horwich farrelly

Environment Week 2018: Living without plastic – is it actually possible?

June, 8, 2018

Throughout Environment Week we’ve been encouraging our people to consider small changes they can make to beat plastic pollution: things like swapping plastic cotton buds for paper alternatives or taking your own containers to the deli. However, is it actually possible to completely eliminate single-use plastic from our everyday lives?

Close up of person holding plastic food containers

CSR Manager and mother of three young children, Eloise Sochanik, recently challenged her family to live plastic-free for a week

Eloise Sochanik, Horwich Farrelly’s CSR Manager, Green Champion and mother of three young children recently attempted to find out. Today, on the final day of our Environment Week, we share excerpts from throughout her plastic-free week.

 

Thursday 17 May - Preparation

As part of our CSR initiative for World Environment Day to #BeatPlasticPollution, Horwich Farrelly will be asking employees to take a plastic-free challenge – eliminating as much plastic from their lives as possible and documenting their journey in a creative way.

The prize is spectacular – a week volunteering on a beach conservation project in Belize for two people. Unfortunately, as I’ve helped organise the initiative, I won’t be entering the competition but I still was excited to experiment with the concept and see whether we as a family could go plastic-free for a week.

As a sustainability professional, I’ve been aware of the plastic challenge for over a decade and as a family we’ve done a small amount to avoid plastic where possible. For example, we don’t purchase many plastic toys for the children, we never buy plastic carrier bags, we avoid providing the classic plastic party bags full of cheap plastic toys, and we use paper straws and cups for parties.

When it comes to food we take packed lunches to avoid pricey over-packaged shop bought food, we cook from scratch where possible and we grow some of our own fruit and vegetables.

Conscious that we’re still not doing enough, since the beginning of 2018 we’re been making a pledge to eliminate one unnecessary plastic thing each month. So far we’ve ditched hand soap dispensers in plastic bottles, switched to washing powder in a box rather than liquid in a bottle, swapped shop bought body scrubs (which potentially contain microbeads) for homemade salt scrubs and even invested in plastic-free chewing gum.

But we both work, we have three children under the age of five, we shop for convenience, we used disposable nappies for all the kids, we still have a wet wipe dependence we can’t shake and we know we could do better. So when the opportunity to trial this challenge came up, we jumped at the chance. It should be challenging and whilst we perhaps can’t get rid of plastics completely bringing the issue to the forefront of our minds will be a great way to think about the changes we can make day-to-day.

Eloise and her shopping trolley

Elose Sochanik and her first supermarket shop with items separated into plastic and non-plastic

My first step in preparation was to look at a typical trolley after “popping to the supermarket for a few bits” and categorising into plastic and non-plastic (plastic on the left, non-plastic on the right). So straight away, one small trolley load and I’m gobsmacked by how much plastic we consume without even really thinking about it.

I’ve never previously questioned the plastic window on fresh bread before – but that seems very unnecessary! The soup cartons sit on the plastic side based on their lids and, whilst TetraPaks are recyclable, they still contain plastic lining similarly to takeaway coffee cups. The fruit and veg seems to be the biggest issue here – as a family we eat pretty healthily, but fruit punnets, salad bags, bags of apples, etc are all packaged for convenience.

Our environmentally-sound house cleaning products still come in plastic bottles, although Method have considered the plastic lifecycle of their products and the bottles are all made from recycled plastic and are fully recyclable.

“On closer inspection, I’ve incorrectly categorised my multipack tins. Again, something I’ve never even thought about. The multi packs work out cheaper to buy – but are covered in plastic to keep them together.”

A big plastic purchase here is the dustpan and brush. I wasn’t thinking at all – you can buy metal dustpan easily. But, even if I had been thinking, some research shows a price tag of £15-£20, as opposed to my plastic traitor that came in at just £3.

So my trolley load started me thinking about the terms of this plastic free challenge. How seriously are we going to take it? Could we cut out all plastic? What do we mean by single-use? Are the plastics recyclable? Are they reusable?

