Recycling 101, lesson 1 – in which we discover that everything we thought was true, is in fact a lie…..

I thought I would do a little series on my recycling research. I know the jury is well and truly out now on whether recycling is in fact a massive waste of time, but I think people are unlikely to stop at least attempting to recycle some of their waste. Recycling is obviously the best solution if reuse and refusal are not feasible, so we might as well educate ourselves to make sure we’re doing it right.

This is “the green dot”. Did you think it meant that the packaging was recyclable? So did I, until pretty recently when I saw Sisters Against Plastic‘s post about it on Facebook. What it actually means is that the manufacturer makes a financial contribution towards the cost of recovery and recycling of waste. It seems to be misleading, not only because of how similar it looks to other recycling symbols, but also because the fee is waived for companies registered with packaging compliance schemes. The fee for small businesses is currently £295 +VAT per annum for small businesses, with approx 200 of these registered. So that’s £59,000 per year income for Valpak, the UK administrator of the Green Dot scheme on behalf of PRO Europe, who manage the Green Dot trademark worldwide. I’m probably missing the point here as it’s a hugely complex industry, but this doesn’t seem like a particularly significant sum of money and I would hazard a guess that it’s mainly used to administrate the scheme. Either way, I think it’s reasonable to surmise that it’s a fairly meaningless symbol when trying to work out what’s recyclable.

I believed that my shampoo and conditioner bottles were recyclable because this symbol is on them. But are they? They also have these symbols on them (does anyone know how to insert two images next to each other in WordPress? It’s driving me nuts…)

The HDPE one means it’s made of high-density polythylene, which apparently is the Meryl Streep of plastics, versatile and popular. Good because it is lightweight and strong, therefore has replaced heavier packaging options and is in theory better for the environment in some ways, as reduces the amount of packaging waste overall and is more energy-efficient to transport. It can be recycled, into for example storage containers, outdoor furniture and playground equipment, car parts and bins. This is an interesting and not too sciency article about HDPE and how it’s recycled.

The 12 M symbol has nothing to do with plastic type or recycling, and is actually a “period-after-opening” symbol – which is “an indication of the period of time after opening for which the product can be used without any harm to the consumer”. So I can safely use my shampoo for 12 months before it explodes, which is good to know. It seems not all cosmetics packaging is required to carry this labelling, because the product will not deteriorate in normal use – e.g. aerosols and perfume. More info here about cosmetics packaging – you absolutely do learn something new every day!

So putting my shampoo bottles in the blue bin hasn’t in fact been wish cycling – a common phenomenon where we put things into the recycling that we’re not sure about, and hope for the best. When they run out though, I will be looking into plastic-free shampoo and conditioner bars, so will be looking for recommendations on brands which will not make me look like Worzel Gummidge.

More on wish-cycling and plastic labelling in lesson 2.

Some thoughts about China – part 1

I love Chinese food. So much. When I was growing up, from the age of about 8, going to our local Chinese for the Chef’s Special meal was my birthday treat every year. My Grandma usually used to come with us, and I think she never really could believe, as someone who lived through rationing, quite how much food there was. Crispy duck is my absolute favourite.

But it’s pretty hard to tell whether any of the meat at one’s local Chinese is remotely ethical – I’m pretty sure it’s not – and I can’t even bear to do any research on duck farming, as I know the findings will be grim. So as part of our attempts to eat less meat in general, and more ethically sourced when we do, we decided on Friday night to give vegetarian Chinese takeaway a go.

We had vegetable spring rolls, mushroom rice and vegetable chow mein – all good. And tofu satay – oh dear. Spoungy, soggy tofu, sauce a bit too spicy for me, sad and slightly slimy vegetables. Also we had prawn crackers – I thought they were vegetarian, like prawn cocktail crisps, but a bit of retrospective research showed me that they do in fact contain prawns. So that was a bit of a vegetarian fail.

Overall, it felt like a worthwhile experiment, and there are plenty of other veggie options on the menu to try next time, but I wouldn’t be repeating the tofu experience.

I also encouraged (forced, actually) my long-suffering husband to take some tubs with us that we’ve saved from previous takeaways. I’ve seen people posting on plastic-free groups about taking their own tubs to takeaways and it seems like a great idea – except that I’m too socially awkward to have this conversation myself, so I delegated it to my heroic husband.

The man at the takeaway was initially reluctant to use our own tubs, until he realised they’d originally come from his shop, even though one had “Mum’s mince” written on it in faded Sharpie. Obviously they use the specific sizing of the small and large tubs to measure portion sizes, so he didn’t want to fill up a random Tupperware with chow mein, which is completely fair enough. Once that was cleared up, he was happy with it. But then gave us the spring rolls in a polystyrene carton and the whole lot in a plastic bag. Next time we will take a tub for the rolls and our own bag, but it’s baby steps…

I would have found the whole interaction totally excruciating (although I can probably manage it next time now that the precedent has been set), but my husband chirpily made a little joke to another lady waiting for her food, that he was “saving the world, one takeaway tub at a time”.

