Monday, 31 August 2009

Evil Take-out

This first hint of badness was when Bron got into the car carrying a plastic bag.

‘I asked her not to put it in a plastic one,’ he said. ‘But she said she really had to because the paper one wouldn’t hold it.’ I looked at what he was handing me: a bog standard, weak white carrier bag, inside of which was a classic, brown paper bag. Inside the paper bag was our food.

Other than fish and chips, the last time we had takeaway was when we moved to our current abode last October, so it’s not exactly a common occurrence in our household. But a couple of weeks ago, we were driving back from a visit to Totnes, it was late and we were tired and hungry and really didn’t want to cook, so we decided to treat ourselves. Indian won the coin toss. Stupidly, I didn’t even think about what our food was going to come in when I made this decision.

Why bother using a paper bag at all if you’re going to insist on putting that inside a plastic bag afterwards? That’s already twice as much out packaging than is necessary.

The worst shock came when I looked inside the paper bag, though. I had completely forgotten that Indian takeaway comes in plastic containers.

‘I know,’ Bron said. ‘But you can re-use them’. Which is true, and we are, but it’s left me wondering. How many people out there have takeaway like this on a regular basis? For starters, that’s a whole lot of plastic boxes that are being put into circulation. And how many of those people actually re-use their containers? Washing them that first time can be tricky because of the oils in Indian cooking, and there are probably lots of people who can’t be bothered. Plus, if they get takeaway every week, then that’s a lot of plastic containers sitting in their cupboards – probably more than they know they’re going to use. So how many wind up in the bin?

The other thing I’ve been wondering is how hygienic is it to repeatedly use these containers? There are tales of chemicals leaking out of plastic containers into the food they’re storing, especially if you’re using them in the microwave. They get scratched after a while, which makes them harder to clean, and it’s just a general downhill rollercoaster as far as I can see.

So what’s the solution? I don’t know; maybe the only solution is don’t have takeaway. I can manage that, but what about everyone else out there? And what would happen to the take-out businesses?

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Plastic or Chemicals?

I’ve got a terrible sweet tooth. Chocolate, cake, you name it, I’d probably eat it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner if I could.

Chocolate-free plastic is fairly easy to come across. More and more confectioners are packaging their chocolate bars in plastic ‘stay-fresh’ wrapping (err, why? It’s not exactly as if chocolate goes off, after all, is it?), but if I avoid snack bars like Mars and go straight for the proper slabs of chocolate I’m pretty safe. The paper-clad brands are usually more expensive, but they’re also usually the organic or fair trade brands, so although it costs me a little more, I feel better for buying it, and better for eating it too.

Sugar for home baking, though, is a different story.

Sugar Sweet
I am standing in the baking goods aisle, one bag of sugar in one hand, one bag in the other hand.

Bron just looks at me. I think he’s really starting to get fed up with my whole indecisive nature, although you’d think he’d have gotten used to it by now.

‘It’s supposed to be about plastic,’ I say to him. ‘So I should get this one. Right?’ I hold up my left hand. The bag I’m holding is made of paper. Perfect. Right?

‘But do you really want to be eating the chemicals?’ he asks.

‘Well, I always have white sugar in my tea at work, don’t I? So what difference is it really going to make?’

He raises his eyebrows at me.

I’m starting to feel a bit self conscious; I’m sure that all the customers around me have been listening to my little rant and are now skirting their trolleys in as wide a berth as they can manage.

‘I’m not even sure that they do add bleach to it,’ I say, lifting up the paper bag again. ‘It’s just that that’s what I’ve always thought. Raw sugar’s got to be better for you, hasn’t it? Because it hasn’t been processed.’ I’m going over old ground again. What I really wish is that Bron would make the choice for me, but I’ve learnt by this point in our relationship that that probably isn’t going to happen. At least, not unless he gets really pissed off at me. I wonder how far I can push it? But the supermarket on a Friday evening probably isn’t the best time to test that.

A pound of golden, copper-coloured raw cane sugar in my right hand, packaged in plastic; a pound of white caster sugar in my left hand, packaged in paper. They are both fair trade, so we’re on equal ground as far as that goes. Raw, or unrefined sugar, means that it contains more of its natural minerals, and that it hasn’t got any of the extra chemicals that get added to it during the refining process, such as phosphoric acid. Or the dreaded plastic bag.

I am koo-keed down, knees bent, balancing on my toes, literally weighing up the pros and cons of each sugar both in my head and in my hands. I want raw cane sugar in a paper bag. But, of course, I can’t have that. That would be too simple. So which is it going to be?

