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Firstly, some background about me. I’m a student in Oxford, in the UK, and I rent a single room from my college in a big house with 10 other people, who frustrate me immensely by seemingly being unable to recycle anything at all, even when they walk right past the recycling bin to their car.
Oxford city council’s kerbside recycling collection is about the average you’d expect in the UK – they take cans, tins, paper, card, glass and plastic bottles. They don’t take kitchen waste, or any kind of plastic that’s not a bottle. Another issue is that I have no garden, not even a windowsill, so growing my own produce or composting is not possible. And while I was doing this plastic challenge, I was revising for my exams, so very quick supermarket shopping became more appealing than the 15 minute cycle ride into town to go round the market. I don’t have any scales I’m afraid, so I can’t weigh this lot for you. It fills a shopping bag.
Here’s the breakdown:
- A pasta bag – bulk bins are very rare in the UK and there are none in my city.
- Plastic wrapper from organic kiwi fruit – you can buy individual kiwi fruit, but not organic ones, and on this occasion I caved as the non organic ones were rock-hard unripe.
- Bag which held salad – the only non bagged salad available is whole lettuces form the market. I’ve tried them once, but they are 3 times the price of this bag of salad, and I barely ate a quarter of it before it wilted.
- Pot which held yoghurt – yoghurt comes in plastic. I know it’s possible to make your own, and I might give it a try at some point. I think the other option is give up yoghurt. I think this large pot is better than many small one, and it has a cardboard label (which I recycled).
- Toothpaste tube – I’m almost 27 and I’ve never had a single thing wrong with my teeth, no fillings, nothing. I’m not taking any risks with my teeth. I think toothpaste would be last on my list of things to give up.
- Blister packs from hayfever tablets – no alternative
- Wrapping from a plaster – I don’t see an alternative to these either
- Plastic milk bottle – milk is available in the UK either in plastic bottles or tetra paks. I don’t know which is worse. I buy it at the supermarket. My boyfriend’s mother has it delivered by a milkman, but even then it comes in plastic bottles.
- Plastic box a digital watch came in – I’m a bit ashamed of this. I needed a stopwatch to time my running and didn’t have one. Crappy digital watches are not available second hand, so I bought one (for £7).
- Plastic syrup bottle – this syrup is available in a tin, but the version in the tin is very thick and viscous and what I use it for is pouring over my porridge. I’ve now given this up, and gone over to sugar which comes in a paper bag.
- Plastic bag which held whole almonds – want dried fruit or nuts? There’s no alternative to plastic here.
- Plastic packaging which held fresh fish – Mmm, these were lovely, but look at the amount of plastic they came in! I don’t usually buy fish. I buy it very occasionally if it is Marine Stewardship Council certified sustainable, or if it in the reduced section and would otherwise be thrown away. The rest of time, I’m vegetarian. There’s a fishmonger in the market, but I buy fish so rarely that I’ve never gone there.
- Plastic mailing envelope – Internet shopping. This is a vice of mine, because I hate actually GOING shopping. The crowds, the shops that don’t sell what you actually want. I buy almost everything second-hand and the internet makes that very easy. And I love Etsy. I don’t think there’s a local alternative to Etsy. It generates a horrendous amount of plastic waste though. I will think about whether I really NEED to buy whatever I’m about to buy more carefully in future.
- Cheese packaging – This is another one I’m ashamed of. This was a quick stop in the nearby Polish shop impulse buy, because I had a sudden cheese craving.
- And now the worst part….
Argh! Look at all that snack food!
In my defense I can only say that I was revising for my exams, and I am trying not to eat chocolate. But I didn’t realise I ate THAT much though. I know that I healthy snack should be fruit, and I’m trying to move towards that, but at the moment I need some heavily processed sugary stuff in my life. I know some of these things are as bad for you as a chocolate bar would be, but there’s a chocolate-attachment psychological barrier I’m trying to break! I’m sure dried mango is better for you than chocolate, right? And those red packaged things called “School bars” are only 67 calories, AND they’re yummy. I like those organic strawberry fruit nugget things a lot too. I am HORRIFIED at how much of my packaging was generated by snack foods though, and I will definitely try and cut down. It’s very unfair that chocolate comes in completely-recyclable aluminium foil and paper, and dried fruit comes in plastic.
How much of all that is recyclable? Just the two plastic bottles. Everything else goes to landfill. If guilty feelings were allowed, I would definitely be feeling some. This was a very educational challenge! I’m startled by how much plastic I use in a week, and I’m going to think harder about the choices I make. It’s not my main meals so much as the between-meals eating that causes huge amounts of plastic use, so I’m going to try very hard to reduce that.
Read all posts by: Laura in U.K.
There is this toothpaste in a glass bottle with a plastic pump... http://www.omnaturale.ca/personal.htm
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Hi Laura, Welcome to the plastic challenge. You mentioned almonds and other nuts. Lidl sell a selection of tinned nuts: almonds, cashews and peanuts. Weigh-houses are a source of dry food ingredients. The shops are old-fashioned but allow container/bag purchases. I hope that helps.
I second what Beth says about Etsy. As an Etsy seller I try to reuse packaging as much as possible and to limit plastic. I am still using up some plastic tape on packages but will switch to something non-plastic when that is gone. I'm happy to provide plastic-free packaging to my customers if they request it. Since the sellers on Etsy are individual crafts people (as opposed to big companies) I'm sure most are open to your plastic-free requests. It never hurts to ask!
Hi Laura. I love Etsy too. One thing I do to reduce the amount of plastic packaging is to directly message the seller and request no plastic. So far, my requests have always been honored and the sellers have been happy to oblige.Sounds like you've learned a lot about your lifestyle by collecting your trash. Get rid of the guilt! Is there just one item you could replace this week?