My Plastics Project started as a result of reading Finding Sustainability, which was published last week. In it, the author led us on his journey to at least starting to produce less plastic waste, and to encourage his customers to buy alternates, less damaging environmentally, that met their needs. It’s a long road, and I’m including it as part of my #30Days Wild this year.
I’m sure this road will have an ending. The current mood, plus all those climate targets, are drivers for change. Even if some parts of the globe are notoriously resistant to it.
My Plastics Project
For the month of May, I kept all the plastics that were not recycled in my kerbside recycling system.
By stashing it all in one box, weighing the box full and then empty, I discovered I’d saved up 546 grams of plastic.
Over half a kilo.
If May was typical, that’s 6 kilos a year. 14 pounds. Not including the things I already recycle (see below), and certain others.
- plastic trays, usually of soft fruit like blueberries (I have blueberries or raspberries most days on my cereal)
- yoghurt pots and small containers for dips
- salad packaging. Bagged mixed salad, wrapped pairs of cos/romaine lettuce, open bags of round lettuce, wrapped celery and shrink-wrapped cucumbers. Guinea pigs eat a lot of salad, and not leftovers!
- inside bags from cereal packets
- cheese wrappers
- pasta, rice and speciality bread bags (I make normal loaves, but not usually bagels, pitta, tortilla, etc)
- chocolate bar wrappers
- plastic wrap for multibuy packs like tins of beans and toilet rolls
- packaging for mailed items. Bubblewrap in jiffy bags (some are built for disassembly), magazine wrappers and the big mailing bags.
The first two items here would be included in kerbside recycling in Norfolk.
I have not emptied any plastic bags for the garden or the guinea pigs. They all get reused, which I’ll discuss in part 2.
Recycled at Kerbside vs recycled at Household Waste site (Council tip)
In Hampshire, I can put plastic bottles of all types (drinks, cleaning products) into my kerbside recycling. That seems to be it for plastic. My Tetrapak drinks cartons (plastic +paper) go to the Household waste site. I need to follow through what happens to that. I know Norfolk had to stop recycling Tetrapaks (from kerbside collection) because the cost was bigger than the gain. That is a whole other question, of course.
I get through at least 2 Tetrapaks of soya milk a week. So that’s a hundred a year, just on milk.
My plastic bottle tally isn’t as high as most households. I rarely drink anything other than milk from plastic bottles (2 a week). Cleaning products: maybe six a year in total.
But noticing this, I have started to preferentially buy cooking/salad oil in glass bottles. (kerbside collection, plus bottle banks in every supermarket car park it seems.) The trend towards plastic sauce bottles needs to be reversed. That’s you, Mr Heinz.
Compostable v biodegradable plastic
Some of the items in my box (but very few) are marked recyclable, compostable or biodegradable.
As Trent Romer pointed out in his book, ‘compostable’ and ‘biodegradable’ are terms often used interchangeably which are not the same.
Compostable means it can decompose in a composting system. The temperatures generated by the animals and microbes do the composting, who also digest it and excrete it. Some home compost systems do not generate enough heat for the ‘plastic’ to decompose.
Biodegradable means that the plastic has been designed to break down into its constituent parts, usually on exposure to air after a length of time. It’s a polymer made up of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen and a few other bits and pieces. I had an interview with a man from the retail store Iceland. This was around 2000 before it underwent a lot of management changes. He was experimenting with ‘biodegradable’ plastic bags in a bag under his desk, to see how long they took to decompose. They do, but some go into chunks, some before you really want them to. Best for shortlife products where you can collect the bags and stop them disintegrating and causing a nuisance.
UCL (University College London) has been running a citizen science composting experiment on plastic bags for the last three years at least. The bags with the green leaf symbol on them had disappeared in my compost system within six months. The others, well, some are still hanging around. Preliminary results from UCL are interesting. They show differences based on type of compost bins, and type of plastic, among other things.
Next report (on the 23rd June)
- analysing the plastics and the possibilities
- alternative supply chains
- reuse: how to account for it