Thursday, 18 September 2014

Interview with Polythene Pam of Plastic Is Rubbish!

Throughout July I tried really hard to give up single use plastic, but it wasn't easy as so many things contain plastic. Although I struggled, it was great to know that I wasn't doing it alone and I was really inspired by other UK bloggers going plastic free too. Polythene Pam is one of those bloggers, but she isn't just giving up plastic for July - it is an all year round kind of thing for her! I asked Polythene Pam if she would answer a few questions for me about her (mostly) plastic free life and she gave me these great answers!

1. Why do you boycott plastic and what inspired you to blog about it?

One day a plastic bag got tangled in the tree outside my house. Months later it was still there. Next year when the leaves fell there it was! Looking ragged and tatty and even more unpleasant. Which made me wonder. Then I realized that plastic rubbish, unlike an apple core say, doesn’t biodegrade. I know it seems obvious now but I had never even considered it before. 

Plastic of course lasts for decades if not for ever! And yet we are using it to make one-use, throwaway and trashy, short-life items resulting in huge amounts of everlasting rubbish. Every piece of plastic trash has to be collected and specially disposed of. Which is expensive and only partially effective. Some ends up as litter. And because it doesn't rot, once it is out there it is out for ever. Not suprisingly plastic litter is increasing exponentially with dreadful consequences. Not only does it look ugly, it is damaging the environment, polluting the sea, choking up rivers, littering up beaches and worse of all maiming and killing animals.

Surely this is a foolish misuse of plastic? Which brought it right back to me. While I might not be mindlessly scattering plastic litter I was certainly misusing plastic. I too was a part of the problem. 

I got to thinking how much plastic rubbish we, my husband and I, were responsible for. In fact we monitored it – you can see how much plastic went into our bin in a week HERE. It was shocking. So much so we decided to cut plastic from our lives. 

We started the blog to map our progress. On it we list the plastic free alternatives we have sourced to help others do the same. 

2. What types of plastic do you boycott and why don't you avoid it all? 

We boycott non-biodegradable plastics used to make throwaway and semi-disposable items. This includes 
  • Plastic wrapping, bags, packaging and bottles 
  • Trashy items that have a limited lifespan
  • Plastic items for which there is a viable natural alternative including synthetic fibers, fabrics and leathers. 
  • Any other plastic that irritates me. 
That said, I don't dislike all plastic, I dislike the misuse of plastic. 

Strong, durable, light weight, long-lasting and cheap, plastics are integral to the development and production of products that have changed the world for the better. Furthermore to replace all plastic products with” natural” alternatives would place a huge strain on the environment. Rather than boycotting all plastics we should be discussing:
  • How to produce greener plastics in a manner less damaging to the environment, 
  • What we choose to use plastic for 
  • How we harvest and reuse all the components, including plastic, at the end of a product's life. 
So I still use a wide range of durable plastics when I think they are the best option. But they have to last a very long time and I have strict guidelines for how I use them. 

3. Which plastic have you found really easy to cut out of your life?

Plastic bags because it really isn't hard to take your own bags with you to the shops and it makes an immediate impact. And plastic milk bottles. I love having a milk man. When I found out that plastic leaches unpleasant chemicals and endocrine disruptors into the product, giving up other plastic wrapped food suddenly became so much easier. 

4. Which plastic has been harder to leave behind? 

Crisps. Who can be bothered making them? But I do so love them. For most other things I have sourced an alternative. You can see our huge list of plastic free products, life style tips and recipes here

5. What impact has going plastic free had on you and the way you live your life? (e.g. big/ small/ positive / negative/ easy/ hard work?) 

It has had a huge impact in unexpected ways but all good. I doubt I would have blogged if it hadn't been for the project which means I would never have created a website. I might not have joined Twitter even. 

I have learnt some interesting new skills. I can now make suntan lotion, lip balm and toothpaste which has been fun. It has made me cook stuff I would never have considered before like sweet mincemeat and chutney. 

