Reduce, Recycle, Reuse.

The arrival of Covid-19 has brought about many unforeseen changes in our daily lives. By necessity we have had to accept we cannot always have the things we think we need straight away. Sometimes we have had to go without, or find an alternative which does just as well. Apart from the amazing support of family, friends and neighbours, many of us have also discovered the importance of the great number of local shops and delivery services which responded during lockdown and have kept us going so magnificently. So this is a time, perhaps, to look to the future, to do things differently, and better. We do not always have to leap into our car and rush off to a supermarket or shopping centre every time we want something. Aside from online shopping, those local services can bring us our pet foods, veg boxes, fresh bread, and so much more, delivered to our doorsteps. All part of the local economy and community.

Something else which seems to have occurred during lockdown is that people became aware of how much plastic waste was piling up in their homes, particularly in relation to food packaging. This was probably more noticeable than usual because many of us used the time to have a good clear out, and then found some of the usual recycling facilities were closed.  A recent detailed analysis of supermarket single-use plastic, and a BBC1 programme shown at the beginning of September 2020 (War on Plastic - The Fight Goes On) highlighted the truly staggering amount of plastic of all kinds used in food and other product packaging. Some of it is recyclable, but with less than half of UK's single-use plastic being recycled, a considerable quantity is getting blown from landfill sites into rivers and the sea, damaging wildlife and contaminating the countryside.  All the supermarkets have stated they are committed to reducing the use of plastic, but often then risk replacing it with packaging that is even worse for the environment. The problem may seem overwhelming, but we can play our part by choosing to buy, so far as is possible, goods which are either unpackaged, or have minimal, and clearly recyclable packaging.

2021.06 Plastic Free Reno Wholefoods 5sm
Choose plastic free. Photo: A Rae

 Teabags are an example where this can be achieved. Most teabags bought in the UK contain plastic, and are definitely not biogradable or recyclable. Currently PG Tips, Clipper, Pukka and Co-op own brand teabags are plastic free; Twinings, Tetley and Yorkshire Tea say they plan to switch to plastic-free by the end of the year. In the meantime we can encourage them by buying only the plastic-free brands. If you simply cannot do without your favourite tea tipple then be even more radical, buy loose tea (usually in a cardboard box or single bag), use a tea infuser or a teapot with a strainer. Less packaging altogether, more flexible with regard to strength and great for your compost heap.

One of the things for which I was truly grateful during lockdown was the unfailing arrival at our house (well, actually at the bottom of our drive) of our twice weekly milk delivery in glass bottles. The dairy Milk and More provided a sterling service throughout, and will deliver all kinds of other products, including soya, almond milk, juices, etc. Yes, it is a bit more expensive, but so effort free and a great deal more environmentally friendly than milk in plastic containers. I have not been able to find out how many plastic milk bottles are used annually in the UK, but the overall number of plastic bottles discarded here amounts to an eye-watering 13 billion plus per year at a conservative estimate.

One reason supermarkets have increased their use of plastic so much is that many people are buying "bags for life" each time they go shopping. Some 1.5 billion were sold last year - 54 for every UK household according to a report by Greenpeace and the Environmental Investigation Agency. As the stronger bags use more plastic than the single-use ones this is causing even more environmental damage. Perhaps a large increase in price is needed to remind us shoppers to take our own reusable bags.

And then we come to the vexed question of the overpackaging of fruit and vegetables. At long last Long Stratton Co-op is providing free reusable fruit and veg bags, as are some of the big supermarkets (not always free though, Sainsbury's). But the selection of loose produce is pitifully small. Last Christmas six of the best-selling "festive vegetables" were sold loose at selected branches of Waitrose; sales went up by 20% compared with the previous year. This was regarded as a great success, with loose produce making a big comeback. But why only six items? What about virtually all of the winter fruit and veg, which can so easily be carried in simple produce bags, made from string, cotton, bamboo, canvas, all endlessly reusable and biodegradable?

At times seem as if we face an overwhelming task in trying to reduce the amount of plastics in our live, but we all have a part to play in this; the more we ask supermarkets for loose or simple packaging the more notice they and their suppliers are likely to take. They want to keep our custom, and as customers we are in a position to let them know what we want. By making small changes in the way we shop, collectively we can make a big difference.

Many brand name kitchen and bathroom cleaners are over packaged in plastic containers and wrappers. Alongside vinegar, which comes in glass bottles, good old-fashioned bicarbonate of soda, soda crystals and citric acid do a similar job, come in simple bags or cardboard boxes, and are half the price; they will also keep your electric appliances running smoothly in this hard water area. Beekays in Long Stratton stocks them all.

It seems that some supermarkets are beginning to offer bottle refill services, but not any that I have found in this area. However, locally The Natural Food Store in Diss and Reno Wholefoods in Wymondham both offer refill services for a range of environmentally friendly cleaning and bathroom products, plus a good selection of simply packaged or loose wholefoods. Meanwhile, we can keep asking the supermarkets when they are going to provide refill services, to keep pushing the message that we, the customers, want them to cut back on plastics.

Here are some other ways we can reduce our plastic usage: avoid buying bottles or cans in plastic shrink wrap: consider buying one big bottle instead of small fizzy drink or juice bottles, and decant it at home: only buy multipacks in cardboard: always ask for home deliveries to be as plastic free and bagless as possible: when going out, take your own refillable water bottle and reusable drinking cup.

And don't forgot your shopping bags!

October 2020

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