The Plastic Diaries
Oh hi! Thanks for stopping by to read The Plastic Diaries. I started thinking a lot about plastic and how much we use when we don’t need to, so I decided to keep a diary of everything I was using, throwing away and recycling and the results were somewhat mortifying. It made me realise that my eco conscience is not as squeaky clean as I thought, and neither is the conscience of some of the biggest companies out there...
I gave myself a score in order to track the plastic usage: one point for everything that could be recycled and five points for everything that could not. It wasn’t the most scientifically-sound study and it definitely wouldn’t stand up as academic research, but it helped to prove a general point that THERE IS FAR TOO MUCH PLASTIC EVERYWHERE!
I can’t promise it’s the most riveting read, but I’ve tried to jazz it up as best as I can. If you make it all the way to day seven, congratulations in advance. Let’s just hope you learn something.
It turns out, I am addicted to cotton buds. I realise this as I start on my 3rd and then 4th cotton bud of the morning. It’s a terrible habit for both my ears and the planet and I mentally tot up that I must go through about 15 of these a week. Multiply that by 52, and that’s....a lot of cotton buds by the end of the year (not to mention the irreversible damage to my ears.) It’s not a good start, and I feel very guilty indeed. That’s 20 plastic points before I’ve even finished my cup of tea. The cotton buds will have to go!
I’m off to Portsmouth for the weekend, and lunch involves vegan pie and mash in a cafe near Southsea Pier. This incurs no plastic waste that I know of, just delicious pie. However, my friend and I have plans to rustle up a veggie feast for our dinner so we pop into Tesco for a few ingredients and I realise that my plastic-free choices are shot. The fruit and veg aisle is a sea of transparent packaging and I notice for what seems like the first time that almost everything is wrapped in the stuff. Almost all of this packaging is non-recyclable in Portsmouth so I clock up some serious plastic points and it’s only day one. Coriander (5), peppers (5), tortilla wraps (5), two chocolate bars (10), desiccated coconut (5), 2 packets of Oreo biscuits (10), a bottle of olive oil (1), frozen corn (5), the seal on a peanut butter jar (5), the lid on a bottle of almond milk (1), celery (5), quinoa (5), cashew nuts (5). I also buy two items of clothing (we got a liiiiiittle bit carried away with the shopping...), one of which comes with a plastic tag (the other is elastic) so that’s 5 more points. I ditch the hangers and then pick up a loose broccoli and a loose courgette, defiantly refusing to self-bag. It’s a very shallow attempt to cleanse my guilty conscience.
Total plastic points = 92. MUST TRY HARDER.
My friend packages up the left overs for me to take back on the train. No food waste = very good. Plastic takeaway box = very bad. To our credit, it’s an old patisserie box that she has reused and I vow to look after it so I can use it again (something I probably wouldn’t have done before as it’s a bit flimsy), but I resign myself to the fact that at some point it’ll go in the bin. The plus side is that this can be recycled in Islington so it only costs me 1 point. The down side is that there’s no more room in my suitcase so it then goes in a plastic bag. That’s a penalty of 5 plastic points. But she did present it to me with panache.
At the station I’m in desperate need of a drink. Despite having a million reusable drinks bottles at home I haven’t brought any of them with me and I resort to buying a bottle of water. Fortunately / unfortunately, the station shop is closed on a Sunday so I have to go without. At least there are some environmental perks to me never having my shit together.
At home, we chuck out the packaging that came with our new computer - a cardboard box which we recycle, and a tonne of polystyrene that shamefully goes straight in the bin. If each piece is worth 5 points, it culminates in a 30 point fine. Ugh, this is hard.
After dinner I have to do a bit of Googling to double check what can and can’t be recycled after acknowledging that I often just whimsically chuck everything into the recycling bin and consider myself a good citizen. After closer inspection, I notice that the packet of soya mince says to 'recycle with bags at larger stores' or to 'check locally for kerbside'. The council website isn’t clear about this but it says it can recycle carrier bags, so I pop it in the recycle bin and hope for the best (1 point). I also recycle the mushroom box (1 point) but the cling film goes straight in the bin (5 points) along with the seal from a jar of olives (5 points).
In the evening, I use the last of my makeup remover and the bottle goes in the recycling (1) along with an empty bottle of shower gel (1) and a shampoo bottle (1). Oh and the packet from a dishwasher tablet too (1).
