Tag Archives: plastic problem

Plastic Recycling Symbols

Have you ever looked at a plastic bottle and seen a triangle with number? Ever wondered what they mean?

Although, it would be better to try to avoid using plastic altogether, I thought it would be a good idea to put together a little guide to help.

Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET). What is it used for? – Soft drinks bottles, food packaging. This plastic is easy to recycle

High Density Polyethylene (HDPE). What is it used for? – Milk cartons, cleaning products, yoghurt pots. This plastic is easy to recycle

Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC). What is it used for? Pipes, Electrical cables, insulation. This plastic is difficult to recycle.

Low-density polyethylene (LDPE). What is it used for? Shopping bags, wraps for magazines. It can be recycled…just about.

Polyethylene (PP). What is it used for? Butter and margarine tubs, food trays, carpet fibres. Easy to recycle.

Polystyrene (PS). What is it used for? Plastic cutlery, takeaway packaging, insulation. Difficult to recycle.

This is the ‘other’ category. This will include the other packaging that is incredibly difficult to recycle; crisp packets, salad bags

You may have noticed that the text for each of these are separated into three colours; Green, Orange and Red, this determines the ease or recycling that plastic.

Green – Recyclable

Orange – Recycled at specialist points

Red – Not easy to recycle and will most probably end up in landfill

One important aspect to bear in mind that if something is easy to recycle, this is more likely if it isn’t attached to a layer of another type of plastic. Mixing plastics comes with a new set of problems.

The best thing to do is to reduce the amount plastic you buy, where you can.

Plastic in tea bags

Us Brits are tea-lovers. We love our tea; we have it with cakes, biscuits, toast and we can even go to expensive shops to have luxury ‘afternoon tea experience’. When we’re sad we have a cuppa, when we are happy we have a cuppa, when we go to a friend’s house, guess what…we have a cuppa.

But, do you think about the tea bag?

When you discard your teabag, where you do put it? Bin? Compost heap? Food waste? Nope, the only place is landfill because some brands use plastic to make their tea bags and some could be leeching micro plastics.

Just what you want, you’re enjoying a nice cup of tea and, unknowingly, your cuppa has millions of micro plastics swimming around in there. Yuck!

About three months ago, I found out about plastic in tea bags and I was mortified. I had put my tea bags in the compost and they don’t actually belong there. Of course, all brands are different so it’s worth checking the label but, in my experience, if a company is doing something they shouldn’t be doing, they won’t be very vocal about it. So, I changed to tea leaves. It took a while to get used to but I can’t ever imagine going back to tea bags.

My decision to move to loose tea leaves was further reaffirmed by a recent BBC programme called War on Plastic presented by Anita Rani and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. Anita investigated the claim of plastic in tea bags this with the help of the team at University of East Anglia (UEA). The team of scientists aimed to dissolve six of the UK’s biggest tea bag brands to see what was left. Some dissolved completely and some tea bags left, what looked like, a plastic skeleton.

There are even some tea bags that aren’t made of paper at all – they’re entirely plastic! A team in Canada conducted a study on these tea bags where billions of micro plastics and nano plastics were found in the cup of tea. How gross!

The thought of these floating around my cuppa makes me feel sick and with all the plastics found in the oceans, I wouldn’t be surprised if micro plastics have already entered our food chain. Who knows what damage these will all do to our fragile bodies.

I think I will stick to my loose tea leaves.

My Local Zero Waste Shop

Last year, I found out there was a local zero waste shop in my town called Bare Bazaar and I was really excited about it.

Since then, I had purchased some bits like a safety razor from them, ditching my plastic razor forever and made enquiries about refilling hand wash containers, hair shampoo and packaging free soap.

I wanted to wait until I had finished what I had so could take my empty containers for a refill. But I wasn’t able to so as we were in the grips of a pandemic with many businesses forced to close their doors. I had no option but to buy what I needed from the local supermarket. During the pandemic, I noticed many shops heavily increased their plastic use by wrapping certain items individually in plastic wrap, I was eager for shops like Bare Bazaar to get the green light to open.

