Come up with an easy step-by-step method of practically eliminating plastic from day to day living.
Make this strategy easily adoptable, and adaptable to different types of households and lifestyles.
Assume that followers of this website are reasonably busy people, so wish to continue to pursue a convenience lifestyle. In this way, call upon the home-making of products only as a last resort.
Use my time for research and share those findings, so that others don't have to.
The priority is plastic reduction, but where possible use approaches and products that keep costs down too.
Work with online suppliers mentioned in this website to reduce any plastic in their postal packaging.
The outlook is: Celebration, not Castigation. The mission is not to have a go at anyone for their consumption of plastic. And there are some very efficient forces lobbying against its production and pollution without my building a new podium to shout from. Rather, by creating a positive, celebratory mood for the little everyday victories, the aim is to move forward the cause with the ample deployment of carrots and minimal resorting to sticks.
Aim high, but try not to end up living in a cave, clothed in bearskins and knawing on a squashed badger carcass. There is no use denying the advancement of technology and the hard fact of change. The objective is to move forwards with modernity and influence its direction rather than dig stubborn heels in and brace against the flow.
A synthetic material made from a wide range of organic polymers such as polyethylene, PVC, nylon, etc., that can be moulded into shape while soft, and then set into a rigid or slightly elastic form.
Oxford English Dictionary
Not all plastics are created equal...
For the purposes of this website, when I talk about 'plastic-free', I am referring to synthetic plastics made from petrochemicals, which (without additives) only biodegrade over hundreds or thousands of years, if at all. I am aware that certain natural polymers (PLA, NatureFlex™ and co. derived from plants) are also considered to be 'plastics' in the true scientific sense, but since most of these will compost over time leaving only the carbon dioxide that the originating plant absorbed when grown, water and soil, I do not consider them to present the same damaging influence on the planet's ecosystems that fossil fuel-derived plastics do. I am also aware that there are a new breed of plastics, like Reverte™, in which normal petrochemical plastics are treated with additives to make them biodegrade in the presence of oxygen, leaving carbon dioxide, water and biomass. However, this is the carbon dioxide which was captured when the originating fossil fuel was created, and therefore it is still a process which contributes to climate change. Also, not all biodegradable petrochemical-sourced plastics guarantee (like Reverte™ does) not to leave a toxic residue or damaging micro-plastics behind. Therefore, because I must make a distinction somewhere, when I say 'plastic-free', I refer to petrochemical plastics, whether biodegradable or otherwise. Plant-sourced polymers I consider to be plastic-like materials, and compostable versions are allowable. The gold-standard is, of course, no plastics or plastic-like materials at all!
Not all plant-sourced polymers will compost easily at home. The best place for them is a commercial composting site, where they will generally break down into carbon dioxide, water and soil within 6 months. Sadly though, UK council composting schemes will probably filter them out (since they cannot distinguish between plant-based polymers and petrochemical plastics) so putting them in brown bins will probably ultimately consign them to landfill. In landfill (where even paper lasts years and years) plant-based polymers will be mummified along with the rest of it; the less that goes to landfill the better. Any biodegradable/compostable polymers, plant-sourced or otherwise, may also degrade the quality of post consumer plastic feedstocks if they make it into the recycling system, so the green boxes are not the place for them. Home composting is probably the best solution at present. Compostable plant-sourced polymers that do escape into the environment will still break down relatively quickly, within a few years. PLA litter in the ocean for instance will break down in 6-24 months, unlike petrochemical plastics which take hundreds of years. The patient home-composter might consider a 2-year breakdown period acceptable. However large quantities of plant-sourced polymer waste packaging will be difficult to manage, hence why the Plastic-Free Practically philosophy is to keep these plastic alternatives to a minimum.
Plastic Recycling Statistics
DEFRA UK Statistics on Waste 2018 reports that of 2.26 million tonnes of plastic packaging waste generated in 2016, 44.9% was recycled. Independent report from environmental consulting firm Eunomia suggests plastic waste generation was more like 3.5 million tonnes, making recycling rates as low as 35%. The WRAP Plastic Market Situation Report states that in 2014, of 2.2 million tonnes plastic packaging generated, 0.5 million tonnes was recovered from the municipal waste stream. In 2015 of 2.2 million tonnes generated, 890,000 tonnes (40%) was recycled; 330,000 tonnes in the UK and 560,000 tonnes exported, mainly to China. In the UK 110,000 tonnes of PET/PETE (#1), 90,000 tonnes of HDPE (#2), 90,000 tonnes of LDPE (#4) and 22,000 tonnes of PP (#5) were recycled. Polystyrene (#6) recycling rates (found in foam takeaway containers, coffee-cup lids, yogurt pots and in expanded form etc), with no end market, was negligible. End markets for recycled packaging were, in 2015: Food packaging 24%, non-food packaging 36%, Construction 16%, Automotive 3%, Other 19%. By contrast the major end market for PET in China is fabric, an issue with this being how plastic fibres leak into the natural world when clothing is washed. Upwards of 40kg of plastic per UK household, which could be recycled, is still thrown away.
In summary, of 2.2 million tonnes (conservative estimate) of plastic packaging waste generated in the UK in 2014/15 the major destination (1.4 million tonnes) was landfill or 'energy recovery' (i.e. incineration). Only 0.2 million tones (9%) was actually re-cycled (closed loop recycling) back into plastic packaging in the UK, the rest being exported, cross-cycled into materials with further recycling potential (i.e. car bumpers) or down-cycled into materials with no further current recycling potential (i.e. polyester fibre for carpets and clothing, other automotive composite plastics).
To Have and to Hold...
What to do with the plastics that are, inevitably, already in our possession? My feeling is that the best place for plastics around the home, that are still usable and useful, is for them to be kept on and cared for. A good example is Tupperware-style containers, which when looked after can literally become an heirloom. Once out of your sights and control, the capacity for environmental destructiveness inherent within that plastic item could potentially be unleashed. At least in the home you know where they are. And as we have already discovered, plastic is incredibly handy. The item exists, damage done, might as well make use of it. The exception to this is plastic-based fabrics that are laundered regularly, since the process of machine or hand washing releases millions of tiny fibres into the greywater runoff which pass through treatment system filters into the ocean. In my household, as we gradually replace our clothes with alternatives made from natural fibres, I am a quandary as to what to do with these plastic objects disguised as woollen cardigans, silk pyjamas, cotton trousers.... The jury is still out but we store them for now.
DISCLAIMER - Other solutions are available....
The products and ideas I have put forward in this website are only one way to move towards a practically plastic-free existence. They certainly won't be the only way, or maybe even the best, but they are (I hope) well-informed suggestions based on the current information I have to hand. I am in constant review of what I am using myself at home, and putting forward here, so if there is any aspect of submissions or recommendations that is inaccurate, or if there is a better option I should be considering, my CONTACT page is the place to go.