Purge the plastic from your weekly shop, have a tea break that won’t pollute the planet and could your mattress be making you ill: How to break the plastic habit
Ten years ago it was rare to see anyone using their own reusable bags to pack their shopping at the supermarket checkout. Now it is just as rare to hear anyone whisper ‘Yes’ when the cashier asks if you want to buy a 5p bag.
It took some time, but the habit of saying No to a plastic bag and always having reusable bags to hand really has taken hold. What was once perceived as normal behaviour has been reversed.
This small lifestyle change has become habitual for the majority of us and the impact on the environment has been significant.
It is estimated that UK supermarkets generate one million tons of plastic packaging every year, which amounts to more than a quarter of the country’s entire plastic usage
All this week in the Daily Mail we are serialising a new book, Life Without Plastic, by Canadian husband and wife Chantal Plamondon and Jay Sinha, who are experts in finding ingenious ways we can all cut back on plastic. The couple passionately believe that we can turn the tide on the mountains of plastic that is threatening our planet simply by making a few small, seemingly inconsequential changes.
This is never more necessary than in the battle to reduce some of the plastic that has become such an endemic part of food shopping. Unfortunately, there seems to be no let up in the amount of plastic packaging used to cover food. In fact, it appears to be increasing.
It is estimated that UK supermarkets generate one million tons of plastic packaging every year, which amounts to more than a quarter of the country’s entire plastic usage.
Foods once sold in easy-to-recycle glass jars or tin cans now come more ‘conveniently’ housed in tough-to-recycle plastic-lined Tetra Paks.
Fruit and vegetables, which might once have been sold singly, are now armoured in layer upon layer of plastic. They sit on a plastic tray and are sealed in plastic wrapping, which may even be slipped into an extra bag for good measure.
CHARCOAL STICK THAT FILTERS WATER
Although tap water is great to drink, you might feel tempted to filter it. Don’t! Most water filters are made from plastic, so you could potentially be introducing as many toxins to the water as you are removing.
If you’re worried about the purity of your water try Japanese binchotan charcoal sticks (£7, trouva.com).
Charcoal has innate detoxification properties and an extremely porous surface which attracts the ions of contaminants. The sticks have been shown to remove traces of chlorine and other impurities such as lead, cadmium and copper that could be present in the pipes that deliver your water.
It is also said to release calcium, magnesium and potassium into the water. Simply drop your stick into a jug of tap water. You can keep reusing it for around four months as long as you refresh it once a month by boiling it in water for ten minutes. Thereafter, it can be stored in the fridge as a natural deodoriser.
The end result is groceries swathed in wasteful single- use plastic that is difficult to recycle.
But things may be looking up. Theresa May has announced a 25-year strategy to eliminate all unnecessary plastic packaging, and has suggested to supermarkets that they create plastic-free sections in their stores.
Iceland responded immediately with a pledge to end all plastic packaging from its own-brand foods within five years.
And earlier this week Asda announced that not only will it drop plastic packaging from its own-label frozen food, it will also change polystyrene pizza bases to cardboard. It is also going to switch coloured plastic drink bottles to clear so they are easier to recycle.
The changes won’t happen overnight, however, so in the meantime, short of taking your hand-woven wicker basket to your local farmers’ market (also an option worth considering), is there anything you can do to make a difference?
The answer is yes. But while slashing your plastic usage in your kitchen and bathroom is relatively easy, just as it is when ordering takeaways or visiting restaurants — as we have shown in this week’s ground-breaking series — cutting back when you’re food shopping requires slightly more commitment and dedication. But you really can make changes.
Today, Chantal and Jay explain clever, inexpensive and easy-to-adopt ways to bring less single-use plastic into your home . . .
The true no-plastic aficionado is easy to spot in a supermarket: they’re the one carrying hemp or cotton bags for their big weekly food shop. But rest assured, even a repurposed plastic bag does the job just fine.
You only need to take little steps to achieve that plastic reduction goal. Instead of feeling guilty that you are using plastic at all, be proud that every time you reuse that bag, you are saving one more bag from going to landfill.
The true no-plastic aficionado is easy to spot in a supermarket: they’re the one carrying hemp or cotton bags for their big weekly food shop
Bringing your own bags is an important first step. Once that’s habitual, you are ready for step two — chipping away at every piece of single-use plastic.
Always keep the aim of minimising your plastic consumption in mind. This might mean walking past the plastic-covered two-pack of avocados nestling on their shaped cardboard (or even plastic) tray and selecting loose avocados instead.
It could mean taking a little longer to pick out onions, apples and potatoes from the loose vegetables section, rather than grabbing a pre-weighed plastic-wrapped bag.
