Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Ready, steady... Getting ready for the #plasticchallenge

Lent starts tomorrow and to kick it off is an update from top Plastic Challenger Elspeth Owens. Elspeth has preparing for the challenge for some weeks and her support the campaign has also been invaluable! Thanks Elspeth - we look forward to seeing how you get on. 

For those of you who haven't been following the excitement on Twitter then make sure you follow us for daily updates: @emily4smith @mcsuk @seachampions #plasticchallenge

Ready steady... Getting ready for the Plastic Challenge  

By Elspeth Owens


The amount of unnecessary plastic we throw away each day of our lives is mind-blowing.  According to http://www.recycling-guide.org.uk,  275,000 tonnes of plastic are used each year in the UK  (about 15 million bottles per day). Whilst a reasonable amount of this is now recycled (although that in itself uses precious energy and contributes to our carbon foot-print), a lot of it ends up in landfill, and a worrying amount of it ends up in our oceans and on our beaches.

The plastic that ends up in our oceans not only spoils the natural beauty of the sea, but also causes devastating harm to wildlife, at a time when most of our wildlife desperate needs a helping hand. It also adds to the huge gyres of rubbish in the oceans and, perhaps most worryingly, breaks down into a plastic soup which leaches chemicals into the environment and risks entering the food chain.

That is why I am taking the Plastic Challenge. I am a London Sea Champion for the Marine Conservation Society. I am going to try to give up single-use plastics for Lent.


There is no one definition of what constitutes “single-use plastic”. Everyone taking the challenge can define it as they think best. The mantra I am going to try to live by for the next 40 day and 40 nights is, “I am not going to throw any plastic away”.

The focus of my challenge is very much on plastic packaging. Food, toiletries, cleaning products, I am going to try to buy things with no plastic packaging, or where I really can’t avoid buying plastic packaging, I am going to try to find re-fills or ways to re-use the plastic.

This is not to say that all plastic is bad. Plastic is a great material when used in the proper place. I am not trying to say that we should never use it, and sometimes plastic might even be the most environmentally friendly option available.

To me, what this challenge is about is asking people to focus on the unnecessary plastic in our lives. The plastic packaging that your apples are wrapped in just so that you can carry them to the till, where you put them inside another plastic bag to take them home, before you throw the plastic wrapping away. To me, that use of plastic is unnecessary, and that is what we should be trying to eliminate. Do I really need to take this plastic bag at the till? Do I really need to buy plastic packaged potatoes?

On your marks...

In getting ready for the #plasticchallenge, I was particular unsure about how I was going to make my bathroom a plastic free zone. Shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, toilet cleaner, toothpaste...? How do you live without plastic in the bathroom?

Starting with toiletries, the first step was easy – switch the shower gel and gel hand soap for soap bars. You can get some lovely soap bars and save some money at the same time. Shampoo and conditioner was trickier. Whilst I am very reluctant to give up my favourite brand of shampoo and conditioner (clean hair that I can get a brush through is important to me!), I have decided to try out shampoo and conditioner bars. I will let you know how I get on.

Moving on to face wash – much to my dismay, I recently discovered that the brand of exfoliating face wash that I have been using ever since I was a teenager contains plastic micro-beads. I have recently learned that plastic micro-beads are found is hundreds of exfoliating beauty products and even some toothpaste.  When these are washed down our plugholes, they are not captured by many sewage treatment facilities and wash out into the sea. These plastic particles accumulate in oceans gyres, adding to the plastic soup, or are eaten by marine animals (fish, mussels, worms...) and enter the food chain. Most of us have no idea that we are contributing to this problem by using these products. 

 So, I set out to find a face wash that doesn’t contain micro-beads. I discovered that it is extremely difficult to find any exfoliating face wash that doesn’t contain plastic micro-beads (there are some - the “Beat the Micro Bead” app lets you scan barcodes on your smart phone when you are out shopping to help you find them), so decided that the best option was to avoid exfoliating products until the industry has sorted out this problem.  However, given that I am giving up all single-use plastic for Lent, eliminating the plastic micro-beads was not enough – I needed to find a face wash without plastic packaging. The only solution I have found (and I would be grateful to hear suggestions if anyone reading this has any other ideas) was to go for a Lush product. Whilst Lush cleansers come in plastic tubs, they will take the tubs back when you are finished with them and re-use them. This seems like a good idea to me.

Toothpaste. I am militant about brushing my teeth and am reluctant to compromise on something so important. Many people taking this challenge would argue that, if you buy a large tube of toothpaste, it lasts long enough that the plastic packaging shouldn’t count as “single-use”. I think I agree, but out of interest I thought I would see if I could find a plastic-free alternative. Again, Lush has come up trumps with their toothy tabs (I promise I have not received any incentive from Lush to write this blog – they just have a decent selection of plastic-free toiletries). I will let you know what they are like.