The terms of our challenge

  1. Try to eliminate entirely all pointless plastic. That includes plastic straws, takeaway coffee cups, fruit and veg wrapped in plastic (especially if they have their own skin), single-use bottles or packaging and wet wipes (gah!).
  1. Consider all plastics that aren’t single-use but that have a short use lifespan, such as shampoo, toothbrushes, and food containers like tubs of ice cream.
  1. Try and replace plastics that have alternatives: plastic bags, cotton buds, make up and beauty products and chewing gum.
  1. Don’t throw anything away! For the duration of our plastic-free challenge, I’ll be hiding some of the bottles and products that we use daily to give us an idea of what we’re aiming for, but I’ll use them up once the challenge is over.
  1. Think more about reusing plastics. A drinks bottle might be designed for a single use, but can we use them again and extend their life span?

There are some really useful online blogs to help thinking about plastic consumption and what can be done to reduce your footprint, including My Plastic Free Life and Plastic Free plus coverage in the national press. I’ll be reading up on these and getting some ideas this week in advance of the challenge!

 

Friday 18 May - Day 1 without plastic

Today I’ve done a plastic sweep of the house and hidden away all the plastic things I can – which in itself has been an interesting exercise. I’m sure there will be more that I will come across, but the house is now looking a little bit less plastic. Below is just from one kitchen drawer!

Stationery is a plastic category I hadn’t really considered – and I’ve used today as a good excuse to clear out the kids’ craft cupboard. Will they miss the pens and notice they only have wax crayons and pencils this week? [edit: they did not].

It’s really highlighted an entirely unnecessary household item. Just look at all the dried up pens and random lids that as part of the clear out are good for nothing but the bin! Non-recyclable, practically single-use plastic (unless the kids look after them perfectly and a quick Google shows I can buy 100 felt tips for £5! No one could really be expected to value them too highly? They will have been overwhelmed by pens at some point).

Some of the plastic items identified in the home

Above right: the plastic items found in a single kitchen drawer. Left: will Eloise’s children notice plastic pens have been swapped for crayons and pencils?

In further preparation for the week I’ve really enjoyed researching (and purchasing) some plastic-free alternatives. So we’ve switched the kids’ toothbrushes for bamboo, invested in some reusable food wraps and swapped our teabags for one of the few plastic-free products on the market.

“And we’re ready! Day one is my day at home with the kids – the quandary of lunch for the children is solved simply with waffles, fish fingers and baked beans. Who knew that living without plastic could be so simple, yet not necessarily that healthy.”

Thinking about the plastic packaging that we’ll be trying to avoid, the equivalent “healthy” meal for the children that I cook often – salmon, mashed potato and green beans – suddenly doesn’t look so healthy for the planet.

Today we’re taking a trip to the local health food shop to investigate some plastic alternatives. I thought this would be my plastic-free haven but, yet again, I’m finding that plastic-free isn’t necessarily healthy. I was hoping we might find some pasta or pulses that didn’t come in plastic bags but unfortunately not. And the unpackaged soap bar that I was happy to find was then helpfully put into a plastic bag without me realising.

Tea for the kids resulted in another unhealthy experience – a sausage roll from Greggs! I’m sure it’s been in plastic at some point in its journey, but for us the end users, just a paper bag. The kids basically love being plastic-free. We had some leftover carrots and green beans in the house, so that assuages my mum guilt a little.

Having failed on sourcing plastic-free pasta, I’m cheating on dinner. We have glass jars of pulses on the shelf in the kitchen so technically there’s no plastic this week (although there will have been when it was purchased) with some leftover tomatoes and a jar of pesto. I would ordinarily make my own pesto, but rather than buying plastic bags of basil, a mesh of garlic, wrapped parmesan and a bag of pine nuts, the “unhealthy” shop ought jar fits with our plastic free living. #mindblown

Today has been harder, and make me think more than I ever would have thought. Only six days to go…..

