6 easy swaps to reduce the amount of plastic in your life
The drive to cut down on disposable plastic and food waste is gaining traction, as 2018 shapes up to be the year that plastic became a dirty word.
Yesterday's BBC documentary Drowning In Plastic shed new light on the scale of the damage plastic waste on the oceans and the impact on wildlife.
Liz Bonnin's emotional response to the sight of a chick's stomach being pumped, in particular, struck a chord with audiences at home - and the presenter has now called for single-use plastics to be banned immediately in Britain.
The backlash against plastic has hit the mainstream.
Iceland supermarket has announced that it aims to go entirely plastic-free by 2023.
Beyond our supermarkets, Brussels has launched its first EU-wide strategy to fight plastic waste.
David Attenborough's documentary series The Blue Planet has also played a crucial role in drawing mass attention to the issue.
But while going plastic-free and achieving an entirely zero-waste lifestyle is a tall order, there are plenty of surprisingly small changes and swaps you can make to cut back - and a new breed of zero-waste shopkeepers who eschew any kind of reusable packaging are also coming to the fore, putting pressure on bigger brands to rethink their approach.
So, how can you take the first steps to cultivating eco-friendly habits in your own kitchen at home - changes that won’t necessarily break the bank?
Buying loose fruit and vegetables is one of the simplest ways to cut back on plastic. “Purchasing loose fruit not only cuts down on plastics but also reduces food waste, by encouraging you to buy the amount you actually need for the week,” explains a Whole Foods Market spokesperson.
Often, it pays to plan a trip to a larger supermarket, market or greengrocer for more choice when it comes to loose fruit and vegetables. Just remember to bring your own re-useable bags.
According to an investigation by Money Saving Expert published last year, it can also be a wallet-friendly option: the reporter found that everyday fruit and veg including mushrooms, apples, courgettes, broccoli and bananas were significantly cheaper to buy loose rather than pre-packed when purchased at the same store.
However, in a more recent investigation this year, Money Saving Expert criticised supermarkets for “penalising” environmentally-conscious consumers after they found that some products in plastic packaging were sold for less than their fresh equivalents. If you’re swapping to loose produce, it pays to shop around for the best prices.
The way you store your food also has an impact. Try the Fresher for Longer disc from EcoEgg, which lasts for three months, and keeps food fresh by absorbing ethylene gas, which slows down the decay process.
Grease proof paper or Bee’s Wrap is an alternative to disposable plastic clingfilm. Bee's Wrap is reusable, biodegradable and compostable, and is made from organic cotton, sustainably harvested bees wax, organic jojoba oil and tree resin.
You could also try out the new generation of stretchy re-usable silicone lids and covers available, which can adapt to cover everything from ramekins and trays to pineapples.
A more "conscious" cup of coffee in the morning is another way to make a difference. The mixed material coffee capsules and pods found in single-serve coffee machines, for example, are notoriously bad for the environment - but you can still source biodegradable options.
However, as with vegetables, loose coffee is the best way to go. It’s also becoming more widespread, especially among those who prefer a French press or cafetiere coffee, or like to experiment with grinding their own coffee beans or brewing their own cold-brew coffee at home. “We have seen sales in loose coffee and tea increase year on year. Customers tell us they like being able to buy less but buy fresh - all the while reducing waste food and packaging. It also encourages them to experiment more,” explains a spokesperson from Whole Foods Market.
There’s a real buzz around reusable options such as the fashionable keep cups, some of which are made with natural bamboo fibre, and are dishwasher safe and have no nasty plastic aftertaste.
Re-thinking everyday cleaning products such as machine washable dishcloths and scrubbers is another good place to start.
If you seem to get through a disproportionate amount of non-recyclable, grubby washing-up sponges and scrubbers, it might be time to clean up your act. A silicon dish scrubber makes for a good swap, and since it’s washable and reusable, it’s also cost-effective.
Furthermore, it isn’t such a breeding ground for bacteria as traditional sponge or wire scrubbers - so it’s a means of improving kitchen hygiene, too (according to a recent study by Scientific Report, analysis of kitchen sponges found them to be “microbiological hotspots” with the capability to collect and spread bacteria with a “probable pathogenic potential”.)
The KoTop dish scrubber is dishwasher safe and heat resistant, and Swiss brand Kuhn Rikon have a rather snazzy Stay Clean Scrubber with over 5,000 bristles. If silicone doesn’t appeal, you could try a Safix coconut fibre wash pad. As well as being biodegradable, they’re kind to hands and nails, and promise not to scratch non-stick pans.
You might also consider investing in a greener dustpan and brush, such as the wood pulp and recycled plastic brushes and brooms from Greener Cleaner.
We also recommend the reusable bamboo towels from EcoEgg. They also have a plant-based Power Degreaser, which is effective without enlisting the help of harsh chemicals.
While this may all feel a bit Willy Wonka, edible disposables - such as wheat bran bowls and plates and seaweed food wraps - are tipped to enter the mainstream.
This month, Diageo, the world's largest producer of spirits, announced that they are to launch a range of edible straws in collaboration with online drinks retailer 31Dover.com, to be paired with popular pre-mixed drinks such as Baileys Iced Coffee (chocolate straw), Captain Morgan and cola, and Pimm’s and lemonade (strawberry straw).
Buy in bulk
Buying in bulk saves on unnecessary packaging, and also works out cheaper - it just takes a little more planning, and requires space for storage. The industrial-sized bags of rice in Asian supermarkets spring to mind, and you can buy everything online from cereal to almonds, lentils to apricots from Suma Wholesale and Planet Organic - but you’ll find bulk buys in most supermarkets across the country.