Total plastic points: 51. A bit better than yesterday but only just.
I go at it again with the cotton buds this morning, incurring a fine of 10 points before 6.30am.
I’m feeling smug about carrying my lunch in a reusable container until I arrive at work and realise that I’ve left the dregs of some hummus in the fridge. The tub can’t be recycled at school so it goes in the bin (5 points).
I never buy bottled water, but I do have a refillable plastic bottle that I keep at school. Great to avoid plastic waste, but not so good for those nasty chemicals. Stainless steel bottles are apparently the future. Rene has recently bought one for me so I must remember to start using it.
There are no more plastic penalties until I return to my class after lunch and discover that an M&S order I made online last week has been delivered, and I recoil in horror as I remember what’s inside. There are 7 individual items, some of which are still on hangers and/or come individually wrapped in plastic INSIDE an outer plastic bag, not to mention the mini shoe horn things that keep your shoes straight in transit. It all adds up to 53 points and I don’t even want to keep it all. Why does everything require so much packaging – they are mostly FABRIC items! The worst thing that can happen in transit is that something gets creased. In the past, I’ve always thrown this sort of packaging away, but a quick Google tells me that the bags can be recycled in Islington (hurrah!) but the shoe and underwear hangers can’t (boo...). I wonder if M&S will be grateful if I take them back to the shop? It’s worth an email or two. It definitely won’t make me look insane.
In the meantime I hide the bag guiltily and scoff a few biscuits, which certainly helps to make me feel better until the empty packet goes straight in the bin. Oh bloody hell. 5 more points.
On the way home, I pop to Sainsbury’s to buy two cartons of almond milk (2 points for the lids), two packets of cereal (2), a carton of yoghurt (1) and a broccoli wrapped in plastic (5) (there were NO unwrapped options). Thankfully I had my own bag. Phew!
After dinner, I throw out the netting from a packet of onions (5), the inner and outer packaging from noodles (15), as well as the broccoli wrapper I bought earlier. All of this goes in the bin as it’s non-recyclable.
Add together the wrapper from a dishwasher tablet (1) and another empty bottle of shower gel (1) and it gives me a grand total of 105 points for day 3. It’s actually getting worse.
It’s another day where I’m clocking up points before I’ve even left the house. The mouthwash runs out so the bottle goes in recycling (1) and I rip the plastic off a new bottle which goes straight in the bin (5). I start to wonder if it’s just coincidence that we’ve been running out of all our toiletries this week or if this happens all the time and I never normally notice. This exercise has certainly helped me realise that almost EVERYTHING you buy comes in plastic. Who knew?! The mouthwash bottle is listed as ‘widely recycled’ but I’m told to check locally about the cap. Call me sceptical, but I doubt the general public can be arsed with that. If I’ve learnt anything from being a teacher it’s that if you want people to follow your instructions, you have to be clear. In fact you might as well write them on your forehead (or, y’know...the recycling bin). The only thing that puts a spring in my step is that I passed on the cotton buds today. I’ll be an eco warrior yet.
My lunch is in a reusable container (I’m actually very good at this bit) and there are no plastic surprises in the fridge or on my desk today. I’ve even remembered by metal bottle. For once, I’m totally winning.
On the way home, I don’t need to go shopping (I walk past Sainsbury’s every day and there’s usually *something* that we need…) so there are no new plastic purchases, but after dinner I end up throwing out the plastic from a packet of couscous (5), bulgar wheat (5), peppers (5), hummus (1) and mushrooms (1 for the tub and 5 for the cling film). It’s infuriating that a) this was all wrapped in plastic in the first place and b) that it has to go in the bin. We are totally guilty of shopping out of ‘convenience’, but when you pitch that against the inconvenience of our landfill problem, you start to realise that it’s a really poor exchange.
Overall, a comparatively triumphant day! Only 28 points.
It’s a hair wash day, and when my ears are wet I can’t resist the urge to stick something in them. I realise as I type this that it might be verging on some sort of psychological problem, but I’m working on it. And today I make progress! I use just ONE cotton bud for both ears and this makes me feel like a good human, still it’s 5 plastic points.
