Plastic-free July: Sustainability Struggles

Hello my lovelies! We are in the final stretch of plastic-free July now and Steph has asked people to talk about where they are still struggling when it comes to reducing plastic. You can read her post here.

Before I go into the areas where I’m still struggling to find an alternative, I should tell you that I will definitely not be continuing with my efforts to use close to zero plastic beyond July. That doesn’t mean I’ll stop caring about single-use plastic and buy things willy nilly – I didn’t do that before this month either! But I won’t spend the rest of my life basing all my decisions about what to cook/eat on whether it comes in plastic or not. It went okay this month, only because I allowed myself to use things we already had and made exceptions for a couple of things, but not buying any single-use plastic is not sustainable over the long-term. And now some products I’ve had trouble finding alternatives for.

Toothpaste. I have been using the toothpaste I already had throughout this month, but I’ve also had a think about how it could be replaced. I did notice that Lush has dental tab things but they were in a plastic bottle. There was a note saying the bottle was made from 50% recycled plastic, but it’s still a single-use plastic bottle!

Milk. I know milk in glass bottles is a thing that exists, but I’ve checked every supermarket local to me (plus the big one behind the train station) and none of them have milk in glass bottles. I know at least one brand in Germany has milk in glass bottles but going to Germany just to buy milk seems excessive! For the record, milk bottles here can be returned to supermarkets for recycling. The same with PET drinks bottles – I’ve even seen adverts in the tram recently telling people to take their drinks bottles to a PET container rather than throwing them in the bin!

Bin liners. This is one I’m not going to be able to do anything about. The plastic-free July website suggests alternatives to plastic including lining your bins with paper, but that isn’t going to work here. As I’ve mentioned before, general household rubbish is allowed to go in bags of 2 sizes, which you then stick either half a sticker or a full one on based on their volume (one whole sticker for a 35l bag). Also, general waste is incinerated here, so whether I use plastic bags or paper it’s all getting burned! (In Basel city, they don’t have stickers but an official bin bag – called Bebbi Sack. If your rubbish isn’t in a Bebbi Sack they simply won’t take it.)

Cheese. We found one kind of soft goat’s cheese that was wrapped in paper rather than plastic and one brand of flavoured Cheddar (they had smoked and garlic & chive) that was in wax with a sticker on. Other than that, every cheese in the supermarkets is wrapped in plastic. Even if you go to the cheese counter, they have the large blocks wrapped in cling film. Technically I am not throwing away single-use plastic in that case (if I can persuade them to give me my piece of cheese in a container from home instead of wrapping it in plastic) but passing the buck doesn’t make the plastic disappear!

Frozen vegetables. Yes, it’s always better to buy fresh vegetables, but I do like to have some frozen veg on hand, in particular spinach and peas. In Germany, I used to buy frozen spinach in cardboard boxes but I’ve checked every supermarket here and all of them use plastic bags. For the record, fresh spinach also comes in plastic bags here (you can possibly get loose spinach at markets but my local market is on from 7 a.m.-11 a.m. on Fridays and I have to work so that’s not happening).

Meat. I’ve barely eaten any meat this month simply because it is all in plastic packaging. Even if you go to the meat counter, they wrap your purchases in plastic. Admittedly I haven’t tried asking them to put it in my own container – trying to explain in German was a challenge I wasn’t ready to take on – but I suspect there are some health and safety rules that speak against it. And I’m sure at least one person out there is now thinking I could solve most of my problems (milk, cheese and meat) by going vegan – which is sooo much better for the planet anyway. But all the vegetarian/vegan alternatives are packaged in plastic as well. The milk issue applies just as much to almond, oat and soy milk and all the veggie burgers, etc. are packaged in plastic. Also, a lot of alternatives are based on soy, which can affect your hormones. I’m already infertile as it is without adding excess soy consumption to the mix!

Bread. Here, I’m talking the toastable kind. I usually have toast for breakfast but I haven’t been able to do that for the whole of July. I’ve been having organic cocoa porridge most days but 1) it’s too hot for that and 2) it also comes in plastic (the outer packaging is cardboard, but inside there’s a plastic bag). If I hadn’t already had it in my cupboard, I wouldn’t have been able to buy it (which would have made breakfast even more difficult!). Of course I could buy ordinary loaves of bread at a bakers, so bread is not out entirely, but I do like a bit of toast in the morning.