And here’s the brilliant bit – she replied (direct quote, credit to random lady on Shooters Hill Road):

“I salute you, really I do. It’s people like you who are going to save the world for my grandchildren”.

So lovely and such a deserved reward for braving the awkward conversation. It gave me some food for thought (see what I did there?) – maybe next time she will bring her own tubs, tell her family about the funny man in the takeaway and give other people the same idea. And maybe the takeaway owner might start to offer a discount if you bring your own tubs back (saves him buying new ones?), or he might think more about packaging and start using compostable or cardboard cartons instead? And the virtuous cycle continues.

But then I saw something else which made me feel a bit deflated:

“Of course I’d like to save the planet from global warming/pollution etc etc & admire extinction rebellion & those protesting, and everyday people who live their lives fully sustainable & carbon neutral etc etc – but even if the whole UK, or even Europe – became BETTER than carbon neutral, vegan & fully sustainable isn’t that a drop in the ocean when you factor in the carbon output & pollution from huge countries like China/Russia/USA/India etc? Of course we individually should do what’s right regardless – I’ve got no problem with that – but isn’t it a bit of a waste of time when there’s some huge bohemoths pumping out gazillions of shiz into the atmosphere elsewhere?”

Anon Facebook post

This post was followed by some really good discussion, including the impact of the military, the impact of “our” (“developed countries” demand on these countries’ goods, the move towards renewable energy in some countries vs. the return towards greater dependency on fossil fuel in others, and the interesting differences when you compare a country’s total emissions and the emissions per capita for its residents.

Anyway, it got me thinking a lot more – which is why this is Part 1 of the post and I will write more about this in a couple of days once I’ve done some more reading on the issues raised. For sure, we’re not going to actually save the world one takeaway tub at a time, so maybe we should just relax and enjoy it, stop worrying, eat the cheese and the unethically-reared meat and chuck the packet in the river? Of course we’re not going to do that – I do believe that every little helps, or at least stops it getting worse. But is there any way we can influence government policies, especially in other countries? Is it too late? It’s complicated, for sure.

What do you think?

More soon.

#SaturdaySwitch part 4 – No Buy July

I read about the concept of “No buy July” on one of the zero waste groups I’ve joined on Facebook. The full concept as discussed in the group seemed quite extreme to me – not buying anything at all, including food, and just using up whatever you have in the freezer and cupboards. I knew we couldn’t manage this, as fresh fruit and vegetables is important to us as well as a fair bit of dairy. But I decided to have a crack at it – buy no stuff, with the exclusion of food and fuel. (To be fair, there are plenty of months where we don’t buy diesel for the car, as we hardly every use it, but we needed some for the Center Parcs trip and next week’s camping extravaganza).

So why stop buying stuff? Let’s start with clothes.

It’s widely held that the fashion industry is the second most polluting global industry after oil. This might not actually be true, but it’s clear there’s still a major impact.

Extinction Rebellion are calling on us all to pledge to buy no new clothing for a year, from April 2019-April 2020, in a bid to disrupt the fashion industry and reduce the ecological impact of clothing manufacture. Key wording from the pledge:

“We can no longer afford to use land to grow crops for producing clothes and extract oil to produce synthetic fibres. Enough is enough. Business as usual is leading us towards extinction.  

For the next year, we will engage in a boycott of the fashion industry and its ecocidal, unethical system of pointless production. We will take joy in making do with what we, collectively, already have, and learn to share, repair, rewear and relove. We challenge ourselves to radically change our relationships with clothes.”

Buying no new clothes for myself is not a huge challenge really – I’m not much of a fashionista, and we haven’t got a ton of spare cash for these things. I have bought some leggings on eBay this month though, including some Boden ones, so I’m officially a yummy mummy now. I was initially a bit squeamish about second hand leggings, but they’re actually fine. I will do another post in due course about our adventures with eBay and why patience is a virtue!

Removing temptation is a good move – I rarely go High Street shopping, because it’s not very fun with a toddler. There are some good tips here about deleting marketing emails before read them – they’re designed to tempt you to buy stuff which you probably don’t need, and it’s so easy to buy online for that quick one-click endorphin hit. I’ve gone a step further and unsubscribed from a load of mailing lists. I know where the Mothercare website is if I ever need it, but I don’t need to see the cute new Mylene Klass range of kids clothes that my son DOES NOT NEED (sigh). Baby clothes (toddler clothes? boy’s clothes? He’s not really a baby any more… *sobs*) are my weakness though and I’m promising to make a concerted effort to get the majority of his next batch second hand.

