Posts Tagged ‘plastic-free july’

Inspiration from New Zealand

July 23rd, 2014

plastic-free-july-logo-straight-lgeWe’re now a week away from the end of Plastic-Free July 2014, and maybe you’re feeling a bit demotivated. If you’re looking for inspiration, take a look at The Non-Plastic Maori, a blog chronicling a Maori woman’s efforts to live without plastic. Her challenge isn’t just for July; it’s for the whole of 2014. Why is she doing it? In her own words:

SO… primarily – I want to explore the experience of living for a year without purchasing any new plastics. I’m doing it to highlight how very dependent we’ve become, but also to demonstrate that we CAN make personal choices that will minimise our own plastic waste production. If we were to demonstrate this in greater numbers – we would not only contribute to a better environment but would also present pressure upon suppliers to utilise non-plastic alternatives – making non-plastic alternatives more accessible for others – See how it works? It begins with a few who refuse to believe that it’s too hard to do.

It begins with a few who refuse to believe that it’s too hard to do. If you’ve stuck with Plastic-Free July this far, that includes you. You probably won’t have removed single-use plastic from your life completely, but you’ve become part of a movement questioning our dependence on it. The moments of inconvenience and the moments of “failure” are part of the work of highlighting something that was invisible. Well done.

Plastic-free takeaways?

July 16th, 2014
fish and chips in cardboard container

Photo credit: jACK TWO

Grabbing a takeaway in Oxford might become a little kinder on the environment, thanks to a proposal by the city’s licensing committee. Oxford City Council is proposing a ban on polystyrene containers for takeaway food and a move towards biodegradeable packaging.

Takeaway containers are a good example of how single-use plastic has come to seem normal: they’re a handy substitute plate for a single meal, with the expectation that they will be thrown away immediately afterwards.

But where exactly is “away”? Well, there’s a lot of Styrofoam in our oceans. Research reported in the National Geographic involved taking water samples from oceans all over the world. The researchers found that all of the samples contained derivatives of polystyrene (used in disposable cutlery) and Styrofoam (used in many takeaway containers).

Once Styrofoam breaks down, the tiny polystyrene components start to sink, because they’re heavier than water […] So it’s likely that this styrene pollutant is prevalent throughout the water column and not just at the surface.

This invisible threat to wildlife is already causing huge concern among marine scientists. So why on earth are we still eating takeaways out of Styrofoam containers with a plastic fork? (Think about it: when you’re eating fish from a Styrofoam container, there may well be traces of Styrofoam inside the fish too.)

Street traders are understandably worried about cost; it’s true that Styrofoam is cheaper than the biodegradable alternatives. (It’s also hard to believe: why should a petrochemical-derived product that inflicts such a cost on our oceans be cheaper than a cardboard one?)  But many takeaway outlets have managed to use less damaging packaging without harming the bottom line; just think of the traditional newspaper-wrapped fish & chips. (If you want a more recent example, fish & chip chain Harry Ramsden’s switched to biodegradable packaging two years ago.) And perhaps if non-harmful packaging became the norm, manufacturers would find ways to produce it more cheaply.

The Oxford proposal is still just that – a proposal. The council consultation on it won’t end for a few more weeks. But if it succeeds, there won’t be quite as much reason to feel guilty about that late-night kebab. Could Witney try it next?

Bag It!

July 8th, 2014

Just because plastic is disposable, doesn’t mean it just goes away. After all, where is away? There is no away.

Film-maker Suzan Beraza nails it: there’s a disconnect between the incredibly durable nature of plastic and the throwaway purposes we use it for. The 2010 film Bag It has won multiple prizes for raising awareness of plastic – and where it ends up – in an entertaining way.

Watch the Bag It trailer on Vimeo

Bag It Intro from Suzan Beraza on Vimeo.

Plastic-Free July 2014: Day 1

July 1st, 2014

Welcome to Day 1 of the plastic-free challenge! The first day can be the most eye-opening, as you do a mental audit of just how much plastic you normally use. Kake from Croydon did an interesting “diary day” a few weeks ago, noting down all the plastic she uses in the course of a typical day. If anybody from Witney would like to do their own “diary day” for Plastic-Free July, we’d be happy to publish it as a guest post on this blog.

Kake says in her “diary” that taking a hard look at the amount of plastic in her life made her feel despairing before 8:15am.My own eye-opening moment happened on Day 1 last year, when I was on my way to buy milk and agonising over the choice between a plastic bottle and a Tetrapak. (The latter is only 25% plastic, but mixed materials require more energy to recycle.) En route to the supermarket, I popped into the card shop to buy a birthday card – and only realised hours later that the card was encased in disposable plastic. That’s when I realised how many things come in plastic wrapping that’s intended to be thrown away a few moments after you purchase the item. (We’ll be asking some hard questions about why things have to be that way, as well as blogging handy hints for avoiding single-use plastic in your daily life.)

