Lorax EPI

What happened when Lorax gave up plastic for lent

What happened when Lorax gave up plastic for lent
by Ellen Thornton at 09:46 in Packaging, Environmental

Here at Lorax, in an effort to reduce our use of plastic, we took part in Plastikfasten. This involved aiming to give up or reduce the amount of plastic we use during the 40 days of Lent. As part of the challenge, we collected any plastic used in the office as well as collecting and weighing any plastic each of us used at home.

When it comes to the weekly shop, it quickly becomes clear that avoiding plastic is going to be a much greater challenge than initially anticipated. The most obvious place to reduce my plastic is through buying loose fruit and veg in the supermarket. There are plastic bags provided, although if I had been more prepared I could have brought my own reusable bags. Instead, I ended up with a shopping basket half full of loose fruit and veg. Unsurprisingly, the checkout lady was not overly impressed. With regards to other foods, it seems all meat and fish comes in plastic packaging. In terms of condiments, herb, spices, etc. there is usually options available in glass jars or tins which can be chosen. However, pasta, rice and all similar carbs are again packaged in plastic with no obvious alternative. It seems that to be more successful in this challenge, I'll have to be a bit more creative.

Having said that, I promptly made the regrettable decision of buying a breakfast pot from a well-known supermarket in a rush before work. When I sat down at my desk and tucked in, I quickly realised how many layers of plastic there were for this one small meal and instantly felt a wave of guilt for my purchase. On the top, a hard-plastic lid containing granola and a black plastic spoon contained in a plastic wrapper. So far, one out of three of these plastic parts is recyclable – the hard lid. The black plastic spoon is not easily recyclable, and neither is the thin film around it, not to mention the fact that I didn't even need the spoon in the office – ideally this would have been an optional extra. The second part of the pot was another hard-plastic container with yoghurt inside, sealed with an aluminium foil lid. The plastic container was also wrapped in a thin plastic label with the branding and dietary information printed on it. Again, on the bottom half, only the hard-plastic container is recyclable. To make matters worse the only available recycling information was confusing. There was a recycling symbol on the plastic surrounding the container which stated it was PET. However, as I have mentioned, it is the two hard plastic containers that this symbol is referring to, which are widely recyclable and not the thin plastic that the recycling symbol is printed on, nor the plastic spoon and​​ plastic concealing the spoon. From the information provided on this product, I find that it is not only ambiguous but also slightly misleading. It​ just isn't clear which parts are recyclable. Furthermore, is it really necessary to have 6 separate pieces of packaging made from 5 different materials for one small breakfast pot?

breakfast pot.jpg

For my second attempt at a plastic reduced weekly shop, I came prepared with Tupperware and reusable bags. This allowed me again to avoid plastic on my fruit and veg, with the added benefit of a bag to put them in and therefore no disapproving looks. When it came to meat, I approached the butchers counter and asked if they could put the meat in my Tupperware – after explaining why they kindly obliged. I took a similar approach to the deli counter for cheese and cold meats, where these would have been otherwise packaged in plastic. With regards to pasta, rice, pulses, etc. the only solution I could think of was the buy larger packs to reduce the volume of packaging for the amount of food I was buying. Unfortunately, in terms of snacks and sweet treats – crisps, biscuits, sweets, chocolate – I struggled to find alternatives to the plastic wrapped ones in the supermarket. When it came to toiletries, I struggled again, only able to reduce the volume of plastic by buying larger shampoo bottles and such like.

In the office, when asked to weigh their weekly plastic, all staff were conscious about their purchasing choices and reducing unnecessary waste. As I found, the other staff were limited on how much they could reduce their plastic usage. I'm sure if you spent a considerable amount of time searching, on the internet and in alternative shops, it would be possible to do a better job than I did. However, since the majority of the population shops in supermarkets, it seems this is where the change needs to be made. When there is talk of plastic free isles, why are plastic bags being offered for loose fruit and veg instead of paper ones? There should be readily available reduced plastic alternatives, however supermarkets seem to have no incentive to do this. Iceland has made a commitment to become plastic free by 2023, although frozen food is easier to store and hence plastic is less necessary for its packaging. It is clear that significant time and money must be invested in looking at alternatives to packaging and supermarkets need to be given a shove in the right direction – whether this is through competition or government policy. Furthermore, public education is essential to making the right choices in order to introduce such competition. In addition, knowledge of how to recycle to prevent contamination and reduce the amount of recyclable materials still going to landfill is essential.

It may seem like we failed to give up plastic for lent, but I'm not sure it is actually possible to do this. Not at least without going out of your way a great deal, which realistically the average person would not be willing to do. However, we​ have made a concious change to reduce our plastic consumption at home and in the office. Despite plastic waste having been in the press a lot recently, there doesn't seem to be any visible changes on the supermarket shelves as of yet. Here at Lorax we will continue to be environmentally conscious and avoid plastic as best as we can, although we look forward to seeing supermarkets and the government being more proactive on the matter. If you have any questions on our challenge or anything related to plastic waste, please contact us here​.​

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