We challenged Charlotte to take our 1 week no single-use plastic challenge...
This is her diary.
Life looks and feels a little different now. What we worried about a month ago may feel insignificant and then there are whole new things that we must consider.
What we can agree on is that this is a time of transformation. Some good and some bad, naturally. But life after this will change therefore, it is a good time to consider changes in your own life.
That’s why I jumped at the chance to take on the 1-week no single-use plastic challenge. Although, I have worked towards a zero-waste life for many years, I’m not a perfect person. What is worse is that in the last few months I’ve slipped into some bad habits.
Time to tackle this problem head on and throw myself in at the deep end. Could I survive a week with no single-use plastic? What about during lockdown?
Day 1: Creating a list
I decided to start my day by creating a list. This is my go-to coping mechanism when approaching new situations. I lounged in the sun and split my page into three columns: already, easy and hard.
In the “already” column, I wrote down switches that we had made already. I wanted to give myself a little pat on the back at the start of week. “Easy” referred to swaps I could make with little or no effort and then, not surprisingly, “hard” would be those changes that I would struggle with most.
After this I went to grab myself some food and realised that my kitchen was full of single-use plastic. I despaired. Did the single-use plastic I already had count? I was going to need some rules.
Day 2: Bathroom positivity
Given that my fridge was stocked up and I didn’t want to head to the shops again for a while, I decided that I would have to ignore the plastic packaging that my food was wrapped in. But I did want to cheer myself up.
The bathroom for me has always been a great place to make eco-friendly switches. Over the years, I have switched to a safety razor, family cloth, reusable menstrual products, reusable make-up wipes and many more.
There was only one piece of single-use plastic left in this room, shampoo. It was running low too, so I popped online and found a small business that was selling shampoo and conditioner bars and ordered one of each.
Day 3: Food packaging nightmare
I had to put the bins out today. We are a family of four and the wheelie bin was emptied two-weeks ago, yet it was full again.
We’ve not been doing anything. We’ve had no big deliveries. We’ve not been decluttering the house. This is just food packaging waste. It disgusted me.
However, I realised that I wasn’t going out and about and creating waste elsewhere. I was making all my meals at home, rather than grabbing the odd sandwich on the go. I wasn’t picking up a bar of chocolate on the way back from work. Yes, this was a lot of waste, but this was all my waste.
Day 4: Food shopping and a revelation
The kids have turned into cereal monsters. I didn’t know one five-year-old could eat that many Shreddies. It is seriously impressive. However, today, we have run out, so it means braving a trip to the shops.
I packed up reusable shopping bags (not knowing whether I’d be allowed to use them - they did) and walked around the corner to my local Coop. It was hard. The options available were limited and I felt nervous buying food, like bananas, that were not in plastic packaging. My choices were get stuff packaged in plastic or allow my family to starve.
I wandered home with a bag of food feeling a bit down about the challenge, but then I had a revelation. If I found a way to reuse this plastic, then it wouldn’t be single-use anymore. Tomorrow, I craft!
Day 5: Getting creative with the kids
After a night spent researching on Pinterest, the kids and I have no end of activities to do. I am determined to reuse any plastic that comes into our home.
Today, we used old yoghurt pots to plant some seeds. We had found the seeds in the cupboard but had nothing to plant them in. We also broke up old eggshells to mix in the compost for more nutritious soil for our future plant friends.
The children have also been collecting old cereal boxes and we are going to turn them into a model village/fairy princess unicorn castle, once we have enough.
Day 6: Zero-waste shop
I found a local zero waste shop that was open! This completely made my day. I found out about it on a local Facebook group and now can’t wait to check it out.
Cleaning products had been a concern for me. I use bicarbonate of soda and vinegar for most of my cleaning needs but even these come in plastic containers when you buy them from the supermarket.
This zero-waste store sells both, plus a whole selection of products including washing up liquid, dishwasher powder and shampoo and conditioner. Going to head there next week as part of my shopping trip. I’ve got a list and my jars ready.
Day 7: Children’s crafts
Today was another day indoors (obviously) and the kids are starting to get bored. Like really bored! My mum had messaged me saying that she wanted to get them something for Easter but didn’t know what. I suggested craft stuff and said I would look online.
Wow! This was hard. First, I looked at paints. We are going to need these for the model village, but they all come in plastic bottles. Then I looked up felt pens and realised that these are just more plastic.
