Six months ago, I dared to google the words “plastic pollution facts” and after some grim reading resolved to start cutting down on our family’s single-use plastic. We are two busy, working parents who earn very average public sector wages, have two very active children aged six and three, a very crazy spaniel and we very recently added four hens to our household for fresh eggs. Not that eggs come in plastic, we just like eggs.
Anyway, it makes for a very busy life with every need for convenience. How easy or hard has it been so far, living with less plastic?
It’s quite obvious once you start looking, that lots of more eco-friendly choices are much more flipping expensive.
That’s most probably why plastic became so widespread in the first place. I mean, why would you spend 85p on a pint of milk delivered in a retro cool milk bottle, when you could spend £1.80 on 4 pints at the supermarket? (That’s 45p a pint for anyone that hates maths).
Nevertheless, we have replaced our plastic milk with the glass bottled stuff, we buy our meat from the butchers (taking our own containers), posh chocolate that comes in cardboard and foil instead of plastic-wrapped Cadbury’s (which is actually not cheaper than the own-brand posh chocolate it turns out) and the more expensive Barilla pasta that comes in cardboard boxes. We even buy posh coffee beans from the independent roasters like Square House Coffee Co and Steampunk who deliver their fairly traded goods in paper / cardboard and compostable packaging.
I take a deep breath and turn a blind eye to all the reduced bananas that come in those daft plastic bags with holes in, opt for posh squash in glass bottles and non-squeezy glass jar honey to go with our posh paper-wrapped jumbo porridge oats in the morning. Once you make lots of these kind of choices, the cost certainly does add up.
Or does it?!
Six months in, we seem to be no worse off financially. Honestly.
That’s because we have become a bit cleverer at not wasting stuff. Posh squash? Use less of it, drink more tap water, and just have it there for guests or times of desperation. Posh milk? Drink less. Our porridge gets cooked with water (and it still tastes excellent, as per Jamie Oliver’s ‘how to cook the perfect porridge’ recipe). Posh meat? Again, eat less of it as veggies are cheaper and easier to source loose. I still drink lots of posh coffee and eat lots of posh chocolate though, as it’s yummy.
Then there are the other ways that we save cash through being unplasticky. Some are in a previous blog (5 ways less plastic can save money) like taking your own bags and avoiding the 5p charge, taking your own coffee cups and getting money off (although I find avoiding coffee shops altogether and just making it at home saves a tonne more). Buying less unnecessary nonsense certainly saves a wedge and half. Making our own bread (we cheat, we have a bread maker) and cooking meals from scratch saves a lot, and so does growing stuff in the garden like tomatoes, cucumbers and greens. We have even taken the extreme measure of downsizing our kitchen bin (now that we produce so much less waste) and lining it with folded / stuck together newspaper so we no longer have to buy bin bags, inspired by some youtube video that popped up on my facebook feed. This means I am officially a weird bin person. But I’m ok with that.
So far, money wise, so good. It all seems to have balanced out so far.
The other obvious advantage to plastic-wrapped stuff is mega convenience. For example, taking the time to bake cookies for the cookie jar versus opening a pack of Maryland. Peeling and chopping veg and fruit for snacks in pots as opposed to buying a pack of bars or ready-to-go nibbles. Making sandwiches and bringing them along on outings, instead of buying them plastic-wrapped from a corner shop. Making our own chips from chopped up potatoes instead of the plastic-bagged shove-in-the-oven variety. It all takes time.
Luckily, we don’t mind a bit of elbow grease. We bake stuff with the kids as an activity because they love it. And love eating it of course. Peeling and chopping veg and fruit doesn’t actually take that long – 5 or 10 minutes max – time you could easily whittle away on facebook. And it’s so much healthier. Making sandwiches saves a fortune. And home-made chips – well they are absolutely delicious and kick the McCains into touch.
So yes, some things take more time. But real life takes time. And stuff taking time shouldn’t really be seen as a negative thing, because there is great satisfaction in doing and making things – more than I ever realised.
And now that I know how easy they are to make, I’ll never buy a packet of scones again!
It’s funny how I now can’t help but notice all the straws sticking out of the iced coffees, milkshakes and juice cartons, and wonder if people realise they are still plastic straws and just as bad as asking for one at the bar. I can’t help looking at a crisp packet and thinking – you are never going to disappear in any of our lifetimes. That’s weird. That’s outrageous. I can’t help being baffled by the people who take loose items, like a bunch of bananas, then put them in a plastic produce bag to take to the checkout. Perhaps they haven’t read the news in the past year.
If the leaders and the businesses stop producing single-use plastic, it would help a lot. Lots of families doing the same and using less plastic might help it a bit. I know that our family using less plastic isn’t going to change the world. But when I think of how much less waste we produce now – our wheelie bin is barely a quarter full every two weeks – it’s pretty satisfying.
Happy to be living unplasticky.
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