How to green your kitchen, part 1

Brilliant ideas often come while drinking wine with my friends, and this one is no exception. Thanks B, you know who you are and you’re a total legend.

Welcome to “Green your kitchen”. Not cleaning, but “greening”. The Organised Mum‘s method of cleaning involves starting in one corner of the room, and moving clockwise around it, to retain focus and make sure everything gets done. (I know, I’m namedropping this a lot at the moment but I honestly think it’s brilliant, and it gives you all a rest from me bashing on about my other hero, Jack Monroe.) So I thought, let’s do it with “greening” instead of cleaning. Over a series of posts (probably quite a lot), I’m going to work my way around my kitchen and assess what progress I’ve made in terms of becoming more eco-friendly, and what next steps there are to take. You may wish to join me on this method and think about your own kitchen… If it feels like a useful approach, we’ll follow this with greening your bathroom, bedroom, etc… The possibilities are endless.

Here’s a couple of photos of my kitchen (it does NOT always look like this, I just cleaned it while the small one is snoozing. We can have a chat about the copious amounts of plastic garden toys which I’ve edited out another time… under “greening your garden”, maybe).

My personal premise as always with this stuff is that it’s a gradual process to having a more sustainably eco-friendly home and lifestyle – some people have been working through this stuff for years, others are just getting started. I’m not sure where I “fit” on that continuum, but the one thing I firmly believe is that the “rid your house of all plastic, immediately” ideology is utter bollocks. I stand firmly by the principle that if you have it, you should use it up. There was a very suspicious element of the War on Plastic documentary where a couple had got rid of all the plastic in their bathroom very quickly and spent lots of money on Pinterest-worthy “zero waste” bathroom stuff. Did they just chuck it all away, unused? My view is that unless is’s obviously super evil stuff that shouldn’t be going down the drain – like cosmetics with microbeads in – it should be used up before disposing of the packaging as best we can. I think we should be respecting the virgin materials that this stuff is made from and make more eco-friendly decisions on an item-by-item basis, as things run out.

So here are some riveting pictures of my cleaning cupboards under the sink (big gap is where the compost caddy lives). These used to be be pretty full, but I’m making a conscious effort to use stuff up and replace with a reduced stock of more eco-friendly options.

There’s a few things I will absolutely not use up, that I’m in the process of giving away, via the Buy Nothing group and Olio. Fabric softener I no longer use – I don’t like the artificial smell and personally view it as unnecessary chemicals. I’ve given away some stainless steel cleaner which I bought when I lived somewhere with a stainless steel hob. Still going begging is some “fabric freshener” from Waitrose, I have no idea why I’ve got this, and some Febreze – anyone want them?

I’ve still got some super evil ant killer (I know, but they were in the cupboards… I couldn’t bear it!) and drain cleaner, and some weird stuff that’s supposed to neutralise the smell of cat poo and wee from when the Fluffbeast had some bladder problems and was peeing behind the TV. Some carpet cleaner which is necessary for cat and toddler puke. Plus mould and mildew remover. I’m sure there are alternative eco versions of all of these, but I haven’t looked into it yet. The small plastic water bottles have got distilled water in for my steam mop – I think if I just used our super-hard tap water, my steam mop would scale up and die. My amazing mum brings the water form their tumble-drier for me and we reuse the bottles. I’ve still got some evil plastic washing up sponges left, since swapping to Euroscrubbys we are using these up for fun jobs like scrubbing the barbecue and the highchair every now and again. They’re destined for incineration via our general waste anyway, so they might as well be used first (although they probably also leach microplastics when rinsed? It’s a minefield).

I’ve dumped my trusty Mr Sheen – this was a long-term relationship and I’m still grieving, but it was for the best. Replacing chemical spray from a hard-to-recycle can with damp dusting is a pretty easy switch really, and damp dusting is better for allergy sufferers too, as it traps all the dust into the cloth rather than wafting it around the room (thanks for this one, Gem).

I’m getting into the habit of keeping used dishcloths and tea towels separate, to add to hotter washes. In due course I’m going to look into getting a guppy bag to wash non-cotton stuff – to reduce microplastics leaching into the water course. I’m slightly on the fence about this, as I’m not sure what to do with the residue – so more research required.

