Worldwide plastic waste accounts for 380 million tons of all waste. That is a staggering number particularly when you consider that it is in the last 15 years in which we've seen the biggest rise in the use of plastics to wrap, protect, transport, store and drink / eat the goods we buy.
There is no doubt plastics have their place in our lives. They are cheap, lightweight, unbreakable and crucially for refill week - reusable.
Reducing the consumption of plastics, in particular single use plastic has been where I really ramped up my sustainable (refill) journey.
I have always been passionate about the environment. Growing up in Australia I was acutely aware of the pain and suffering that came from long periods of drought and the role I as an individual could play in changing my behaviour to protect scarce water sources. I then moved into a career that focussed on the role renewables, water conservation, land use and development, transport and waste can have on the world in which we live. These experiences and the knowledge I gained spurred me on to live the most sustainable life I could but I wasn't perfect, not by any stretch.
Then came Blue Planet. I wept at what I saw. How shocking to see plastics in the very deepest parts of our oceans. The situation felt hopeless. How did we get here so quickly?
In the UK we recycle roughly 45% of plastics. It has been at this level for a number of years. Recycling nearly half of the plastics produced is a reasonable achievement but demand for plastics has grown in this time too therefore the recycling number should also be increasing and it isn't. The truth is, we need to address the initial consumption of plastics as well as deal with the end product. My approach had been to watch my consumption yes, but to take full advantage of the infrastructure that had been developed to recycle everything I could.
Blue Planet made me realise that this wasn't enough. I had to reduce the plastic I bought to start off with not just leave it to government / enterprising people to turn my waste into other products. The point for me was not to create the waste in the first place.
So I started my refill journey which was made much easier by the opening of a local refill shop called Weigh To Go. Now my cupboards are full of Kilner jars and glass refill pump bottles featuring seeds, nuts, pasta, rice, legumes, oils and vinegars as well as cleaning and personal hygiene products. Lucy, who owns Weight To Go, stocks just about everything you need across the kitchen, laundry and bathroom.
Having Weigh To Go within a very comfortable walking distance meant the change wasn't difficult for me - what was harder to wean myself off was supermarket shopping (& delivery) for diary, meat, fruit & veg. Those pesky plastic bags that almost all fruit and veg are wrapped in these days made me re-think my strategy again. So I started buying a seasonal fruit and veg box from my local green grocer once a week and bought what little meat I do eat from the butcher. Making all of these changes has reduced my plastic consumption by 70%. My weekly shop now consists of a walk to the butcher, green grocer, Weigh To Go and for anything else that I can't get, the supermarket.
For those reading this who feel exhausted by the prospect of having to change, or think that investing in glass bottles and jars is expensive, my advice is to go slow. Tackle one room at a time. Reuse jars that you may buy pasta sauces or breakfast spreads in. If the same sorts of shops I have access to aren't in your area, research to find a sustainable retailer who delivers. Take the change to a level you feel comfortable with. Not everyone wants / can live 100% plastic free but we can all make small changes and that collective approach makes a big overall difference.
I still have improvements to make, it's taken me a year to remove the plastics from my bathroom and I'm still not there yet. If you'd like to know more about the companies I frequent to help you on your journey then please get in touch.
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