Plastic-Free July in Croydon

Plastic-Free July is over

Posted by Kake on 1 August 2014

Plastic-Free July is over! So have I been celebrating my freedom from plastic-free-ness with a plastic-swathed shopping spree?

I’m sure most people will be unsurprised to learn that the answer is “no”. In fact, I’ve only done two things today that I wouldn’t have done yesterday: I took some butter out of the freezer to defrost (I’ve really missed butter during July, but I suspect it of having a plasticky wrapper), and I asked in a cafe if they had any iced tea, with the full intention of ordering some even if it came in a plastic bottle (as it turned out, they didn’t have any).

Day 2 of Plastic-Free July: chickpea and sausage stew made with peppers, mushrooms, onions, and garlic bought loose; chickpeas and tomatoes from tins; and sausages bought in my own compostable bag. Served with basmati rice bought loose.

Giving up disposable plastic has been difficult, yes, but it wasn’t something I embarked on thinking I could just do it for a month and then go back to my previous routines. My intention throughout was to find ways of removing disposable plastic from my life without negatively affecting all the other things I need to do — and by that standard, Plastic-Free July has been a huge success.

Day 18 of Plastic-Free July: pick-your-own eggs at the Broca Food Market in Brockley.

It’s not sustainable for me to carry on at the same level I did during July, though. Having to go to multiple shops to get what I need is not a step forward — it's a step back to the days when women would spend literally all day shopping for their family's weekly food. Don’t get me wrong — I enjoy this sort of shopping, but I don’t have the luxury of endless spare time to spend on things I enjoy.

Day 11 of Plastic-Free July: takeaway from Babylon Inn buffet.

Cooking from scratch is another thing I enjoy doing, and I do it when I have the time — but I don't believe it’s intrinsically morally better than buying food someone else made. The point of civilisation is that we don't all have to execute every single task of daily living; we can divide them up so that some people make bread, some people make clothes, some people make music, and overall we're all better off. The cost of task-switching is a real cost!

So when I don’t have the time to shop and cook, and I’ve been short of time for long enough that I don’t have any more home-made ready meals in the freezer, what do I do? Eat toast for dinner? Or get a takeaway? I’m going to choose the takeaway where possible — it’s the more enjoyable option and it’s also the healthier option, in terms of both mental and physical health.[1] I’m glad I’ve found several takeaways that will let me bring my own containers, but if I’m working late then I’m not going to refuse to order a delivery (which, of course, can’t be packaged in my own containers).

Day 18 of Plastic-Free July: loose snacks and dried fruit at a stall in the Whitgift Centre.

A plastic-free future

Having said that, though, there are some things I’ve already decided to carry on doing, some things I’ll keep doing when I have the time, and other things I’m very glad I won’t have to do again until Plastic-Free July 2015!

Things I definitely won’t keep doing

Using bought-loose basmati rice as my default rice. I don’t like the basmati rice from Weigh & Save, and the basmati rice at As Nature Intended is quite expensive as rice goes (plus I haven’t got time to go to Balham all that frequently). In any case, I generally prefer jasmine rice as an everyday rice, and I currently buy it in 20kg sacks, which involves less plastic than buying it in smaller packets.[2] I may be able to satisfy my occasional basmati needs by buying from As Nature Intended every so often — we’ll see.

Using Toothy Tabs instead of tube toothpaste. I find them expensive and annoying.

Using loo rolls in compostable wrappers. The closest place I can buy them is Balham, and it’s just not practical for me to go there frequently enough (nor for me to make special trips purely to buy all the loo roll I can carry). I could get them delivered, but that would involve waiting in for deliveries, which isn’t always practical.

Things I’ll keep doing when I have time

Buying sliced bread in my own bags from Coughlans. I really like the flavour and texture of Coughlans wholemeal bread, and it’s not too much hassle to buy it in my own bags. But I will reserve the right to order a supermarket delivery sliced loaf if I’m too busy to go out shopping.

Buying sliced ham and sliced cheese in my own containers from the Polish deli. It’s cheaper than the pre-packed supermarket stuff (ham at 69p/100g, cheese at 59p/100g — and good quality too), and the packaging-to-product ratio of pre-packed sliced ham and cheese is ridiculous.

Buying cheddar cheese in my own container from the Waitrose deli. I only buy cheddar about once a month if that, so this isn’t going to be a huge burden in terms of shopping.

Buying meat and fish in compostable bags. It’s so much nicer to deal with a fishy/meaty compostable bag (put it in the compost/food waste) inside a lock-and-lock container (wash it) than it is to have to deal with a plastic bag inside a plastic carrier bag (put them in the bin and have them stink the place up). So when I’m shopping locally, I’ll definitely carry on doing this — however, realistically, I suspect much of my meat and fish is still going to come from supermarket deliveries.

Making my own cashew milk. The method I’ve worked out is pretty low-hassle, and I can buy a couple of months’ worth of cashews at a time from Weigh & Save. I’ll keep a spare tetrapak of soya milk in the cupboard for emergencies though.

Things I’ll definitely keep doing

Carrying my own cloth bags and reusable produce bags instead of taking new plastic ones every time. I already have a “bag of useful things” that lives in my backpack, so it’s been no trouble to add a couple more things to it.

Buying dried fruit and couscous from Weigh & Save. I can buy lots at a time, and Weigh & Save is only about 5 minutes’ walk from my house.

Buying oats in a paper bag and loose pistachios in my own container from Lidl. Again, I can buy lots at a time, and Lidl is also only about 5 minutes’ walk from my house.

Using Onya Lunch wraps to wrap my sandwiches. They give excellent protection — much better even than thick foil.

Using solid deodorant. It’s no harder to use than the roll on stuff, and the huge packaging-to-product ratio of the latter has always bothered me.

Using solid shampoo. It’s not much more hassle than the stuff in bottles, and it works fine.

Using concentrated refills from Splosh for liquid soap (doubling as shower gel), laundry liquid, and kitchen cleaner. Convenient to buy, delivered straight through the letterbox, and take up way less storage space than their pre-diluted counterparts. Once I’ve used up my enormous bought-in-bulk bag-in-box of Ecover washing up liquid, I’ll switch to Splosh for that, too.

Day 16 of Plastic-Free July: mushrooms on toast at Wandle Park Cafe. I avoided using the plastic bottle of ketchup!

What’s next for this blog?

I still have several topics to post about, so there’ll be a few more articles here during August. Once I’ve said everything I’ve got to say, though, this blog will go dormant until next year’s challenge. If you think you’ll miss me, check out my main website for links to my other projects.

Other people’s wrap-up posts

Here are some wrap-up posts from other Plastic-Free July bloggers — if you’re not on this list and you should be, please let me know!

Footnotes and references

  1. Everyone’s health needs are different, of course, but I find if I don’t eat enough vegetables I feel miserable and sluggish, and if I don’t eat enough food on one day then I lack energy the next day — which is a big deal for me since quite a lot of my activities are, well, fairly active.
  2. I have a feeling there may be a way to turn these sacks into useful items of some kind, too. (I intend to consult the excellent craftsperson who’s currently making me a laptop bag out of old tyres.)

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