Eco Tips: more notes on plastics

Greenpeace has drawn attention to the very small, proportion of plastic that is actually collected and recycled in the UK: a mere 12%. (17% is sent overseas for recycling. In an era when we are seeking to reduce carbon emissions, cutting out unnecessary journeys should be a sine qua non. A further problem is that not all the material  exported is actually recycled; in some countries it is burnt or put into landfill sites – https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/may/17/uk-plastics-sent-for-recycling-in-turkey-dumped-and-burned-greenpeace-finds?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other)

According to the London Borough of Richmond’s web site, plastic is recycled as follows:-

After initial sorting first in Twickenham and then in Mansfield Derbyshire,  plastics are transported for further sorting at a plant in Leeds: this plant separates high Density Polyethylene (HDPE) and Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET, a type of polyester) bottles from PET pots, tubs and trays and any plastic films present. 

HDPE flake recycled in either UK or Belgium Injection moulding products including plastic packaging and containers and cable protection covers.

Mixed plastic bottles recycled in Turkey, Germany, Spain Recycling bags and other plastic products.

PET bottles Recycled as new bottles

Pots, tubs and food trays Recycled in UK or else where in Europe Imitation wooden products e.g. garden furniture and other new plastic products

Contaminated recycling is incinerated. 

https://www.richmond.gov.uk/services/waste_and_recycling/household_recycling/ what_happens_to_your_recycling

Only PET bottles are solely recycled here in the UK, having been on quite a journey around England. These PET bottles are recycled as new plastic bottles – known as closed loop recycling. This is not to say that we should rush out and buy drinks in PET bottles. How many  of the plastic bottles on the shelves are actually made of recycled plastic (rPET)? Most still are made from virgin plastic.

Consider the alternatives. You could refill your own refill bottle from the tap which would be both economical and ecological. You could be given the option of buying a drink in a refillable glass or plastic bottle, perhaps one with a deposit to encourage reuse. (Heavy duty PET bottles can be refilled as per a glass milk bottle).

Greenpeace is petitioning the Government on the following points.

  1. Set a target for eliminating single use plastics by 2037 and halving such use by 2025. (There would be exemptions such as for medical items).
  2. Ban on the export of plastic recycling by 2025, including an immediate ban on their export to non OECD countries. 
  3. Implement a deposit return scheme for bottles
  4. Moratorium on expanding  incineration capacity in the UK. 

You can support this petition here – https://www.greenpeace.org.uk/challenges/plastic-pollution/?utm_source=SS (scroll down for the petition) or use this link:

https://act.gp/3ytd3QF

We too can be part of the change. 

*We can contact our local council and ask for them to reconsider where their plastic recycling goes. We can ask them to ban single use plastics within their organisation. 

*We can contact manufacturers and suppliers and ask them to reduce single use plastic, ditto cafes and food outlets.

  • We can avoid single use plastics by using our own keep cup/ flask for coffee etc, water bottle for drinks, sandwich box for pack lunches etc

*We can simply not buy things that use or come packed in plastic. 

 Counting on …day 255

24th July 2022

The more people use refillable water bottles, the less demand there will be for bottled water. The hot weather has reminded us of the importance of staying hydrated – can it also instil in us the habit of carrying a refillable bottle. Lots of cafes have taps or jugs of water for refills, many railway stations have water refill points, and there are a growing number of public water fountains around the country. 

Refill has an app to help you find places to refill water bottles, cafes that give discounts for reusable cups, and places that will refill your lunch box (but not for free!) – https://www.refill.org.uk/

Eco Tips: living sustainably with what eat 

What does sustainability look like in daily life? I thought I would share our (me and my husband) experiences. What we cook and eat and where we shop, has been shaped by three principles. 

First there is the LOAF principle, a useful nemonic devised by Green Christians. It is a guide for choosing what food to buy and eat.  https://greenchristian.org.uk/loaf-church-resources/

L is for local: locally produced food, which can include things grown or produced in one’s immediate locality and things where local can mean the UK rather than abroad. For example in East Sheen we can buy honey that comes from Richmond Park. We can buy coffee beans roasted across the river in Chiswick. We can have breakfast in Putney enjoying porridge or eggs Benedict made on the premises. We can choose to buy strawberries from Kent as opposed to imported from Spain. Equally we can eat strawberries grown in our back garden. We buy beans and pulses, seeds and grains such as quinoa, from Hodmedod whose produce is all UK grown. 

O is for organic: organic food has a less damaging impact on the planet than non organic food. Indeed it’s effect can be positive, with soils improved with vegetable matter rather than being stripped of its micro-organisms by fertilisers, with pollinators encouraged rather than being killed by pesticides, with livestock well cared for rather than being routinely treated with antibiotic prophylactics. We buy organically grown oats, and flour that comes from farms in Cambridgeshire and which is milled in a windmill!

A is for animal friendly: animals that live as near a natural life as possible (often organically raised). If we buy eggs for my husband we opt for free range, organic ones (although at the moment no eggs are free range owing to restrictions around bird flu). At Christmas the festive bird for my husband is a cockerel that has enjoyed a whole year of life unlike most of chicken meat which comes from birds that live may be 6 – 8 weeks (up to 12 for organically raised birds).

F is for fairly traded: the Fair Trade mark is well known as measure where production has guaranteed a  price above the market minimum, where the work force receive fair wages and where provision is made for services such as schooling and health care. We buy fair trade bananas, chocolate and tea which are now widely available. We buy coffee beans that have been ethically sourced from small scale producers who grow top quality beans, appreciating that the higher cost reflects their value.  

