The Big 4 – Part 2

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Following on from my previous post about coffee cups, the next item on the list is bags.

Bags really fall into 2 categories in my opinion.  The first is carry bags – from the supermarket, other grocery stores as well as department stores and specialist boutiques.  There are reusable ‘green’ bags which are only marginally better than the single-use plastic bags that they are supposed to replace.  They are still made from plastic and do not have a long life as they are prone to tear.  I have a selection of bags that I use which have come from a variety of sources.

Here are some the calico ones including the one which has had the handles replaced.  You can read that story here.

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This one was a gift that my sister brought back for me from Alaska.  They were made in the town she visited.  It is sturdy and folds up into its own pocket for easy storage.  Yes, it is plastic but I believe it will last forever.

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Finally, this one is my go-to bag every time I leave the house.  It is looking a bit the worse for wear after almost 5 years of constant use.  I bought it in Vermont when we visited the USA in 2012.  It was plastic-lined – fused onto the inside of the hessian but when the plastic began to break up, I removed it all and sewed in a new cotton lining.  The project is detailed here.

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The second type of single-use plastic bags are produce bags – the flimsy ones that you find at the greengrocer or the fruit and vegetable section of your local supermarket.  Apparently, reusable alternatives can be purchased from various Etsy sellers and also on Amazon but I simply chose to make my own from some leftover tulle that I had at home.  They are very easy to make with very basic sewing skills.  You could really use any fabric but I find the tulle is perfect because it allows for the cashier to identify the produce and because they weigh virtually nothing, I do not have to worry about tare weight.  The fabric does not fray so there is no need to worry about finishing the edges.  I also chose not to worry about drawstrings or ties as I find there is simply no need.  Remember, the plastic ones are just a bag with no added extras.

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I also carry a folded Ecosilk bag which I use on the rare occasions that I make clothing purchases.

New bag

There are other opportunities for refusing plastic bags but if you are starting out, I would strongly suggest that you begin with reusable carry bags and produce bags.  This will make an immediate difference.

Do you use your own bags?

The Big 4

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When it comes to Plastic Free July and reducing your single-use plastics for the long-term good of the planet in general and the oceans in particular, there are 4 major culprits.

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Although they are the worst offenders, I think it is relatively easy to make changes to eliminate many of them.

In no particular order they are:

Coffee cups
Bags
Straws
Bottles

Why are they regarded as the biggest problems?

  1.  Volume – there are just so many used every single day.
  2.  Only used once in most instances.
  3. Lightweight – so they easily become unintentional litter which ends up in waterways and ultimately in the ocean.
  4. Unnecessary – there are easy alternatives.

What do you currently do and what can you change to reduce your usage of these plastic ‘nasties’?

I will address one of these items each day and today I will begin with coffee cups.

Australians have developed a love affair with coffee, and more specifically takeaway coffee.  Once upon a time we were a nation of tea drinkers and coffee was almost a special occasion drink.  Even more recently the norm was to go to a cafe and sit down with a cup of coffee.  However, the trend of grabbing a coffee ‘to go’ has become a national pastime and we are killing the oceans in the process.

Those innocuous paper cups are NOT recyclable, compostable or anything else.  They are rubbish, that at best ends up in landfill or at worst in the ocean.  This is because they are made of composite materials, including a layer of plastic.

The recent ABC television program, ‘War on Waste’ shone the light squarely on disposable coffee cups and the havoc they are creating.

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I am not a coffee drinker and fail to grasp what amounts to an addiction to coffee but you can still have your ‘caffeine fix’ without destroying the planet.

Simply take your reusable cup along to your favourite cafe and have it filled for you to take away.  Simple.  Easy.  We could very quickly eliminate disposable coffee cups.

Some cafes even offer a discount as an incentive to bring your own mug.  If your cafe is not willing to oblige you could vote with your feet and take your custom elsewhere as there are no shortage of cafes looking for your business.  Remember, conscious consumption can make a difference.

So, what is your coffee story?  Do you take a reusable cup for your coffee?  How it is received?  Do you get a discount?

 

 

Finite Resources

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There are many, many ways of looking at the environmental issues facing our planet today.  Different people choose to focus on different things but our goal is the same – to do the best that we can to preserve the health of the planet for future generations.  Right?

