Beth – Single Use Plastics

Beth has taken on the challenge of going plastic free for Lent. A few days in, she writes about how she’s getting on.

I have to confess that, as I’m writing my blog at the beginning of Lent, I’m rather relieved. I’m already feeling a little daunted about what this process will be like, so writing to you in advance means I can share my (relative!) success so far.

In preparation for taking on my ‘plastic free’ challenge, I made the conscious decision that I wasn’t going to prepare by buying anything plastic coated in advance (I did toy with bulk buying my child’s favourite squash but decided that was cheating!). So, as things run out and need replacing, I’ll have to source them plastic-free.

I’ve made the one exception: single use plastics under the umbrella of ‘medication’ are acceptable, because my child’s prescribed dairy free milk alternative, which comes in a tetrapak, will have to continue.

My beautiful cup!

So far, following Living Lent has mostly been a consumerist novelty: I have got a beautiful William Morris takeaway coffee cup for my commute, and some less Instagram-able but very practical hessian shopping bags. I’ve bought some beeswax wrap and some extra Tupperware containers. I have switched to having milk delivered in glass bottles, which has cost us no more compared to the drive to the local shop (we’re rural, not lazy!) and the price of milk.

I was pleasantly surprised also that when I changed our nappy brand over to eco-ones with no plastic, they weren’t any more expensive and have been just as effective as the brand name ones. Although that cannot be said for the eco-baby wipes….

I wasn’t sure whether I should mention mooncups (TMI?), but it’s a reality for half the population, so I’ve bought one of those too. I’ve used Lush for packaging free beauty products and toiletries like moisturiser and shampoo. I’ve had to accept that my hair will just be frizzier than normal, because I haven’t got any hair products in plastic free packaging. I’m not a major fan of the sustainably packaged toothpaste, nor the bamboo toothbrush, I expect I may revert back to a more plastic version after Lent. And, I’m relieved that I’ve finally found a reason to justify buying designer foundation in glass bottles!

So, shopping has become a lot more interesting. I keep finding myself spending a lot of time walking round trying to guess the packet, and whether there will be plastic hidden inside a plastic box! 

The downsides, two days in, have been relatively minor – it’s mostly the effort it takes to find things, and to be prepared. I will have to go to multiple places to buy our groceries, which is a lot more effort than a one stop supermarket shop. I’m going to have to meal plan effectively, so we don’t need to resort to buying something shrink wrapped in an emergency. Mostly, I am nervous of having to buy meat plastic free, which I haven’t had to do yet. However, I’ve been assured our local Waitrose is good for that.

I think our local area helps too. We’re based in Oxfordshire, and I’ve used the covered market for fruit and veg, which comes only in paper bags if you ask (I sense that this is quite a common request!).  I’m also going to check out SESI refill in Oxford, where you can take your own containers to purchase whole foods like pasta, as well as household detergents. I’ve also discovered that Cultivate have an online shop each weekend, where I can buy some of these things in sustainable packaging online. I think where you live has a huge impact on how possible this challenge is. These local organisations in Oxford mean that even though it’s a faff, it is possible, and I wonder if it would be if we were either more rural or in a different city.

Overall, going plastic free so far has been only a little more expensive, but a lot more time consuming.

Yet the unexpected discovery is that it has left me with is a certain joy in shopping. Partly, this is down to the novelty factor of sussing things out. But, it also feels very empowering to use my consumer power in this way. I cannot change how much plastic manufacturers use (and I have been reminded how extensive it is!) yet I can choose not to buy it.

I’m looking forward (if not with slight apprehension!) to where this will take us next.

Beth Allison-Glenny is the Baptist Union’s Public Issues Enabler, and spends her time working between the Joint Public Issues Team and the Baptist Union of Great Britain. She is an ordained minister and previously pastored churches in Oxford and Leicestershire. She has an MTh in Applied Theology from Oxford and an undergraduate MTheol(hons) from the University of St Andrews.