This works best if you are prepared to invest in a selection of reusable cotton mesh bags. Use these instead of the flimsy plastic bags you are supposed to pull off a roll in the fruit and vegetable aisles. You can buy them for about £1 online, and dotcomgiftshop.com has gorgeous colourful French-style ones for £3.95.
Even better, invest in a ZPM Trolley-Dolly shopping bag set which comes with two fruit and veg mesh bags, three washable, reusable shoppers and two box shopping bags (pictured right, £15, zpm.com).
Using your own fruit and veg bag like this allows the cashier to see the items clearly. The food can then be transferred straight to the fridge when you get home, where the bag will help your food stay fresh for longer. Bags can also be easily washed when necessary.
Pat yourself on the back if you can find cheese self-wrapped in its own protective wax layer rather than plastic, or make your way to the deli counter and ask for a chunk of cheese to be wrapped in paper rather than plastic.
YES, YOU CAN HAVE A PLASTIC-FREE FREEZER
It is very difficult to purchase frozen food without plastic packaging because manufacturers rely on plastic to prevent frozen food from leaking during transportation.
However, Iceland is investing heavily in the research of viable non-plastic alternatives.
Plastic packaging also prevents freezer burn, which happens when moisture in the outer layers of the food evaporates into the freezer air, drying out the surface of the food.
Most cardboard boxes in the freezer section of your supermarket will almost certainly conceal an inner plastic lining which keeps the food airtight.
Although you might want to limit the purchase of pre-frozen food, you can freeze fresh food in clearly identified airtight containers. You can reuse glass jars (making sure to leave room for the food to expand as it freezes) and even use compostable bags as freezer bags.
In fact, it is worth making friends with your deli server and butcher if it means you can avoid buying pre-weighed meat placed on a polystyrene platter and shrink-wrapped in plastic.
If you really want to earn your eco-wings, take a compostable portion pot (from £2.90, vegware.com) to your deli counter when you buy hummus, pate and olives etc.
Alternatively, carry greaseproof paper and your own containers. If you have to, tell the shop assistants you are plastic-intolerant. You may meet resistance (in the name of health and safety), but in some stores, they might agree with your environmental aims.
It is always worth taking the time to patiently explain you are trying to minimise your plastic consumption. Remember, if you inspire just one other person to make a small change in their own life, you double your effectiveness.
Even if you receive puzzled looks or hear sighs of exasperation, remember that eventually this — like not using plastic bags at the checkout — will become the new normal.
Millions of liquid and refrigerated foods come into our homes in plastic containers out of necessity. Because plastic is handily waterproof, it is a material of choice for liquid products, with the result that shopping for liquids has become one of the trickiest parts of plastic-free grocery shopping.
You may still find mayonnaise and ketchup packaged in glass in the natural foods aisle, but manufacturers have progressively replaced more and more glass with plastic, justifying their switch by saying it’s more cost-effective.
They also argue customers prefer lighter plastic packaging that is less prone to breaking. But you can change this attitude if you always opt for glass when out shopping.
Markets will usually happily reuse packaging you return to them, or fill up containers you’ve brought along. Ask if they will take back your egg or vegetable cartons or plastic bags. To find details of farmers’ markets near you enter your postcode at farma.org.uk.
WITH a bit of detective work, you might be able to find a ‘zero-waste’ store near you. There you’ll find food in sacks or huge dispensers, which you use to measure or weigh out as much as you need to fill your own containers (or paper bags). Visit plasticisrubbish.com to find your nearest one.
Some other stores, even if they’re not strictly zero waste, allow you to refill your own bags, glass jars and stainless steel food containers. (It’s handy to carry a marker pen with you to identify the food you’ve put in each container.)
Whole Foods Market stores in London offer this, but you don’t have to trek to the capital — many Lidl and Morrisons stores now sell some items (such as nuts and fruit, including cherries in season) in bulk to be weighed out in paper bags. Some larger branches of Holland & Barrett sell loose nuts, snacks and dried fruit, which you can buy in your own bags, as well as refills of oils and vinegars.
Il Gusto, an upmarket foodie store with 13 outlets in the UK (ilgusto.uk.com) offers refills of oils, vinegars and spirits.
Field Fare (field-fare.com) sells frozen fruit, vegetables and bakery goods loose from chest freezers at farm shops around the country. Field Fare encourages shoppers to take their own bags, so food can be decanted into freezable containers when you get home.
You’ll also cut your plastic usage by buying long-life foods in as large a quantity as possible and decanting them into your existing containers.
A bit of searching online reveals you can buy five-litre containers of almost anything, including mayonnaise and tomato ketchup (eatbig.co.uk). By reusing the same small container you could save eight bottles.
The same applies to soap, shampoo, shower gel and body lotion, which are all available in five-litre containers at outofeden.co.uk.
