(Belated) #SaturdaySwitch part 7 – yet another post about dish washing

So if you’ve been reading my blog from the start, you might have seen my earlier posts about dish washing: this one, the inaugural #SaturdaySwitch, where we switched from plastic washing up sponges to cotton scourers, and this one about limiting washing up to actualise the eco-benefits of using an efficient dishwasher (I thought this post was staggeringly dull, but it had some of the highest hits of all my blog posts – so you guys must be quite excited about dish washing, or really liked the photo of my favourite mug).

We’re up to PART 7 of Saturday Switch now, although I forgot to number two of them, and a couple have happened on a Sunday. The idea is that I’m NOT getting rid of all the plastic/non-eco stuff in my house at one fell swoop, spending loads of money but getting to be all smug and Instagrammish about my sustainable life, but I’m gradually making changes as and when I run out of things or get some random inspiration, or get sufficiently irritated by pointless plastic that I feel I have to do something.

Dishwasher tablets have been annoying me for a while. We used to buy the Aldi ones because they are super cheap, but they of course come wrapped in plastic, so I bought some Ecover ones recently which I sort of assumed would NOT come in plastic (clue in the ECO name maybe?), but alas, they are.

So I thought I would attempt some proper research before chucking more money away. As always, there are multiple issues to consider. Are you most bothered about chemical content? (not all chemicals are toxic, remember… water is a chemical compound…) Or animal testing? Or avoiding plastic packaging?

This is a useful article from 2017. In terms of chemicals, those pesky bureaucrats in the EU banned phosphates, which are harmful to aquatic life, from dishwasher detergents in 2017, so nothing that is sold to domestic customers contains them (although it seems that commercial detergents still can contain them – come on bureaucrats, get on it please!). Ecover comes out best of the well-known brands, but despite being a cruelty-free brand itself, a lot of ethically-concerned consumers are now boycotting it since its takeover by Johnson and Johnson, who are still a company which tests on animals.

I’ve seen a lot of talk about smol in eco Facebook groups recently, so I’ve been researching their offering in more detail. The premise is that they deliver packages of very small and concentrated laundry and dishwasher tablets through the post, which are “eco-friendly” and cruelty-free (Leaping Bunny approved). The packaging is 90% recycled plastic and apparently 100% continuously recyclable. I’m not convinced about this, as I keep reading that plastic degrades with each round of recycling and will always end up as something not recyclable, so is always therefore fundamentally destined for landfill, incineration or the ocean. However, I’m not a chemical engineer with a specialist knowledge of plastic, so I can’t be sure! Equally I’m not a chemical engineer who can decipher this. But I feel reasonably confident that it would be an improvement on Ecover and Aldi in terms of plastics and ethics, at the very least.

How about pricing? My rough maths makes Aldi 7p per dishwasher load, Smol 15p per load and Ecover is 24p per load. The other major contender is Ecoleaf, which I’ve been put off buying in shops as it’s so expensive, but it comes in at 15p per load if bought in bulk online.

Splosh is also an interesting offering – they do various other household stuff too (thoughts on this to come another time!), but the dishwasher tablet offering works out at 22p per wash with no plastic casing at all.

So this is actually quite a difficult decision to make.

Ecoleaf – have to buy in bulk in massive cardboard box (heavy for transportation purposes, hard to store, carbon footprint of the cardboard production and recycling is also a consideration), purports to be plant based but the ingredient list actually states that it’s less than 5% plant-based ingredients, and contains “sustainably sourced palm oil” – I sort of don’t believe this exists really, but more research needed as always.

Aldi and Ecover – too much plastic, plus dodgy Ecover ethics (also pending further research)

Smol – probably too much plastic? They say it’s recyclable kerbside but I don’t trust local authorities not to lie about where they’re sending recycling, so I’m trying to reduce our recycling as much as possible without increasing black bin waste. Smol also say you can send the plastic packaging back for reuse, but – FAFF.

Smol and Splosh both appear to be palm oil free, which is something I am trying to introduce into my decision-making too.

I can’t make much sense of the ingredients lists though – do I have any followers who actually understand what chemical names mean? What does “plant-based” really mean? Please do get in touch if you’re out there!

In the mean time, I’m going to order some Splosh tablets because they’re the most convincingly plastic-free in my eyes. And I will let you know how I get on!

None of these decisions are easy, are they? There is so much green-washing about, it feels easier to do nothing, but I do still believe that little by little we can make a difference.

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, and to use 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 disablist), 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 out 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.