Cleaning products. Tips for this include buying cleaning products in glass bottles (do those exist? Not in Switzerland!) and making your own. I have actually tried the second option before – I’ve used the baking soda and vinegar trick to unblock a shower many times. (It doesn’t work for long, by the way. In my experience once a plunger stops doing the trick harsh chemicals are the way to go. Sorry). In this country, baking soda comes in little packets wrapped in plastic. The kind of vinegar you use for cleaning comes in plastic bottles (and also stinks!). Lemons are pretty much the only thing I can buy without plastic. I will have to take another look at the zero-waster supermarkets, but as far as I could see they only had washing powder, washing liquid, dishwasher powder (we use the tabs) and washing-up liquid. So for now I will keep buying eco-friendly bathroom cleaner in plastic spray bottles.

I think that’s all the things I haven’t been able to find an alternative to. There are a few things that there are alternatives too if I’m willing to go out of my way. For instance, at the supermarkets the organic vegetables are wrapped in plastic while the non-organic stuff is loose. I want organic vegetables. There is an organic supermarket in town that sells loose vegetables, but its opening hours aren’t great if you work full time. I also discovered that the only pasta at my local supermarket that features no plastic is green lasagne sheets. All the other ones in cardboard boxes – including the ordinary yellow lasagne sheets in the same brand – have a little plastic window. Obviously I can go to one of the zero-waste supermarkets and fill my own container with pasta, but again the opening hours aren’t the best if you work full time (actually the one that’s basically at the other side of town has slightly better opening hours, but I shouldn’t have to go all the way across town just to buy some pasta without plastic!). Of course inconvenience is no excuse. Buying pasta (or rice) in a plastic bag because I would either have to leave the second I finish work or sacrifice part of my Saturday otherwise is sheer laziness in my case. But that’s me. Other people don’t even have the option of going to those places. Elderly or disabled people can’t be expected to cross town just to buy some groceries. People in the villages surrounding Basel shouldn’t have to travel into town to buy their groceries. And plenty of people don’t finish work until 6 or later… the organic supermarket and the zero-waste supermarket closest to me both close at 6:30. That doesn’t leave a lot of time to get there and actually do your shopping! So while I will, of course, continue to do my bit and save plastic where I can, as of August I will be going back to buying meat and toast in plastic containers. Sorry, but there’s only so much an individual can do. Now if only the supermarkets (or, really, the producers behind them) would start doing their bit to help those of us who are trying our best!

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A Photo an Hour: 20 July 2019

Hello lovely readers! Saturday was July’s photo an hour day. I took part on Twitter and now I also want to post the photos on my blog.

10 a.m. Obviously my day starts with tea.

11 a.m. Shower time. We’re still using the bath but the glass for the actual shower is due to arrive on the 29th! Also, we are not currently using those plastic bottles of shampoo/shower gel but of course I haven’t thrown them away because pouring out half the contents is even worse than having single-use plastic bottles in the first place!

12 noon. Waiting for a bus.

1 p.m. We met a friend (technically Jan’s friend, but who’s keeping track?) and went for a drink by the river.

2 p.m. Still by the river. It started to cloud over (but then brightened up again)

3 p.m. We went for food. I took this photo slightly late because I got distracted by eating 😉

4 p.m. Jan wanted caffeine. He went to Starbucks (which we never usually do) because he got a discount for being part of the Basel tattoo cast. Annoying that they give you plastic cups even if you sit in! This branch didn’t have any normal glasses and only small mugs.

5 p.m. Slightly delayed again as I was paying for some purchases then had to run for the bus. Photo taken on said bus.

6 p.m. Home and reading my penultimate book for Erin‘s reading challenge.

7 p.m. Another tea – ginger and lemon this time so I switched cups. Looks more like autumn than summer.

8 p.m. At this time of year I have lots of cards to stitch (it’s also about time I started Christmas cards!). This one is for my friend’s son, who is turning 5.

9 p.m. I wasn’t hungry for dinner after that huge lunch, but I popped to the shop because I fancied some chocolate. Plastic-free options are limited at the only place that’s open at night… I pretty much had the choice between this and Toblerone (or a grapefruit Lindt bar which quite frankly sounds disgusting).