Other stuff – well, it’s just more stuff, isn’t it, really? The manufacture and distribution of everything has a carbon footprint, and it all will have to be disposed of eventually. There’s probably enough stuff already in existence to go round for the whole planet for a good few centuries. There’s not much that can’t be borrowed or obtained second hand.

So far so good, until the camping trip planning began in earnest…

The sum total of new things we have bought in July are as follows, all directly related to our upcoming holiday:

  • A roof box for the car – we did try and find one on eBay but it’s super complicated getting one with the right roof bars for your car. I feel like this is a pretty major long-term investment though, and does not count as a disposable, frivolous purchase.
  • A feed bucket – sounds mad, but I think it will work as a good travel bath tub for the small person, I know he can’t go 10 days without a few scrubs. Plus it’s squashable so will fit more easily in the car than a normal bucket. Again, I think this will get a lot of use over the years on camping trips, for fetching water, washing up etc., and can be used as a storage receptacle too.
  • An LED camping light – tried to borrow one from various friends and family without success. Again, will have a long life with us over the years/decades and will be looked after (and NOT trashed by a small person obsessed with switching lights on and off, definitely not).

So we haven’t quite pulled off No Buy July, but I’m interested in a longer-term lifestyle change. As a friend of mine put it recently when she signed the fashion pledge:

BUY NOTHING NEW. 

I reckon unless you’re gifted something, or its absolutely essential, it’s hard to justify having new stuff these days. I think a challenge such as that suggested by Extinction Rebellion, gets you to really think every time you make a purchase. “Do I really need this? Can I find it second hand anywhere else? If I have to buy it can I make sure it doesn’t end up in land fill when I’m done?” 

I’m certainly not going to get all militant about it. But I’ve most definitely reached a turning point where buying new really jars with me.

Less stuff. Reduce, reuse. Rebel against the consumer machine. That feels more radical than buying leggings on eBay, but that’s what it is, and I think that’s what we have to do to save the world. Super rad.

Clingfilm Klingons

I hate clingfilm, with a passion. It sticks to itself and never obeys me in where I want it to go, and it’s all wrinkly like this Klingon’s head. I gave it up quite a while ago, because it’s so annoying, and so difficult to clean for the Ecobrick (although I have got some left in the kitchen drawer – wonder what I should do with it?)

But I’m even more annoyed by the gazillions of pop-up ads I’m seeing on Facebook (thanks, algorithms) for these stretchy lid things. I know I ranted about them a bit in my Tupperware post, but honestly I hate the concept so much I need to have another rant. I didn’t ever want to be dogmatic in my opinions here, as I know that different things work for different people, but please don’t buy them! Not only do the reviews almost all say that they’re not actually very effective, but they’re also not biodegradable, super hard to recycle (that old chestnut, “where facilities exist”), and their manufacture must have a considerable carbon footprint. Here are some other alternatives to clingfilm:

  • Tupperware – it’s great, and there really is no evidence that it gives you cancer. Really.
  • Old takeaway boxes are brilliant. I have 483 in the cupboard, at least.
  • One of these for the microwave – yes it’s plastic but I’ve had mine since I was 18 (a LONG time ago) and it’s saved a lot of clingfilm so personally I think it’s fine. I will bequeath it to my son when I’m dead in remembrance of all the microwaved peas he eats.
  • You could just stick a place on top of a bowl, either in the microwave or for storage. We all have plates and bowls.
  • You can also use kitchen roll in the microwave to catch splashes. Then use it to wipe something up afterwards, then put it in the compost. (Didn’t know you could compost kitchen roll? Nor did I until recently. Thanks Google – 10 things I’ve googled about waste and recycling coming up soon)
  • Some people have a stash of pyrex dishes with lids that can be used in the microwave.
  • For open packets in the fridge that need to be covered to stay fresh, I’ve started using old bread bags with the tie. These also work for covering things to go in the freezer.
  • Similarly, my stash of old freezer bags which I wash and reuse serve a similar purpose.
  • For storing leftovers in the fridge, you could use old yoghurt pots, margarine or butter tubs, jam jars etc.

Basically, much as I hate clingfilm, it really worries me that there’s this bandwagon of advertising to persuade you to buy more stuff to replace it, when actually there are loads of other options based on using what you already have, or reusing other packaging before recycling it when it starts to fall to bits.

The marketing machine behind “going zero waste” concerns me. Reducing waste and reducing plastic doesn’t have to mean spending more money and generating demand for yet more stuff, complete with the carbon footprint of its manufacture and distribution. Yes it looks nice and trendy on Pinterest and Instagram, but it’s pointless consumption, and more waste in the end. And it makes me cross.