 

Saturday 19 May - Day 2 without plastic (3)

Today we’re doing the big shop for the week ahead. This would usually be a Sunday afternoon supermarket trip to maximise the freshness of food for the week but our shopping today will involve the butcher, the greengrocer and the fishmonger…none of whom open on a Sunday.

I’m dreading it yet we have a WONDERFUL time. It’s a sunny day and we’re very lucky where we live to have some good independent shops and a pedestrianised street where the shops are all close to each other. I honestly don’t think it takes us any longer than if we went around the supermarket.

In terms of cost I think the individual items, particularly meat and fish, are more expensive but we are much more focussed on the shopping list we started with. I’m not distracted by superfluous purchases (apart from some gigantic shell-on prawns in the fishmonger) and so the total for the meat, fish and veg ends up about the same as our usual cost.

“The real advantage to shopping this way is that the children love it. They are in and out of the shops, enjoying the fresh air, getting a quick run around. Everything in the shops is at their eye level, they aren’t hemmed in by huge towering aisles and they interact with the produce in a way that they would not otherwise have.”

They pick up a courgette and an aubergine and can feel their skins, and the difference between them – which in most supermarkets would not have happened. Although I’m not sure that they were as keen on the giant prawns as I was.

Eloise and her family eschew the supermarket for the butcher, fishmonger and greengrocers

Eloise and her family eschew the supermarket for the butcher, fishmonger and greengrocers

We take Tupperware containers with us and the meat and fish is put directly into these. It feels a bit “attention seeking” to ask for the produce in this way, and the more I try to explain why, the more I feel like a giant cliché. But I persevere and by the time I get to shop number three it feels more comfortable.

The greengrocers is less rewarding than I was expecting – a lot more of the fruit and veg are wrapped in plastic than I had hoped. I’m three shops in though and evangelical about my plastic-free mission so I have a good conversation with the greengrocer about it. Apparently the plastic on cucumbers for example is just the way that they come from the farm. He too punnets up the fruit – things like blueberries, grapes, strawberries and raspberries, to create a unit price for each of them. He will transfer them into brown paper bags for us but I can’t choose how many grapes I get – it has to be a punnet’s worth. But he will reuse the plastic packaging so it’s a win for us both. Tupperware comes in handy again here for the blueberries and raspberries that would have been squashed in the brown paper.

We end up going home without spinach, lettuce, cucumber and tomatoes as there aren’t any plastic free options – but we’ve got some beautiful looking, giant vegetables which look to be a much higher quality than you’d typically see in the supermarket.

As I unpack without unwrapping a thing I feel like we’re doing something really good here. The kids are happy, I’m excited about the food choices we’ve made and the conversations I’ve had. I feel more wholesome somehow, more connected to the actual food, rather than a consumer buying another package.

But its only day two….

 

Sunday 20 May - Day 3 without plastic

Today is the Great Manchester Run and it is scorchio! Below is an unflattering photo of me finishing the run and unapologetically enjoying my single use plastic bottle of water. An exception to the plastic-free week!

I’ve certainly been thinking this week about “the lesser of two evils” – my swaps have been making me think about our food choices particularly.

Being at an event like the 10k that raises funds, awareness and hope for so many amazing people and charities is an incredible, humbling experience. But in some places on the verges along the main stretch of the course you can still see the plastic pollution from last year’s race. So many people, and so many bottles of water from which people take a sip and discard, although this year the heat meant that most people poured the whole thing over their heads.

Eloise at the Great Manchester Run

Eloise was surprised to see plastic bottles from last year’s race on the verges of the 10k course

We challenge ourselves in our lives, the pace is frantic, we’re expected to eat well, be successful and fulfilled, feed our children with superfood and opportunity, enjoy active social lives, be tech savvy but not smart phone addicted, work out every day and watch Netflix.

“So it makes sense that plastic has snuck into our lives while we were busy worrying about something else. And it helps us to eat on the go, enjoy healthy, ready chopped veg, meet our daily hydration quota and not smudge our on trend lipstick while relaxing with an espresso martini.”