Now the exciting bit… I’ve got a stash of empty spray bottles that I’ve saved up to take to my local zero waste shop and fill up with vegan, biodegradable, plastic free cleaning materials. (I will have a rant some time about the phrase “zero waste” and how misleading it is, but not now, as this is a good news story.)

Thus far, I’ve got window and glass cleaner and the multi-surface cleaner made by Sesi, the latter of which can be quite significantly diluted so will last a long time. It was nowhere near as expensive as I expected it to be, and it’s an easy bus ride form home, or about a mile walk away from somewhere I go every week, so I won’t be driving there and undoing my otherwise good work (maybe I’m going to rant about this some time too).

I’m also getting hold of a bulk-sized bottle of white vinegar soon (again via the Buy Nothing gang, it’s a quite remarkable project really), so I will have a crack at making my own cleaning stuff in due course.

I’m a fair bit away from a plastic and chemical-free cleaning arsenal, but I feel like progress has been made since I started really actively thinking about this stuff – around April, I think.

So, I hope that wasn’t too boring. This is the journey, folks. It’s not always glamorous or sexy but it can be radical to rethink every purchase decision you make, every item in your home, and choose to do it better.

Belated #SaturdaySwitch and reflections on camping with a toddler

So we’ve been home for a few days now after our camping adventure at Rise Up Singing. I was expecting our first camp with a toddler to be hard work and I wasn’t wrong (sometimes it’s good to prepare for the worst, right?) Nappy changes in a tent with a wriggling, protesting, octopus-like toddler are a challenge and my post-pregnancy body definitely needs a better camping bed solution. It feels unfair to be more exhausted at the end of a “holiday” than at the start. Not to mention the fact that I managed approximately two thirds of one singing workshop, and a handful of fragmented conversations with friends. Some acceptance still needed as to how different this camp was, in comparison to all those years attending as a child-free person, learning five new songs a day and jamming with great singers until the small hours by the fire.

BUT the small one loved it – lots of free range rampaging, chucking 4987 stones into the stream and being allowed to eat Mini Cheddars and raisins for most meals (this is not a child who likes kale, yet). And we had some awesome walks in the woods, small one on the Daddy Donkey.

So anyway. Being in the amazingly beautiful Dartmoor countryside brings it all home in a really intense way (no camping puns here) what’s at stake, as we progress on our journey to protect Mother Earth from destruction. And I have to admit that amidst the mountain of washing, an intense post-camp stomach bug which at one point I thought might be Lyme disease from an infected tick bite (TBC by blood tests next week but I think unlikely as I’m now almost better), I almost felt like giving up.

It’s so hard. Aeroplanes fly over our house almost every minute in London and there’s next to nothing we can do about it. The supermarkets are full to the brim of plastic and it’s so much effort and expense to do plastic-free food shopping. The internet is still full of people arguing about how to save the world in the best way, while being quite rude to each other. We have a new PM and cabinet who don’t care about anything except hard Brexit. McDonalds paper straws aren’t recyclable. Or they are. Or it doesn’t matter. People leave litter in the park and put the wrong stuff in the plastic bag recycling at Sainsbury’s – which might not matter if it all ends up in an eastern European landfill or the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

But – this, guys. This.

https://www.pinns.co.uk/devon/hemburywoods.html

And this.

http://holidayindartmoor.co.uk/buckfast/hembury-woods-circular-walk-36110.html

(The rest of my photos were rubbish so these are stolen images of Hembury woods, but this is where we were, and it’s magnificent).

So onwards with the changes, onwards with the small steps – and gathering courage and strength for the big ones.

While away I did chemical deodorant detox (thanks, hippy friends, for tolerating this) and I’ve started using the new plastic-free natural one this week (as per The Great Deodorant Experiment). I’ve also ditched shower gel, shampoo and conditioner in favour of this conditioning shampoo soap bar which can be used on hair and body. And, sort of without thinking about it I’ve ditched face wash for this really gorgeous tea tree and peppermint face soap. My skin is feeling great, I don’t think I smell too awful and my hair is… taking some getting used to… but I’m persevering. Everything from The Good Soap Company came packaged in paper and card too, absolutely no plastic, and very good service. Highly recommended.