Fast-forward to now and I’m happy to say, Bare Bazaar are open again. Hooray! They had moved locations from the last time I visited and needed a few bits so I went along to their new home.

Below is a picture of what I got. I kept hold of the empty herb jars so I handed them over and asked them to be half-filled. In the green container was handwash – which is Lime and Aloe Vera and smells amazing – I transferred that into my empty Carex pump container, a bar of shampoo and safety razors. I never tried shampoo bars so I wanted to give that a go.

Kati allowed me to take some pictures as I was eager to write a blog about it.

I absolutely adore this shop and It’s such a simple concept; pasta, lentils, rice, cereal, pules, herbs and so much more all stored in see through containers and jars. All you need to do is go along with your clean containers and let them know how much you want. They take contactless and it was easy peasy.

Not only are they zero plastic; you only pay for what you need. Can you imagine how much less waste there would be if we were free to buy exactly what we need?

In my opinion there is a need for more places like Bare Bazaar, not only is it plastic-free shopping, you’re supporting a local business and that, to me, is the icing on the cake.  Why don’t you have a look to see if you have a zero-waste shop in your local area.

If you would like to find out more, their FB page is https://www.facebook.com/barebazaar

Make Your Own Food Mesh Bags

Over the last year, whenever I go to the supermarket, I make a conscious effort to avoid fruit and veg in plastic wrapping. Apart from wanting to cut down on my overall plastic, this all started with some lemons!

I went into my local supermarket and, as well as making my usual purchases, I wanted a lemon. Yes, that’s correct, A lemon, just one. After searching carefully, wanting to ensure I hadn’t missed the loose lemons, all I could find was a netted bag of four lemons. What on earth would I do with the three other lemons? Why am I being forced to buy more than I needed. I got in a right huff, paid for my shopping and left…without any lemons, I might add.

Looking back on it, it sounds really silly getting annoyed about some lemons. I wanted a single lemon, surely, that’s not a lot to ask for?

Since then, whenever I’ve got to the supermarket and need fruit or veg, I buy them loose and leave them rolling around in my trolley because I haven’t got a little mesh bag to put them in.

Fast forward to now.

I needed some mesh bags for my shopping but reluctant to buy them brand new. I’ve been trying to buy second-hand where I could and I had an idea.

I went to my local charity shop and bought a pair of net curtains for £1.50p – bargain. I got home and out came my sewing machine.

And for my first attempt, these are the pictures. Not too shabby if I do say so myself!

Things I No Longer Buy

Over the past year, I’ve become more aware of my carbon footprint which has made me make some changes in my life. The things we buy have a carbon footprint; production, transport etc so I’ve stopped buying certain items I realised I personally didn’t need anymore

Plastic Bottles

I’ve actively refuse to buy drinks in a plastic bottle. I have quite a few reusable bottles and when I go out with my daughter, I make sure I fill up a bottle for her. She also has a water bottle she takes to school everyday. When my partner comes home from a football match after eating his fried chicken on the train, he always buys a plastic bottle on water. I’ve used this bottle for things like watering the plants in the house. Ideally, I would prefer if he took a water bottle with him…I’m working on it!

Shopping Plastic Bags

Reusable bags can be bought from anywhere and there is no excuse to have to purchase plastic carrier bags from the supermarket. It helps if you have a few bags in your handbag, car, workplace desk. They will always come in handy.

Strawberries

I know this is going to sound like a weird one but I love eating strawberries and they are always sold in the plastic tub with a sheet of bubble wrap at the bottom. I know strawberries can be easily bruised and need protection but this packaging really irks me. I started growing strawberries in my garden and although I won’t be able to eat strawberries all year round, when they’re in season, I nip out to the garden and pick what I want.

Clothes

The only time I buy clothes brand new is when I need underwear, which isn’t that often anyway. Some friends and family turn their noses up at charity shops but it’s never bothered me. Quite a few months ago I needed a hat a scarf, I washed my hat and shrunk, a lot! I found a hat and scarf for £2 each, bargain! I bought a pair of jeans for £3. I even buy furniture too.

Cling Film

I’ve stopped using cling film a while ago and I’m trying to get my Mum to do the same. For leftover food, I put the food in reusable plastic containers or reusable wraps. There are plenty on the market to choose from.

Dishcloths

I don’t buy new dishcloths anymore, I just chuck them in the washing machine with the rest of the washing.

Loose fruit and veg

I make a conscious effort to buy loose fruit and vegetables at the supermarket. I will never understand why buying four apples loose costs more than buying four apples in plastic wrap. I think it’s something to do with the grade of the item but I think it’s just a cop out. Give us more choice.

Making changes to our habits takes time, when we realise we’ve changed your shopping habits, we need to keep adding more. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

What things have you given up?

What I did for Plastic Free July 2020

On the run up to July 2020, I started noticing the hashtag #PlasticFreeJuly. For someone who has been making changes in an effort to reduce plastic use, I am embarrassed to admit I had never heard of them before.

Based in Australia, Plastic Free July started in 2011 and have an amazing website offering a wealth of ideas of how you can reduce your plastic use at home, school, work, businesses and within local communities. If you’re stuck of ideas, check out their ‘What Others Do’ page for some fantastic inspiration.

In light of this, I decided to take on the #PlasticFreeJuly challenge. I started looking at what changes I could make to reduce my plastic use.

Fruit and Veg

Every Tuesday and Thursday, there is a fruit and veg stall and when I need something, I buy from the stall (#SupportLocal). When I used to buy fruit and vegetables at the supermarket, I found it frustrating that the only options available to me was pre-packaged and, in most cases, more than what I needed. At least buying from a stall, I can buy what I needed. However, the downside I found was that they offer to package your items in a plastic carrier bag. Nope, not for me. I have a small bag that I leave in my bag I only use for loose food. I also started growing my own strawberries at home so no need to buy them.

Tea Bags

I’m a tea-loving Brit and after the shock of discovering that some teabags contain micro plastics, the thought of little bits of plastic swimming around in my tea made me feel a little queasy. In light of this new information, a solution was urgently needed. After some research, it turns out that there are some brands who advertise their products don’t contain plastic but one thing I’ve been aware of in the past, not necessarily by tea bag brands, is that when a company changes something about their product, they aren’t always as vocal or transparent as they should be about the changes. I guess, as a consumer, I’m not that trusting. Therefore, I found a place that sells loose tea. I had to buy a tea infuser and using loose tea did take a bit of getting used to but I don’t notice it anymore.

Waxing

I’ve been waxing since my teens and I’ve always used wax strips available in shops, yes, that ones that can’t be recycled. So, I decided to convert to sugar waxing, however, I don’t think I use sugar waxing how it was intended. I appears that you should roll up a ball, smooth it on your skin and pull it off quickly, I found that hurts WAY TOO MUCH. I quickly realised that I needed strips of some sort so I cut up a cotton shirt my partner no longer needed into strips and used them instead. I’m not going to lie, it still hurts but I don’t feel like my skin is being ripped off like shop bought wax strips and it’s made of natural ingredients; sugar, lemon, salt and water. It’s a lot cheaper too, to wax both of my legs cost me eighty pence. Bargain and nothing to landfill!

I’m really happy about the changes I’ve made so far and I won’t be waiting until next July to make more changes, I will continue to do so until I can reduce my plastic use as much as I possibly can. What changes did you make for #PlasticFreeJuly?

Are we really killing the planet?

Before you start attacking me, just hear me out.

Due to human activity, we are accelerating climate change, I believe this to be true. Global warming has occurred in Earth’s history, the difference is that we, humans, are accelerating it. But I began looking at it differently since I started studying for an BSc in Environmental Science.

We aren’t killing the planet; we are killing life on the planet. Two very different things but just as serious.

