Across ClientEarth, some members of our staff have been trying to give up plastic for Lent. With two weeks to go until Good Friday, Head of Major Giving, Philippa Dunn, tells us about her challenge to start small and gear up to more major lifestyle changes, including a plastic-free Mother’s Day meal.
Week one: starting to cut out single-use plastic
I realised I consume water bottles and take-away coffee cups regularly. So my first port of call was to invest in a ‘keep cup’ for coffee, a tote bag to stop purchasing plastic bags and a new water bottle which I have started to bring with me everywhere.
Even to cut out plastic in one small area – take-away coffee for example – you need three things: 1) the right kit; 2) planning and 3) consistency.
In the same way that I don’t leave the house without my keys, phone and wallet, I have been very conscious about not leaving home without my ‘plastic-free kit’.
Essentially, I’ve had to consciously plan and take these things with me – whether I think I’ll use them or not – every day and I think because I’ve decided to take that approach it has worked.
And I’ve saved money! Most of the coffee shops I’ve visited in London, from Pret to my local independent café, have offered me a small discount on my coffee for bringing my own cup. On average I received a discount of 25p on one to two coffees a day, which adds up to about £2.50 a week or £130 over the year, which is not bad… particularly when my cup only cost £6.99!
Over the next few weeks I think these challenges will be more difficult, as they will require more of the right kit – and much more considered planning.
Week 2: goodbye to plastic laden food on the go
Believe it or not, my plastic-free food on the go challenge has been surprisingly easy… but before we get too excited (or I get too smug), this has been massively influenced by where I work.
ClientEarth’s office is situated in a part of London that has many independent cafes that use paper or cardboard packaging. I think if I worked in central London every day it would be much harder.
As well as choosing places that I know give me a plastic-free option, I have made a couple of changes to my daily routine like adding a soup-sized thermos to my plastic-free kit.
I’ve also asked myself “do I need to take this away? Could I sit down for 15 minutes and eat here?”. The answer was quite often “actually, yes” – so I’ve ticked a few wellbeing boxes along the way.
Week three: an (almost) plastic-free grocery shop
Week three and I knew I was going to have to up the challenge and effort level. I wasn’t wrong.
I am lucky that I live in Hackney with a nearby farmers’ market at the weekend and many independent shops on the high street.
I decided that the easiest way to tackle the weekly shop was to avoid my local supermarket completely.
Armed with five tote bags, string bags for my vegetables, re-fillable wine bottles and some Tupperware boxes, I managed to do an (almost) entirely plastic-free shop!
The shop took much longer than heading to a supermarket, but I really enjoyed visiting my local farmers’ market, bakery, butcher and greengrocer, with a couple of stops at smaller stores on the way for essentials.
But shopping in this way did come at a price. It definitely cost more than the same shop at a supermarket.
And I couldn’t go entirely plastic free. Fresh milk still comes in plastic bottles – though I have found a milk round that I plan to sign up to – and cupboard essentials like rice are only packaged in plastic, so I bought a much larger pack than usual to reduce my plastic footprint.
The most satisfying achievement this week has been cooking using the ingredients from my plastic-free shop. I made a Mother’s Day roast for my family and all the waste from the meal went into recycling or my compost bin. Now that felt good.
I’m going to try to stick with the plastic-free shop and see what’s possible in a supermarket too. I hugely enjoyed supporting my local community and independent retailers, but I think my bank balance would start groaning a little too loudly if I shopped that way every weekend.
I avoided the big supermarkets knowing it was going to be impossible to buy everything plastic-free. But for people to start consuming less plastic, it needs to be cost-effective and convenient.
Retailers need to think hard about how they change their customers’ shopping habits so that we can protect the oceans and our environment.