Tuesday, 19 August 2008


Plastic-free living has been going reasonably well, but I'm just about to run out of shampoo and conditioner so it may soon become trickier.

Also, I'm worried my yoghurt culture may be dying (it was runnier than usual this time) and THEN I DON'T KNOW HOW TO GET ANY MORE. Unless I cheat slightly by borrowing a bit of yoghurt from someone else (packaged in plastic) to start it off again.

I had a very tedious hour yesterday morning when I nipped into town to buy a pint of milk to make yoghurt. We've cancelled the milkman as we're going away. There's one shop I know of in Lancaster that does milk in glass bottles - Single Step, where I can also get loose couscous, chickpeas, nuts, dried fruit, rice, yeast etc - but it turned out not to open until 9.30am, and I was in a rush. I therefore trailed round many other shops in the forlorn hope that one would do milk. At about the seventh shop, standing in front of the plastic bottles of milk, buying one pint and telling no one began to seem like a serious option. Eventually I decided I'd be too annoyed with myself for giving in so easily, and lurked outside Single Step until it opened.

As the title of this post suggests, I'm going to Finland tomorrow for nine days. Two problems sprang up whilst packing:

1. Suncream. I managed to find some old stuff so I don't have to worry about it for this trip, but I have no idea what one would do otherwise, apart from staying out of the sun and wearing a hat.

2. Insect repellant. Apparently there's lots of mosquitos and these ticks that can cause paralysis., and you're recommended to use a spray with 25-50% DEET. I can't find any in my house. I also find that biting insects love me and that in addition to this bites tend to swell up to ten times the size of my own head (this may be an exaggeration). Even citronella comes in glass bottles with plastic caps. There are some citronella candles in a draw downstairs. Would rubbing them all over my body have any effect?

It will also be interesting to see how difficult it is to avoid plastic when out of your normal routine, travelling about and being hosted by people. I'm taking a water bottle and sandwich container with me, but everything on a plane comes in ridiculous amounts of packaging (it's probably rather dubious to be flying anywhere whilst giving up plastic for largely environmental reasons as well). And anyway, the bottle and container are of course made of plastic. I believe you can get metal water bottles with rubber stoppers somewhere; I must look into it.

And in other news, it seems cans and tins almost always have plastic in them, which I hadn't fully taken in. This is VERY IRRITATING. What about tinned tomatoes and sweetcorn? More importantly, what about beer? I can do without the tinned food, though it is rather sad about sweetcorn, but what about beer? I would make my own, but I don't have a (plastic) bucket to brew it in. Aargh!

Sunday, 10 August 2008

Toothbrushing suggestions

Brushing our teeth with twigs by the fire
I intend to try all of these I can make without using plastic, and then post my thoughts.

Suggestion 1 (courtesy of my great aunt):

Apparently in South Africa, people (used to? do still?) use the fresh, soft grey wood ash from the fire as a sort of toothpaste, and use a green young twig which they'd chew down until it had thin splinters sticking out of it as a toothbrush.

When it stops raining enough for me to be somewhere with a wood fire, I will try this, though I have been warned to be careful not to pick a poisonous stick to chew on.

So, in Finland I cut a twig off of a birch tree (everyone recommended birch because the sap is sweet), and began chewing. It seems the particular tree they use in Africa and India is not so incredibly bitter but this wore off after about five minutes or so. I got some ash from the fire and swilled it round my mouth- it actually seemed to work fairly well and my teeth were rather clean and did not go black as anticipated. The downside was that we'd been cooking salmon in the fire so the next day my mouth tasted as though I'd brushed my teeth with salty fish-ash. However, I tried some non-salmon ash after this and it was tasteless and pleasant. I really feel this to be a viable option, although as I don't have an open fire here I'd have to have one once and then collect the ash in a jar for future use.

Suggestion 2:

Baking soda. Apparently, though, this is quite strong and can wear away the enamel of your teeth so I suppose you'd have to dilute it with something else?