So please, for your #SaturdaySwitch tomorrow, stop buying clingfilm but don’t be a faux-clingfilm Klingon. I will try really hard to be less ranty in my next post.

Peace and love xx

How green are you, anyway?

A friend of mine (the great deodorant co-experimenter) told me about this WWF personal carbon footprint calculator, so I thought I would have a go at it and share my thoughts with you.

The methodology section is a bit confusing, but essentially it measures your personal footprint in tonnes of CO2 equivalent carbon emissions. This is based on questions on four categories: Food – diet, food waste and buying habits, Home – energy type and usage in the house and presence of energy-saving measures, Travel – personal and public transport usage for leisure and work, and flights, and Stuff – purchase of consumable items.

It then gives you a percentage score – 100% is the average required for every citizen to meet the UK’s 2020 carbon emissions target. Less than 100%, you’re doing well. More than 100%, you’re contributing more than your fair share and could/should do more.

The “target” is the 2008 Climate Act’s goal to reduce emissions by 80% from the 1990 total by 2050 – to remain on track, we have to be 35% of the way there by 2020. More info here.

So I ran the questionnaire and came out initially with 98%. All good. Then I realised I had probably filled out the question about car travel wrong. We hardly ever use the car – literally one trip to the shops every 7-10 days or so, maybe a less than 50 mile trip once a month and longer trip every few months. So I initially answered the first car question saying “I walk/cycle/use public transport for all journeys”. When I went back and redid it, and answered the questions about the type of car we have (terrible huge diesel estate), even saying that I use it less than 2 hours per week made the answer came back at 112%… 11.2 tonnes. Still less than the UK average of 13.56 tonnes, but above target. Hmm…

Just as an experiment, to see how the weighting works, I ran it again with all the same answers but changed the food answer to “vegan”, and it came out at 109%. So the impact of car use seems to have a very high weighting. It would be really interesting to re-run it a few times playing with the other categories like recycling, flights taken etc. and see how that impacts the score.

The tips the calculator gives me are as follows:

Travel:

  • Cycle more – no, not going to. People would die. Probably me.
  • Use public transport more – I do this for everything except supermarket and visiting family, not sure how we can reduce this as I’m not really up for long train journeys with a toddler.
  • Drive smarter – remove excess weight to maximise petrol efficiency. Hmmm… 10 day camping trip with roof box coming up. Also, it tells me that “having the correct air pressure in your tyres results in better petrol mileage, better handling of the car, cheaper maintenance costs and a smaller environmental impact. This simple step can make a big difference.” This is my husband’s department (sorry, feminists), and I’m pretty sure he’s on it. And finally, my favourite: by slowing your travel speed by 10km/h, you could improve your car’s fuel consumption by 25%. Dear husband, please read this! (Cause of a few tiffs, this one)

Stuff tips – buy one expensive thing rather than lots of fast fashion, buy second hand. On it – see impending eBay post and my thoughts about fast fashion.

Food – eat in season, less meat and dairy.

Home – this was my highest score: switch energy supplier to a renewable energy company, switch to energy efficient bulbs (already doing this) and “embrace new technology” – this seems to be something about using apps to monitor energy use, or maybe installing a smart meter? More research required.

There’s a couple of non-negotiables in here which I’m sure have an impact (e.g. cat food spend, and we would really be sad if we cut down on our takeaways and the odd restaurant date night), but I re-ran it with the following changes:

No flights (won’t be flying anywhere next year anyway), changed meat from “some meals” to rarely, changed food to “a lot locally sourced” rather than just some, 100% renewable energy tariff, house temperature changed from “warm” to “cool” (grrrr….), no new household items (we bought new laptops last year with wedding present money, no plans to make anymore big purchases). I kept clothing spend at £0-£50 rather than zero, as I do have to buy the odd thing new despite my best efforts.

Drumroll please….. this takes me down to 11.4 tonnes, which is 93%. And this is with what I consider to be quite modest changes really, that we are heading towards anyway. More radical stuff could take it lower, and the methodology section says we should be aiming for 1.05 tonnes each by 2050. The global average is 5.28 tonnes and that feels like a good long-term aim.

Interesting stuff. I would love to hear what yours comes out as and whether it triggers any thoughts towards lifestyle changes.

The story so far – 1 month in

People buy birthday cakes for their baby’s one month birthday – this is actually a thing. The things I discover through Google image search… I’ll say it again, louder for the people at the back – over-consumption is the problem on this planet!

So I started this blog a month ago and I thought I would just do a little stock take of where we’re at so far. 18 posts, 34 followers, 1188 views over 768 visits from 27 countries and 39 comments. Definitely some people who I don’t know IRL reading, which is very exciting – good to know it’s not just my friends humouring me!

