This Norfolk family went plastic-free for a week
PUBLISHED: 14:29 16 April 2018 | UPDATED: 14:29 16 April 2018
Writer and mother of two Kate Blincoe faces a plastic-free week with her family. How hard could it be?
Excitement soon gave way to horror. A plastic-free week sounded fun, but as reality sunk in it seemed more and more challenging.
“Come on guys,” I rallied the troops (my two kids and husband): “Think about the seals we visited at Horsey and the little terns at Winterton. Our seas are a plastic soup and it is harming marine creatures.” In fact, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation predicts that by 2050, the ocean will contain more plastic by weight than fish. It is already finding its way into the seafood and fish we eat.
I pulled a plastic water bottle out of my bag, announcing; “A million disposable bottles are bought every minute around the globe.”
“But we do recycle, Mum,” said my nine-year-old son, sensibly.
“We do, but 15 million bottles don’t get recycled every single day in Britain. And not all plastics can be recycled.”
“Can I still play with Lego?” he wondered.
“Yeah, ok.” And we were all set… this meant no purchases of plastic and avoiding all disposable plastic. It definitely didn’t mean crafting a toilet brush out of sticks.
In the days preceding our start date, I had random moments of panic, suddenly exclaiming ‘bin bags’ or ‘toothpaste’ as the depth of our reliance on plastic sunk in.
Day 1 – sorting the basics
To get started, we needed everyday groceries to hand; milk, butter, bread, fruit, veg and eggs. Old habits die hard, so I began at the supermarket… eggs were easy-peasy, I selected loose veg, opting for paper mushroom bags rather than plastic, and found jars with metal lids for jam, ketchup and honey. The bread from the bakery section was in a mainly paper bag, but with a naughty cellophane panel, so I had to leave it.
My milk was a particular highlight, sourced at my nearby dairy, Old Hall Farm in Woodton, where the milk is raw, from grass-fed Jerseys, and in beautiful glass bottles. It tastes amazing too. I found toothpaste in a glass jar, bamboo toothbrushes, biodegradable bin bags and loo roll wrapped in compostable bioplastic. Thank you, Rainbow Wholefoods.
Tea was another biggie to get sorted – I think many of us were shocked to learn recently that tea bags are sealed with plastic. It was over to Wilkinson’s of Norwich for loose leaf tea for me, which they package in a paper bag on request.
Day 2 - beauty
Yesterday, I lived simply, just washing with water and a lovely local soap I had in the cupboard (from Norfolk’s The Natural Soap Company, wrapped in paper). Today, I need to look a bit more polished for work, so tried some new finds.
Lush is one of the few high-street brands that offer brilliant ‘naked’ products. It’s not premium beauty, where you pay as much for the sleek packaging as for the promises inside the pot, but I liked the shampoo and conditioner blocks and their packaging-free eye make-up.
Day 3 – loving local
I’m impressed with how small and independent businesses can respond quickly to the public’s sudden dissatisfaction with plastic. For meat, fish and cheese, I went to my local farm shop. They normally wrap in plastic, but were happy to pop it into my Tupperware pot. Goes to show, you only have to ask.
I’d been meaning to try my local bakery and was delighted that the bread came wrapped in brown paper and tasting delicious.
Day 4 – a long week
Today is feeling tough so it was time to pull out a few easy wins – the stuff we should be doing every day. It’s about putting a plate on top of a bowl instead of cling film.
It’s about using that fabric bag and saying no to a plastic straw in a restaurant (although my children think that one amounts to torture).
It’s about not leaving the house without your reusable coffee cup and water bottle.
Day 5 - luxury
Today, I had a gift to buy and wanted to think about plastic-free luxury. I settled on a scarf in spring colours and wanted some posh choccies to go with it.
This was really challenging. While I could find bars of chocolate aplenty, they aren’t quite right for a present.
Some products seem to require plastic packaging, to protect them from humidity and so on, but I’ve also noticed that many have it for no apparent reason – a layer of cellophane is almost universal on so many items we buy from cupcake cases to magazines.I settled on wine instead – thank goodness for natural corks and glass bottles.
Wrapping the gift without Sellotape was interesting. I used pretty fabric and pages from a magazine held together with ribbon. I couldn’t find a card that didn’t come in cellophane so resorted to child labour (luckily my daughter is artistic).
Day 6 – ode to the egg
I’ve realised we have eaten a lot of eggs this week. They are the ultimate plastic-free food, providing so much nutrition and versatility.
It’s hard to buy ready-meals, so when you don’t feel like proper cooking, the humble egg really is useful for a quick meal. I also discovered that fish fingers come in just a card box!
Day 7 – snack attack
We’re missing snacks (no biscuit bars, crackers, or crisps pass the plastic-free test) so made some cookies. I’ve also been putting off cleaning the house but could delay no more. I managed a passable job with white vinegar and a little lemon to improve the smell. I also bought powder washing detergent – Ecover comes in a card box and is marine friendly.
It’s been really tough but we’ve done it and it certainly got easier as we learned along the way.
This process has turned me into a 1950s housewife – traipsing the streets with my fabric bags going from one tiny store to another. It’s been a diet as well as a workout – snacks have to be made, not bought and processed food is out. This shows how our plastic, consumer lifestyle isn’t doing much good for our health.
I’ve also discovered that it’s very hard to get like for like products without plastic – you end up going for more ethical, artisan and handmade options, which is all very well but they do tend to cost more. Supermarkets are the key to this being mainstream and the more we demand plastic alternatives the quicker they will respond.
Meanwhile, there are lots of things that should become unacceptable, such as face-wipes, plastic straws, disposable water bottles and single-use hot drinks cups. My family won’t be plastic-free at the moment but we will certainly use a lot less plastic in our day-to-day lives and I will make a point of using local, independent stores and asking for plastic-free packaging where ever I go. It’s time to spread the word – plastic is definitely not fantastic and we can all reduce our use.
Kate Blincoe is a writer and the author of The No-Nonsense Guide to Green Parenting.
Photos by Phil Barnes Photography, philbarnes-commercialphotography.co.uk
Suppliers who helped me:
Norwich Market – for fruit and veg in paper bags and lots of stalls are happy to put produce in your own containers.
Rainbow Wholefoods – bamboo toothbrushes, biodegradable bin bags, plastic-free loo rolls, rainbowwholefoods.co.uk
The Natural Soap Company – locally produced, paper wrapped soaps, naturalsoap.co.uk
Lush UK – the best option for beauty products, uk.lush.com
Wilkinsons of Norwich - Tea and coffee merchants, wilkinsonsofnorwich.com
Old Hall Farm, Woodton – raw Jersey milk in glass bottles, oldhallfarm.co.uk
Hempnall Village Bakery – paper wrapped artisan bread, hempnallbakery.co.uk
Goodies Farm Shop, Long Stratton – happy to put food in your own container, goodiesfoodhall.co.uk