Suggestion 3 (courtesy of Becca Whitehead, who also sent suggestions 4, 5 and 6):

Citrus tooth powder

1 tbsp dried lemon or orange peel

6 tsp baking soda

1 tsp sea salt

Place peel in food processor, grind until it becomes a fine powder.

baking soda and salt, then process for a few seconds more

until you have
a fine powder. Store in an airtight jar.

This looks doable from things I already have, although I'm not

sure if there's
a specific way to dry citrus peel.

Suggestion 4:

Peppermint Toothpaste
6 tsps baking soda
1/3 tsp salt
4 tsps glycerine
15 drops peppermint oil
Mix ingredients together thoroughly until a paste forms. Store in
airtight jar.

This is the one I'd really like to try, but I doubt very much
whether I can get either
peppermint oil or glycerine

Suggestion 5:

Rosemary-Mint Mouthwash
250ml distilled or mineral water
1 tsp of fresh mint leaves
1 tsp of rosemary leaves
1 tsp of anise seeds
Boil the water, add the herbs and seeds, infuse for 20 minutes.
strain and use as a gargle/mouthwash.

Suggestion 6:

Spearmint mouthwash
200ml water
50ml vodka
4 tsps liquid glycerine
1 tsp aloe vera gel
10-15 drops Spearmint essential oil
Boil the water and vodka, add the glycerine and aloe vera
gel. Remove
from the heat, leave to cool slightly. Add
the spearmint oil, shake
well. Pour into a bottle, cap tightly.

Perhaps it's possible to get vodka with a metal lid? I expect,
though, that it'd have a plastic
disc in the lid. Other than
that this seems possible; I'd like to get an aloe vera plant for
gel purposes, and perhaps you could substitute the oil
with real spearmint.

Friday, 8 August 2008

Presents and hospitality

What does one do about these? Turning down a present because it's got plastic in it seems ridiculously stuffy, but then again what's the point of giving up plastic if you don't tell people that you're doing it and explain why?

And what about eating round a friend's house? Rose (who's doing this too; see her much more informative blog at http://plasticandphysics.blogspot.com/) and I agreed that if you're having a hot drink somewhere you go regularly, like your office (I work in two different places) or a good friend's, you ought to provide your own non-plastic-derived tea (there are a limited amount of brands which provide tea-bags in cardboard boxes with no plastic wrapping). If you're going somewhere else, it's ok to accept tea, but not really to accept biscuits that come out of a plastic box as that seems more wasteful.

But this is a very murky area. I went to a party for my grandfather's eighty-eighth birthday round my great aunt's house, and there was a delicious cold buffet almost all of which came from plastic packaging. Seeing as I couldn't refuse to eat, I ended up eating everything (it seems greed is an obstacle to a plastic-free existence), including individually wrapped cheeses.

So where can you draw the line? Should you perhaps phone ahead to inform people that you won't eat any plastic-wrapped food? This seems immensely inconvenient and ungrateful, especially to relatives who are merely, out of the kindness of their hearts, fulfilling familial duties.

Unsolicited letters with plastic windows are also leaving me stumped.

My great aunt also tried to give me a tube of toothpaste as I was staying the night. When I refused because it had a plastic lid, she exclaimed, 'You'll be the death of me with your plastic!' Instead of beating me round the head with it, as I thought she looked likely to do, she gave me two interesting tips for toothpaste and two for glue, which I shall post this weekend (it's about time I wrote something that was actually useful on here).

Thursday, 7 August 2008

Eating on the move

In the run-up to giving up plastic, I began experimenting with various takeaway food outlets to see which I would still be able to shop from.

