Thursday, 10 January 2019

Plastic -v- the world...

I mentioned in my last post that one of our "big challenges" for this year was going to be to reduce our consumption of single use plastics still further. We've already made good progress on this - on the rare occasions that we buy a bottle of water (or more often, get given one free when MrEH purchases his newspaper in a location that offers a bottle for free) that bottle will be refilled many times before it finally goes into the recycling, effectively turning it into a reusable bottle. Mostly we use one of our  purpose-bought re-useable bottles - I permanently have one on my desk at work, and we have others for the gym, or for taking on days out. Similarly although not a "buy a coffee on the way to work everyday" people we do use refillable cups on occasions when we know we're likely to buy hot drinks out - I've got a couple of the bamboo keep-cups, and we both have insulated mugs which get used regularly on longer car journeys, often with the back-up of one of our trusty thermos flasks!

Within the home it can often be quite tough to break the old plastic habits - we have made a start here by re-using plastic takeaway containers for freezer storage, not purchasing cling film at all, and using our RSPB magazine wrappers as compost bags for green waste. We also always take our own bags to the shops, and indeed I have invariably got a shopping bag or two neatly folded in my handbag also. It's been bugging me for a while though that each working day we bring lunches from home, and each working day that is 2 plastic food bags, and 2 wire ties, used between us. We re-use the wire ties, in fact they often get used until they literally fall apart, but I bet when they DO end up in landfill they're not great, and as for the bags, well...! So we turned our minds to alternatives, and solutions...

Firstly we started thinking through alternatives that we already had. Things are complicated by the fact that standard sandwich boxes tend not to fit our home made bread well, and that sometimes we have sandwiches and sometimes we have rolls (also home made - so again, non standard sizes). Fruit we just carry loose in our respective bags, so it was just the question of transportation of bread-based food that we were looking into initially. Of course it wasn't that simple as having thought about it we then started seeing all the other places that we use the flimsy food bags we habitually buy, too... Cheese gets wrapped in them, opened packets of crackers get put in them to stop them going stale in the tin, we use them in the freezer for portioned out raw meat, and sometimes for blanched vegetables as well, The last few slices from the loaves of home made bread get put into a bag in the freezer as well. Greaseproof or waxed paper came to mind immediately for at least some of our applications, but they wouldn't really solve the issue of wrapping sandwiches as there would be no way of ensuring they stayed fastened, plus waxed paper doesn't recycle, and greaseproof is the subject of a whole other minefield on the compostable/recyclable/biodegradeable questions (It might be, but then it might not, basically covers it so far as I can find). Foil - no, not really - firstly it tears too easily and secondly it's just creating more waste, albeit recycleable waste. Then we found these:

Beeswax wraps. Available in a variety of sizes, positively recommended for cheese, sandwiches, veggies etc...not cheap, mind, but worth the trade off of NOT putting possibly over 400 plastic bags into landfill every year? Well, that has to be worth a try! Of course they should also work for cheese, random bits of veg, for covering leftovers in the fridge and maybe even for those random ends of loaves in the freezer too? A pack has been ordered and we will report back.

Lovely as it would be, the wraps won't work for everything - so we set our minds to a bigger plan. We'll continue to have some of the flimsy bags available for the time being - things like raw meat are difficult to store well for the freezer - often a portion is too small for the re-useable containers we have, and we don't want to be using electricity essentially freezing empty space. We will buy a supply of sturdier, heavier grade plastic bags for use with dry goods, where they can be re-used. Where we can use plastic tubs that we already have - or those that we get with takeaway foods - we will do so. I'm looking to source re-useable produce bags instead of picking up those annoying flimsy bags for loose produce in the supermarket, too. So far I'm struggling to find many options on those that tell you the individual weight of the bags themselves - as I often buy quite small quantities of loose items this is not an insignificant point! More research needed!


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