I could have taken a 10 p.m. photo but I didn’t because I always like to have an even number, so that’s yer lot for today.

What did you do on Saturday? I hope it was a good one!

Plastic-free July in the office

Hello my lovelies! I thought it would be good to record another day in my life of trying to be plastic-free since the month is now half over (has my motivation lapsed?) and I also had to be in the office yesterday. Totally different situation to my usual days working from home.

I completely forgot to take photos of my morning routine – I’m not at my best at 5:30 a.m.! But you know the drill from last time anyway. Bamboo toothbrush, toothpaste in a plastic tube, refillable bottle of shower gel. And at this point I should admit to you that I caved and used my old shampoo in its plastic bottle the day before. I just couldn’t get on with the shampoo from the zero-waste supermarket… my hair was lank and felt greasy. No thanks! Jan has now bought me a lemon grass shampoo bar so we’ll see how I get on with that. Anyway…

1-water flask

I filled a flask with water before I left so I had something to drink on the two-hour train journey.

2-croissant

Breakfast at the train station… croissant in a paper bag. I also grabbed a napkin so I could place it on the counter while I paid.

3-baguette

I purchased lunch on arrival in my destination city. Baguette wrapped in some kind of waxed paper and placed in a paper bag.

4-water

At work we drink water from plastic bottles. German tap water is safe to drink, but the pipes for our building are old and not necessarily hygienic/safe. A company delivers the bottles then picks up the empties for recycling or reuse (I’m not sure which).

5-dinner

I finally got back to Basel at around 8 p.m., by which time I was way too tired to cook! So I stopped at the vegetarian restaurant by the train station. The straw in my drink is paper. Still single-use, wasteful and entirely unnecessary but not plastic. Did any of the food on my plate come in plastic packaging? I can’t guarantee that it didn’t (and I’d honestly be surprised if every ingredient they used was plastic free). Did I care? In that moment, no. I just wanted to eat and get home. (And yes, I’m aware that it’s exactly that kind of attitude that led to all the problems with plastic bags, straws, bottles, etc. in the first place!).

I then went home, brushed my teeth (plastic tube again), took my folic acid (plastic packaging – unavoidable) and very gratefully collapsed into my bed. Office days are long!

First day of plastic reduction!

Hello! As I’ve already mentioned, this month I am teaming up with Steph to reduce the number of single-use plastic items I use. Today I am going to take you through a normal working day during plastic-free July. One of the things I committed to doing was to choose alternatives to plastic packaging wherever possible and, if I couldn’t find one and the item is non-essential, go without. However, I decided that if I already had things in plastic containers I would use them (I mean, I’m hardly going to throw them out and simply waiting until August to use them isn’t possible if they go off in July), so as I go along I will point out where I am using an item that’s made of or comes in plastic – even if it’s not single use, I will show you that it’s not plastic-free. The day in question is yesterday, the very first day of the challenge…

Monday, 1st July 2019

1-shower

It’s 6:30 a.m. (yawn!) and time for my shower. Jan and I visited both of the zero waste supermarkets in Basel on Saturday and bought this shower gel (right – labelled as soap because the bottle that went with the actual shower gel was too small) and shampoo. Now we have the bottles we can go back there and refill them. The shower gel is fine but I’ve yet to use the shampoo so once I do we’ll see how my hair feels about it…

2-breakfast

I’ve literally just started this challenge and I’m already failing! Breakfast is a slice of raisin toast… which comes in plastic packaging. Since I only committed not to buy any more plastic and this was purchased in June I’m safe 😉

3-tea

A cup of tea before it gets too hot. Did you know that many teabags contain plastic? It’s used to seal them shut. I found this post about common tea bands (in the UK) and whether they use plastic in their teabags. I have Tetley English Breakfast Tea. The company claims that their string and tag teabags are plastic free. Since mine have strings they should be fine. However, the box itself came wrapped in plastic (both plastic and box are long gone so I can’t show you). The milk is also in a plastic bottle.

4-toothbrush

Teeth brushing time! My toothbrush is bamboo (hurrah!) although the bristles are still plastic. Also, as you can see, my toothpaste is in a plastic tube. I did notice one of the zero-waste shops in Basel has alternatives so I want to try those at some point but I will use this tube up first. I also noticed the other day that this is made by Proctor and Gamble, who I’ve actually been boycotting for about 18 years so I’m doubly annoyed by this toothpaste! I’ve never bought Oral B before and I never will again.