Some promised posts I owe you, which will be coming fairly soon: trying to find out what really happens to my recycling in Greenwich, watching people arguing on the internet about paper bags, giving up micro-rice, following up on #smokegate with Greenwich Council, No Buy July and getting over my hatred of eBay. Also the famous singing dumper truck, Ecobricks and my baby clothes stash of shame.

Some really interesting stuff has come up in the comments too, so thanks to everyone who’s engaging. Things I am thinking about and plan to write about in due course:

  • The Government’s 2018 Waste Strategy and what this means for the recycling industry.
  • The efficacy and impact of putting pressure on Councils about recycling, and on supermarkets about packaging. And petitions – are they worth the effort?
  • What’s the carbon footprint of driving stuff to recycling centres and does it negate the benefit of the recycling?
  • What’s the ecological impact of different plant-milks and what would the global implications be if we all became vegan?
  • Someone commented, brilliantly, that plastic is the cover and distraction from dealing with society’s real issue of over-consumption – what can we do about this, and the bad bits of capitalism? (is it all bad?)
  • Is food labelling meaningless? What welfare standards can we trust – not Red Tractor, for sure.
  • Should we give up takeaways?
  • Should I keep some chickens, or get a goat?

Other stuff to follow-up: home-made gift tags and cards (and toddler craft scissors…), chasing Center Parcs about their eco-sins, more research on eco laundry and dishwasher tablet solutions, the mighty Sir David Attenborough’s speech as Glastonbury which I still haven’t watched, and maybe buying a yoghurt-maker.

I also need to do some really boring research on how to use WordPress more effectively – if anyone has any knowledge to share about plugins, layout hacks etc., I would be grateful.

Also after recommendations for: vegan restaurants in South-East or Central London and brands of bamboo toothbrushes and shampoo/conditioner bars.

Should I do a Facebook page? (Nooooooo Intagram or Pinterest.)

If you’re liking what I’m doing, please do share, comment, retweet and all that stuff. I’m enjoying blogging and it’s great to see the audience increasing.

Peace and Love

xx

More balls please, Wimbledon – time to ban plastic bottles?

It’s that time of year when we all sit on our sofas and offer our wise commentary on the best tennis players in the world locking horns at Wimbledon. I haven’t watched much, but enjoyed the Federer-Nadal semi-final and will be watching this afternoon’s men’s final.

Wimbledon have been under pressure for some time though to rid the event of plastic bottles – Glastonbury and Lord’s cricket ground have managed it, so why can’t the All England Lawn Tennis Club follow suit? There’s a petition here, and it seems a pretty straightforward argument.

If there are, say, 967 matches in a Wimbledon tournament (singles, doubles, qualifiers, juniors, wheelchair competitors and seniors/invitation doubles – yes I sat and added them up), and every player gets given 2 bottles per match, this is 4658 plastic bottles for the players, at an absolute minimum. The carbon footprint of a plastic bottle is estimated to be 82.8g of carbon dioxide per 500ml bottle, so this adds up to 385kg, just for the players. An estimated 420,000 bottles are used across the whole tournament, which equates to an enormous 34 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide (this totally might be an incorrect calculation – my maths is crap – but it’s loads).

But it’s ok, because they’re recycled, and recyclable.

Evian have been the official water supplier at Wimbledon since 2008 and renewed their sponsorship deal in 2017, to extend until 2022. They’ve promised to make all their bottles from recycled plastic by 2025, and this year at Wimbledon they are piloting bottles made from 100% recycled PET; this is an attempt to move from a linear model to a circular one (another article here on this from the sexily-named Packaging News – don’t tell me I never give you anything). Evian are also working with Loop (remember them from the Terracycle post?) to enable a continuous loop for recycling at high volume.

So I was thinking about this, and whether it does make it all okay, or whether it’s yet another big green wash to make us believe that Evian are super-eco and ethical, while they’re actually just trying to get us to buy more pointless bottles of overpriced water. Of course it’s better that the water bottles are recycled and recyclable, keeping plastic out of landfill and the ocean, but what about the carbon footprint of making them in the first place, and the onward recycling? Wouldn’t it be better if they didn’t exist at all?

What are the alternatives for Wimbledon, and similar sporting events? Provide all the players with Evian-branded reusable water bottles? Lots of them seem to be decanting their own energy drinks into Evian bottles anyway, rather than drinking water on court. But what if a player forget to bring their regulation Evian bottle to a match – do they get given another one? What’s the carbon footprint of making x-00 reusable plastic bottles? (I haven’t got the time to calculate how many players compete in the tournament, sorry!) Or should Wimbledon ditch the Evian sponsorship and ask players and spectators to bring their own bottles? (And sell Wimbledon-branded ones to those who forget?) Would that impact on ticket prices – and should we even care about that? Are they contractually able to divorce themselves from Evian anyway, after extending the sponsorship deal?