How about toilet paper? I buy my toilet paper in bulk so currently have a good supply in the cupboard, but if this runs out during Lent (which it probably will...) I am really not sure where to source plastic-free loo roll. I seem to remember being able to buy a two pack of Andrew wrapped in paper packaging, but so far I can’t find this anywhere. Even Andrex’s Eco Toilet Tissue only seems to come wrapped in plastic. Any ideas..?

Finally – cleaning products. I have learned this week that the lovely people at Ecover sell 5L litre re-fills which you can buy and store at home and then use to fill up your smaller bottles of toilet cleaner, multi-purpose cleaner, washing up liquid etc etc. Whilst this does take up some precious cupboard space at home (but not as much as you might think), it means that I probably won’ t have to buy cleaning products for about a year. This should save me money and will also save me the hassle of remembering to pick up new supplies when I run out... The only negative here is that the supposedly green website I ordered these products from sent them out wrapped in, yes, plastic bubble wrap! So as not to fail the challenge, I have diligently packed away the bubble wrap to re-use at some point in the future (maybe when I eventually move house...)

Get set...

The bathroom is obviously not the only challenging room to eradicate single-use plastic from, and I have found the rest of the house equally challenging. I have replaced my plastic bin bags with (very expensive) compostable bin liners, my breakfast cereal with porridge oats (it was the only thing I could find in the cereal aisle that didn’t have plastic packaging inside the box!) and have decided that I will have to make my own bread and pasta (or go without) until Lent is over. Over the next few weeks there will be lots of blog posts from other people taking the Plastic Challenge, sharing their experiences and tips on issues like these.

In the meantime, if you feel inspired, why not give it a go yourself? Maybe do a plastic free supermarket shop (the brilliant people on the fish counter at my local supermarket let me buy my fish in a tupperware pot today!), or cook a plastic-free meal, or even just invest in a cloth bag and give up plastic bags! 


Elspeth Owens

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

The Plastic Challenge 2014

The Plastic Challenge is back! This time in numbers and were ready to raise awareness about the terrible impacts of plastic waste in our oceans. Single-use plastics dominate our weekly shop, over-packaging food and causing excessive waste. Plastic takes hundreds of years to decompose in the marine environment; it's persistence means it litters our beaches and kills wildlife. Do we really need to use so much single-use plastic? Can we live without it? Take part in 'The Plastic Challenge' and reduce your plastic footprint during Lent. 

Sunday, 16 February 2014

It's back!!

Lent 2014 is approaching and the challenge is preparing for take off....

What are you giving up for lent? 

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Week three

Plastic free living is fully underway and friends, family and colleagues are starting to get used to my unusual 'no plastic please' requests!!

I'm pleased at the results the plastic challenge is having as supporters frequently mention that they are frustrated 'over' packaged items. For example, birthday card shopping proved to be nearly impossible! Hundreds and hundreds of cards are singly wrapped in plastic film. I eventually found 4 or 5 options unwrapped, they were no different from the rest, so why wrap the others? Shelf appeal is not a good enough reason.

The impacts of plastic pollution in our oceans need to be recognised and by getting people to realise how prevalent it's in our society is the first step. I'm proving that reducing your plastic footprint is achievable.   

I visited a few different butchers who have been happy to serve meat straight in to my tupperware box - yipee!! Another reason why independent shops can be better than the big chains (plus you can also ask where the meat came from!!).

Admittedly, shopping in the supermarkets is difficult. I've tried to find plastic free alternatives but I find myself back at the local stores picking up items for the week. Loading up with rice, pasta, cereals at the start of the challenge has made living plastic free so much easier and investing the time to do that was worth while.

Storage for all my bits has proven interesting as I've run out of tupperware!! I found myself being resourceful, re-using glass jars and cereal boxes to store food!

Will you make the plastic promise?

5 gyres, a US organisation states that the solution to marine plastic pollution starts with you. See the 5 simple things you can to today...


Plastic out.

Make sure you follow me on twitter for regular updates @Emily4Smith

Monday, 25 February 2013

Litter discovered in the Earth's unexplored realms

"Litter discovered in the Earth's unexplored realms" is a caption taken from today's Guardian article.


The article highlights the scary extent of how far we are polluting our planet.  

A deep sea survey being undertaken by UK royal research ship, James Cook, has found litter 5,000m underwater. This deep sea survey in the Cayman Trough is the first to see this part of ocean, however they have found human litter to have arrived long before them....

