Plastic is everywhere.
From takeaways and food packaging to parcels and cleaning products, it’s pretty hard to avoid the stuff.
It’s become such a part of modern life that it’s easy to forget exactly how much we use, and most of us think that someone else will deal with it once the green bags are taken away.
But how much do we actually use in an average week?
To see exactly how much plastic one person gets through in seven days, I kept every piece of plastic I would have chucked in the green bin for one week and documented the amount each day for the WalesOnline Wales Against Plastics campaign.
Although I thought I was pretty good at avoiding plastic, it turns out one person goes through a surprisingly high amount.
By the end of the week I ended up with 50(!) pieces of plastic – from bags to online shopping packaging and food containers.
It may not seem like a big number, but on average that would mean I’d use 2600 a year.
This is the full list of everything I used in one week:
- One milk carton
- Three bread bags
- Two ASOS delivery bags
- Two plastic shopping bags
- One roll-on deodorant
- Two shampoo bottles
- One butter tub
- Two cheese bag packaging
- One sauce bottle
- Seven coffee pods
- One takeaway coffee lid
- One Strawberry tub
- One packet of cleaning wipes
- 15 pieces of takeaway packaging
- And 10 random pieces
This is how my plastic use unfolded throughout the week and how I could have cut down.
On the first day of keeping a list of the plastic I used, I’d already amassed a handful of food packaging. It probably wouldn’t have seemed that much on its own, but looking at it all together at the end of the day was pretty shocking.
One habit I knew would quickly fill up the bag of plastic was the coffee pods I use every morning. They taste good and are way more convenient when you’re getting ready in the morning – but are pretty terrible for the environment.
You can get aluminium versions, and there are ways to get them recycled if you send them back to the manufacturer, but in most places across Wales they can’t be recycled.
My first day in work of the week and before I’d even got to the office, a big milk bottle was already added to the collection.
Although they can be recycled in Cardiff and the vast majority are, they still add the wider issue of our reliance on plastic.
A 2017 government report called ‘Turning Back the Plastic Tide’ pointed out that UK households use about 13 billion plastic bottles a year, counting milk and other drinks plus toiletries etc.
By Tuesday I began to realise just how hard it would be to completely avoid using plastic.
One bread bag, an empty tub of butter and an empty bottle of sauce were all added to the bag in one day. Although getting bread from a bakery wouldn’t be too inconvenient, it’d be a lot harder to pick up butter or sauce that didn’t come in a plastic container.
Wednesday was the only day out of the seven that I didn’t use a single piece of plastic that would have ended up in the bin.
It wasn’t a decision made on purpose, it just happened on accident mainly through a combination of making lunch at home and then having leftovers later on for dinner, and using an aluminium coffee pod in the morning.
Thursday saw a return to using up plastic, this time mainly from toiletries.
By the end of the day two empty shampoo bottles and a finished roll-on deodorant were in the bag.
Much like some of the food packaging, it’d be a lot harder to eliminate this plastic waste.
Although shampoo alternatives are available, like most of us, the convenience of being able to pick some up in a plastic bottle from almost anywhere makes it the go to choice.
After a long week in work, Friday arrived. And it was time for a takeaway.
A nice treat that most of us indulge in at the end of the week, but it was single handedly the biggest addition to the week’s worth of plastic by a mile.
The meal for two racked up 15 pieces of plastic that once finished with would have ended up straight in the bin.
Alongside the various plastic tubs for each item of food, it came with several smaller packages full of sauce and condiments that we never asked for, didn’t use, and threw away immediately.
Although ordering takeaway is always going to be a less eco-friendly choice for dinner, cutting down on these little things would probably make a big difference overall.
Saturday saw a few more coffee pods added to the list, and it was also time to pick up a package from ASOS.
It was only a pretty small item, but it came in a huge plastic bag inside of another plastic bag.
Internet shopping is again a part of modern life that’ll probably not go away, but just like the takeaway it feels like how much is used could probably be reduced.
