Letters I Haven't Written Yet

A Week Without Plastic

We all know that plastic takes many lifetimes to decompose (if at all), and that it is now posing a serious threat to our environment. Both the WWF and Greenpeace have campaigns regarding the dangers of plastic, and we read about it more and more in the media. So most of us, at least, are aware of the problem.

With that in mind, last week, I decided to participate in a Facebook event called a Week Without Plastic, started by a friend’s brother. The idea was simple: for one week, buy no plastic, only reuse what you have. Sounds easy enough right? I’ve always been one of those people who carries cloth bags for shopping and who recycles everything possible, so I figured it’d be really easy.

Before going into a blow by blow account of the week, I should start off by saying that overall, I was completely delusional when it comes to my plastic consumption, and as such the week was an epic failure. No matter how hard I tried to avoid plastic, at some points it just jumped out at you, when you least expected it. You buy something in a box instead of a bag, thinking you can recycle the cardboard? Well, the box is great … but whatever’s inside is wrapped in plastic anyway!  Without even realising it, plastic bags were everywhere. And often, unnecessarily.

Let the games begin… 

Day 1: Sunday – Easy-peasy. On Sunday in the Shire, shops are closed. And in general, I refuse to change out of my pyjamas on a Sunday, so it’s pretty safe to say that I won’t be buying anything, saving me from one day of plastic purchases.

Day 2: Monday – I was at home today, so another easy day. I had all the food I needed, and worked from home not consuming anything new, proud of myself and the ease at which I was achieving my goal of a week without plastic.

Day 3: Tuesday – All hell breaks loose when you leave the house. That’s when you realise that plastic traps are everywhere. Morning chai was easy enough – took a reusable mug to Starbucks, so I didn’t have the cup or the plastic top, and the added bonus of a discount because I was using my own cup. But the problems started with my meals. I’m on a special diet, so I have to eat many small meals a day. The first two meals were fine as I brought them with me in a reusable container, but lunch was a problem. I hadn’t made my lunch meal because I wanted to eat with a colleague that I hadn’t seen in a week, but now I was stuck because every takeout place gives you food in a plastic container. In the end we settled on biryani from the Pakistani restaurant down the street, as they don’t use plastic containers. I refused the spoon and the yogurt that came in a small plastic container, and brought my own shopping bag to carry the food back to the office. The guy in the shop looked at me like I was mad, but it was still a win. But was it really? I was actually kidding myself – they didn’t use plastic, they used Styrofoam, which is just as bad, isn’t it?

I stopped at the supermarket on my way home, to see if I could get some meat and veggies to better plan my meals for the rest of the week. I was excited because I realised (I never even noticed this before!) that at the back of the supermarket in my village is a small boucherie … so I could by chicken and meat without the onerous plastic packaging. I ordered a couple of chicken breasts, expecting them to be wrapped in paper and given to me, and lo and behold – not possible. Regulations (not sure if it’s store regulations or cantonal ones) say that the meat has to be wrapped in a plastic bag and given to the customer. So it was less plastic than buying the chicken in the meat section of the shop, but there was still plastic. Plus it was three times the price.

Next I went hunting for veggies.

In my local supermarket (I really live in a small town), many of the veggies cannot be bought separately, through bulk bins. Everything is packaged up. Even cucumbers for f-sake. Why does a cucumber need a plastic wrapping? Looked like a veggie condom.

In the end I bought the asparagus, because it didn’t not have plastic wrapping around it, but the label wasn’t paper, it was a laminated paper. Plus, when you take off the paper wrapping, there was plastic tape holding them together. Another fail. So in the end the shopping excursion did not result in no plastic, but less plastic. Between lunch in a Styrofoam container and the chicken and veggies in plastic, I’d consider day 3 a failure.

Day 4: Wednesday – Wednesday is hamburger day at work, my favourite day of the week. And happily, the food truck serves the hamburgers and fries in paper containers, so all is well for my week without plastic as well as my lunch, though my diet pretty much fell into the shitter. My other meals were all prepared in advance or made at home, so all was well, no plastic either. All in all, a successful day. I am a champion once more.

Day 5: Thursday – Another perfectly organised day until I drank too many cosmos at the bar with the girls in the evening and bought a water bottle for the train ride home, happily fitted with a plastic cap. Fucking plastic cap ruined my life.

Day 6: Friday – It’s the second last day of the exercise, and I have to say that this is starting to get really frustrating. You can try to be conscious and cut plastics in from one edge of the Shire to the other, but it’s extremely difficult. Today’s meals weren’t bad, I had prepared food beforehand or else I ate out in a restaurant, so I didn’t purchase anything in a plastic container, but got caught with two purchases after. First, I bought a diffuser for essential oils for my bedroom. It came in a sealed box, and so I assumed there would be no plastic. That was totally false. In fact, each piece of the diffuser was wrapped in a small plastic bag: so, I could recycle the box, but not the bags. Fail. Then I went shopping, looking for some tofu. While I’m not even remotely ready or willing to be a vegetarian, I do recognise that I eat too much meat (chicken mostly) and need to balance that out.  But, as my diet is one that requires lots of protein, I need to find my protein somewhere. Hence the search for tofu. Nothing in paper bags, nothing fresh. Everything wrapped in plastic. I took the packages with the least plastic on them, feeling defeated. Tomorrow is my general grocery shopping day, and I am already certain it’s going to be extremely difficult to avoid plastics.

Day 7: Saturday – Grocery shopping day. I’d made a list of what I needed, hoping to avoid plastics. Eggs in a cardboard container, milk as well (not possible to get glass bottles delivered here). No pudding as it comes in plastic containers, and avoiding meat at all costs, again because of the plastic. In the frozen food section I found some shrimp in boxes instead of plastic bags, so I excited I bought a box. So far, so good. Cookies in a box, done and done. Then there was bread. Thinking I was being smart, I bought a baguette instead of sliced bread, which comes in a paper bag.

Then there were the veggies. Once more, every single veggie was wrapped in plastic – nothing in bulk. So, I had to buy the asparagus again (I love asparagus, but I’m OD’ing on it at this point), just because it was less plastic than the rest. My groceries were cheaper than usual because I couldn’t buy anything, and when unpacking everything I realised that the bag for the baguette is part plastic, so that you can see the bread through the bag, the frozen shrimp was sealed in a plastic bag inside the box, and the cookies were in a plastic container, wrapped in plastic, packaged in a box. So even though I bought less plastic and used my own bags, I still bought quite a bit. It was disheartening.

But I’m not completely depressed …

Despite my numerous failures, this doesn’t mean that the exercise was useless. This week made me much more aware of what I was buying, paying closer attention to packaging details, many of which I often just ignored. Yes, we can take our shopping bags and reuse our reusable coffee cups (or in my case tea), but that’s just a part of it. It’s really important not only to remain vigilant, but also to do your research, to see where things can be bought in a more ecological way. Living in the Shire, I still have a ways to go to find the best solution to reduce the amount of plastic I purchase, but I’m working on it.


For more information on plastic and on various campaigns about the impact of plastic on the environment, please refer to the links below:

A Week Without Plastic Facebook page:

Wikipedia (on the dangers of plastic)

The Guardian: