A life made out of plastic: how much do you waste?

Updated on 06 August 2013 | 0 Comments

Following on from a feature about the evils of supermarket plastic bags, lovefood’s Charlotte decided to take a closer look at how much plastic she unintentionally wastes a week.

Plastic bag guilt

It was researching a recent article – ‘Why England should be ashamed of its plastic bag obsession’ – that made me realise how much plastic I use every day. The collection of supermarket plastic bags at home hung over my head (would one of them end up in the stomach of an albatross chick?), and so I decided to can the habit and use my trusty jute bag instead. So far, I’ve stuck to that promise.

But avoiding plastic altogether is near impossible in today’s world, where the majority of supermarket goods come tightly wrapped in it. We’re even encouraged to bag-up loose vegetables, and you have to break through two or three polythene layers to get at your goods sometimes (see how much plastic you accumulate with one Kinder Bueno, for example).

The experiment

To get an idea of how much plastic the average household wastes a week, my boyfriend and I saved every scrap of packaging from five days’ worth of breakfasts and dinners (neither of us eat lunch at home during the week), then tipped out our booty onto the floor come Friday evening (main image, above). It was shocking – there were 28 pieces of packaging altogether, and although a few were easy-to-recycle cardboard, the vast majority was plastic.  

And what made it worse, for me anyway, was the fact that I couldn’t recycle any of it (not even the cardboard) because despite my persistent campaigning our area doesn’t offer any recycling facilities. So we have to chuck the lot, rent a car to take it to the local tip, or lug the whole lot back on the train to my parents' house, who have the privilege of owning a green bin.

So what to do? I can leave my carrots loose, and hope they don’t fall out of the shopping basket, and I can avoid buying Kinder Bueno bars. But all the other staples necessary in our household – rice, cheese, milk, cereal, nuts, seeds, pasta – involve plastic in some way, essentially to keep the product fresh.

Are you a plasticarian?

There are some excellent websites out there which promote plastic-free shopping (such as lifewithoutplastic.com which sells everything from PVC-free stuffed animals to bamboo water bottles), and one way of getting round it could be to order your fruit and veg from box schemes such as Abel & Cole or Riverford Organic, the former of which offers ‘returnable packaging’ and, if they have to use bags, favour paper over plastic.  

It’s not just me who’s feeling guilty – ‘plasticarian’ is a recognised word now, meaning ‘someone who tries to live a plastic-free life’. And I imagine their numbers will soon increase, given recent health warnings issued about plastic. Only a couple of months ago The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) warned pregnant women to take a "precautionary approach" and avoid food in plastic containers or cans where possible, due to ‘endocrine-disrupters’ found in certain plastics which can disrupt normal foetal development.

Plus Bisphenol A plastics (BPAs) have been linked to breast and prostate cancer, heart disease and dsyfunctions. So you see, perhaps that wedge of supermarket plastic bags under my kitchen sink is doing far more harm than I first thought.

We want to know how much plastic you use a week, and whether you’ve any top tips for cutting down on it. Perhaps you’re a plasticarian who’s never looked back? Have your say in the Comments box below. 

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