But Day 1 can also be the most satisfying, as you find creative ways to reduce the plastic you consume. How are you finding it? We’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Join us for Plastic-Free July 2014

June 25th, 2014

plastic-free-july-logo-straight-lgeHow much plastic do you normally use in a month? One great way of finding out: trying not to use any at all. Plastic-Free July is a month-long challenge where you try to avoid single-use plastics: things like straws, bread wrappers and yoghurt pots that are intended to be used once before being thrown away.

The idea started in Australia,  but it’s become popular in the UK too. Last year various members of Sustainable Witney decided to give it a go for the first time. We were encouraged to find that people from all over Oxfordshire were inspired by our blog posts to join in. The challenge was reported in the Witney Gazette and I was invited to give talks about it in East Oxford and at Oxford Brookes University (in the rather un-July-ish months of November 2013 and February 2014 respectively).

So are we doing it again this year? You bet we are! We’ll be blogging about our efforts throughout the month and hoping it will be as much of a community challenge as it was last year. We’ve already inspired people as far afield as Croydon to try it this year – see the Plastic-Free July in Croydon blog posts  if you don’t believe me. (Sustainable Witney got a shout-out on the Plastic-Free July in Croydon website and on Croydon radio – fame at last!) So we’ll be keeping an eye on how people are doing in Croydon as well as reporting on our own efforts. Why not join us?

Plastics talk at Brookes

February 17th, 2014

Kate from Sustainable Witney will be speaking at Oxford Brookes University about living with less plastic. She will be talking about her own experience of doing Plastic-Free July last year and giving tips on reducing the amount of disposable plastic in your life.

The 20-minute talk is part of Sustainability Week at Brookes, a five-day programme where each day has a different sustainability theme: water, transport, food, waste and energy. Kate’s talk will be on the Wednesday, which is Waste Day. Her talk will be followed by another talk about Coca Cola’s recycling technology, then a screening of the award-winning documentary Trashed. Both talks and the screening are free, but you can make sure of your seat by registering in advance.

The talk will be in the Chakrabarti room, JHB208, Headington Campus, Gipsy Lane site.

Plastics talk in East Oxford

October 30th, 2013

Would you like to have less plastic packaging in your life? Kate Griffin of Sustainable Witney is giving a talk on lower-plastic living on Monday 18th November.

All are welcome to attend the free talk at the Restore Cafe on Manzil Way, Oxford (off Cowley Road). This talk is organised by Low Carbon East Oxford. Arrive 7:45pm for an 8pm start.

If you can’t make it but want to know more, take a look at the Plastic-Free July Survival Guide for some useful tips.

Plastic-Free July: time to move things up

July 28th, 2013

Plastic-Free July is drawing to a close, and I’m getting the same feedback from everybody: it was seriously tough. The aim of the game was to “consume no single-use plastic during July” and I don’t know anybody who actually managed this. The creators of the challenge obviously expect this, which is why they emphasise that it’s just an “attempt”.

Why doesn’t anybody manage it? Is it because we can’t resist going for the plastic-heavy option over the plastic-free one?

No. People don’t fail at Plastic-Free July because of bad choices; they fail because there are so few choices. We’re being set up to fail by a system that makes it almost impossible to live a normal life without buying and discarding at least some single-use plastic.

Several people have reported back that Plastic-Free July did actually help them reduce their plastic consumption, by forcing them to look really hard for alternatives. That’s been my experience too. But mostly, Plastic-Free July makes you realise how little power you have, as a shopper, to avoid the stuff.

So what’s the next step? It’s time to move up the supply chain. We need companies to start actually making plastic-free options for us to buy. Which means it’s time for supermarkets and other retailers to do their bit – because they have a hell of a lot more buying power than we do. But it’s not going to happen unless there’s pressure from us, the shoppers. When you’re dithering between two different plastic jars of peanut butter, you have no choice and no voice; but if a hundred shoppers explicitly ask for glass jars, we might start seeing results.

I’ve created a number of template letters to shops which you are free to adapt for your own use. My only caveats:

  • Please don’t just copy a letter without reading it through and making sure you’re happy to put your name to it. It’s from you, not me.
  • Please don’t use anything that isn’t true, e.g. don’t say you’re a customer in the Witney store if you actually shop in Wallingford.

More template letters will be added over time. (If you have one you’d like to share, get in touch!)

Template letter to Waitrose

Template letter to the Midcounties Co-op

Template letter to Boots

I know some people think that contacting companies is a waste of time – even if they don’t have to write the letters themselves. For those people, I offer the example of American snack company Frito-Lay, who trialled a biodegradeable crisp packet. It was withdrawn from sale – because of complaints from consumers that it was too noisy. It’s time to exert a bit of consumer pressure in the right direction for a change!

If letters aren’t your thing, consider opening a conversation with brands on social media. Or ringing that helpline they keep promoting. All ways of getting the message across are valuable.