Or have we forgotten that plastic is evil, and we should only be using stainless steel? Except you have to reuse a stainless steel bottle 500 times to cancel out the carbon impact of its energy-intensive manufacture. I can’t find many sources for a similar calculation for how many times a plastic reusable water bottle would have to be used, although this article suggests it might be as few as three times.

To be fair, Wimbledon seem to be doing quite a lot of impressive work to improve the sustainability of the event and I’m sure they will respond to the petition in due course, but it’s food for thought on our own water-bottle usage. I’ve got a brilliant pink plastic reusable bottle which I love, but it took me a while to find the right one which didn’t leak. My husband was given a stainless steel bottle at a festival recently, which he didn’t use much as he had brought his plastic one – so does he owe that one 500 uses to justify its existence? Lots of people don’t want to buy expensive reusable bottles for their kids, as they get lost or smashed. Nothing is simple, it seems!

I’ve got no definitive position on this, other than that we should use what we’ve got and look after it, so answers on a (recycled) postcard, please.

Meanwhile, here’s a picture of a beautiful bit of ocean (taken at the Paros Philoxenia hotel, one of my favourite places on this magnificent planet), to remind us what we’re doing all this for.

What went well? Even better if…? #SaturdaySwitch feedback

Image result for to do list clip art

“What went well, even better if” is a bloody brilliant feedback tool, in my opinion. We used it in the marvellous Specialist Services Division at the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital, where I spent the happiest two years of my career to date. It’s really useful to focus on positives already achieved, and identify further opportunities for change and improvement – and helps steer pessimists like me away from catastrophising if things haven’t gone exactly to plan.

So since I don’t have a new Saturday Switch for today, as we haven’t run out of anything else lately, I thought I’d just do a review of switches made so far, in case anyone is dying for an update.

Switching to reusable washing up scourers instead of disposable plastic ones was the first switch I blogged about. This has been super easy, I love the ones we are using. Our brilliant cat-sitter mentioned how great they are last week (she’s brilliant because, among many other brilliant things, she washes up the Fluff’s bowls properly every day) and I know a few friends have invested in some too. Even better if they hadn’t been packaged in plastic – I have finally got round to tweeting EuroScrubby about this today, so will keep you posted on any response. Also even better if they were any good on fine glass e.g. champagne glasses. However, we use these so rarely, it’s not a big deal. And I have half a pack of plastic ones left which we may as well use up, so I will save them up for this and they will last a long time.

Part 2 of #SaturdaySwitch was about ditching multi-pack yoghurts to reduce plastic waste and save dosh. What went well is that I really like the Yeo Valley strawberry yoghurt that comes in big tubs. Even better if the small one did too… he’s gone on yoghurt strike since being forced to give up Little Yeos, so I need to experiment with some other flavours. I am also intending to check out the feasibility of making my own yoghurt with a second hand yoghurt maker, if eBay can come up with one for me.

And last week I posted about switching to a cardboard box of laundry powder instead of tablets individually wrapped in plastic. Again, no drama here – I’ve got my cool little scoop thing and it’s just as quick as unwrapping the packet (and quicker and much less annoying than washing it and putting it in the Ecobrick), and washes clothes just as effectively. Even better if I had time to research properly all the zillions of eco laundry solutions out there (ideally cruelty-free and ocean-safe). By the time the box has run out, I will have got my head around this.

Other changes that I’ve talked about, not specific to Saturdays, are moving to organic eggs (straightforward but more expensive) and switching to natural deodorant – this is on hiatus at the moment, as we’re going camping for 10 days soon (with a toddler – I know, I’m a lunatic) and there’s a real risk that the new natural one might melt – the packaging advises keeping it in the fridge during hot weather. So I will start using it when we get back, in parallel with my co-experimenter.

The really difficult change has been the baby wipes. Not actually because I have any real love for the wipes, but because of the practical issues for me of using the floor in the bathroom due to my knackered post-natal knees. I’ve got myself fixated on this as a reason not to make the switch – someone could probably write a good thesis on nudge theory about this sort of thing – as I’m convinced I’ve got to be next to the toilet to be able to chuck the loo roll down the loo after cleaning up the worst of the poo. Which is probably a nonsense excuse. So anyway I’m biting the bullet and buying some Cheeky Wipes, as I think this will be the motivator to make this change properly and I can set up a changing station upstairs with the clean and mucky boxes. Not even going to attempt this while we’re camping though, I’m afraid that’s definitely more than I can cope with.

I’m wondering if any of my readers have done any research on the “biodegradable” wipes that are being hyped up now and if there’s any truth in the claims made? Or is this more green-washing vibes?

