First things first
Over the past few years I have made a number of changes in how I do things that have reduced my use of single-use stuff (whether it’s plastic, paper or whatever). What I’ve found with each of them is that they quickly become the new normal and I never think about doing them. The time I notice is when for whatever reason I don’t have an alternative with me and have to make a choice between single use and doing without. Doing without is usually my choice (though not always. None of us is perfect…).
For example, it is many years since I ever bought a drink in a plastic bottle. Yes I use plastic bottles, but these are far from single use. We’ve had them for many many years, and just reuse them. No reason not to – they exist, they’re here already, they do the job well, and are sturdy enough to last us many more years. Likewise, our thermos flasks and reuse cups. Likewise my carry-around pouch with cutlery, a cloth napkin, and a mini ice cream scoop.
What did I change in 2019?
The main thing that changed during 2019 was my awareness of packaging and the changes I could make to reduce the amount that finds its way into our home. Also watching the BBC programme on recycling brought home what an illusion we have been sold. Which made me work harder to find a solution to my biggest contribution to single use plastic: the milk bottle.
What I did – milk
I drink a lot of milk. Almost certainly more than is good for the planet. I’m working on it (ie finding ways to use less of it). In the meantime, I was buying organic British milk from our local supermarket (Coop). But after watching the TV programme and seeing the evidence, I felt I could no longer continue with this. So I made a switch that many of my neighbours have made, to having (organic, British) milk delivered to our doorstep in glass bottles. It cost much more, but I was willing (and able) to pay the increased price if that was going to be better for the planet.
Until Malcolm brought my attention to radio coverage of complaints by diary farmers that the payment they received for their milk from this company was below the cost to them of production. Once I’d heard that, I stopped my deliveries and reverted to the supermarket. Taking me back to where I started.
Fortunately for me, I very quickly found what I think is a much better solution. I remembered that an organic farm just outside Bath sells their milk direct. I went to have a look. They have a machine that they fill each morning with fresh pasteurised (whole) milk. You take your own bottle and fill it with either 1 or 2 litres. It costs much less than the delivered milk (but more than the supermarket milk), and I know that every penny goes to the farmer. I can watch the cows being milked, I see them grazing the nearby fields.
The downside is that I drive just under 8 miles (round trip) each time I stock up on milk. However, the milk I buy has travelled no miles at all before I buy it. I reuse the same bottles every time and I see no reason why they shouldn’t last indefinitely (compared to the approximately 20 times the glass delivery bottles are reused). So I’ve been experimenting to see how much milk I can buy in one visit that will keep fine in the fridge at home (ie how long it will keep), and at the same time I’m continuing to find ways to reduce my consumption of milk. Maybe later in the year I’ll experiment with cycling out there (it means crossing Bath and riding out up quite a hill and finally along a fairly narrow and quite busy road, so I’m a little nervous and I think rightly so. However, in the longer term I’m contemplating replacing two bikes with an electric bike and that may make the whole thing easier and safer).
So, all in all, this feels to me like an acceptable compromise. The reduction in contents of our recycling bin is substantial. I now only put it out for emptying once a fortnight, instead of weekly.
What I did – not milk
Milk aside, most of the actual changes I made have been relatively small ones, but I’m working on the premise that the small things add up when we all do them.
So. The first thing I did was to sort through, identify and use up stuff I already have. The sorting unearthed an array of small part-used containers of shampoo, shower gel, and various skin creams. I have been gradually using these and disposing of the containers (or where possible, repurposing them – some have been kept for travel use, some given away).
A new (to me) habit in 2019 was carrying around a box full of bags to take shopping with me. This works extremely well, and I rarely bring any unwanted packaging into our home. Pleasingly, occasionally other customers have noticed and commented positively, so I hope that maybe I will have spurred others to do likewise. There are however some food items in plastic that I haven’t yet moved to an alternative (eg pasta). I will explore other options during 2020.
I tried and failed to find a shampoo bar that I liked. But here at the start of 2020 I am inspired by my older friend (well into her 80s) who has recommended to me a bar shampoo (and an alternative deodorant) – she is making great efforts to change her consumption to cut out waste and single use items. Don’t let anyone tell you that older people don’t care about the climate emergency: many do care, and are willing to do something about it.
I’m sufficiently pleased with my progress to continue with all the changes I’ve already made, and to carry on searching for alternatives (and in many cases just stop using products). Definitely not reached the ‘enough’ point with this one.