But what’s the true cost? Where does this end? How much do we understand about the plastic that is polluting our food chain, destroying the ocean and costing the planet?

You think a lot when you run. After a few celebratory drinks I head home for a family BBQ and say a huge thank you for the fact that wine comes in glass bottles and is therefore 100% within scope.

We enjoy our giant prawns and paper wrapped sausages and between us we scoff a giant watermelon – this weekend has been not only plastic-free, but we also lived a little slower. And that’s been great too.

 

Monday 21 May - Half way there

Today I collect the kids from school and nursery and we pop to the greengrocers to pick up some more courgettes. The kids are always hungry at this point in the day and they are delighted to each choose a piece of fruit.

This is different to buying packaged apples and making a group decision. They deliberate and touch and chatter, and still end up each choosing the same type of apples (which is exactly what they would have complained about if I’d bought a big bag of apples in Asda next door).

Yet this has been such a simple swap – it’s the same car park, the shops are next door, why haven’t I been doing this before? (I mean, they don’t sell wine here so I do need to pop into the supermarket after all, but I don’t do that every day…*lie*).

But what a lovely snack we’ve enjoyed! Food has been the real crux of this challenge for us as a family – particularly when there seems to be a confusing overlap with plastic-free and healthy. This week has made me reassess the snacking culture I’ve bought into – with the treat tub very much in the “hide the plastic” category, and biscuits and crisps (and the healthy kiddy substitutes) off the menu. It’s been amazing the difference in the treats we’ve enjoyed.

Lots of fruit, veg sticks, homemade hummus, cheese from a block. Snacks and treats are chronic for single-use plastic. Something that is enjoyed for minutes and if not properly treated, will never, ever go away.

“I’ve read online recommendations that for crisps, sweets, biscuits, in fact anything in plastic packaging like cheese or meat, buying a larger size makes a difference to the amount of packaging overall therefore reducing the plastic footprint. Just say no to multipacks – and indeed anything that has more than one layer of plastic packaging.”

But for the future it doesn’t even have to be about abstaining from plastic altogether forever, but changing some behaviours that mean we’re responsible for a little less plastic can’t be a bad idea. Dippy cheese snacks left in the fridge are so unnecessary and wasteful, and there are easy swaps. There is still plastic on the breadsticks and the triangles are individually wrapped, but this felt like a simple way to reduce three wasteful plastic trays.

So snacking is sorted, vegetables are sorted, and wine was never in question – as we head to the final stretch I’m feeling much more in control of our plastic footprint and much clearer on what we’ll change for good.

 

Friday 25 May - The challenge ends

As I said at the beginning, we’ve been considering our plastic footprint for a while and had already taken a few steps to reduce the plastic we buy, trying to find swaps and alternatives. And that’s the reason that we wanted to take part in this challenge – but it really has been a lot more challenging than I would have expected!

Knowing that I wasn’t going to enter the competition didn’t really make too much difference as this was about what changes we could make as a family for the better – forcing us to be super strict for a finite period of time, and seeing what stuck.

If you’ve read any of the other entries from the week, food packaging has been the biggest issue. It is basically impossible to get hold of a plastic-free cucumber (a vegetable that already has a skin), eating healthily doesn’t necessarily mean low plastic and you have to be on guard all the time to avoid ending up with plastic you didn’t ask for. Snacks are essentially a no go, and who knew a Greggs was good for the environment?!

The terms of the challenge that we established at the beginning of the week have also been much harder to stick to than I would have thought. I initially thought that we would be able to achieve more – but the first step has been all consuming

1. Try to eliminate all pointless plastic

Going into the week we were thinking about plastic bottles, plastic cutlery, takeaway coffee cups which for us are easy to avoid, but food, and the amount of plastic packaging on food, has totally blindsided us. Sneaky single use plastics like the wrapping around multipack tins, the sheer quantity of plastic in the fruit and veg aisles at the supermarket, the unasked for plastic bags that wrap everything.