The earth is 4.6 billion years old and has survived five mass extinctions:

  1. Ordovician–Silurian extinction – 439 million years ago
  2. Late Devonian extinction – 364 million years ago
  3. Permian–Triassic extinction – 251 million years ago
  4. Triassic–Jurassic extinction – 199 million to 214 million years ago
  5. Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction – 65 million years ago (Asteroid)

From my studies, the third mass extinction, Permian–Triassic extinction, which was the deadliest, wiped out about 75% of life on land and 95% of life in the ocean. 95%, that’s huge! Especially since life actually began in the oceans and made its way onto land. Despite this devastation, some form of life was still able to continue and evolved. The fifth mass extinction that wiped out the dinosaurs wasn’t as devastating as the third one and that was due to an asteroid colliding with earth.

Whenever the planet has experienced an extinction, Earth has always been able to regenerate itself and there is no reason to believe it can’t do that again. However, I do wonder whether humans will be part of the future. Although we are an arrogant species wielding the superiority sword, we are also incredibly fragile. A little fact I learned during my studies; 95% of ALL life that has EVER lived on earth is extinct.

It is believed by some that we are in the sixth extinction event, Holocene extinction. As our CO2 parts per million is at the highest level than at any recorded time in the past, something has to give. We are on a path of destruction and the crazy thing is that not everyone is on board with this.

We humans really do need to change our habits instead of playing lip service. I don’t believe we, humans, can stop the sixth extinction. However, we do have the capability to slow if we all worked together. The painful truth is that the officials we elect have so much power and are able to make colossal changes but they just aren’t doing enough. In June 2019, the UK became the first major economy to in the world to pass a law requiring all greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050 and we’re not even the richest economy in the world!

I believe in science, and no one knows how this is going to play out. Scientists are providing us with their best predictions based on various models but these are being readjusted because certain factors are accelerating the problem. There will always be variable factors; number of people living on the planet, the next pandemic and the resulting loss of life.

I’m still at the early stages in my educational journey, maybe my views may change along the way. That’s what I want out of my education; learning, listening to different opinions and forming my own conclusions based on the facts in front of me.

Geologists can tell a lot about history from rock layers built up over millions and millions of years. In the very distant future when more intelligent species start investigating the planet’s past, they will find our legacy in the rocks, a thin layer of plastic pinpointing the age of humans.

How Long Does Plastic Last?

I recently saw pictures on the news of all the litter (most of it plastic) left on some UK beaches after a week long heatwave…during a pandemic!

Along with many other people, I was dismayed and disgusted at the mess left behind by a lot of the beach visitors.

The only way to describe it… a sea of plastic on the sand.

As plastic has been woven into every part of our lives, a fair assumption that majority of the rubbish is likely to be plastic; food packaging, plastic bags, plastic bottles and how much of this rubbish has already made its way into the sea?

When our everyday rubbish enters the sea, how long does it take to decompose in the ocean? This doesn’t include the damage caused by the microplastics during decomposition.

According the the Whale and Dolphin Conservation, the below shows how long it takes for certain items to decompose.

HOW LONG DOES PLASTIC LAST?

There are some images of wildlife being tangled up in our rubbish in Greenpeace’s website.

The plastic doesn’t only affect the wildlife, it will also enter our food chain, if it hasn’t already. Plastic bags break into smaller pieces and eventually become micro plastics which will eventually be ingested by fish. It’s inevitable this plastic will wind up on our plates, but that doesn’t seem to be a concern.

I wonder whether this issue will be taken more seriously when the micro plastics we ingest will start affecting our health? What could microplastics do to the human body?

If you’re interested in reading about what I’m doing to be greener, check out my blog and if you’re interested in signing up to my newsletter, click here. I promise not to spam you.

Alternatives to Cling Film

Majority of homes in the UK will have cling film in their kitchens. Used to wrap sandwiches and cover left over food, we’ve been using this product for decades. It’s not a friend to the environment and there are alternatives out there.

What exactly is cling film?

