Peckham-based writer Tom Banham undertook our challenge: go a week without any single-use plastic. Here’s how he got on…
With our oceans filling up with plastic (by some estimates, there’s enough in there to cover every beach on Earth to a depth of 30cm), it’s high time we gave the stuff up.
I like fish, the sea and David Attenborough. I use a tote bag and figure I can give up takeaway coffee. At first glance, I reckoned I can make the switch to a single-use plastic-free lifestyle with nothing but the weight of my smugness on my mind.
But in reality, that wasn’t the case.
Admittedly, I went hard on this. If you set me the challenge of no single-use plastic (because that should be the first to go and a plastic levy can only do so much), I’m going to go full throttle.
Turns out there’s a middle ground to be found, and things you can do that are relatively easy, have an impact and don’t require you to beg your dog to squat over a cardboard box to go ‘busy’.
Here’s what I learned…
1. The easy stuff is easy, the rest isn’t
Armed with a Brita fill&go filter bottle and a tote bag, I went in thinking this would be a doddle.
But I only completed two full days without any single-use plastic, both of which involved skipping meals and showers.
My office has lunch delivered – every day, it turned up in plastic packaging destined for landfill.
My shampoo, shower gel and toothpaste? All packaged in plastic.
On-the-go food was a constant struggle – until I discovered a neat correlation between (un)healthiness and environmental impact. Pizza and burgers come in cardboard; salad comes in plastic. Next time you Deliveroo, think of the fish.
2. Pets mean plastic
I failed this challenge at 6am on the very first morning when my dog squatted in the park and I realised that there’s no viable alternative to the plastic poop bag.
Even biodegradable bags aren’t so eco-friendly, since landfills are so low in oxygen that instead of breaking down, they mummify.
Fido also went hungry that morning, since his usual food came plastic-wrapped (unlike the cat’s tinned tuna, maybe because he has a vested interest in maintaining a healthy fish supply).
We switched to kibble, a diet shift that swiftly messed up doggo’s stomach. At which point I discovered that dog’s muck will eat through a paper bag within 30 seconds.
And that all shoe-cleaning products come in disposable plastic packaging.
3. Meat is environmental murder
Raising and slaughtering animals is obviously not the best thing for the planet.
But it’s also near-impossible to find meat that, like Twin Peaks’ Laura Palmer, isn’t dead and wrapped in plastic.
The deli counter seemed a safe bet, but even then they’ll bag your food up in the bad stuff.
Supermarkets refused to play ball when I brought my own Tupperware. Meanwhile, my local butcher was more amenable, but also shut whenever I wasn’t at work.
It ended up a very veg-heavy week, although even the local greengrocer couldn’t supply kale or spinach as nature intended.
Even worse was that everything that makes veg better – cheese, cream, even salt – came in plastic packaging.
4. Finding alternatives is kind of fun
At the gym, I swigged proudly from my fill&go filter bottle.
At home, my partner was rather taken with the new Brita water jug in our fridge which filters tap water. And we’re both fascinated by the fact 55% of all bottled water consumers buy it to drink at home, with their bottles often ending up in landfills.
In the shower, I felt eco-wholesome after Google told me Lush has a line of ‘naked’ products that come free of packaging.
And I discovered a zero-waste shop where you can buy loose pulses and dry goods while I was on my way to work (cheers, gentrification), and stocked up feeling weirdly more connected with the area I live in and considerably less guilty than the previous week.
5. Avoiding plastic is hard, but it matters
My week without single-use plastic ended up costing me an extra £86 in eat-in lunches, fancy meat, naked grooming products and eco animal food.
With the supermarket out, I spent hours shuttling between shops, even trekking to a health food store where you decant pulses into bring-your-own boxes.
The worst aspect was washing my bin out every day, because there’s no substitute for the plastic bag (and no, a carrier bag doesn’t count as recycling).
But once I’d found where to buy stuff, my mission got a lot easier. By the end of the week, people at work were asking where they could find no-plastic options.
Considering there’s already around eight million tons of plastic going into our oceans each year, a little inconvenience seems a small price to pay.
Granted, avoiding the stuff completely is almost impossible, but cutting down just takes a bit of planning. Although I still haven’t quite figured out a solution for the dog.
For inspiration on how you can reduce your single-use plastic habits, shop the Brita range now.