs including lactose and wheat intolerance.

List of plastic items REFUSED this week. (Yay!)

Some carrier bags in supermarkets.

Sort of – by ordering our fresh fruit and veg from Abel and Cole, most of it arrives in paper and cardboard, which has cut down the food packaging.

Total items collected: 155

Total weight:

Items: Recyclable
There are too many to list individually! As far as I know, these are the classes of things in my stash which can be recycled in my community (though there is a lot of unclarity around about what can be recycled, since ‘things which say on them they are recyclable’ and ‘things which were probably on that list the council sent which we lost months ago’ are two very different categories):
– bottles (1 milk bottle, 1 ribena bottle, 1 milkshake bottle, 1 washing up liquid bottle, 1 pepsi bottle, 1 lemonade bottle)
– rigid plastic boxes (1 marg tub, several misc. boxes from biscuits, supermarket fruit portions (sometimes I crave pineapple), some takeaway boxes (we reuse them but they crack after a while), 1 swedish glace tub)
– rigid plastic tubs (soy yogurt pots – there are lots in this week’s stash because they need washing and their cardboard wrappers removing, and we had a build-up in the ‘can’t be bothered’ final section of the washing up)
– lids (okay where they match the item above, a problem when they don’t)
– not included in count: lots of tetrapaks (soy milk, lactose free milk, orange juice, and chopped tomatos).

Items: Nonrecyclable
I don’t even know what some of these things are… here’s the stuff I can identify. Some of it may be more than a week old, we had a clear-out.

– wrapper from a card
– expired condom in amusing ‘Liberal Democrats’ wrapper
– medication blister packs (7 – from three medications, one each)
– cadbury’s giant chocolate buttons packets (2)
– environmental toothbrush (bamboo handle, nylon bristles)
– misc. bottle and jar lids (washing up liquid, marmite, milk – may or may not recycle)
– packaging from stuff sent through the post (subcategories: 2 jiffy bags, 1 plain plastic wrapper, loads of bags (12?) for dry ice (frozen vegan food arrives with these to keep it fresh), loads of cold-packs (chilled stuff arrives with these, ditto), bubble wrap (large bubbles, small bubble), and ten or so strips of a packing varient which calls itself ‘plus-bio’ (no idea what to do with this)
– leftover Peace Poppies from last year (I usually get 10, to share and because I lose them, but order more next year because the point is to donate)
– 1 plastic carrier bag (others are in the reuse pile)
– 20+ items which are clearly food wrappers (e.g. bag from organic banana chips, bag from spaghetti, inner liner from a cereal box, sausage roll wrapper, vegan snack bar wrapper, etc.) (And some weren’t included in the count – I think food (mostly nasty fake vegan cheeses) which went off still in the wrapper went in the bin like that.)
– plastic windows from envelopes and Sainsbury’s cookie packets
– a popped balloon
– packing tape
– a dead gel pen
– plastic-coated paper wrapper from a packet of Lockets (cough sweets)
– packet from a shirt
– wrappers from 3D glasses (we saw a 3D film last weekend, and could recycle the glasses at the cinema but not the wrappers…)
– 2 plastic forks (I do collect and reuse these but you only need a few)
– pull-thingie from the neck of a misc. bottle
– weird little clip-thingie
– nine items I cannot identify at all

What items can I easily replace with plastic free or less plastic alternatives?
Make a card rather than buying one (although craft stuff is often packaged in plastic).
Use a cloth bag and refuse the plastic carrier.

If I lived alone, I might try and cut down the food wrapping, especially on the processed vegan alternatives, snack foods, and treats, but as it is that needs to be a household effort.

What items would I be willing to give up if a plastic free alternative doesn’t exist?
The 3D movie wasn’t so brilliant!

Balloons one could give up entirely, and use something else for party decorations.

I’m working on biros, giving up throwaways and moving back to my fountain pens, but it requires some reorganisation and practice. Even if I don’t buy new ones, my present aim, there are lots around to use up.

What items are essential and seem to have no plastic-free alternative?
I’m not willing to give up entirely on food, medications, clothing, toothbrushes, or condoms.

What lifestyle change(s) might be necessary to reduce my plastic consumption?
The biggest lifestyle change which would reduce my plastic waste at this point would be to stop buying food via internet ordering.

However, since I’d still need to buy food, that means either a) going over to what can be bought within walking distance – not vegan, often not even vegetarian, and still all in plastic packaging (and not in bulk, because I can’t carry it), or b) get a car. Since b isn’t a real option, and a is heavily impacted by my health (I have chronic fatigue syndrome) to the point of being impractical, I can’t see this happening soon.

What one plastic item am I willing to give up or replace this week?
Honestly? Nothing I’m actually intending to buy. I could promise not to buy another card in a plastic wrapper, but I wasn’t going to do that anyway, so it would be hollow. Most of the food things have already been ordered and arrived, so the packaging won’t show in next week’s list but it’ll still have been used.