Lunch break time and I took a quick trip to the supermarket but forgot to take my phone or camera to record all the plastic. At least I can show you what I purchased.

5-shopping

The margarine ran out yesterday so now I can’t have any more until August. But I can’t have toast either so it doesn’t matter. I’m not 100% sure what the butter is packed in – any guesses? Whatever it is it’s certainly less plastic than a margarine tub! The loose potatoes are clearly in my reusable bag, although the adhesive sticker from weighing them most likely contains plastic. Pesto in a glass jar inside a piece of cardboard. Apparently the inside of most jar lids is coated with plastic, but at least jars can be reused in theory. Tuna in a tin. Some (most?) tins are coated with plastic, apparently. I don’t know if this one is. The chocolate packaging is cardboard and some metallic foil. I wouldn’t usually buy Lindt chocolate but most of the others have plastic wrapping.

6-magazine

Picked up the mail on my way back upstairs. My cross stitch magazine arrived, and of course it’s packaged in plastic. I subscribe to two cross stitch magazines and both of them come wrapped in plastic every month. One subscription is up for renewal soon and I may just let it run out. I have plenty of magazines so it’s not like I’m going to run out of things to stitch any time soon…

7-soup

Now for lunch. It’s way too hot for soup, but I only have ten minutes left of my break so it’s all I have time for. I would have preferred salad or a sandwich but I can’t have either without single-use plastic packaging.  And speaking of lunch, Jan said if I was writing about my plastic-free efforts I should mention that he bought a reusable lunch box a few weeks ago and has been gradually figuring out which places close to his work are willing to refill it for him. He has also created a document on the internal portal so that other people working there also know where they can go to have the containers they’ve brought from home filled with food. There you go Jan, consider it mentioned. (Not that he will ever read this but whatever 🤷).

The dishwasher needs to be run. I bought these dishwasher tabs a couple of weeks ago and I specifically chose these “Held” ones because they’re made by Ecover and are supposedly environmentally friendly. Then I got them home, opened the packing and discovered that each individual tab is wrapped in plastic! So annoyed. I am using them for now since I have them, but as soon as they’re gone it will be back to Coop’s own “eco” brand, which have a dissolvable film. (The Migros eco ones also have a dissolvable film but the tabs are inside a plastic bag within the outer cardboard box – totally unnecessary!).

9-bathroom cleaner

Finally finished work (unrelated to plastic, but can I just point out that it’s 5:45 p.m. and I started work at 7:30 a.m…. my actual working hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.!). Now I need to do some cleaning. My bathroom cleaner is in a plastic bottle. The cloth is from a multi-pack and so came wrapped in plastic at some point.

Oh, while I’m in the bathroom I should show you this…

10-soap

Liquid soap. It’s been refilled multiple times, but the refills we’ve used in the past were also made from plastic. We still have one more full refill pack, but once that’s empty I shall try to find a new solution.

11-baby gifts

My cousin had a baby! Both of these gifts are in plastic. The one for a clothing has a zip so could be reused, but I obviously don’t know whether my cousin will actually do so. The rattle packaging is definitely single-use. Sigh.

Time to start dinner. It’s hotter than Hades (when will this heatwave end?) so we’re having baked potatoes for tea… the oven will heat up the kitchen but it’s still preferable to me actually standing by a hot stove.) We are having the potatoes with tinned tuna and bacon bits. The bacon bits use-by date is tomorrow (today when this post goes up) so they have to be used, despite being packaged in plastic. Most of the other the things I would normally eat with baked potatoes either come in plastic, require cooking, or both (hummus, cheese, chilli con carne…) so my options are limited.

13-folic acid

Before bed I take folic acid. You’re supposed to start taking it as soon as you decide to try for a baby and carry on until around week 12 of your pregnancy. I briefly stopped taking it when the midwife told me to at around 14 weeks, but two weeks later when I lost the boys I was advised to start taking it again immediately because it would hep get my iron levels back up. So basically I’ve been on folic acid almost non-stop since March 2015, and I will continue taking it until I either actually make it to 12 weeks pregnant again or we give up trying… I dread to think how  many of these plastic things I’ve already thrown away and how many more there will be in my future. (And that’s not even mentioning all the syringes, needles single-use plastic gloves, etc. at the clinic plus the needles I used to give myself injections, the packaging from the hormones I’ve had to take orally, etc. Infertility is not environmentally friendly!)

