As Head of Major Giving at Client Earth, it’s part of my job to be passionate about the environment. When I was approached to go plastic-free for lent, however, I quickly realised that the problem is much bigger than the amount of water bottles floating in the ocean. I looked at the challenge in two ways: How can I minimise and reduce my plastic waste, and how can I do this in an accessible way?
Did you know: Unless things change drastically, projections suggest that the ocean will contain more plastic than fish (by weight) by 2050 according to The New Plastics Economy.
I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, so in the first week I began by consistently using the reusable items that I already owned, such as my coffee cup on a morning, a canvas tote for shopping and Tupperware boxes for lunch. What I didn’t realise was how difficult it would be to keep up with all the necessary equipment I needed to pack into my bag everyday: cutlery, coffee cup, lunchboxes – it all takes up space!
Did you know: Already, in some parts of the sea, there’s reportedly six times more plastic in the water than plankton according to leading marine science journals.
After the first week, I decided to tackle my first plastic-free grocery shop, and I have to say that I loved it. I’m lucky to live in an area with an independent high street that has a butcher, greengrocer and fishmonger, and I loved shopping at these local independents. It felt very community-orientated.
Did you know: Estimates suggest that more than 8 million tons of plastic enter the oceans each year. The reported number of animal species that suffer the consequences of plastic, has risen from 247 in 1997 to 663 in 2012, and it continues to rise.
The discipline of doing the shop in one go, without any plastic, was incredibly challenging but even more rewarding. You can’t just pop to the shop if you’ve run out of milk… which is exactly why I signed up to the local milk round. I felt like I was going back in time in a really lovely way, and I now feel more engaged in the local community as a result. I’m even recognised at my local bakery!
Did you know: Chemicals leach from plastic during use and can be harmful to human health. BPA, used in water bottles, have been linked to decreases in fertility and substances found in PVC, which is sometimes used in food packaging, has been linked to birth defects and cancer.
With the basics in check, I decided to host my very first plastic-free dinner party. The rules were that no food, drinks, decorations, tableware or glassware could involve plastic at all – though we had to bend the rules a bit for our silicon spatulas and plastic-handled pots! This meant no drinks purchased in plastic bottles, no food packaged in plastic, and no store-cupboard essentials (like salt, herbs or oil) in plastic packaging.
Shopping plastic free is really rewarding – see which local independent grocers, butchers, fishmongers, farmers markets and bakeries you can find in your area. Don’t forget to take your reusable shopping bags, string bags for vegetables, and maybe a couple of Tupperware or metal boxes.
My plastic-free menu
Selection of wine and soft drinks, all in glass bottles, plus cocktails for aperitifs! I served gin and tonics, with my favourite Double Dutch tonic water. NB: Remember to make ice in advance from ice trays in your freezer. Normally for parties I would buy a bag of ice for convenience, but of course, this comes in a plastic bag!
Crudité (celery, carrots, cucumber) with homemade hummus. I realised the normal vegetable crisps and hummus pot was not going to cut it at a plastic-free dinner party! I also made some homemade cheese twists, which were remarkably easy.
o Starter: Squid Salad
I bought the squid from the local fishmonger (it was delicious), and other ingredients at the local greengrocer. Olive oil is so easy to find in glass bottles.
See this recipe for inspiration: https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/chilli-lime-squid-salad).
o Main course: A Mediterranean chicken dish, a family favourite.
Chicken breasts with oil and lashings of balsamic vinegar, together with fresh tomatoes, olives and capers, on a bed of rocket and homemade cauliflower cous cous.
Inspired by this blog post https://theplasticfreechef.com/2015/05/06/cauliflower-couscous/
I have subsequently discovered The Plastic Free Pantry, which I’ll definitely be using in the future: https://plasticfreepantry.co.uk/
o Dessert: Mary Berry’s Chocolate Mousse with raspberry coulis – a classic, and another family favourite.
The main thing I learnt from the experience is that you have to be prepared and get used to planning ahead. Instead of popping to the shop after work to pick up dinner, I did the weekly shop on a Saturday and planned meals ahead of time. This usually meant that I’d run out of meat by Wednesday, leaving the rest of the week free to be more creative with vegetables (which is never a bad thing). The milk round has been a revelation, I adore it. They sell orange juice too, and when they arrive at the door in little glass bottles it’s actually exciting! The milk has definitely been one of my favourite elements of the whole plastic-free lifestyle.
The one downside to shopping at independents was that I was spending £30-£40 more per week than I would in the supermarket but knowing that my meat was coming from a local butcher - wrapped in a plastic-free alternative - made it all worthwhile.
By the end of the challenge, I can honestly say that I’ve enjoyed it. I’ll definitely be more conscious about what plastics I’m using going forward. The things that I’ll stick to are the ones I enjoyed most, such as the weekly shop. It’s become part of my routine and is accessible enough to do on a regular basis. In order to reduce our plastic waste, accessibility is key. It requires time and forward planning, but if you’re lucky to have the right resources on your doorstep (or able to travel a little further afield), plastic-free living is definitely a movement more people can get on-board with.