I have learnt a whole load about plastic, which has been fascinating. Given how much a part of our lives it now is we really know very little about it. 

I buy seasonal food (far less likely to be plastic wrapped), which means cutting down on air miles. I have fun finding out farm shops and seeking out markets. I enjoy a slower more local way of shopping which feels better. 

And of course I got to go to the Observer Ethical Awards and be in the same room as Colin Firth! What's not to love? 

6. What advice would you give to someone starting out on a plastic free journey? 

I started by cutting one plastic wrapped product a month which gave me time to source an alternative and made the task infinitely less daunting. It also gave others in the house time to adapt. In fact I often cut more than one because it turned out to be quite easy. 

Don't be overwhelmed. When you realize just how much plastic is out there you can easily break down and weep. But instead of counting the plastic you still use, look at what you have cut. 

Enjoy finding alternatives – picking your own strawberries is a great day out. For sure I can only eat lettuce in Summer when I have grown it myself but when I do get it, it is a real treat – and home grown does taste better. Homemade face cream is really pleasant to use, is infinitely cheaper and makes a great gift. 

I could go on but I am beginning to sound like a plastic obsessed Pollyanna! 

7. For the more advanced plastic refusers, you have highlighted on your blog that there is lots of sneaky plastic in packaging that many wouldn't even know was there. Would you be happy to share your sneaky plastic list here? 

But of course 

Cans of soda and other drinks – the cans are plastic lined 
Tetra Paks contain plastic 
Disposable paper cups are plastic lined 
Glass bottles and jars with plastic lined metal lids 
Tin cans of food- they are nearly all plastic lined 
Plastic coated paper and foil- a tricky one often hard to spot. 
The plastic bag in the cardboard box -squeeze and listen for the rustle. 
Teabags (Packaging aside), the bag itself contains plastic 
Stickers on fruit grrrrr. 
Tampons and sanitary towels (packaging aside) are made from mostly plastic. 
chewing gum 
Plastic in toothpaste – packed in plastic, contain plastic – yes some toothpaste have plastic beads added for colour 
Plastic beads can be found in exfoliating creams and washes. Not just excess packaging but micro-pollution as well! 

8. You recently set up - can you tell us a bit more about this site and what your plans for it are? 

Plastic Free UK is a UK BASED directory of groups, people, organizations, businesses and anyone else interested in tackling the consequent problems of our misuse of plastic. 

Yes I know I already blog, at some considerable length about this very problem but that’s just it. My blog, my rules – that’s how it should be. But my rules of course aren’t the only ones. For example – recycling! In the plastic free world there are those who think it is practically green washing, an excuse to consume yet more plastic. Then there are others who promote it as the answer. I want a forum on which to post both arguments undiluted by my own opinions. 

Also, chatty as I am, I cant say everything that needs saying on the subject. Nor do I know it all. No, really, I don’t. There are others out there – experts in their field who I would love to feature. 

As the number of plastic related projects and plastic free products increase I do not have the time to review them all, the directory is a place where people can present their own work. 

As well as supporting and promoting projects, the aim is show others that there is a market for plastic free products and services and a growing concern about the problems of plastic abuse. 

So blog for me, directory for everyone else: What they do in their words. And hopefully a resource for anyone who wants to know who is who and what is what in this plastically challenged world.

9. In an ideal world with unlimited time and resources what would you do next? 

I'm guessing you want a plastic related answer to this not just a long list of yacht based fantasies? I would love to get a big tractor with a large trailer and trundle round the UK organizing plastic pick ups with community groups. To be run in conjunction with educational workshops explaining the dangers plastic presents to the environment. 

Who are we? 

We blog as Polythene Pam and Village Boy. We live oop north in Huddersfield in a small industrial town. We often shop at supermarkets, eat meat, drink alcohol, munch cheese and scoff down cake. Giving up is not in our nature – we want to do everything – just without creating a huge pile of non-biodegradable, possibly carcinogenic, lethal rubbish that future generations will have to clean up. 
We don’t have pets or kids. We travel a lot (plastic-free of course), and much of the blog has been written while sweating our faces off in some backwater with limited internet access. Please make allowances.