This really useful article suggests how to go about making the switch to a shampoo bar if you’re considering it. My hair is still feeling a bit waxy so I’m researching other methods e.g. lathering the soap first rather than applying the bar straight to your hair, doing extra rinses etc. I will keep you posted. I think a plastic-free bathroom is likely to be achieved sooner in our house than a plastic-free kitchen.

So. August continues and I have a bunch of cat sitting jobs coming up (yes, I am a multi-talented beast indeed), plus you’re all on holiday anyway, so blog posts may be less frequent for a few weeks. I’ve got some ideas for a bit of a relaunch in September, so I will be nagging for likes and shares and all that stuff. Back soon. Ish.

Recycling 101, lesson 2 – when you wish upon a bin

I talked in my previous recycling 101 post about wish cycling. I didn’t know this had a proper name, but I was aware of quite a few people I know doing this – putting things into the recycling bin which they think might be recyclable, and hoping for the best. Or even putting things in that they know aren’t accepted, but that they think should be, as a means of pressuring their local councils to expand their collection to recycle more types of waste.

This is actually a really bad practice, which creates more waste – it can lead to whole batches of recycling being contaminated and therefore ending up in landfill, or even worse, damaging equipment in sorting centres, leading to shut downs. All of this makes the waste management process less efficient and more expensive, which could lead councils to invest less in the process overall. So don’t do it, kids.

There’s also some more interesting stuff here about the global impact of wish-cycling – we know that China were importing two thirds of the world’s plastic waste in 2016, but since then have stopped buying waste from abroad, partly due to the amount of contamination.

So now it seems we are stuck with our own waste (although I don’t fully believe we can be sure that everything is staying in the UK for processing…), you would think it would be easy to find out what can go into which bin, yes? It’s in the interests of local authorities to make it clear, so that their own processes aren’t hampered.

Well. Recycling systems across the UK are hugely variable, as the Government doesn’t mandate exactly how its targets should be met, so it’s up to local authorities to implement schemes which suit their local area. The Greenwich Council information is reasonably good, but doesn’t answer a few questions. It talks about “mixed dry recycling”, asks residents to wash out food waste containers, but isn’t clear about whether recylables should be completely dry (they definitely should). It also doesn’t specify exactly what types of plastics it accepts, e.g. black plastic, tetrapacks etc.

So to avoid wish cycling, I think that you have to be quite determined. “Check locally” often just means checking the local council website, but sometimes you have to work quite a bit harder e.g. emailing or tweeting with a specific question. The RecycleNow recycling locator is helpful for confirming what’s accepted kerbside in some areas, and finding out what to do with other things which may need to be taken to a local recycling centre.

There are lots of useful recycling labels used on packaging to help people – lists here and here – but this labelling isn’t mandatory and is missing from a lot of packaging. Industry leaders have recently called on MPs to bring in laws to make recycling labels simpler for the public to understand, which in turn would improve the efficiency of the recycling process.

I had a look for any petitions about this specific issue – there are about a gazillion on different plastics and recycling issues. This one is suggesting mandatory labelling of types of plastics used to aid recycling, which would make sense if councils were clearer on what they accept by plastic type, rather than product type.

So maybe I should start a petition on this? Or is it pointless to have another one in the hundreds already circulating? I’m still pretty convinced that our recycling infrastructure is dysfucntional and I’m not sure how to influence it. And I doubt this will be high on the agenda of our new Prime Minister… *sigh*.

Perhaps I will write to my local MP about it. We’re practically penpals now after #smokegate.

Center Parcs – #MyPlasticFeedback response

You might have read my previous post about our trip to Center Parcs and the concerns I raised to them afterwards about the single use plastic mountain they’re creating with disposable washing up sponges and dish cloths.

I have had a response this week from them on the feedback I sent. They say that “the Center Parcs experience is built around enabling our guests to enjoy the natural environment and, therefore, we appreciate it is vital that we play our part in protecting it.” They are “in the process of phasing out” plastic straws in their Center Parcs owned outlets, which is better than nothing of course – however, there are a load of chain restaurants within the complexes which presumably are not included in this, who may well be doing their own thing (Starbucks, Cafe Rouge, Las Iguanas etc.), but may not. Are Center Parcs putting pressure on their partners too?