Some people try to source as much as possible second-hand, others eschew plastic at every turn, barely a handful of waste is the goal sought by another group and then there are those who are always looking for a way to recycle or re-use items that are no longer required.

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Plastic seems to have been recently declared ‘public enemy no. 1’ due to the masses of micro (and not so micro) plastics in our oceans and the detrimental effect it is having on marine life.  I agree with this sentiment and do the best I can to minimise my use of single use plastic products.  However, I have not rushed to get rid of all my plastic containers and other items as I believe it is my responsibility to use my existing products wisely and extend their life as much as possible.

Some people disagree because of the perceived potential risks of using plastic – particularly where food and drink are concerned.  I do not have a problem with this as I do not use plastic for storing liquids, oils, acidic foods nor do I use plastic where there is heat involved – such as the microwave.

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There will always be some plastic products but it is our responsibility to restrict the use of plastics to those applications where it is necessary.  Not only for the marine life but due to the fact that plastic is made from oil which is a finite resource – there is not an endless supply.  Most people can clearly recognise single plastics – water bottles, drinking straws, disposable cutlery, takeaway food containers and so on but it is the composite plastics that are less obvious.  These include takeaway coffee cups, reuseable ‘green’ shopping bags, ‘foil’ chip packets and packaging where plastic may be sandwiched between 2 layers of paper or cardboard.

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The purpose of this blog post is to encourage people really try to make a difference where plastic products are concerned.

Here are a few goals.

  1.  Minimise your use of single use plastic items – look for re-useable, non-plastic alternatives.
  2. Dispose of any plastic waste carefully to ensure it stays out of waterways and oceans.
  3. Remember that plastic is manufactured from oil and oil is a finite resource.
  4. Use recycling as a last resort – it is not a licence to keep using as much plastic (and everything else) as we want and assuaging our guilt by simply tossing it in the recycle bin.  At best, plastic is downcycled not recycled.  It only has one secondary life then it becomes landfill.
  5. Be a conscious and responsible consumer.

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It is not yet July but there is no time like the present to begin to phase out the single-use plastics from your life and consider what else you can change.

 

 

Back to the Scales

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Some years ago I weighed our rubbish each week for a period of time.  The quantity was small but I cannot even remember the approximate weights.

I have decided to make a start on this again and redouble our efforts to reduce our small amount of waste that goes to landfill even further.

This is the contents of our kitchen bin for approximately 2 weeks.

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Not all of it is identifiable but there are 2 cheese wrappers, packaging from a parcel we received, an old sponge (left by housesitters 6 months ago), a mouldy ziplock bag which was beyond being salvaged, a small mayonnaise bottle and a butter wrapper (Aldi have changed to foil wrappers – not happy so I will be voting with my feet and buying butter elsewhere in future).  The rest is mostly plastic packaging of one sort and another – mostly one off items from Christmas gifts/catering.  The silver star looks like something from a child’s toy which has been left here – so not strictly our waste but it does have to be discarded.

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Here it is – all packaged up.  I put most of the small bits compacted into the ziplock bag.  I always try to contain any small, lightweight rubbish as the last thing I want is for it to drift out of the collection truck or the landfill site and end up in a watercourse.

The next step was to put it all in the parcel post bag and weigh it.

152g or 5 and 3/8 ounces for my non-metric friends.

Once I had done this I put the rubbish in the bin, except for the post bag which I have saved for next week’s rubbish.

From now on I will weigh and post about the rubbish each Friday so that we have a weekly total for comparison.  It will vary from week to week as some things are only discarded rarely but my hope is that we will continue to generate very little waste.

Plastic is definitely the major culprit when it comes to items going to landfill.  The challenge is to look for feasible alternatives and investigate any recycling options for those items which I do not currently recycle.

Do you generate much waste?  Are you looking for ways to reduce your use of single-use plastic items?  I would love to hear your stories so that we can encourage each other.

Not My Trash

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There seem to be various reasons for people choosing to substantially reduce the amount of waste that their household produces but it is essentially about not turning our planet into a mega rubbish dump.  One of the most visible issues is the plastic in our oceans so removing single-use plastic items from your life is a good first step.