To find out more about Polythene Pam and Village Boy and their plastic free journey visit

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

A weeks worth of rubbish!

Zero Waste Week 2014 ran from 1st September to 7th September and I pledged to throw nothing away during the week.  I didn't want to make life too difficult though so I carried on as normal, but kept any rubbish that I would have thrown away. I haven't had time to blog about what happened until now, but this is what I would have thrown in the bin during Zero Waste Week:

Most of it (except the yoghurt pots) fitted into one small ice cream carton.  There were also a couple of things I did put in the bin - a paper towel I used in a public toilet, a soiled bed wetting mat (despite planning to buy reusable bed wetting mats for ages, I now admit defeat and know that it just isn't going to happen as my kids are so nearly past that stage now) and a plaster.  

I was pretty pleased with producing such a small amount of rubbish during the week and it made me feel as though all my hard work during my Year of Eco Challenges is definitely paying off.  I may not be zero waste, but I'm not too far from it!

What did I do differently during the week?

  • I  took my main rubbish bin out of the kitchen.
  • When I swept the floor I tipped the rubbish into the compost bin instead of the rubbish bin like I do usually (anything that couldn't be composted I separated out first)
  • I poured crumbs from the bread board into the compost bin which again I usually pour into the rubbish bin (mainly because I thought the bread board was too big and the crumbs would go everywhere except the bin, but actually it was fine)

Why did I still have rubbish that I couldn't recycle or compost?

  • Yoghurt pots - I make yoghurt but occasionally I need to start a fresh batch and I buy yoghurt to get me started.  There are two because my husband also bought himself a flavoured yoghurt.
  • Stock cube wrappers - I don't actually use stock cubes because I don't eat pasta or rice and haven't made soup any time recently... My husband however likes them and I cooked with them...
  • There are various bits of plastic wrapper from a cucumber.  I can get them without plastic wrappers, but I have to go considerably out of my way.
  • My kids went to a party and got given some sweets/ chocolates in a party bag.
  • There is a lid from a bottle of wine in there - I don't think I can recycle them anywhere
  • The scrunched up piece of foil was from a sandwich I wrapped up for a friends child. I didn't use our reusable boxes as he has a food allergy and I wanted to make sure there was no way the sandwich would be contaminated.  It is possible to recycle foil in Brighton (read more here), but I would have to save it up until I had a bag full, which would probably take me quite a long time...
  • There is a butter wrapper in there - I only occasionally find butter with a purely paper wrapper in my local shops.
  • There is a cheese wrapper in there - brie.  I don't know anywhere that sells it without plastic so far and since having a holiday in France I have a bit of a brie addiction going on...
  • We got a takeaway on the last night of Zero Waste Week as I had family to stay and they wanted to get us a takeaway.  I said that was very kind of them as long as I could take reusable containers.  I wanted photographic evidence so I got the guy in the takeaway to pose for a picture with my containers and the freezer bag I wanted him to put the food into.

Unfortunately my takeaway wasn't entirely zero waste as I forgot to take the lid for the box they put the naan bread in and I forgot to ask them not to cover it :(.  I also didn't have a box big enough for the poppodoms and I forgot to ask for the onions without plastic bags.  I did remember to ask for the dip for the poppodoms to be put in my reusable container though...  Lessons I learned  - be very specific about all food being placed in reusable containers and remember to take all the lids!

So that was my Zero Waste Week 2014!  Well done to everyone who joined in this year and if you didn't (or even if you did) you can always sign up for the next one here!

I am currently undertaking a Year of Eco Challenges . If you have a moment I would really appreciate it if you would consider sponsoring me with an action (no money involved) on my DoNation page. Also if you liked this post please click like on Facebook and follow on Twitter - thanks so much!

