I TRIED GOING PLASTIC-FREE FOR A FORTNIGHT: MY EXPERIENCE

Plastic-free July
With Plastic Free July right around the corner, I thought it would be good to have a bit of a practice run to see how I'd cope living without plastic. Most people are aware that reducing their single-use plastic consumption is important but might not be sure of the reason behind it. So, why should we be reducing our use of plastic?
Here are just a few examples of plastic's effect on our planet:

- Plastic pollution is one of the largest contributors to climate change

- Plastic does not break down, making it a permanent feature on our land and in our sea

- Single-use plastic makes up 50% of all plastic produced

- Only 9% of all plastic gets recycled

- It's deadly for marine life

- 1 in 3 fish caught for human consumption contains plastic which can cause cancers

- Marine plants produce 70% of our oxygen which we are damaging through plastic consumption

Living in the North of England in a town where sustainability is top of a lot of people's priorities, I thought that going plastic free for a week would be a breeze (can you tell that I'm about to say it was not a breeze?). At the end of my first week, I realised that I had 'failed' on quite a few occasions and I learnt that one of the keys to being plastic-free is organisation, so I gave it a go for another week. If you want to find out how I got on and what I would recommend to those wanting to cut out plastic from their lives (even just a little bit) then here is a breakdown of my experience.
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Image by Christopher Vega
Supermarkets just love plastic wrapping

Keep the plastic bags and re-use them

I was caught short on my first day when I realised that I didn't have any burger buns for the black bean burgers I'd made. Aside from the fact that I was disappointed that the usually-organised-me had missed it off the shopping list, I knew that, by this time of day (it was about 6pm), the local shop would not have any loose burger buns left. If I'd realised my mistake earlier in the day, I would likely have been able to pick up some bread buns from the bakery section of the shop which aren't wrapped in plastic. Instead, I was left with the plastic-wrapped option.

I understand why packets of 4 bread buns are wrapped in something (it protects the bread from getting squashed) but why does it need to be plastic? Especially plastic that can't be recycled?

A tip from me in this situation would be to keep the plastic wrapping and re-use it as a plastic bag when you need to cover over leftovers or take some loose food somewhere with you. That way, it's not a complete waste.
Unavoidable plastic

Whilst doing my weekly food shop, I tried to not buy plastic as much as possible; Lidl have a great bakery section and I managed to get some bread that wasn't wrapped in plastic. However, one thing that I can never get my head around is those little plastic covers you get on pots of houmous (like yoghurt pots). There is already a plastic lid there so why do we need another layer of plastic in between it? The plastic tubs can be washed out and recycled but these plastic covers cannot. As a houmous-fiend, I would love the option to just take my own container to the supermarket and decant the amount of houmous I'd like into my container to get rid of the plastic tubs altogether.

Be organised

As a continuation from my rant about supermarkets and their plastic obsession, I think that buying some plastic from the shop can be avoided with a little preparation.
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Photography by Kwon Junho
Pre-plan one-off items you'll need

On Saturday, I woke up after going to the pub the night before and really craved a smoothie (hey, everyone's hangover cure is different!). But the only ingredient I had in the house for this was a banana so I popped to the local shop to see if I could find some berries that were loose. I knew that, if the market was on that day then I'd be able to find loose berries no problem. But, alas, I got to the shop and the options available were berries in a plastic tub with a plastic tear off lid or frozen berries in a plastic packet. As the frozen berries were better value, that is what I opted for. See, if I'd pre-empted my fragile Saturday morning state, I would have gone to the market on market day and got some loose berries but, again, I clearly had not got into the full swing of the plastic-free mindset just yet.
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Photography by Mathilde Langevin
Carry a re-usable bag

As I usually carry a tote bag with me on all occasions, just in case I need to pick anything up, I was slightly annoyed that I'd managed to forget it on this occasion. However, Holland and Barrett didn't serve me up a plastic carrier bag. Nope, they had got the memo and offered me a paper bag. Result!

Be especially organised on holiday

One area in which it's trickier to reduce your plastic consumption is on holiday, especially if you're staying in a hotel and not self-catered accommodation. We wanted to save a bit of money for lunch one day and just get something quick but cheap, so we headed to the Co-op. Their lunch selection is a plastic nightmare. If we'd been a bit more organised, we could have got to the supermarket earlier and picked up something from the bakery but, you guessed it, we were not. So, in order to fuel ourselves for an afternoon of exploring we had to opt for plastic covered pasta and sandwiches. You live and learn.
Take food with you, in case of future hunger

A situation which again could have been avoided if I'd been more organised was when I went to Manchester to meet a friend for lunch. I should have foreseen that, as we were going to be having lunch first and then wander around shops and go to the pub that I might be a bit peckish by the time it came to 6pm. In order to satisfy my rumbling stomach before I got on the train home, I went to M&S who, like the Co-op, love plastic-wrapped sandwiches. This could have been avoided if I'd pre-empted my hunger and made a sandwich at home and brought it with me.

Remember your re-usable cups and bottles

A small success story was that, during a hike to a secret beach (that's right, in the middle of the Yorkshire countryside!), I brought a re-usable water bottle and a flask of tea to enjoy at the top, given that I knew we'd be thirsty. There wouldn't be any option to buy drinks at the beach because it was very small so there wouldn't be any unnecessary plastic waste anyway but it's just a reminder that flasks and re-usable water bottles exist!
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Photography by Maria Ilves
Hope for a plastic-free future

However, at the end of the plastic-filled tunnel, I can see the light for a plastic-free future.

Farmer's markets

Farmer's markets are great if you live close to one because you can skip buying your fruit and veg at the supermarket and get it plastic-free from the market. Plus, you're supporting local farmers and not giant companies.

Plastic-free shops

Another place that gives me hope is plastic-free shops. They're definitely becoming more common in England and my local one is great. Again, you can skip things at the supermarket that you know that the plastic-free shop will stock, like rice, and save yourself from throwing yet another 'this is not currently recycled' bit of plastic in the bin.
Alternatives to supermarkets

There are places to buy takeaway food that is not wrapped in plastic but this particular place we visited on holiday comes at a premium. It's not as cheap as the supermarket but the food was labelled with cardboard instead of plastic which was refreshing. It would be great to see more affordable options for takeaway food that isn't wrapped in plastic – supermarkets *hint* *hint*. Given that 'meal deals' are such a staple lunch choice in England, there must be tonnes and tonnes of plastic waste generated by meal deals alone.

Companies producing plastic-free items

Having recently got back into green tea (only with lemon, though), I needed to pick up some more teabags but, given that conventional teabags actually contain plastic(!), I needed to find some without. Fortunately, I discovered some Clipper plastic-free green tea bags in a local independent shop. They properly decompose and everything. Thanks, Clipper!
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Photography by Miska Sage
I will now be going into Plastic Free July with a bit more wisdom. Although I probably won't be perfect, I will try my best to be organised. Ultimately, I have discovered that a lot of the responsibility lies with the supermarkets with their excess plastic on fruit, veg, houmous and so on. Why does a banana need to be wrapped in plastic? It has a skin! It would be fantastic to see supermarkets providing affordable plastic-free options so that the plastic-free lifestyle is accessible to everyone.

If you'd like to take on the challenge of Plastic Free July then sign up here.
Article by Catherine McAteer