My Plastic-Free journey begins (find out more about what I’m doing).
I was hit by the momentousness of the challenge before me as soon as I lifted my (plastic) biro to prepare a shopping list.
I realised that all the inspirational bloggers I had read going zero plastic, or zero waste, were all located either a) in a big city with hipster whole food stores nearby or b) in the countryside with farmers markets and the ability to grow their own vegetables, and perhaps a chicken or two.
I am in neither of these people groups. I live in a tiny flat, and there will certainly be no poultry or organic crops nourished by my own compost. I am also a suburb-dweller and am walking distance from Aldi, not an experimental zero-waste supermarket or a friendly local farmer. There used to be a Whole Foods nearby, but that got shut down a few months ago (thanks, Amazon). I rationalised that perhaps this is a good thing; I feel that there are more people in the UK like me than not, and it will perhaps give a good idea of how feasible plastic-free is for them.
Suddenly realising I was flying the flag of the Common Man, I went into town looking for unbagged rice and natural-corked red wine.
After getting lost in Cheltenham’s one-way system, paying £2.60 to park and then walking in the rain past a hundred parking meters all mocking me because I could have parked closer, I arrived at The Natural Grocery Store. It was the only likely-sounding place in the town that a Google search had thrown up, and I was excited as I picked up a basket at the entrance.
I was disappointed, though, as everything seemed to be wrapped in plastic. The produce was natural – organic and local – but the packaging… not so much. Embarrassed, I had to walk back to the entrance to put my empty basket back before skulking, head hung, past the watchful eyes of the cashiers at the tills to get to the exit.
I was stumped, then. This had been the only place I’d found on Google. Where would I shop now? I was going to have to give that some thought, and perhaps go further afield for my fodder. But, I considered that while I was there I might as well walk up the high street to Holland & Barrett.
As I passed, I popped into Iceland. Earlier this year the store pledged to be plastic-free by 2023, so I thought I’d check to see how it was doing. Short answer: not very well.
In Holland & Barrett I got very excited by the fruit and nut pick-and-mix, and assembled half a kilo of snacks to graze on at my desk. It cost me an eye-watering £11.52, but to be honest it was satisfying just to have loaded up a paper bag and finally make my first plastic-free purchase.
I finished my shopping at Sainsbury’s, where I bought tinned soup for my lunches, and frozen burgers (inspired by my time in Iceland: frozen food comes in boxes, not plastic bags) and loose vegetables for my dinner.
A study by Eunomia recently showed that almost 1 million tonnes of plastic are produced by Britain’s leading supermarkets every year. That’s about half of UK household plastic waste, all coming from our grocery shopping. And from what I could tell from my excursion, that’s not because of consumer choice; we’re not given any other option.
In conclusion, I think there is a real danger I am going to starve in my pursuit of a plastic-free lent. Send care packages.
Plastic so far: 0g