Monday, 1 September 2014

My Year of Eco Challenges no. 12 - Zero Waste Week!

Click here for National Zero Waste week 2014

Having not blogged for four weeks, I am now blogging twice in one day!  There is a lot to say though as on my first day back I am straight into my next and final challenge on My Year of Eco Challenges, which will be to throw nothing away for the first week of September! In case you missed it, here is a reminder of My Zero Waste Week selfie.

I am going to take the pressure off myself though - I gave up towards the end of Plastic Free July because it was too hard and I haven't been plastic free or zero waste over the holidays. I don't want to give up because it is too hard during Zero Waste Week, so although I am going to throw nothing away, I will recycle and compost things and I will keep anything that I would have thrown away during the week. At the end of the week I will try to work out if I can recycle or upcycle any of the things that would have gone in the bin.

If you fancy joining in, the challenge is 'one more thing' - can you do one more thing to reduce your waste? Go on - you know you want to ;)

I am currently undertaking a Year of Eco Challenges . If you have a moment I would really appreciate it if you would consider sponsoring me with an action (no money involved) on my DoNation page. Also if you liked this post please click like on Facebook and follow on Twitter - thanks so much!

Back to blogging and houseswapping tales!

It seems like forever since I last blogged, but it has only been four weeks! I have really enjoyed my break from blogging and the summer holidays have been great.

We have had lots of play dates, visited family and we did our first house swap! We went and stayed in a house in the South of France and the people whose house we stayed in came and stayed in our house. 

Before we went I have to admit I was pretty nervous about the whole thing.  I wasn't sure what I was more worried about - going on the train under the Channel (I have never done that before), driving in France late at night (I have never driven on the right hand side of the road before or so late at night), or whether the house we were swapping to would actually be there when we got there! As it was the train ride was a breeze - I really don't know what I was worrying about, the driving was fine and the house was there when we got there - phew :) and actually we had the best possible first experience of house swapping we could have had. The things that made it so great were as follows:
  • Before we left they provided us with an information leaflet all about their house, their village and things to do in the area.
  • On our arrival we were greeted with a welcome notice written in magnets on their fridge, a welcome note and lots of food and drink that they had left for us.  They then had one of their neighbours deliver more food for us! 
  • The house itself was really lovely - French country style with pans hanging from the ceiling in the kitchen and lots of beautiful unique artwork displayed around the house.  There were also lots of toys, games and DVD's there to keep our kids occupied, which was great.
  • During the time we were there we kept in contact with the French family over email swapping information about what we were up to and answering questions about each other's areas.  
  • When we arrived home we found they had left us a hamper of food and wine which they had brought with them from France and they also left toy cars for our children.

The area we stayed in was really beautiful (as you can see in the picture at the top of this post) - close to the Cevennes and we never would have thought to go there if we hadn't been offered this house swapping opportunity. We also found that very few people spoke English and I really enjoyed being forced to use my very limited French, which I wouldn't have been confident enough to do otherwise. 

The whole 2 week holiday cost us around £1400, which when we first added it up sounded like a lot of money, but that included accommodation, transport, food, and entertainment for 4 people for 2 weeks during the school holidays when prices skyrocket.  If we had hired a similar house in the area at that time of year it could have cost us around another £1400 just for the accommodation!  We could have spent less on the holiday if we had avoided toll roads in France, if we had researched where to shop a bit better (I have to admit to visiting supermarkets in France, but they seemed really expensive) and if we hadn't splashed out on luxury food (we didn't eat out much, but we decided to spent a bit more on luxury items to eat in). 

All in all, I felt it couldn't have gone better really and we will definitely be doing a house swap again!

I am currently undertaking a Year of Eco Challenges . If you have a moment I would really appreciate it if you would consider sponsoring me with an action (no money involved) on my DoNation page. Also if you liked this post please click like on Facebook and follow on Twitter - thanks so much!

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