Visit naturallygoodfood.co.uk for bulk quantities of household cleaning items and healthy foods such as muesli, nuts and seeds.
STOP buying bottled water — fizzy or still. Save your money and use tap water instead. It can be chilled in the fridge in a glass jug.
You can also create your own sparkling water with a Soda Stream. The Crystal version (£149, sodastream.co.uk) comes with an attractive glass bottle.
It is even possible to create your own prosecco by fizzing up some white wine!
FOUR OF THE BEST: LOOSE LEAF TEA POTS
Non-drip spout, £25, suki-tea.com Removable infuser, £24.95, notonthehighstreet.com
Easy-to-clean design, £13, amazon.co.uk Ceramic, £35, dexam.co.uk
Cutting out plastic milk cartons and arranging for milk to be delivered to your door in glass bottles can dramatically reduce your plastic imprint
Dramatically reduce your plastic imprint by cutting out plastic milk cartons and arranging for milk to be delivered to your door in glass bottles instead.
Go to findmeamilkman.net to discover if milk deliveries come to your area. You just rinse out your used milk bottle and leave it outside your door to be taken away with your next delivery. Many services deliver fruit juice in glass bottles, too.
There’s no delivery cost, but milk is slightly more expensive at about 81p a pint (compared to 50p from a large supermarket).
IF YOU already use a glass-sided cafetiere to make your coffee, or a metal boil-on-the-hob espresso jug, then give yourself a well-earned pat on the back.
We both worry that standard filter coffee makers drip boiling water through plastic, which could allow toxic chemicals to leach into your coffee. The worst coffee comes from mini-pod machines — a plastic scourge! A depressing amount end up in landfill due to their size (small plastic items frequently fall through the recycling net), contamination, (you can’t rinse the coffee grounds out before recycling) and the complex combination of plastic plus foil on the lid.
If you do have one of these machines and you are feeling guilty after reading the above, don’t despair: you can find biodegradable compostable pods (£2.99 for ten, ocado.com).
Nespresso is meeting criticism by offering a free recycling service. Sign up at nespresso.com to get a free recycling bag (which takes 200 pods).
When it is full you can download a freepost label and send it back to Nespresso to be recycled (into more recycling bags). It is a good idea to use an Italian style metal stove top espresso maker instead (see selection, right).
You can also find glass or stainless steel pour-over coffee drippers at cook shops, such as the Hario coffee dripper (£35, steamer.co.uk).
If you pair one of these with a reusable or compostable paper filter (£2.80 for 100, ethicalsuperstore.com), you have a sustainable, plastic-free coffee-making system.
FEW people realise that tea bags contain plastic. The worst offenders are the slightly shiny premium-priced pyramid-shaped mesh tea bags that look and feel like plastic — that’s because they are made of it.
Few people realise that tea bags contain plastic within the glue that holds them together
But even regular paper tea bags have their edges sealed in plastic glue.
Six billion tea bags are used in the UK every year and the majority of them are held together with heat-sealed polypropylene.
That’s around 150 tons of accumulated plastic waste which is either contaminating food waste compost collections or going into landfill.
Notable exceptions are Teapigs tea bags which are made from corn starch rather than nylon, and Pukka tea bags which are 100 per cent biodegradable and sewn shut with some cotton thread.
Last week the Co-op announced it is making its own-brand Fairtrade 99 teabags free of polypropylene and will have them on sale by the end of the year.
The really diligent plastic-averse could try using cotton reusable teabags which you fill yourself (£6.99 for 100, tea-direct.co.uk).
Or, to make things a little easier, spoon some leaf tea into a metal tea ball infuser (£6, whittard.co.uk) or use an old-fashioned tea strainer (£3.49, robertdyas.co.uk).
Easiest still, use a tea pot with an integral infuser ‘basket’, such as John Lewis’s glass teapot (£22, johnlewis.com).
High Street chain Whittard also sells a range of loose tea and coffee (in paper and cardboard pouches) and will decant these into your own bag or container.
FIVE OF THE BEST: STOVE TOP COFFEE POTS
Bialetti, three-cup, £34, lhco.co.uk Forever coffee maker, £16.95, kitchenmarket.co.uk
Left: Leon percolator, £20, john lewis.com. Centre: Innova espresso pot, £7.99, amazon.co.uk. Right: Pantone emerald, £30, home colours.com
MOST mattresses today are made from plastic in the form of polyurethane foam, which is highly flammable, so manufacturers are required to douse it in flame-retardant chemicals.
We believe these chemicals could put your health at risk over time. A mattress made of natural rubber and covered with wool is naturally non-flammable anyway. You spend a significant part of your day sleeping, so it makes sense to ensure your bed is not slowly making you ill.