Eventually, I found some natural powder paints that came in plastic free biodegradable packaging but had no luck with the pens. The kids will have to use their pencils and crayons for now.
Reflections and top tips for you
That’s my 1-week no single-use plastic challenge complete! Was I perfect? Absolutely not! Did I learn something? Yes!
Completing this challenge in the middle of lockdown was an experience. I regularly reflected on how our lives have changed and what would have been different if I was completing it on a “normal” week.
Therefore, I wanted to summarise the good and the bad about the current situation, what it means for you individually and what it means for the planet.
With cafes, restaurants and coffee shops closed, and most of us working from home, there will be less takeaway food and drinks packaging.
There’s no chance of you forgetting to take your favourite reusable coffee cup to work when you are working from your own living room.
But it is a good time to review what you would normally take to work. What would you need to continue this new zero waste lifestyle when you work outside of the home? A reusable lunchbag? A new coffee cup? A simple swap could make all the difference.
Great time to form new habits
All this time at home, may be somewhat exhausting in a strange way but it certainly is teaching us a lot about ways that we could be less wasteful.
How many times do you jump in your car and head to Tesco Express for a bar of chocolate? What about that Takeaway when you had a fridge full of food? We are learning that these are not only unnecessary, but they are huge creators of waste.
Creating new habits around cooking from home or shopping more effectively or how to make whipped iced coffee from home will serve us well in the future.
Creativity is your friend
When we experience change, we are forced to adapt and that is what is happening now. Social media is a whirl of creativity right now and it is inspirational.
People are learning to reuse the stuff they’ve got, a return to the make-do-and-mend thinking of the World War 2 era. Recycling, repurposing and maximising the potential of each item.
From reducing food waste to upcycling old furniture, now is the time to try your hand at new skills and see where your creativity will lead you.
Environment is healing
In the wake of this human suffering, the only glimmer of hope is that our beautiful planet is getting a bit of breathing space.
There are environmental good news stories to be found all over the world amid the doom and gloom. From huge drops in pollution levels to endangered turtles breeding on the abandoned beaches in Brazil and India.
We are all travelling less, which might not seem like a good thing, but car and plane travel is a huge contributor to climate change. Staying home could make a big difference to human and environmental life.
At the height of the supermarket shortages, there was a lot of panic around getting hold of certain household items. Suddenly reusable products had more of a place than ever in the home.
Switching to family cloth (reusable toilet paper), reusable menstrual products and eco-friendly laundry detergent alternatives means that you wouldn’t have to worry about getting hold of these items.
Additionally, while the big supermarkets are running low on soaps and cleaning products, many eco-friendly and zero-waste shops are well-stocked in natural, but equally as effective, versions.
Food shopping is hard
Most supermarkets have closed their meat and fish counters and delicatessens, which are a regular hang out for those looking to reduce food packaging.
But this doesn’t mean that packaging free foods are unavailable. Many small businesses including butchers, bakeries, zero-waste shops and even direct from farm shops are open or offering deliveries.
It may not be a one-stop shop any more, but you can still pick up all your favourite foods from local stores and you’ll be helping independent sellers at the same time.
Stress leads to over-consumption
It is OK to feel stressed during this pandemic. It is huge and worrying. But we can attempt to keep an eye on our consumption.
This doesn’t just mean food (although our fridge has had more visits than any person this week) but also to all shopping.
We turn to shopping to make us feel better. A distraction. However, this is all part of the problem. Think carefully before clicking that “add to basket” button. Is this going in the bin in a couple of months?
You are forgiven for this too. If you are just not feeling it, then that is OK. We are all doing our best to get through this.
If you don’t fancy driving around to the butchers, bakers and farm shop to pick up food, then that is understandable. Do what you can and forgive yourself for the rest.
One day, you may wake up with a burst of energy and decide that this is the day to put all your plans into action. Seize these moments and make them count.
What can you do to make a difference this week?
You can see from this list that there are more positives than negatives you can take away from this experience. Never has there been a better time to embrace change and evaluate your priorities.
Taking the 1-week no single-use plastic challenge will open your eyes to your current habits and provide you with a clear view of what needs to change.
Life isn’t going to be like this forever. One day, we will go back to commuting, eating out and catch up with all our zoom friends and now distant family and that will be a good day. But let’s create a shift now, that means that when this returns, it is a gentler and more sustainable version. We owe it to ourselves. We owe it to the planet.