With a couple more bits of food packaging added on the last day of keeping track, I’d just about filled a whole green bag full of plastic.
After amassing the bag full of rubbish, I asked someone who knows a lot more about eco-living than me on how I could have cut down.
Rod Thomas, founder of Viva Organic, Cardiff’s first zero-waste shop, gave me a list of alternatives and pointed out exactly where I was going wrong.
Rod said: “We tend to buy things in plastic when we are on the go and have not planned ahead.
“Meal prep and bring a pack lunch to work. Choose local independent food retailers over supermarkets, such as green grocers, butchers, local markets as this food will mostly be loose and unpackaged, you are supporting local businesses that tend to care more about the produce too.”
Here is how I could have avoided some of the plastic throughout the week:
Milk cartons – You could see if the milk man could deliver glass bottles to your door.
Switch to a nut milk, better for the environment. You could make it at home, you’ll need a blender and nut bag to strain the nuts.
Bread bags – Buy fresh bread, unpackaged, at the bakery they’ll even slice it for you.
We stock sourdough loaves unpackaged. You could reuse your plastic bread bags to carry fresh bread in.
ASOS delivery bags – Buying online is very convenient but you cannot control the large amount of packaging used, or the type of packaging.
Most tend to use plastic and will not take back the packaging and reuse it.
To avoid this it’s best to buy off the peg that way you’ll have no plastic packaging, leave the hanger behind and they can reuse it.
Plastic shopping bags – Carry your own shopping bags when you go out shopping so you don’t keep buying new ones unnecessarily.
Roll-on deodorant – Buy natural deodorant in a tin or cardboard tube.
No nasty chemicals and no plastic waste.
Shampoo bottles – Reuse your plastic bottles buy refilling with liquid shampoo / conditioners and body wash at Viva Organic.
Or alternatively use a a natural soap bar and a natural shampoo bar for your hair.
These are full of essential oils and no harmful chemicals.
Butter tub – Buy a butter block in paper wrapper and store in a butter dish.
Cheese bag packaging – Buy loose cheese from the cheese counter at a supermarket or go to a local market to buy your cheese. They’ll wrap it in grease proof paper and if they don’t you could bring your own, or use a reusable food wrap.
Sauce bottle – Buy sauce bottles in glass jars and then reuse the glass bottle for storage of things like nuts and seeds, don’t buy squirty sauce bottles. Or better still make your own sauces.
Nespresso coffee pods – Switch to an eco brand of coffee pod. Use Eden Project Capsules that are compatible, and 100% compostable, Waitrose stock them.
Nespresso (Nestle) do not have a green track record. The problem with the pod system is it’s wasteful and designed for convience.
The more convenient usually = more wasteful. An alternative would be to buy loose coffee from a local coffee shop.
It’ll super fresh, you can buy only as much as you need. Use a stove top coffee maker, French press, or Aeropress.
Takeaway coffee lid – Use a reusable coffee cup and take it with you on the go.
Don’t keep buying coffee cups even if they are compostable. It’s a waste of energy and you need to put it in the right bin, usually only at the coffee shop.
Strawberry tub – Berries are a tough one to avoid plastic. They are easy to grow, if you have the garden space you could grow your own.
They’ll taste so good, can be chemical free and no plastic container. Some markets, sell them in cardboard punnets. Go to a local strawberry farm and do strawberry picking, fresh strawberries no plastic.
Packet of cleaning wipes – No excuse to use cleaning wipes. Use an old cotton t shirt, cut into squares and store them in a bag, wet as needed, or prior to your outing.
Store the used wipes and chuck them in the wash at home. The plastic fibres in cleaning wipes are finding there way into the oceans as plastic micro fibres damaging the environment.
Takeaway packaging – Reuse the takeaway containers you do have.
Use them to organise your garage or shed/ attic. Great for batteries/ screws etc.
Choose a takeaway that doesn’t use plastic in their packaging. Pizza comes in a cardboard box.
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