The goal of zero waste is admirable but what about the litter that seems to be everywhere?

This morning I went for a walk.  We live in a semi-rural area on a narrow secondary road.  This is what I collected.

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Pepsi bottle
Iced coffee bottle plus 2 pieces of the plastic label
Flattened soft drink can
Turkish delight wrapper
Half of a single serve yoghurt container
Plastic bag
Broken reflector from a vehicle

Apart from the reflector, all of the other items were knowingly discarded.  Almost everything relates to food and drink and the aluminium drink can is the only piece that is not single use plastic.

I know this is only a very small sample but I think these items clearly tell the story of where change needs to occur.

Things you can do that will make a difference (apart from not littering):

Pack your own food and drink for when you are out and about.
If you buy take-away take your own containers or choose compostable packaging.
Lobby governments to introduce container deposit legislation for all beverage containers.
Lobby for a ban on plastic bags.

Almost July

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In another 9 days it will be July.  Six months of 2016 will be gone – that is half of the year.  The winter solstice (in the Southern hemisphere) is gone and now the days will begin to get longer, although the coolest days are still ahead of us.  Here in Australia the financial year ends on 30th June each year and then there will be a flurry of activity of tax returns and hopefully, refunds.

This year, the beginning of July will also herald a Federal election on 2nd July after an inordinately long campaign of about 8 weeks.  In some respects, it seems much longer as we were subjected to much speculation regarding the date prior to the actual announcement.

None of this fills me with particular joy and optimism but there is one highlight and that is ‘Plastic Free July’.

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‘Plastic Free July’ began with one Council in one city in Australia 5 years ago and last year the concept was embraced by groups and individuals in 69 countries around the globe.  You can read more here.

I have read various discussions in which people have mentioned that are are setting themselves up for the challenge by buying or making tulle vegetable bags and beeswax wraps as a substitute for plastic film.

My plan is continue much as I currently do and redouble my efforts to get rid of more single-use plastic from my life.

What single-use plastic could you eliminate?  What alternatives would you use?  Are you looking for ideas?

I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas to develop a discussion where we can all learn from each other.

Here are some plastic-free treats from our vegie garden.

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Plastic Free? – Not Yet

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As we approach the end of the month I feel as though I am limping towards the finish line with respect to Plastic Free July.

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On Wednesday we bought a new telephone for home.  It has an inbuilt answering machine and a second handset.  It was packaged in a cardboard box which is great but every single item was separately wrapped in plastic!

Plastic packaging

I generally keep any plastic bags that do happen to make their way into our home.  Even ones with air holes are used for containing rubbish.  These are too small to be of any use so I think I will have to pack them all inside one bag and then put them in the rubbish.  This is far from an ideal solution but the main thing will be to ‘dispose of thoughtfully’ so that they do not end up in the marine environment where plastic does untold damage.  Here is an example that I saw posted on Facebook the other day.  It comes from this page.

Photo: As a little baby this poor snapper turtle swam through a plastic ring and got stuck. Conscious Consumers - think about the plastic you buy and how you dispose of it.

Today I bought a book for our guests to write comments on their stay.  I looked at several different ones but in the end I decided that rather than a generic one with a black vinyl (plastic) cover from the newsagent that I would buy a handcrafted one from an independent bookstore in our town.  It is made in Sri Lanka using handmade paper from elephant dung and post-consumer waste paper.  The only problem was that it was packaged in shrink-wrap plastic.  This will go in the bin along with the telephone packaging.  Here is the book (plastic removed) and the addition of a title (printed by me).

Guest book

I have also bought more yoghurt, cheese and milk – all in plastic.

So what have I learned from participating in Plastic Free July?  Awareness, mostly.  It is pretty difficult to live an existence that is completely free of single-use plastics.  I think in the scheme of things that I do quite well, but there is room for improvement.  The dairy products are the only things that I buy regularly in plastic.  Reducing consumption in all aspects of your life and not buying new will certainly limit the plastics more than anything else you do.

I bought the regular things that I do this month so this is a true indication of the single-use plastics that I contribute to the waste stream.