Other things I haven’t spoken about or photographed but did do: as I mentioned, we’re in the middle of a heatwave. I’ve been guzzling water all day. All from the tap and drunk from a glass. No plastic bottles in sight! I also took my reusable fabric bag shopping with me, as always. I only occasionally purchase a paper bag from the supermarket when I need one to take out the paper recycling in.

So, that was my first day. I hope this post has given you some insight into a few the unexpected (and not so unexpected) areas that plastic crops up and some ways of avoiding single-use plastics. As you can see, there are definitely many areas where I could improve! I could buy loose leaf tea in tins or cardboard packaging, find alternative cleaning products or make my own… as July goes on the list is sure to grow! Look out for more posts as I continue my month of being aware of plastic, and check out the #sustainablestephs hashtag on Instagram to connect with other people who are taking this challenge.

Going plastic-free (ish) for July

5-coffee

You may or may not know that I am passionate about the environment and do my best to recycle and live as sustainably as possible (which it turns out is more difficult in Switzerland than it was in Germany). Yesterday, I read a post by Steph in which she calls on her readers to participate in Plastic Free July. <- Click that link to read all about it; I had never heard of it, but it’s a real campaign, not something she made up. I loved the idea and decided I want to join in.

You don’t have to go completely plastic-free, thankfully – that would be next to impossible in the country where I have yet to see milk in a glass bottle. As long as you commit to doing something to reduce the single-use plastics in your life you’ll be doing your bit. And who knows, you might find you don’t actually need the thing you decide to give up and carry on your commitment beyond July.

For myself, I had to think quite hard about what I should give up. I already do a lot of the “easy” things people suggest for getting started. I always have a reusable bag with me when I go shopping (and our supermarkets have paper bags anyway, which I am aware have problems of their own but in the context of single-use plastics they’re not really relevant). I have reusable net bags for loose fruit and vegetables, so I don’t need to use the plastic bags provided. I almost never drink bottled water – the exception is when I’m in holiday in a place where you can’t drink the tap water. I very rarely buy take away coffee – since I work from home I can just make my own hot drinks and if I buy one from a café I’m usually sitting in the café, drinking from a normal cup. I make sure to buy paper cotton buds instead of plastic ones. I buy washing powder in cardboard boxes instead of plastic bags – also planning in checking out a local zero waste shop soon to see if they have any washing powder I can purchase with no packaging at all. So what does that leave? Here’s what I’ve decided to do:

  1. No ordering online for the whole of July. While some things come packaged in nothing but cardboard, I can never guarantee that they will and in some cases I know for a fact they won’t! I buy most of my books used from Better World Books (for every book sold they donate one to Books for Africa or provide support for other literacy non-profits) but they always send them in (annoying!) plastic packaging. New Look ships their clothing in plastic bags. And many other companies also use plastic somewhere in their packaging. So for the whole of July I will do my best not to order anything online.
  2. No ready meals in plastic containers. This also includes the ready-made bakery items at the local supermarket – the bags provided for them are paper but they have a plastic window for the employees to see the products. Looks like I am going to have to majorly rethink how I eat lunch in July (I often grab a sausage roll from the shop round the corner)!
  3. Look for alternatives in non-plastic packaging and buy those even if they are more expensive. If there are no alternatives and the item is non-essential, go without. I already know I’ll be making two exceptions: 1) milk – it’s an essential to me; I need it for tea! Plus Jan eats cereal for breakfast at weekends 2) bin liners – the waste system here involves buying stickers to put on your bin bags. The stickers go by volume, so you have to buy the “proper” bin liners in the right size. There’s no way I’m going to be not taking my rubbish out for an entire month at the hottest time of year!

I will be updating you all via my blog (and possibly Instagram) throughout July sou you can see exactly how well (or badly) I do. And if you know of any easy things I missed out let me know in the comments and I’ll try to incorporate them if I don’t do them already. I Also check out Steph’s post if you haven’t already and, once July rolls around, the hashtag #sustainablestephs on Instagram. I would love it if everyone who read this would commit to doing one thing, however small, in July. If we all work together we can surely make a difference!