Plastic-Free July in Croydon

Plastics I’m not cutting out

Posted by Kake on 31 May 2014

Giving up all single-use plastic for a month can seem a bit daunting, so I thought I’d take the time now to work out some boundaries for myself. Here are the things I won’t be giving up during Plastic-Free July.

Water bottle, “tupperware”, produce bags (stored inside a change bag from the bank), toothbrush, and metal jar lid with plastic lining.

Plastic linings in cans and jar lids

I’m not going to worry about the plastic lining inside food and drink cans. I’m trying to find out more about what happens to this lining when the cans are recycled — does it get burned up? does it get skimmed off the molten metal and put in landfill? — but for now I’m going to consider this as “advanced-level” plastic-freeness, which (for me at least) is outside the scope of this year’s challenge. I’m also not going to worry about the plastic lining inside the metal lids of glass jars (though I am going to avoid jars with fully-plastic lids).

Medicine packaging

Almost all medicines come in disposable plastic packaging. In the long run, I’d like to help persuade manufacturers to come up with a more sustainable solution; but for now, I won’t be compromising my health (or that of others) by refusing to use medication in plastic packaging.

“Many-use” plastic items

I’m not going to give up plastic items that are intended to be used more than a hundred times before being discarded. This means, for example, that I probably won’t be switching to a bamboo toothbrush. (NHS Guidelines state that toothbrushes should be replaced every three months, which means around 180 uses in total.)

Things I reuse even though I’m not “supposed” to

One “edge case” here is the plastic items that are produced as single-use but that I already own and reuse. For example, instead of buying reusable water bottles, I just use several empty 500ml plastic water bottles that I acquired some time ago.[1] I’ve decided that it’s within the spirit of the challenge to keep using this type of item if (a) I already own it, (b) I expect to get at least a hundred uses out of it, and (c) it’s an exact substitute for spending money on a version that’s produced explicitly to be reusable.

So I’m still going to use my existing collection of takeaway containers as tupperware substitutes, and I’m still going to use my existing collection of “disposable” produce bags instead of buying new reusable ones. But I won’t acquire any more of these things during the month of Plastic-Free July, and I’ll keep an eye on the “damage rate” to see if it truly does make sense to consider them reusable in the long term.

Compostable plastics

Many eco-aware companies have started packaging goods in compostable plastics made from biodegradable sources such as cornstarch.

These aren’t necessarily an ideal solution. Many biodegradable plastics would take years to break down in home compost bins, so it’s important to remember the difference between plastics described as “biodegradable” and those described as “compostable”. Also, setting land aside to grow the raw ingredients for bioplastics means that it can’t be used to grow food for humans or farm animals.

Still, the technology is new, and I believe it’s a useful direction for manufacturers to go in. So I won’t be giving up plastic packaging that’s specifically described as being compostable, and I’ll be composting any such plastic I come across in my own home compost bin.

Footnotes and references

  1. These bottles explicitly state on the label that they shouldn’t be reused, but given that I’m careful about washing them regularly, I feel it’s safe enough.

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