Deep-sea pollution at 5,000 metres. Photograph: NERC (Image source: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2013/feb/25/litter-deepsea-survey-earth-unexplored?CMP=twt_fd)

Extract from the guardian article:

"In the logsheets that we use to record our observations at the seafloor, we have several categories for any human impacts that we encounter. To pass the time during a recent three-hour descent to the ocean floor, one of my research students asked me which of the categories I had seen before in recent deep-sea expiditions. The answer was all of them. Discarded fishing nets? Yes, on underwater mountains in the Indian Ocean. Discarded longlines? Yes, more than a mile deep in the remote south Atlantic. Plastic? Yes, a shopping bag at a deep-sea vent in a Pacific marine protected area. Scrap metal? Yes, a tangle of discarded pipework on an undersea volcanic ridge north of the Azores.

I wonder how long it took for the bottle to reach the seabed? Hours? days? Weeks...?

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Week 1 - My plastic free lent

Wow - what a fantastic week! Firstly I want to thank everyone who has donated and shown their support.  £430 has been raised for the marine conservation society, keep it up everyone, every penny helps save our seas and fund important beach clean ups. 

Going plastic free has sparked lots of interest and got people thinking about where plastic waste ends up. Here are some reminders: 
  • 94% of seabirds in the North Sea are found to have ingested plastic;
  • Fish in the North Pacific Ocean could be ingesting plastic at a rate of roughly 12,000 to 24,000 tonnes per year; and
  • 100 million tonnes of rubbish is dumped into our oceans annually, 75% of this is plastic waste;
  • (Image source: globalocean.org.uk)

Living in Bristol has certainly helped me access non-plastic products (see earlier blog). However I'm keen to find out how easily you can live plastic free from the supermarkets, so over the next week I'll focus my efforts here.

Lunches have been the most difficult as you need to be prepared. Last week I forgot my lunch and had to eat lots of banana's, yesterday I didn't have time to heat up my soup so I ate only bread! Meat, salad, surface spray and paracetamol have proven to be tricky...any plastic free suggestions?

I've been surprised at the variety of non-plastic packaged items out there, you can easily reduce your plastic footprint by looking around and making a change. Here are some of the very easy replacements I've made;
  • Chocolate and sweet wrappers are found everywhere, try buying the larger bars wrapped in paper and foil;
  • Olives can easily be replaced by ones in a jar (I'm a big olive fan and found the jar selection to be very good and just as tasty!); 
  • Fresh soup - purchase Covent Garden in card containers rather than supermarket own brand soups;
  • Milk  - Getting a milk delivery is much more environmentally friendly as bottles are  used up to 20 times before being recycled. Having it delivered to your door is super convenient. Check the milk and more website to see if a milkman can deliver to you: www.milkandmore.co.uk; and
  • Shower gel - just use soap! 
Keep your thoughts, suggestions and donations coming folks....

Plastic out.
                                                                         (Image source:extra.mdc.mo.gov)

    Saturday, 16 February 2013

    Thank you natracare

    A huge thank you to natracare for their generous £100 sponsorship, I'm blown away by their support and it's certainly given me a great start to the 6 week challenge.

    Natracare are an award winning, ethical company committed to offering organic and natural solutions for personal health care.

    I've enjoyed navigating around their website, each click leads to more information on how this company are reducing their carbon footprint and supporting the environment. Please make sure you visit their website - www.natracare.com 

    They have some great information about plastic waste in our sea's, I particularly enjoyed the video which demonstrates fish swimming in a plastic ocean, ingesting toxic plastic particles, being caught and put on show in  shrink-wrapped plastic packaging. Ironic hey?

    From the Natracare website:

    "Plastics are present in every part of every ocean on our planet and since we humans live uphill and upstream from the oceans, a large part of our lightweight plastic trash inevitably ends up in the sea. From this point, it moves to innumerable habitats where complex problems occur. Plastic trash, such as sanitary pads and diapers are often found fouling the beaches of the world and cause a public health hazard. Plastic entangles marine life, killing it by strangulation, drowning and reduction of feeding ability. Plastic is ingested by marine creatures such as seabirds, marine animals and turtles, as they mistake it for natural food and as a consequence, it irritates the stomach lining, interferes with fat accumulation so it affects migration and breeding and ultimately the creatures starve to death.

    Petroleum based polymers do not biodegrade and move slowly in the ocean creating massive plastic islands thousands of square miles across not only creating visual pollution but as the plastic breaks down into brittle, smaller pieces, they can be mistaken for plankton, and when these particles sink to the bottom of the ocean, they interfere with the composition of ocean floor sediment, and inhibits exchange of gasses  across the ocean floor and upper levels possibly interfering with CO2 sequestration. (Goldberg 1997).  Marine plastic litter  threatens coastal species by destroying nursery habitat where new life would otherwise emerge.  Microscopic marine plastics have increased significantly in the North Atlantic since the 1960’s (Thompson et al., 2004). Plastic was found in all trawl samples in the north Pacific between 1999 and 2007 (Moore C J et al 2007)."

    Susie the owner has built this company with a great philosophy and made it successful through her caring decisions. 

    Thank you natracare, keep leading the way! 

    Finally, to all the ladies - lets support this great company and our mother nature! :)