I was really keen to stick to shopping for myself for the challenge but moving forward I’m going to look into a veg box delivery (and I thought I couldn’t be any more Cheshire). They are often prohibitively expensive but I’m going to research suppliers and might finally find a plastic-free cucumber!

We’re also going to try growing our own. We already have plenty of herbs (like basil, mint, thyme, rosemary, chamomile and oregano) and quite a lot of fruit (including apples, rhubarb, blackberries, strawberries and raspberries) growing in the garden, but my beloved spinach is high on my list of things to try and grow because I eat a lot and I haven’t found any plastic-free alternatives to the supermarket bags.

2. Consider all plastics that have a short use phase

We’ve been so busy with the task above, we haven’t put as much thought into this as I would have liked. The good news is that a by-product of our shopping on the high street has meant that we haven’t bought as many “additional” items as if we’d been in the much more convenient supermarket. The focus has meant we’ve automatically been much more considered in the items we pick up.

The big win in this category is that we’ve finally done what we’ve talked about for a long time and confirmed a doorstep, glass milk bottle delivery which we are all very excited about. With a young family, we get through gallons of milk every week so this should have a real impact on the number of plastic bottles we are throwing away. The kids absolutely love it and I’m currently in the market for a cute, totally Instagram-able bottle holder to keep at the front door.

We were concerned about yoghurt pots as we all enjoy yoghurt and the kids’ ones can be quite small, although we try and buy the larger sizes. Having just said that we were much more focused and considered away from the supermarket; our high street experience meant that we stumbled upon a brand new yoghurt maker in a charity shop for £3! We haven’t had the time to experiment this week but we will be making our own yoghurt in future which again should eliminate some of our weekly plastic waste.

3. Try and replace plastics that have alternatives

This was probably the simplest of the categories…I had to shop for it which I really didn’t mind.

We’ve already made a number of swaps, and in the last couple of years those swaps have been made for us – in the case of plastic bags costing money, or instigated by Horwich Farrelly in the form of reusable cups for coffee and bottles for the water fountain.

Cotton buds without plastic and paper straws are simple, they are easy to come by and practically the same price. As well as flannels for the kids (instead of my beloved wet wipes) I’ve started using a washable cloth instead of cotton wool pads that come in a plastic bag.

Some of the beauty items have been harder than I was expecting but I’ll be trialling brands such as Neal’s Yard and Lush moving forward, as well as some online brands like The Beauty Kitchen. I’ll also keep making my salt-based scrubs and using bar soap in place of shower gel and hand soap dispensers.

It’s been a great mix of the wholesome, the silly, the challenging and the disgusting and there have certainly been moments where I’ve said “I don’t care” (see bottled water on the 10k, spinach and cucumber, and an undisclosed biscuit or two).

Breaking the wet wipe habit has definitely been the hardest thing for me. We don’t change nappies any more but I’ve clung on to them for years for face and hand wiping, nose blowing, cleaning up after the kids eat – especially on the go – and generally polishing the kids when I need to. But, the soap and flannel solution has been fine and after the initial shock the kids seem happy with it too.

If anyone can tell me whether the wet wipe use or the frequent flannel washing using energy and flushing microfibers into the water streams is better or worse for the environment that would be great. I hope I can still use the wipes…

 

Conclusions

Things we’ve changed for good:

  • Glass milk delivery
  • No more soap dispensers
  • Greengrocer for one off fruit and veg items
  • Bamboo toothbrushes for the children
  • No more cling film

Things to try:

  • Make your own yoghurt
  • Veg box delivery
  • Bake fresh bread more frequently
  • Sustainable beauty brands
  • Less snacking and therefore packaging

Plus we’ll be learning more, sharing more, talking more about day to day ideas, solutions and alternatives to #beatplasticpollution.

I cannot wait to see what ideas Horwich Farrelly employees come up with to win the competition prize to get to the forefront of tackling the issue and finding out more in Belize!

Contact us

If you would like further information about any of our specialists or the services we offer please get in touch.