When I first started to reduce the single use plastic in our shopping in 2018 I had no idea how hard it would be. I thought it would be easy until I realised that quite a lot of the plastic I was buying I hadn’t even seen as plastic - like washing up sponges, makeup and deodorant, let alone all the plastic that food comes in. In the end we’ve made a few big changes which has reduced our single-use plastic packaging at home a lot, but there is more we could be doing, and we’ve lapsed a bit since covid. The most effective things that massively reduced our plastic footprint were to get our milk from Milk and More, our fruit and veg from Riverford and a Sodastream for fizzy water. Riverford also do a box which is air freight free - which massively reduces the carbon footprint of the food you buy. We also get all our bathroom products from Lush, so we’re plastic free there too. You can get a lot of plastic free alternatives from local shops such as Gather and BYO.
What’s particularly good about these shops is that the packaging they use isn’t plastic OR single-use, which are separate things and each problematic! There are other options (Oddbox veg boxes start at £11 per week, and Abel & Cole also do veg boxes) but most of them have put thought into their packaging so that it isn’t wasted after its use, but is reused again and again. Riverford estimates that their boxes (made from recycled card) are each used ten times before they are recycled again. These businesses have recognised that the resources that we use are precious and they’ve chosen to use recycled materials or reused the packaging, so they’re getting the most use out of these resources.
And they’ve chosen not to use plastic because plastic too is precious, something that we keep and use again and again and again. When we extract oil from the earth and use it to make plastic, we are using up precious resources that we may eventually run out of, and we’re damaging our planet (and ourselves!) in the process. We should be doing this as little as possible, and definitely not for something that we use for three minutes and then throw away. 40% of plastic found on beaches and our green spaces is single-use packaging that has been used very briefly and then thrown away.
Plastic has a huge carbon footprint. If we continue to produce it at the current rate, and the planned expansions of the petrochemical and plastics industries go ahead, by 2050 plastic will be responsible for 10-13% of the world’s carbon budget. That’s equivalent to nearly 300 new 500-megawatt coal-fired power plants.
And sometimes that’s what we should be using our carbon budget for. Sometimes there aren’t other materials that do the job. Plastic is lightweight, airtight and waterproof. There are many applications of plastic, in the medical industry for example, where it is very hard to think of viable alternatives.
But something that plastic is not good at is being used once. It is a nightmare single use material because it doesn’t go away. Once it has been discarded, plastic takes hundreds and hundreds of years to disintegrate, never fully breaking down but becoming smaller and smaller, creating microplastics that enter our water systems and soil, where our food is grown. And it’s made from oil, which is not considered to be a renewable resource - it’s not something that we can replace easily, or that replenishes itself.
Tips to reuse plastic at home
Keep plastic tubs (from yoghurt, dairy spreads, houmous) and use to put leftovers in, instead of using cling film on bowls and plates
Keep plastic bread bags and use these instead of buying sandwich bags
Keep takeaway containers and use these instead of buying tupperware.
The more we’re able to use and re-use materials at home, the less we have to extract from the earth, and the less carbon emissions we will create as a result.
Help our crowdfunding campaign
To mark COP26 we have launched a crowdfunding campaign for a new project - Sustainable Peckham. We want to work with local small business owners and the community to find solutions to individual and common problems, such as waste on our high streets, poor air quality and carbon emissions. There are reward discounts available with our local partners in return for donations which help us make this project a reality!
Volunteer with us!
We’re always on the look-out for new volunteers to go out and speak to small businesses, do talks for local schools and community groups and join us for a Community Clean Up. These events are a great way to meet local people, spend time outside and help to maintain our precious local green spaces. All equipment is provided and we would love to meet you there!
Plastic Free Peckham is an award-winning community group working with local businesses, schools and the wider community to reduce single use plastic. Our goal is a cleaner local environment and a greener planet.
Words by Plastic Free Peckham and Illustrations by Ellora Prior