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Thursday, 26 January 2017

Plastic Ocean

On Tuesday, I was invited to speak along with a fellow zero waster, Hannah, at The Oxford Waste Society.

The theme of the talk was cutting down on plastic packaging. Inspired by the horrific facts that she learnt about plastic pollution in our oceans, Hannah took on the challenge of living for a year without using any single use plastic. My own inspiration for my family's plastic free year was a little closer to home. I was upset by the amount of plastic waste in the hedgerows and ditches in our lovely Oxfordshire countryside.

It was great to hear about Hannah's plastic free experience and to see all of the life choices that I have made being embraced by someone else. It was really interesting to hear that even though Hannah has now finished her challenge year she plans to continue, as we have.

"How can I possibly go back?" she said.

I know that we have slipped back in some ways. There were things that were hard or not viable to buy without packaging.  The one think I can think of is frozen peas. We tried to grow peas in our plastic free year but they got devastated by some high winds when they were still not strong enough.
I don't know why I don't want to give them up, but I don't.

The other thing that has crept back into our household is packaged crisps. I have almost managed to give them up. But even I cracked last weekend when Mr Pitt opened a packet of cheesy biscuits and I found myself picking at them.

At this point, I should say that our plastic free year wasn't supposed to be about giving up. It was about finding alternatives that were not packaged. We experimented with making home made crisps from vegetable peel and that works well. I managed to switch to snacking on dried fruit and nuts which I bought unpackaged from SESI Oxford. I haven't stopped doing that. When I  find myself nibbling away at packaged snacks at events I stop.
Home made butternut squash crisps

So reflecting on my packaged snacks nibbling last Sunday at home made me think. When you make a conscious decision about something you feel strongly about, it isn't that hard to stick to it. So I have munched my last packaged snack. That's it. I am done with them.

I can't speak for the rest of the family, but I am going to be strong willed and stick to my principles and I will draw support from Hannah's "How can I possibly go back?"

My single-use plastic collected from one year
When we did our plastic free year we ended up with one "plastic cat-food bag" full of single-use plastic and my view was that we hadn't succeeded in our challenge.  It is only afterwards in talking about it at events like the Oxford Waste Society meeting, that I have realised that what we achieved was in any way surprising.  Imagine if this was the amount of plastic produced in every household in the UK.  It is hard to remember how much plastic we produced before the plastic-free year (2015), but I would guess I may have produced four or five times that amount. I didn't measure our plastic from last year but taking a guess I would say it was probably only double. So I'm wondering if seeing and measuring waste in this way has any effect on consumption.

I had a realisation at the beginning of the year that the only thing likely to be in my bin at the end of the year is crisp packets and the non recyclable wrappers from a bag of Cadbury's Roses that were brought to our house at Christmas.

I still think that this waste will be less than an old style plastic carrier bag full over a whole year.  I plan to check, so I am keeping all the wrappers that are non-recyclable in one of my (recyclable, but also reusable for many purposes) cat-food bags to see what we gather in a year.

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