It’s actually looking really good as the day wears on and and I manage avoid all types of disposable plastic throughout the working day. This is until I swing into Sainsbury’s on the way home…it’s been at leat 48 hours since I last went and I need a few things for dinner - this is what happens when you don’t have a car and have to carry groceries home on the bus. I need two single peppers, which are 60p each but I notice that a pack of 3 peppers wrapped in plastic costs £1.10. How is that actually possible? You’re paying MORE to not have them gift wrapped. This makes me so mad I refuse to buy them, and out of protest I pick up two loose aubergines instead. That’ll show them. I come unstuck when I hunt out the cherry tomatoes. I only need a handful, and I almost pick up a couple of loose ones but my beady eyes notice a packet of toms with a yellow sticker on and I cannot resist. Anything with a yellow sticker is essentially free, and it seems that my principles cannot withstand the temptation. I am only human after all. 5 points.
I also buy a graze box flapjack to eat on the way home and it’s only as I’m whizzing it through the self scanner that I realise I’ve just clocked up 5 totally unnecessary points. This has been a rather unsuccessful shopping trip.
Later on, there’s only the wrapper from a dishwasher tablet (1) which brings my daily total to 16. At least I’m moving in the right direction.
Reasons to be cheerful: it’s the last day of term, and I pass on the cotton buds again this morning. I take my lunch in a reusable tub and it’s looking good for the day ahead.
The father of a boy in my class knocks on the door at 8.50 to offer me an Easter gift from the family. It’s an Easter egg and a handbag (…because how else do you celebrate the resurrection of Christ?) which I accept with awkward grace. It’s only later on that I realise that it makes me liable for 20 plastic points because everything comes with plastic packaging.
It also pains me to realise that the egg hunt we’ve set up for the children is a plastic catastrophe. A platastrophe, if you will. Each child has a rabbit-shaped plastic bag containing sweets and a plastic egg with a plastic toy inside. We’re only a small school but even still, that’s 120 plastic bags going straight in the bin, along with 120 plastic eggs and 120 plastic toys following in a week or so. I dread to think how many other things like this will be going on up and down the country, and around the world, this Easter. The teachers are given one too, which makes me accumulate another 15 points.
I clock up 5 more points from a packet of rice cakes later on and 1 from the dishwasher tablet which we’ve had to accept don’t actually work. It defeats the point of a brand being “environmentally friendly” when you have to run the machine twice to get things properly clean. What we need to accept, perhaps, is that not running the machine at all would be best all round.
A total of 41 plastic points, but most of these were NOT my fault.
It’s the final day of the plastic diaries and I’m determined to make it a good one. I pass on the cotton buds again, and even order myself some biodegradable ones from Organyc.
It’s Good Friday, and Rene and I have plans in Central London and in Camden. Knowing I’ll be out all day, I fill up my metal water bottle and pop it in my bag. That wasn’t difficult now, was it?
My plastic-free intentions are ruined later in the day when we buy a plastic packet of popcorn and a Vego chocolate bar before our cinema trip. Rene also buys a plastic bottle of coke because Odeon are currently unable to sell draft Coke in paper cups in half-arsed war on sugar. You can however, BUY AS MANY BOTTLES OF COKE AS YOU LIKE, and chuck them into landfill at the end of it. Sure, the proposal of sugar tax is a good idea in theory, but the execution needs a bit of work.
After the film, I take the bottle and packets with me, intending to find a recycling bin outside in the foyer. But there is nowhere for me to recycle any of it. Clearly, everything that’s collected from each of the screens goes straight in the bin and this suddenly seems OUTRAGEOUS. All of our packets, and the bottle too, goes straight in the bin. A total of 15 points. In hindsight, I should have taken it with me.
We eat out for dinner (vegan pizza from the new Purezza in Camden. Oh my goodness it’s heaven on a plant-based plate…) so there are no plastic fines for me, but I’m not sure this is the best way to avoid plastic waste. Just because I haven’t seen it, doesn’t mean it isn’t there.
If it wasn’t for our snack-filled cinema trip, I might have finished today with a perfect score, but…it’s still my best yet with only 15 plastic points. Woo hoo!
So how did I do overall...?
At the end of the week, I tot up that I've incurred 348 plastic points and used 89 items of disposable plastic. Holy moly. And I thought my global footprint was small. Get me to the nearest bulk buy store. Still, it's been a useful exercise and has allowed me to see where we can all make an effort to reduce our plastic consumption. Head on over to this page to read the shortlist of on 12 top tips!