First up, buying a sandwich from SPAR. These are usually wrapped in greaseproof paper and then put in a plastic bag with a price label on it. After ordering my baguette, I leaned on the counter and tried not to look like a weirdo.
'This is going to sound a bit odd... but would you mind not putting that baguette in a plastic bag?'
The woman at the counter looked confused. 'But I have to wrap it up.'
'You could just wrap it in paper,' I suggested.
She seemed slightly distressed. 'But I have to put a sticky label on it.'
'Well,' I said helpfully, 'You could just give the sticker to me and I'll take it to the counter like that.' When she still seemed reluctant, I added untruthfully, 'They've done it before.'
She agreed, and after making the sandwich, wrapped it in paper. Then she stood looking at it for a while. Suddenly her face lit up; she reached under the counter, pulled out a paper bag with a plastic window and gave me a triumphant grin.
'That's got a plastic window,' I pointed out. Her face drooped. I gently prised the baguette out of her hands, took the sticky label and made it to the counter.

[Are sticky labels plastic, though? I like to think they're paper, glue and ink. But doesn't most ink have a plastic mix in it? Ye gods, this is complicated. How on earth can you know if something has ink with or without plastic on it?]

The next place I tried was at Starbucks in Brighton. Yes, Brighton has plenty of very pleasant local cafes and I can't really explain what I was doing there, but they have a delicious cold coffee with lumps of chocolate in it and about seven gallons of whipped cream. It probably has a silly name like mochafrappacinno.
Whilst standing in the queue with some friends I commented, 'Next week I won't be able to drink any more of these.'
'Why not?' they asked.
'Well, it comes in plastic.'
'But look, Ele, they've got paper cups, too. Just ask for it in a paper cup!'
'They'll never do that,' I foretold pessimistically.
They looked at me incredulously. 'Why not? It's a perfectly reasonable request. Just ask them!'
'You ask them,' I said, then realised I was being a wimp.
I got to the front and took a deep breath. 'Excuse me, but would you mind putting that in a paper cup?'
The woman behind the counter didn't appear to understand, so I repeated myself whilst feeling rather foolish.
Eventually she responded, 'Paper is for hot drinks. Plastic is for cold.'
'Yes, quite,' I smiled. 'But what I'm asking is, could you just put that drink in a paper cup even though it is cold?'
She considered. 'No.'
'Um, why?' I asked.
She shrugged. 'We have to put cold drinks in plastic, or I will get in trouble.'
I returned to my friends, not very surprised, and found them almost apoplectic with rage.
'This is ridiculous!' one of them fumed. 'Why the fuck can't they just put it in a fucking paper cup?'
At least this way, however, I won't be able to chug down any more of these coronaries-in-a-glass. After polishing off my own, I finished my friend's as well, which was almost entirely cream, and felt slightly sick.

Next, train journeys. This is actually easier than it seems. I believe that on Virgin trains the only item I can buy is a Divine chocolate bar (at least it's an ethical/delicious), but in stations a few of the ridiculously overpriced baguettes are put in paper bags, as are things like cookies and croissants. Marks & Spencer's do some of their sandwiches in cardboard boxes with cornstarch windows but sadly almost everything else there is encased in swathes of plastic (their plastic forks actually come wrapped in plastic). Obviously the aim here is to plan ahead, bring my own sandwiches and stop being so dependent on convenience food.

Finally, a mention must go to Souped Up on Lancaster University campus. I took an old tupperware box along and tried the usual slightly embarrassed, 'Would you mind putting my chili in this instead?'
To my surprise, he gave me a beaming smile. 'That's a good idea!' he said. 'Did you know we give a discount to people who bring their own containers?'
What a nice bunch of human beings they are. And terribly good-looking. And, of course, the food's delicious.

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Sex toys, plastic and recycling

Just a quickie for those pleasure-seekers who like to recycle:


Yes, that's right, you can now not only recycle your vibrator, you can get a new one half price!

Is this taking recycling too far? They don't think so! Take the LoveHoney Rabbit Amnesty Pledge and promise to dispose of all your electrical equipment 'properly at an electrical waste collection centre'.

Perhaps best not to think too hard about what happens to the old one...