Plastic pollution is an environmental hazard. But what can you do to change the world? Fiona Finch reports on a local couple who decided to stop buying plastic for a month - and that included goods packaged in plastic.
Going plastic free for a month will definitely change your shopping habits, but will it change your mind set as well?
That is what Lancashire nurseryman Matthew Smith and his wife UCLan worker Grete, set out to discover when they took up that challenge.
As they worked their way through four weeks of discerning shopping, it quickly became ever clearer, how necessary it would be to plan ahead when embarking on retail trips.
To navigate through a plastic free month in 21st century Lancashire it is necessary to have the know how to find, as well as the time to travel to, shops which, for example, weigh loose goods and let you take your own containers.
You also have to be prepared to change. Matthew now uses shampoo and soap bars instead of buying plastic bottles of shampoo and shower gel.
Casual purchases quickly became a no no - as so many unexpected plastic obstacles are “littered” along the way.
Preferred treats had to be sacrificed as Matthew notes: “I’m quite fond of a packet of crisps now and again - that was actually out of bounds.”
To get a glimpse of the scale of their endeavour just picture your weekly shop. How many times do you rely on plastic covered goods - from items such as cheese to biscuits and even to bread?
Think also of just how many times you might prefer to not to have to wrestle loads of plastic packaging off, for example, a pack of apples or the plastic envelope surrounding a new toothbrush.
Matthew, proprietor of Brighter Blooms nursery at Walton le Dale, Preston, is endeavouring to cut plastic use at work as well, as evidenced at a special Tulip Day held at the nursery earlier this year, when containers made of wood were used in displays and plastic cups and crockery were banned from the refreshments area.
The couple were helped in their month long challenge to cut down on use of plastic packaging by still having abundant home grown vegetables from their allotment, including potatoes, onions and brassicas.
When they did want to supplement their home grown veg. their choice would have been to buy organic, but Matthew reports this option was knocked back a lot because much of the organic produce they saw came wrapped in plastic, advertising the produce’s organic origins.
There were small triumphs - like discovering they could still buy porridge oats in a box. They also knew they could get fruit and vegetables in paper bags from a stall on Preston market.
The couple’s meat bill went down too, because, as Matthew admits: “We didn’t make the effort to go to the butchers with our own containers” and because most meat in supermarkets is wrapped in plastic for purchase.
Again they located a stall on Preston market which was happy to let them bring their own containers.
But otherwise they did not make any major cash savings.
Matthew said: “Things like cheese were quite tricky...it made it a bit more difficult. One thing we found impossible to (get plastic free) was milk. You can’t buy milk in glass bottles from supermarkets. We went round looking... so now we have a milkman who delivers in glass bottles.”
Step forward David Bowes milkman, who also supplied bottles of milk for the Tulip Day refreshments.
The couple had bought a month’s supply of loo rolls in advance as they concluded it would be impossible to buy them locally or at an affordable price not wrapped in plastic.
Matthew says: “It’s made us think a lot more before we maybe buy something. We maybe did a bit more at Preston market and we just maybe picked a bit more carefully at supermarkets.”
He noticed that time and again certain food options were prohibited by packaging, unless opting for “higher end” more expensive goods.
Matthew also wants to make it clear that he knows plastic has its place.
A nurseryman, specialising in the production of Zantedeschia (Calla lilies))and bulb sales, he cites the many horticultural uses for plastic and notes: “In some certain circumstances it’s absolutely brilliant in what it does.”
He is seeking to cut use of plastic in the nursery, opting for paper packaging for all bulbs and is also investigating options for buying compost in bulk, rather than in smaller bags.
Two other couples joined the plastic free challenge – and one of the couples succeeded too.
Matthew says: “It’s probably made me healthier if anything.
“We did it to see how difficult it would be to change our mindset. It’s made other people more aware as well because we’ve chatted to people about it.”
There were two or three transgressions: “We bought a box of cereal we thought would never have plastic but it had a plastic liner when we opened it.
“My wife ended up at some event where she bought a really nice book. She didn’t have a bag with her at all and it was chucking down rain and she didn’t want the book to get wet so she bought a plastic bag!”
Asked for his verdict on plastic free month he concludes: “It was pretty tricky really to do it. It wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t impossible.
“I think we have definitely reduced our plastic use. We certainly haven’t gone completely plastic free.
“Both the month and further reading around and listening to bits and pieces has made me realise it’s not just about plastic it’s about waste reduction generally that’s important.”
* Many organisations are reviewing their use of single use and other plastics, including Lancashire County Council. Plastic cups and cutlery are outlawed at County Hall and other council premises following a campaign by Green councillor Gina Dowding
.A special task group on reducing such plastic use is being chaired by Coun Dowding and will report soon. A next step will be to ensure any new policy will apply to procurement of services from external suppliers. .
Coun Dowding said: "We've been working to identify where the council uses single-use plastics and how we can reduce the need to use them in all services.
"We've already made some simple changes such as removing plastic cups in meeting areas, and selling soft drinks in cans instead of plastic bottles, and are talking to existing suppliers about alternatives to single-use plastics where they are currently used in catering. We have also been looking more widely not just at reducing single-use plastics, but at our use of all disposable items, as the ultimate goal should be not to produce any unnecessary waste."
She added: "Continuing to create landfill at current rates is unsustainable – it is not only damaging to the environment, it’s also increasingly costly, and has an impact on the resources available for other essential services."
* A drop-in pop up plastics cafe opened one lunch time this week at Lancaster University. It offered visitors the opportunity to learn more from researchers and local businesses about problems posed by plastic food packaging and the solutions available.