What other conclusions, if any, can I draw?
My housemate was right when she said that this exercise might just be depressing. And that we need to discuss what options we have.

4 Responses to “Plastic Challenge: Rhiannon, Week 1”

  1. Rose20something says:

    Hi again,
    just reading your other ‘weeks’. I was doing exactly the same thing (of mis-sorting recycling) and putting basically all hard plastic out for kerbside then I checked this week and in York we can only recycle #1 and #2 – so disappointed! (and envious of people posting from US who can recycle much more). But I’m very excited that Leeds has #4, it will be going to friends when I happen to visit them! Why is it so difficult??!
    But on a more positive note apparently there is a new recycling site in Middlesbrough (http://www.wrap.org.uk/content/biffa-polymers-mixed-plastics-recycling-facility) that will take all* plastic!!!
    Also, EcoMil make a powdered soya milk in a virtually plastic free tub if thats any use.
    Good luck! Rose

  2. Rhiannon says:

    Hi Beth and Nan,

    Thank you for your suggestions! Some answers, clarifications, and further information.

    When I mentioned buying food in bulk, I simply meant ‘lots’; as far as I can tell, the UK don’t have the same culture of unpackaged food, and I don’t know of anywhere in my area where I could buy food from bulk bins. (And I think I’m familiar with all the health/whole food stores around here.)

    I could have been clearer about our food packaging. The collection actually didn’t contain any wrappers from vegetables, and the only fruit wrapper was from my pre-prepared pineapple. I could have fixed that if I’d had the time and energy to buy a whole pineapple and prepare it myself. We do eat fresh fruit and veg delievered mostly without plastic by a local organic company, so that’s a big step we’ve already taken.

    The food we struggle with is protein – speed, familiarity, comfort, and other related issues tend to make us choose vegan options which look like and cook like meat options (sausages, burgers, etc.) They come in plastic wrappers, as does tofu, and there doesn’t seem to be much to be done about that. A lot of homemade vegan stuff is knocked out when you are short of time and energy – and if you have a lentil allergy in the household.

    The list of recycable plastic numbers is indeed online (http://www.leeds.gov.uk/Community_and_living/Recycling_rubbish_and_waste/Recycling__information_and_advice.aspx) Perhaps I’ll print it out and have it ready next week!

  3. Nan says:

    I’m new at the challenge too so I’m not sure I can offer much, but I’m pretty close to vegan and also don’t have a car so I understand some of the challenges. I live in a major metro area in the US so I’m not sure of your specific options, but I did recently read a book about making cheap vegan food and it had some really quick and easy recipes for vegan foods. I’m not much into the meaty cheesy vegan foods, but there are a lot homemade options for such things in this book (something like ‘Vegan on the Cheap’?) and also online. Various vegan ‘milks’ are pretty quick and easy to make too. I also have been struggling with the time-pressures of life while trying to avoid plastics, which can take a lot of planning. This plastic challenge has helped me think outside the box with some solutions too. Every little reduction is a step so try not to get down about it. Everyone has different challenges and in different situations so you can only do your best. Hope you and your roomies can take some steps together to reduce your plastics.

  4. Beth Terry says:

    Hi Rhiannon. Thank you for taking the challenge. I agree with your roommate — not that the exercise is depressing but that it can lead to discussing what options are available to you. I understand that looking at mounds of plastic can feel overwhelming, but if you’re willing to take it a step at a time, do some research, and change some habits, you can make progress.

    I have a question — when you mention buying bulk foods — do you mean bulk in the sense of food packaged in large quantities or food purchased from bulk bins unpackaged?

    Preparing foods without plastic certainly involves eating more fresh produce. Perhaps your discussion could involve choosing several meals per week consisting of fresh veg instead of frozen. Or some other plan that works for you.

    It also involves setting priorities. You’ve clearly set an environmental priority not to eat meat, which is fantastic and something that is challenging for most people. If your reason for cutting out meat is to lower emissions, then buying some fresh local produce when available will not only reduce plastic but also food miles and therefore emissions.

    These are just some things to think about. I know the project might seem daunting, but just take it step by step. I’ve taken 5 years to get to the point where I am, and I still end up with some plastic each week.

    Also, about recycling — you are absolutely right that the word “recyclable” on a product does not mean it’s necessarily recyclable where you live. Maybe your first step this week could be to call the Council and get another list. Or is it available online?

    Ooh, and I just thought of another step. Perhaps you could contact the company that sends your food and have a conversation about their packaging. Find out if they are willing to explore alternatives an explain why you would prefer to receive your food without a lot of plastic packaging.

    Okay, just some ideas. I look forward to hearing back about solutions you find, and I hope you will continue on with the challenge!