1 week of living without single-use plastics: my realisations

Lately, there have been many initiatives against single-use plastics. The theme of the last UN environment day was beating plastic pollution, Green Peace currently has multiple campaigns against single-use plastics, and there are initiatives like the Plastic Free Challenge; which challenges you to stop using single-use plastics. So that’s what I did, for just one week.

My personal track record of changing habits is pretty good. Over the past years, I quit eating meat, drinking alcohol, started buying only sustainable clothing, and lately I’ve started to incorporate cold showers into my daily routine. This all for environmental and health reasons. So, not buying products with plastic packaging for a week can’t be that hard, right?

First I saved all my plastic for 1 week

To see how much plastics I actually use, I cleaned and saved all the plastics I used for 1 week. The outcome surprised me; in one week I collected almost 70 pieces of plastic, which translates to almost 10 pieces a day!


My plastic use of 1 week

My week without single-use plastic

The realization of how much I used gave me a lot of motivation for my week without single-use plastics, but when I started preparing my breakfast on Monday morning I realized that I didn’t have any food without plastic packaging. The Yoghurt came in a plastic tub, the almond milk was contained in a carton with a plastic cap, and the muesli had a big plastic bag. The only breakfast option left was to eat some fruits, which still had little plastic stickers on it.

Quickly I realized how deep plastics were ingrained into my daily life and how much I had to change my habits. Everything I bought in my local supermarket came with plastic packaging: dairy was impossible, fruits have stickers on them, even products sold in a carton box (like rice or pasta) had a little plastic window to see the product. The local supermarket became a no-go zone.

In the first two days, I mostly ate fruits and vegetables. So hungry me longing for different food went to the zero-waste supermarket in my city to look for alternatives of what I would normally buy. After a 45 minute walk, I arrived at the small supermarket, only to find out how small their selection of products was. Next to that the products that they did have were substantially more expensive compared to products in the supermarket. Which isn’t a big problem for me for just one week, but not everyone will be able to afford this.

The zero-waste supermarket wasn’t the solution, but I finally found an eco-supermarket where I could buy dairy in glass containers. I also found a fruit shop that didn’t use stickers and got my bread from a local bakery (supermarkets often used bags with a plastic strip).

Still, I couldn’t buy about 75% of products I would normally use: sauces, snacks, drinks (sparkling water, juices) et cetera. Basically, I couldn’t buy anything that was pre-made; so I ended up making them myself. I learned how to make pizza dough, tortilla’s, hummus et cetera. Which was nice, but also made me spend way more time on food than I would usually do.

I ended the week with just a few stickers from some fruits and vegetables and one plastic straw that I couldn’t refuse in time

My conclusion

Secretly I hoped that my conclusion would be that it’s not hard to live without single-use plastics; that we just have to adjust our habits a bit. Unfortunately, that is not the case; living without single-use plastics was one of the hardest habit changes I’ve ever done. Here are a few depressing lessons I learned during this week:

  • You will have to think more about your food
  • Preparing your food will cost more time
  • The food will be more expensive
  • It’s impossible to buy snacks

In my view, all of these lessons have to do with the fact that there aren’t any comparable alternatives to single-use plastics yet. The fact that it’s very cheap & durable makes it a perfect material for corporations to use for their products. Living without single-use plastics will require some big changes to your daily life. But you can also focus on reducing your waste, here’s a quick list of things that I changed after this week:

  • I stopped getting a daily fresh orange juice in a plastic bottle, I often make my own orange juice now
  • I proactively started to ask for a drink without a straw
  • I go more to specialized shops (fruits shops, vegetable shops, bakeries), as they use less plastic packaging
  • I tried to buy fewer snacks, as it’s very hard to find snacks without plastic packaging. I replaced snacks for grapes or other fruits (which is also more healthy)
  • I make the occasional trip to the eco-supermarket to buy my everyday products without or with less plastic packaging

But these changes won’t save wildlife, oceans and the people. So what is the solution?

The bigger picture

Currently, society isn’t ready to ban all single-plastics. Big corporations like Coca Cola, Pepsi Co, Nestlé, Mac Donalds and Unilever are in the top-10 polluters worldwide. There are many initiatives running at this very moment who put pressure on the current industry to use their power and resources to work on the problem we’re facing at the moment.

Unfortunately, this won’t be a short-term solution. There is a lot of damage already done and we’re not solving the big problem successfully (yet). Luckily there are many people who took action and created initiatives who are cleaning the ocean and turning this waste into new products.

In my point of view the solution is to support these initiatives: help during beach cleanups, donate money, subscribe to their petitions, help to spread the message. Personally, I decided to use my Graphic Design skills to help the Plastic Ocean Project in communicating their message, but here is a small list with more great initiatives that you can help:

  • Greenpeace – At the moment they are running multiple campaigns against the usage of plastics by multinationals. Visit their site to see where you can help.
  • Plasticpollutioncoalition – take the pledge to refuse, reduce, reuse and recycle your plastics
  • 4ocean – join one of their beach cleanups
  • The Ocean Cleanup – support the largest ocean cleanup in history

 

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Comments
  • Jule
    Reply

    So interesting and sad, but motivating nevertheless! It’s depressing that making a change at the level of an individual – the level over which we have most immediate power – is often not feasible. It’s the bigger system that needs a change of habits (obviously no news). Those initiatives give hope. Thanks Douwe!

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