Cling film is a single use plastic that cannot be recycled. As with other plastics, it is harmful to the environment. As it breaks down, the particles get smaller but will never fully disappear. The smaller the particle, the more chance of it being ingested by animals and even a possibility of it entering our food chain.

Cling film is usually made from Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) and there has been some concern about these materials attaching to food and drink. It’s believed the main issue arises when it’s heated up in the microwave.

I stopped using cling film about a year ago and although I’ve still got a roll in my kitchen drawer, the thought of using it makes me a little queasy. I’m not sure what I will do with it but it’s in the drawer not getting in anyone’s way.

What are the alternatives

Lunch box of fruit

Another thing I’ve done before is to cover the dish containing the leftovers with a plate or a bowl. I’ve done this for years and I know my mum does too. The benefit of this is that you can stack another dish on top.

Something that has appeared in the last few years are silicone lids. I have never tried these myself but I’ve heard some really good things about them. They come in different colours, shapes and sizes allowing them to cover dishes in various sizes. As someone who hasn’t tried them yet, I can’t personally recommend them but the small downside I can see is that you can’t stack on top of them. Although, that is a small price to pay for saving the environment.

I have been told wax paper is a brilliant alternative to cling film. It works very well with wrapping cold foods, but don’t use it for anything hot, the wax will melt.

Bees wax wraps

The long term

Not using cling film may seem small, but the difference it will make to the environment is huge. It really does matter. Wildlife won’t get wrapped up in them and suffocate, if they blow into rivers and eventually drift into the sea, marine life won’t confuse them with food. Cling film may not cost a lot of money but by using the alternatives, you will be saving yourself some money in the long-run and make a massive difference to the environment.

Our Plastic Problem

A few months ago, I watched a film on The Discovery Channel which made me feel very sad. It was aired on Earth Day 22nd April 2020 called The Story of Plastic.

We are familiar with images of where plastic ends up; in rivers, on landfill, in the oceans and wrapped around sea life, but it’s not often we see where it comes from.

One thing that was very striking to me was that a lot of leftover plastic used by richer countries are shipped to the poorer countries to deal with, we are looking at them to sort out our mess without taking ownership of our own rubbish. I was acutely aware of the rubbish being sent to Asian countries but I wasn’t aware of how much. Recently, China have said they don’t want anymore and the problem has been dumped onto other smaller nations in the region.

These plastics are shipped off to Asian countries and end up polluting their waterways endangering wildlife and drinking water or burned in incinerators which brings a whole host of health implications to local residents; shorter life expectancy, skin conditions and respiratory conditions to name but a few. Imagine living next to an incinerator?

It appears the producers of plastics are shifting the blame onto the consumers because we are not disposing of them correctly. By shifting the blame onto the consumer, it eliminates the company’s ownership of the plastic problem ‘I didn’t use it, not my problem’. According to the film, 14% of plastics are recycled and a mere 2% is recycled effectively, which means it’s recycled into something as usual as it previously was. What we’re not being told is that majority of plastic degrades and cannot be reused into something useful second time around.

The film also focused on the source. As 99% of all plastic is from fossil fuels, the corporations behind plastics are the same who drill of oil and gas; Shell, Exxon and others. Due to some of their extraction plants being located in or close to residential areas, the impact on the health of local residents are almost inevitable.

Who is to blame?

I don’t know if it’s constructive to assign blame because they are both reliant on each other; these companies produce the products and we consume them. If one side changes, the other side will have no option but to change. This brings us to the introduction of the UK’s plastic bag charge. A 5 pence levy was introduced in October 2015 and on 31st March 2020, parliament released a report stating sales of carrier bags in major supermarkets have dropped 87%. Could this have happened without parliament introducing a levy? I don’t think so. As we all know, if there is going to be any kind of substantial change, it really needs to come from government. In April 2020, the Evening Standard reported the UK government decided to postpone the ban on single-use plastic straws, cotton buds and stirrers from April to October

A Defra spokesperson said:

Given the huge challenges posed to businesses by coronavirus, we have confirmed we will delay the introduction of our ban on plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds until October 2020.