Most mattresses today are made from plastic in the form of polyurethane foam, which is highly flammable,and doused in flame-retardant chemicals that mayut your health at risk over time
If you can’t afford an all-natural high-quality mattress, at least make sure your pillow is healthy. Your head is in direct contact with it for many hours each day and microscopic plastic particles may make their way into your lungs when you inhale. Most pillows have synthetic filler made from foam or plastic fibres. Choose feather, down or wool if you can afford it.
These materials are far easier to recycle, too. An estimated 167,000 tonnes of mattresses are sent to landfill each year in the UK.
Many companies (such as John Lewis and Dreams) will offer to recycle your old mattress for around £25 if you buy a new one from them.
Alternatively, you can arrange for your local council to collect it, which costs around £26. There are also independent companies which offer the same service (for instance, collectyouroldbed.com will remove and recycle mattresses and beds, which costs from £32.99 for a single mattress).
WATCH WHAT YOU WEAR
IT IS possible synthetic clothing (such as fleeces) could release thousands of plastic microfibres every time they are washed. These are not caught by water treatment plants and end up in our waterways. There they may bond with toxic and harsh chemicals before being eaten by small fish, bigger fish, then humans.
The worst offenders are clothes covered in glitter or sequins and fluffy jumpers that shed fibres freely, so either avoid these, or wash them as little as possible. When you wash them opt for a low temperature with a slow spin cycle to avoid the fabric or decorations breaking down.
If you suffer from unexplained health issues such as skin irritation and rashes, itching, chronic fatigue, headaches or breathing difficulties, you may find switching to natural fibres eases your symptoms.
Many parts of the mattress can be recycled, but it is worth knowing that natural textiles like cotton and wool, wood and natural latex may decompose in a few years, while synthetic fabrics, foams, metals and plastics can hang around for decades, or even centuries.
Natural fibre mattresses can be more expensive than foam or synthetic materials. For instance, the John Lewis Natural Collection (johnlewis.com) starts at £499 for a single, compared to £49 for its least expensive mattress made from synthetic materials.
AVOID polyester fabrics if you can, and stick with cotton or even bamboo bedding.
If you can afford the luxury, silk is another natural option.
For warmth, wool is ideal as a naturally antibacterial moisture barrier. Wool-stuffed duvets (from £49.90, thewoolroom.com) and mattress toppers ensure that you stay warm in the winter and cool in summer.
Wood-laminate flooring and synthetic carpets are very difficult to recycle and most end up in landfill. Check with your local authority recycling scheme or visit carpetrecyclinguk.com.
We’re not encouraging you to rip up your laminate flooring and synthetic carpets and invest in wood and natural fibres overnight, but it’s wise to know the possible dangers of plastic flooring and to put that knowledge into the mix the next time you’re planning to redecorate.
Laminate flooring is actually synthetic floor layers, usually made of melamine resin and fibre board material, fused together with large volumes of chemical glue that may contain formaldehyde. Gasses from the toxic chemicals could leak out in the first few years after installation (there’s less reason for concern if your floor has been in place for some time).
Similarly the ideal non-plastic carpet is 100 per cent wool or silk (which can be more expensive), coir, jute or sisal because they are usually chemical-free and will break down much more rapidly in landfill when they are no longer fit for purpose.
We are also concerned that synthetic carpets contain nylon or polyester fibres which, during the course of wear and tear, could break away and disperse through your house, filling your lungs with microscopic plastic particles.
The consequences of breathing in such particles is still unknown, but breathing in plastic on a regular basis is not ideal.
Moreover, wall-to-wall carpeting usually involves very strong glues that can give off toxic gasses for a long time after they have been installed. The ideal plastic-free flooring is natural wood, sealed with oil rather than protective polyurethane varnish.
Synthetic fabrics such as polyester and nylons tend to be photodegradable, which means daily exposure to light could disperse their potentially harmful plastic microparticles into the air. Opt for natural fabrics or wood or bamboo blinds wherever possible.
Adapted by LOUISE ATKINSON from Life Without Plastic: The Practical Step-By-Step Guide To Avoiding Plastic To Keep Your Family And The Planet Healthy by Chantal Plamondon and Jay Sinha, published by Page Street Publishing at £13.99 © Chantal Plamondon and Jay Sinha 2018.
FIVE OF THE BEST: ECO-CHIC TOPS
THE fabric in all these tops is Tencel, which is made from wood pulp and is one of the most environmentally friendly materials on the High Street.
Jersey top, £45, jaeger.co.uk Sweatshirt, £69, peopletree.co.uk
Shirt, £79, hobbs.co.uk Jacket, £98, boden.co.uk Blouse, £29.50, marksandspencer.com