So there we are, that’s the #SaturdaySwitch updates. Riveting stuff, as always.

Terracycle – terribly good, or terribly bad?

Who is this creature with terrible claws, and terrible teeth in its terrible jaws? Oh help, oh no…. it’s a Facebook eco group sniping at people for trying their best. Scherioushly…

So I’ve mentioned this before, but I think the current #WarOnPlastic agenda becoming so popular has caused some long-term environmentalists to be a bit annoyed that they’re not quite so alternative anymore. Some of them seem to be using the anonymity of the internet to shoot people down in flames who are new to the mission and maybe don’t fully understand the complexity of it all. Some of this is valid but just maybe ill-phrased (e.g. do you really know what’s happening to your recycling?), but some of it is just plain unnecessary. For example, a recent post I saw of someone celebrating the introduction of paper straws in Tesco was met with a bunch of people asking the poster why they needed straws in the first place (maybe a fair point, but also potentially ablist), then criticising the plastic bottles of fizzy drinks behind the straws in the photograph – which the original poster may or may not have been buying anyway. Blah. It’s pretty boring really and gets in the way of useful information sharing and mutual encouragement for people making changes to help the planet.

Anyway…. back to the point. Terracycle. I discovered this quite recently, as a new drop-off point has been set up very near our house. This article is a really useful summary of what it’s all about – essentially, Terracycle partner with big brands to set up recycling programmes for waste which isn’t accepted by most kerbside recycling services. There are local drop-off points at churches, schools, community centres etc. and the recyclers can earn points which turn into charitable donations. Brilliant.

We were excited to find that our local drop-off point takes pet food pouches. Our (non-vegan) cat has the most expensive cat food in the world, special medicated stuff for his troublesome bladder and kidneys. I can’t give him cheaper canned stuff, with more easily recycled packaging, as it would make him ill and cost us a huge amount of money to keep him alive, again. So these pouches are non-negotiable plastic use for us while he’s still shuffling across this mortal coil. Additionally, they collect crisp and snack packets, bread bags and various other things. There’s also a national contact lens recycling scheme, with collection points at opticians. Again, this is non-negotiable plastic use for me (blind as a bat, crap peripheral vision in glasses, plus, you know, vanity) and I’ve felt guilty about it for years, so hooray.

Terracylcle say that they recycle 97% of the waste they receive, and promise that nothing goes to landfill (some is reused or composted). This is how they do it. I tweeted them directly about the contact lens scheme and they said that the plastic is used to make products such as benches, and “mostly” recycled in the UK, “rarely” in Europe.

So far so good. Then I stepped down the internet rabbit hole. Terracycle is perpetuating the problem, getting into bed with big corporations (Nestle, PepsiCo, Walkers) to keep us consuming – Walkers want you to keep eating crisps, Terracycle want you to keep eating crisps, you want to keep eating crisps – so if a guilt-free solution to your crisp eating can be found, everyone’s a winner. Except we keep making more and more plastic, downcycling it into products that will end up in landfill in the end, and there’s no pressure on manufacturers to develop better packaging, and no pressure on us to change our ways. This article explains a bit more about the business model, and says that Terracycle is a profiteering middle-man (they don’t actually own any processing plants themselves). Even Wikipedia contains some accusations of green-washing, and a fellow blogger is particularly scathing here.

So I’ve been thinking about this a lot this week, as I’ve been sorting through our stash of stuff for drop-off, and trying to balance out the conflicting views I’ve seen on this. My conclusions, for what they’re worth, are as follows:

Yes, Terracycle is a business, trying to make money. We live in a capitalist society, like it or fight it. They are guaranteeing to recycle stuff, though, in comparison with our own local authorities, who have no audit trail of what has happened to huge amounts of exported waste. Yes, it’s a lot of green-washing from big corporates, but they are funding the recycling and preventing this stuff going to landfill or being incinerated, and it does benefit local charities and schools. Also the soon-to-be-launched Loop programme, described in this interview with Terracycle founder Tom Szaky, looks really interesting. I think he’s right when he says that consumers want to live a waste-free life but won’t sacrifice on affordability and convenience. We’re all clamouring for big business to do something to make the change, so maybe this is the beginning of progress?

Maybe I’m hugely naive or poorly-informed about capitalism and consumerism, and I should be more radical, but I am going to carry on collecting for our local drop-off point and saving up my contact lenses.