Secondly we avoid excess and plastic packaging, a habit we learnt through a zero waste experiment. We buy dried fruit and nuts, and dry goods such as rice, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda, spices, sugar, cocoa, millet and polenta from local refill stores where goods are dispensed into paper bags – often ones we have brought to reuse. We also buy refills of olive oil, soy sauce, maple syrup, tahini and peanut butter, taking our own jars and bottles to refill. Milk – both oat and dairy – comes in reused glass bottles on the milk round. Since we cook meals from scratch we avoid lots of single use plastic boxes. Likewise making our own cakes and biscuits reduces the amount of waste we generate. Jam jars are reused when we make jam, marmalade and chutneys and when we bottle summer fruits. Deliveries from Hodmedod come in paper or compostable bags, flour and oats come in bulk in paper sacks. 

Thirdly we seek to reduce the carbon footprint of what we eat. Most meals are vegan – Paul enjoys cheese in his sandwiches and dairy milk on his cereal. A vegan diet can save in the region 400 and 900 kgCO2 a year. Even with a vegan diet there are ways of being more or less carbon efficient. By  choosing locally produced food, food that is in season and cutting back on food waste (other vegetable leaves, tea bags and coffee grounds all go into the compost bin whilst apple cores go to make cider vinegar) we aim to minimise our carbon footprint. We have a weekly fruit and vegetable delivery from OddBox which collects fruit and vegetables from farmers and suppliers that would otherwise go to waste – because supermarket demand has dropped, crops have been larger (or sometimes smaller) than expected), crops have ripened too quickly/ slowly, or items are too small/ big/ misshapen for general sale. OddBox by preventing food from going to waste, saves some 11,000 tonnes of CO2 a year.

Counting on …day 102 

22nd February 202s

Another refill? Did you know that Lush make their black plastic pots from recycled plastic and that each one that is returned, goes to their own reprocessing facility to be remade into a new pot ready to be filled again. And for each one returned 50p is paid back! Lush calls this ‘packaging as a service’! 

Sadly only about 15% of pots are returned. It sounds as if we consumers need to be more proactive participants of the circular economy.  

Counting on …day 101

21st February 2022

 Fancy a refill? Following on from last week’s Green Tau, reusable water bottles and coffee cups – keep cups – are excellent for refills, avoiding creating yet more single use paper/plastic items that require recycling/ disposal. (You do of course have to remember to take them with you!) My favourite is a small flask  as it keeps cold drinks cold in the summer and hot ones hot in the winter. 

Counting on …day 97 

17th February 2022

Tanker lorries transport goods other than petrol – even marmite!

Can we expect marmite pumps in our local refill store? 

I suspect the tankers are transporting the yeast extract ‘waste’ – a byproduct  of the brewing industry – en route to the factory where it is transformed into a spread. I equally suspect that the consistency of the spread doesn’t make it a ready candidate for refill stores. But could not the glass jars be returned and refilled as per milk bottles? Maybe write to your preferred yeast extract manufacturer?

Counting on …day 95 

15th February 2022

Refilling cars with petrol at a service station is common practice.

What if it was the same with oils for cooking and eating? An olive oil pump? You may find that you can! Refill stores often stock different sorts of oil with which customers refill their bottles. As this grows in popularity, let’s also make a point of asking for organic and fairly traded oils.

Eco Tips: Packaging

Become savvy.
Give packaging a long, hard look.
Is it necessary? Is it recyclable? Is there an alternative? Can you take your own packaging – be that a shopping basket, cloth bag or box?

There is little  – if anything – that we consume that does not have a carbon footprint which is why when we seek to reduce our carbon footprint, we should be reviewing everything that we consume. And that includes the packaging. Whether what you buy comes in a plastic bag or a paper one, whether it comes in a plastic tray or a cardboard punnet, whether it comes in a plastic bottle or a glass jar, whether it is wrapped in tissue paper or bubble wrap – that packaging will have a carbon footprint. If the packaging is excessive or simply unnecessary,  then we increase our carbon footprint with no gain or merit. Our aim should be to avoid unnecessary packaging and where packing is needed, to seek out packing that can  – and will be – recycled. 

Packaging Scenarios 

1. Some packaging is necessary: imagine taking home a pint of milk with no packaging! Milk is usually sold in plastic or glass or tetra-pacs containers – and in fact all these can be recycled (although the loop for tetra-pacs is not yet fully closed), whilst glass milk bottles can be reused some 60 to 70 times before being recycled. 

2. But some packaging is not. Do apples need to come in plastic bags (even if they are a compostable plastic substitute)? Loose fruit and vegetables can simply be picked up, weighed and popped into you own shopping bag/ basket.  

3. For some items such as strawberries and raspberries,  the packing prevents the items becoming damaged and potentially inedible . The carbon footprint of the packing may outweigh the carbon footprint of wasted food. Punnets are often made of PET plastic which can be fully recycled into a new punnet but the film on top is not so readily recycled –  the Co op has just introduced a recycling scheme which accepts all scrunchable plastics. 

4. Some packaging is excessive! Biscuits that come in a plastic tray inside a plastic sleeve, inside a cardboard box …. Refusing to buy such items  is the best response – and can feeling very satisfying. You might instead make you own ‘up-market’ biscuits with zero packaging

5. Some packaging cannot be recycled such as polystyrene or, in the case of black plastic, is routinely incinerated/ sent to landfill because the recycling machinery finds black hard to detect! 

6. But if fruit and vegetables can be bought packaging free, what about other things such as pasta or dried fruit? Soap or washing up liquid? There is a growing number of refill stores where customers can buy loose goods, decanting what they want into either their own reusable jar or  container, or into a paper bag.