Plastic or chemicals?
It seems so unfair that I have to choose between the two – why can’t I have my unrefined sugar in a paper bag? Obviously it’s possible to supply sugar in paper, because of this other brand that’s on the shelf.

In the end, I choose the unrefined sugar in the plastic bag, and it was a choice I really didn’t like to have to make. But it’s set me a new challenge for the coming days: source the right sugar in the right packaging from another store. Even if Sainsbury’s doesn’t do it, hopefully one of my local health stores will.

Friday, 14 August 2009

Mmm, Salty

'That is ******* disgusting. I am not using that.'

Ah, the immortal words of Bron.

And what spawned them? Toothpaste. Yes, indeed. Well, to be more specific, Weleda's salt toothpaste. This is my latest 'less plastic' aquisition - it's less plastic because it comes in an aluminium tube, rather than the typical Colgate plastic one. Although it still has a plastic screw-top lid, so it's not ideal.

And he's right: it is disgusting, but hey, I've bought it now so I'd better knuckle down and use it. Though, if Bron is going to refuse to help me out, it may take a while to get through it. Yikes. Maybe I'll get used to it? At least Weleda make a whole range of natural toothpastes so at least next time I can choose a different one... Although it does occur to me that as there's still a plastic lid invloved maybe I should keep looking for something else that is even less plastic. Or admit to the fact that perhaps I'll just have to go back to basics and make my own.

Unless that tastes even worse...

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Eco Warriors

When I first started this blog I wanted to call it 'A Life Less Plastic,' but - darn it - someone else beat me to it. My first thought was 'argh!' but my second was 'oh good, at least I'm not the only one.' And now I know that that is such a long, long way from the truth: there are loads of people out there with the same idea, and most of them seriously put me to shame. In fact, my rather meagre attempts so far have left me feeling rather pathetic compared to everyone else out there.

So, I'm going to add a list of other blogs to check out. There's a myriad of green bloggers out there and I'm pretty sure I've only just scratched the surface, so right now I'm going to keep my links to just those that involve plastic or waste, rather than general eco-blogs - well, except for one in particular that I really liked, Planting Milkwood, which is all about water resources and permaculture, and which made me feel very jealous.

A couple of the links are no longer being updated, but they've got some really interesting information and ideas in them that I want to read in greater detail some time soon. Take a look at Junk, for instance, which is about sailing to Hawaii on a boat made of plastic bottles.

I also really like 365 Days of Trash, which is about one guy and his family trying to create zero waste. Yup, I definately think I need to start working harder - especially after last night's party, which has resulted in me having to change both the bin bag and the recycling boxes three days earlier than usual. It really is scary how much waste a group of just 10 or so people can create in only one afternoon.

Saturday, 8 August 2009

Say Cheese

I am standing in the supermarket aisle. Dairy produce. Artificial lighting glares down at me and the surrounding fridges hum as blinkered shoppers trundle past, pushing their metal trolleys full of brightly packaged goods.

A myriad of cheeses are trying to attract my eye: soft cheese, grated cheese, fancy cheese, goat cheese, even little mini cheeses. There is milk, there is butter, margarine, yoghurts, and cream.

‘Cheese,’ Bron reads off the scribbled shopping list in his hand.

I want the organic cheddar that is sealed in simple waxy paper. Bron wants the ‘plastic’ cheese: floppy, processed cheese slices. I’m not sure how much actual cheese they contain. A pack of ten for 99p, each slice individually sealed in its own little protective plastic cocoon. I can see myself tearing off this outer layer and reverently laying my plastic slice across the top of my freshly barbecued burger; I can see the edges of it melting and melding with my tomato sauce, and I can taste its fake cheesey goodness as I bite through the soft roll and into the hot burger. I can’t help but salivate.

I want the plastic cheese too.

But I’m not supposed to be buying plastic if I can possibly avoid it.

‘We could get this one,’ I say, holding up the organic cheddar. ‘And slice it up really thinly so that it melts properly over the burgers.’

‘Uh-huh,’ Bron looks at me.

‘Or we could grate it. That would work, wouldn’t it?’


I’m grasping at straws – even Bron knows what I really want is the plastic cheese.

‘Do you think people would really care?’ The group of friends we’ve invited to Bron’s birthday barbecue probably have quite specific expectations as to what will be provided for their eating enjoyment.

Bron is not going to commit either way. Damn. He really, really wants the plastic cheese. It is his birthday, I tell myself.

‘Ok, but we won’t ever buy it again,’ I say tossing it into our trolley as quickly as I can. I already feel guilty. But then: ‘We’d better get two packs to make sure we’ve got enough to go around.'