I agree we have to focus on reducing consumption and analysing what we really do need in our lives; the faff of separating out the waste does make you more mindful of this, and about what could be reduced or reused before being recycled. For example bread bags – could I take these to the supermarket and use for loose veg? Could I use them instead of freezer bags? (which I use about 897 times before throwing away anyway). Does my husband REALLY need to eat a bag of crisps and a bar of chocolate every day with his packed lunch? Yes, yes he does. Unless I do more baking, of course. Which would correlate directly with more CBeebies (causing brain-rot, of course), and/or less naptime blogging – which would make you lot sad, and interfere with my plans to become the next Jack Monroe (she’s ace, by the way) and change the world, one rambling post at a time.

#PlasticBandWagon part 3 – get rid of all your Tupperware?

Please note – this is NOT my Tupperware drawer. This is a borrowed image from this very funny article after a Google image search of “messy Tupperware drawer”, because all my Tupperware is stored very neatly with (almost) no missing lids.

So I’m seeing lots of stuff in my social media echo chamber about how to “rid your house of plastic”, “go plastic free” and lots of “plastic is rubbish!” posts. Like I’ve said in my previous post about plastic toys, I don’t think that plastic itself is rubbish, I think it’s pretty useful. Disposal of single-use plastic is a massive problem, of course, but I think that the plastic that we already have – whether given to us, bought in former times when we didn’t think about this stuff, or just durable, useful stuff which will last a long time – should be looked after, used and reused until it’s no longer usable, then disposed of as responsibly as possible. We should respect it for the energy and virgin materials we took from the planet to create it. I find the whole “plastic is evil” mantra to be very simplistic and usually a bit smug – but hey, I love your hand-knitted hemp and bamboo hammock, well done, you’re a much better human than me.

Plus, I bloody love Tupperware. Tidy, useful, stackable Tupperware. So imagine my horror when my good friend and blog follower Anne sent me a link to this: “Save your money and save the planet! I absolutely need to replace my entire Tupperware cabinet with these!”

Further quotation from the product page:

“Made with 100% Platinum silicone. Because you’re worth it. Traditional plastic containers are petroleum based and can contain harmful chemicals. These toxins can leach into your food especially when heating or microwaving. That’s why pure silicone is best for your health. No BPA, no lead, no PVC, no Phthalates.”

Surprise, surprise, 60% off at the moment #WarOnPlastic #PlasticFreeJuly. Wonder if L’Oréal know that they’ve nicked their slogan…?

Silicone seems to be the anti-plastic material being advertised most aggressively at the moment – not biodegradable, but recyclable “where facilities exist”. RecycleNow has no information on silicone recycling, and a fairly thorough Google of “silicone recycling in London” reaped no rewards… so these will probably last forever too.

So, is Tupperware (or any other brand of plastic food storage system) actually dangerous and should we all be going out a replacing it with other materials?

There are plenty of articles out there like this one, which could very feasibly terrify us all into chucking out our plastic boxes and replacing with silicone/bamboo/glass/whatever, anything to prevent “structural damage to your brain” and “changes in gender-specific behaviour and abnormal sexual behaviour” – NB no definition of these given. There’s also a helpful reference to a Daily Mail article. And who is Dr Mercola exactly – does he have some sort of doctoral qualification in chemical engineering or toxicology? No.

Alternatively, there’s some nice evidence-based science from actual scientists at Cancer Research UK and Harvard Health Publishing – my summary take from these articles is that microwave-safe plastic containers are safe, but heating food in lots of other kinds of plastic probably isn’t a great idea. This is also a really useful , although maybe slightly alarmist article on the different types of plastic and the ones to avoid. All my food boxes are plastic #5, so I’m certainly not worried about using them for storage.

Am I convinced about the heat issue from microwaving or dish washing? There’s so much out there, but the science-based stuff (more here and here) suggests it’s probably ok if you avoid BPA and stick to microwave-safe containers – but then there’s doubt cast on cans! It’s endless… This article is also really good and warrants further reading, as there’s a lot I don’t understand in it about plastic science.

Anyway, there is endless reading to be done and it’s very difficult to analyse the research unless you’re a chemical engineer. So my conclusions are:

  • I’m going to keep using my Tupperware for storage, but try to avoid microwaving in it (I don’t do this much anyway) or using in the dishwasher.
  • I’m not going to buy some dubious silicone cling-film replacement, which by many reports and reviews isn’t that good anyway, made by companies who are cashing in on the #WarOnPlastic like it’s some kind of fad. And I’m going to keep on exposing and getting cross about green-washing bullsh*t like this, because it distracts us from the real issues at stake. Buying yet more stuff will not save the planet.
  • I’m going to keep encouraging people to reuse and respect their existing plastic possessions, rather than succumbing to this weird demonisation of useful, durable stuff which we already possess.
  • I’m going to keep working on eliminating single-use plastic from our lives, but with an understanding that I can’t do it all at once.
  • Here endeth the lesson.

Back soon with updates from the Council about #smokegate, arguing with strangers on the internet about paper bags, and overcoming my eBay antipathy.