We remain absolutely committed to turning the tide on the widespread use of single-use plastics and the threat they pose to our natural environment. This ban is yet another measure to clamp down on unnecessary plastic so we can better protect our precious wildlife and leave our environment in a better state for future generations.

 Does it sound like there’s more to this?

Why are companies not made to deal with the problem?

One of the most frustrating things I keep asking myself is why aren’t companies like Procter and Gamble, Unilever and Nestle (the three companies singled out in the film) aren’t being forced to find a solution to this. Surely we need to stop waste from entering the system in the first place, I don’t think recycling is really the answer. The film talks from the point of view from United States but I’m interested in the point of view for the United Kingdom.

The decisions made locally have an impact globally.

How can we live plastic free?

This thought kept cropping up for me throughout this film; how can we live plastic free? Is it even possible? Without realising, we have become so used to plastic that we use it everyday. If you look around your home, I bet it wouldn’t take long before you find something that is made out of plastic, this is worse in bathrooms and kitchens.

Can the plastic container be repurposed?

Ways to ditch the plastic

In 2018, Prime minister at the time, Theresa May, pledged to eradicate all avoidable plastic waste in the UK by 2042. This was their commitment to the environment for the next 25 years.

First thing that comes to mind is why does it take 25 years? The plastic problem is happening now and a solution is needed now.

What are you doing to reduce your plastic? 

The Story of Plastic

The Story of Plastic was aired in the UK on Earth Day 22nd April 2020. I found the film to be incredibly moving giving us the story of not just where plastic ends up but also where it begins.

Since the 1950s, plastic was seen as an incredible invention with multiple uses and since then it has weaved itself into every aspect of our lives. We are starting to discover the true cost of this material that never actually goes away.

We have been encouraged to separate our rubbish and ensure we recycle as much as we possibly can. As well as metals, glass and paper, we put our plastic in our recycling bins in good faith believing it is being taken away and something useful is made from it, after all, that’s what the word recycle means, doesn’t it? This film shows us what happens to our plastic once it has been collected from our bins.

The focus at the start of the plastic journey was a plastic processioning plant in Texas, USA, where toxic chemicals are released into the local water and air. Tiny plastic pellets end up into local rivers and will eventually be ingested by local marine life which will inevitably enter the food chain. The cancer rates and health issues in the local areas are shockingly high; child leukemia, infertility and respiratory issues.

What I found shocking was that a product sold in a European country displays that it is recyclable but the same product sold in an Asian country in sachets which cannot be recycled. Decisions made in these boardrooms are adding to the plastic problem faced in Asia and companies should be responsible for installing the necessary waste infrastructure.

What is plastic recycling?

The film shows plastic sorted from India and the Philippines discussing the issues faced when it comes to recycling. One point that struck me was that the whole recycling industry is only possible because there is poverty in the world, who else will do it? Most of the plastic from the West is shipped to Asian countries to deal with and it is hand sorted. Unlike other materials, there are around 80 different categories plastic falls into and therefore the sorting process is a time-consuming one.

When a plastic is sorted and can be ‘recycled’, it is washed, melted down and chopped into plastic pellets; the dirty water used to clean the plastic is dumped into a local waterway leading to pollution, the melting process emits harmful chemicals to the workers, who do not have any protective clothing. Incinerators come with their own set of problems too; skin rashes, increase in cancer rates and other health issues.

It turns out that plastic recycling is a myth.

Who does the buck stop with?

Fossil fuel companies have aired their concerns about the pollution caused by plastic but they seem to prefer shifting the blame onto consumers rather than admitting their products are ill-designed. The film shows that these companies aim their products towards the Asian market flooding them with single-use plastics forcing them to be reliant on these products while hiding behind the excuse of a rise in demand.

I would highly recommend everyone watching this film. The plastic issue is everyone’s problem, not just Asian countries (where the west are dumping their plastic).

If you’re interested in this eye-opening film, click below for the trailer