The problem with plastic and my June Challenge – Helen Tandy

Last month I completed the The Plastic Challenge, I am pleased that my fellow Friends of the Earth Chester & District Group members are all now much more aware of the effects plastics can have and do carry reusable coffee cups and refillable water bottles.

I have been working hard on reducing my environmental impact through plastic for the last couple of years and I have completed Zero Waste Challenges in the past, but some single use plastics like food wrapping are not that easy to avoid unless you have the time to shop differently and plan, like many things in life it’s difficult not to slip back into bad habits.

This month I hope to get myself back on track and use this as a chance to raise awareness through my work at Castlefield, as an ethical financial adviser, my work with Friends of the Earth as well as family and friends.

The Plastic Challenge is part of a Marine Conservation Society (MCS) effort to raise funds and raise awareness of the damage plastic is having on our seas and coastlines, all over the world including the UK.

The facts

  • Studies have shown that 90% of seabirds have plastic in their stomachs.
  • Only 7% of plastic is effectively recycled in the UK, the rest goes to landfill or finds its way into our seas.
  • An Ellen MacArthur Foundation Report calculates that by 2050 plastic will outweigh fish in the Oceans.

According to Greenpeace up to 12.7 million tones of plastic enter our oceans every year. You can find out your Plastic Footprint via – click

The Successes

Plastics in one form or another have been in the press a lot recently down to environmental campaigners like Greenpeace. One success story is the UK Government’s ban on microbeads from cosmetics. How did this come about? Many organisations campaigned and spread the word through videos and social media. This gathered more than 357,000 petitions calling the government for a UK ban which was successful. A great example of people power.

Some companies had already started to phase these out voluntarily, on the back of the campaigning and press. Those that were reported to have still not are Tesco and Procter and Gamble who will not have phased these out until the end of 2017 in line with the ban, so today your Crest Toothpaste, Gillette and Olay products may still contain microbeads, you will see polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP), polyethylene terephthalate (PET), polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA), polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) and nylon.

Again through campaigning Johnson & Johnson will no longer have plastic handles in its cotton buds to prevent toxic waste reaching waterways and seas. Plastic cotton buds are the number one item of plastic, sewage-related debris found on our beaches and rivers, according to the last year’s Marine Conservation Society’s Great British Beach Clean.

What can be done?

We can campaign to pressure large companies like Coca Cola to take more responsibility for the plastic it used.

Pressure the Government to introduce a Plastic Bottle Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) – Several countries have implemented a similar scheme, I have family over in Norway and while I’ve been over visiting I’ve seen their system in action. Small bottles pay 10p and larger bottles, 25p. This system has a staggering 96% recycle rate. The Government are reported to be considering this to mirror the plastic bag charge, which despite the short lived, short sighted and short of any real perspective social media outrage are considered a HUGE success.

We can also use less single use plastic.

  • Take your own cups to Coffee shops instead of a takeaway cup.
  • Carry a refillable water bottle, say no to bottled water in restaurants (they must provide you with tap water in all licenced restaurants in the UK)
  • Buy your fruit and veg package free in the supermarkets
  • Say no to straws in your drink
  • Swap wet wipes for a flannel
  • Use a bag for life
  • Give up disposable plates and cutlery

So how did I get on?

June included 4 days trips to the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland – having booked an apartment and cottage we were able to cater for ourselves so on this trip my only fail was a cake we bought, large round plastic in the below, then coleslaw. I didn’t think that was too bad.

I did a packed lunch in my metal boxes, travel cups and food wraps for the long trip from the top of Northern Ireland back to Dublin, the ferry to Holyhead and the drive home. Using my take-out coffee cup both ways on the ferry.

I bought natural goats milk yogurt, the large round containers during the month with a cardboard sleeve and base I did recycle.

I specifically asked could my Food Assembly order come plastic free and all the sellers were pleased to accommodate this (some items do come with some plastic normally)

At work, we all bring in holiday treats, there weren’t many shops where I was and nothing jumped out to buy, my plan was to bake but time was against me so I did have to buy cakes in two large plastic boxes.

My final day was Chester Races where I was plighted by the only option being plastic glasses so I ended up with the two small half pint glasses for my wine that day.

All my plastic I have kept and plan to reuse this in craft projects this month…. so although I didn’t manage to avoid the plastic, by reusing it at least its not going to be single use.

Living single use plastic free isn’t easy, you have to plan your meals, your lunch, plan where you shop so I don’t expect everyone will be rushing out to join me trying to reduce the plastic waste. But if everyone tried something, say no to take away coffee cups, no to that straw in your Pina colada, bought less plastic drinks bottles, we could help reduce the problem. Then watch the videos and sign the petitions and lets all do what we can, however large or small to tackle this issue now before its too late….

Helen Tandy, trying to leave behind me less waste, one day at a time….


Support the following campaigns

  • In the UK fewer than half of bottes are effectively recycled. Sky Ocean Rescue is launching a campaign to introduce a DRS in the UK. PET has a high value and by keeping this separate from kerbside recycling the bottles attracts a premium price. In Norway and shop selling bottles must collect empties, the shops get a small handling fee.
  • A Plastic Planet is asking for support in its campaign to get supermarkets to have a Plastic Free Aisle.
  • Greenpeace wants you to ask Coca-Colas CEO to stop choking our oceans (read more) and support the DRS.

For those of you that use Facebook – I have a Zero Waste (Chester and Flintshire) Group where I post interesting information- the type of things to try, but I am not expecting people here to be living Zero waste – at the end of the day I can’t manage it apart from a short period of time.

You will find a couple of clips from The Story of Stuff – 22 Feb and 24 March about bottled water and microfibers which are worth a watch.

Petition links

Film Clips worth watching