A trial is apparently underway at the Elveden village (nothing on the village news page about this though…) to reduce single use toiletry items – so awful I couldn’t even go there in my feedback really, as I couldn’t think of an alternative option if this provision is something that guests really want. It would be interesting to see what other hotels and holiday parks are doing on this – do we really need tiny bottles of rubbish shampoo everywhere we go?  

Onto the dish washing (my obsession, it seems). They do reuse the tea towels – praise the Lord! But the dishcloths are binned as “they haven’t found a dishcloth that can be cleaned adequately to the standards required”. Nothing said at all about the washing up sponges.

So anyway, I’ve replied, encouraging them to keep looking for reusable options, and invited the Sustainability Manager to get in touch with me for a further chat and to feature in the blog… This is of course a massive long shot, but who knows what could happen, this could in fact be my big break! One day I will wake up to 5000 followers and an advertising request from Ecover, I know it.

Meanwhile, I suggest we all nag the tourist venues we visit to try harder on this stuff. The more I think about it all, the more I’m sure it needs organisations to take the lead to make the big changes that are needed. So pester away, people, and let me know how you get on.

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.

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

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.

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.

Everyday activism – does pester power work? #MyCenterParcsFeedback

Magnificent giant redwoods at Center Parcs, Longleat

Pester power is a thing, right? Children are manipulated by the media and advertising into wanting something, then pressurise their parents endlessly to get it, and they eventually give in. I seem to remember this being the reason you often can’t buy chocolate at supermarket tills anymore. I can’t imagine many toddlers tantrumming over batteries and ibuprofen these days.

The last episode of the BBC documentary War on Plastic invited viewers to “pester” retailers by returning unwanted plastic packaging to the supermarkets, and post on social media with the #OurPlasticFeedback tag. I’ve seen a lot of this shared on Twitter in the last week, with mainly the same generic responses from the supermarkets about what they’re doing to reduce plastic waste. Most worryingly is all the promises to make more of it recyclable – when we know that the UK recycling system is overwhelmed and dysfunctional, with large amounts of waste being sent to landfill anyway due to contamination or inappropriate items being put in the recycling, or sent overseas with no audit trail of whether it is actually recycled, burnt or put in landfill.

There’s a real feeling for me that none of the actions needed are happening fast enough, and we as consumers can’t do much about it – the sheer scale of the problem requires corporations to make the high-impact changes.

But a bit of pestering feels quite good, so I think we should keep at it, and highlight things as we come across them to put pressure on companies to get better at this stuff and be accountable for their environmental impact.

So anyway, we went to Center Parcs at Longleat last week with the small one and some members of the grandparental team. It was brilliant, we all had an amazing time – lovely site with some awesome trees, a lot of “splish splash” and we even managed a couple of date nights, with free babysitting. Thanks Grandad and Granny!

But this upset me a lot, especially as you all know I am obsessed with dishwashing.

One disposable washing up sponge per lodge for each stay x approx 800 lodges x 6 Center Parcs villages in the UK (not even thinking about the villages in Europe) x 97% occupancy over 52 weeks = something like 242,112 sponges used per year, ending up in landfill or incinerated. Not to mention the horrible thought that each dishcloth (made of grim microfibre polyester stuff) and tea towel might also be thrown away after each stay. So I’ve written to them and tweeted them to see if they have any plans to switch to reusable options. (Also heaped a ton of praise on the staff members we encountered, all of whom, without exception, were excellent).

I’ve also been hassling Greenwich Council about a local air pollution issue and their lack of action to address it, in writing and copied to my local MP and councillors. What has particularly irritated me is the Council’s declaration of a climate emergency and requests on Twitter for people to pledge to have a bonfire free summer for Clean Air Day, while ignoring local issues which flout air quality laws.

#greenwashing

Essentially, this whole climate situation is making me feel quite anxious and a bit angry that it’s so hard to make the right choices in the face of companies who won’t make changes quickly enough, for fear of impacting their bottom line. And it’s made me feel a bit better and a bit more in control to start complaining about stuff. I highly recommend it. I’m not convinced it will make any difference, but it’s got to be worth a try, right?