If you’ve stayed with Plastic-Free July this far, congratulations. I’ve learned a lot that will be useful in the long term and I hope you have too. The survival guide is still being updated and contributions are very welcome.

And finally…thank you for taking part!

Plastic-Free July: your survival guide

July 14th, 2013

Anybody who’s tried it for a week will know: avoiding single-use plastics is very difficult. This post is intended as a guide to avoiding plastics in various areas of your life. We’ll keep updating it as new suggestions come in, so please comment with your additions – and if you spot any out-of-date or otherwise inaccurate info, please let us know! (Information will tend to have a Witney-specific flavour.)


Witney Co-op, Sainsburys and Waitrose all sell unwrapped loaves and rolls that you can put in a bag yourself. The bags supplied contain plastic but you can reuse them until they fall apart or bring your own paper bags.

Sliced bread: the Waitrose and Sainsburys in Witney will both slice an unsliced loaf for you, for no extra charge.

Gluten-free bread: the only low-plastic option we’ve found is to buy the flour in a paper bag (from Waitrose, the Co-op or Beanbag on Wesley Walk) and make your own – but we haven’t found a plastic-free source of yeast yet.


Dairy Crest delivers to Witney (through its brand Milk & More). Ring 01993 702347 or visit the website to set up deliveries. (Milk is delivered in glass pint bottles which you wash and put out for reuse.)

We’ve looked into Tetrapaks (25% plastic, 75% cardboard) but concluded that these are worse than all-plastic bottles, because it takes more energy to recycle plastic when it’s combined in a mixed-materials container. If you have more info on this than us, please get in touch.


Windrush Dairy have a stall at the Thursday market in central Oxford. They use less plastic packaging than supermarkets.

Other dairy

We’re still looking for: more plastic-free or low-plastic ways to buy milk, cheese, yoghurt, ice-cream, cottage cheese, yoghurt drinks and so on, ideally in the Witney/West Oxfordshire area.

Fruit and vegetables

Getting a weekly veg box is the most convenient way to avoid plastic: everything is delivered to your door in a reusable cardboard box that you leave out for the delivery driver next week. Abel & Cole and Riverford deliver in this area. There are occasional plastic bags in the boxes but you can leave these out for re-use too.

Or buy loose fruit & veg from the supermarket. Reuse the plastic bags provided until they fall apart or use your own paper bags. We’ve tried using our own bags in Waitrose,  Tesco and the Co-op and had no problems from checkout staff apart from the odd grumble. Onya Bags sell reusable “weigh bags that are strong, light and washable. It’s £9 for 5 bags that will last you for ever.

Witney Market (Thursdays and Saturdays) sells fruit and vegetables in paper bags, though it’s hard to stop them putting all your paper bags in a plastic carrier bag at the end! However, soft fruit like strawberries is sold in plastic punnets for obvious reasons.

Store cupboard food

The People’s Supermarket in East Oxford sells refill packs of lentils and rice in paper bags.

SESI in Oxford also supplies refills of items such as rice, cereal, pulses, nuts and dried fruit. They appear at various markets in Oxford: East Oxford Farmers’ Market, South Oxford Community Market and Leys Community Market. (Despite what their website says, they no longer seem to be doing Wolvercote Farmers Market.)

The Chinese supermarket on Church Green sells bamboo shoots in a tin (only available in plastic from the supermarkets).

We’re still looking for: Witney-based solutions for buying store cupboard basics like rice.


We’ve asked around, but haven’t found any butchers where it’s possible to buy meat without getting it wrapped in plastic. Please get in touch if you know of one in Oxfordshire.


It’s hard to find convenient, on-the-go snack options without single-use plastic. If you’re planning ahead things get easier, e.g:

  • make your own houmous using a glass jar of tahini (available from Beanbag), loose garlic from Waitrose, a tin of chickpeas and olive oil.
  • buy olives in glass jars and put them in a little Tupperware container
  • grab a piece of fruit bought in one of the ways described above.

The People’s Supermarket on Cowley Road in Oxford sells sunflower seeds in a compostable plastic pot.

We’re still looking for: low-plastic ways to buy nuts, crisps, rice cakes and oatcakes. Also very keen to hear about any snack food that’s sold in a plastic-free or low-plastic way for on-the-go eating.

Takeaway tea and coffee

Buy a travel mug you can reuse again and again. There are loads available online but they also appear regularly in the Animal Sanctuary charity shop (Corn Street) often still in their boxes! And (whisper it) the Vitaburst stall at Oxford station has been known to offer a little discount if you buy tea from them in one of these mugs.

Household cleaning and laundry

Beanbag (the health food shop on Wesley Walk) does refills of Ecover cleaning products, including washing-up liquid, laundry detergent and fabric softener. (If you’re in Oxford, the Windmill Shop in Headington offers the same service for a wider range of Ecover products.)

Fabric softener: buy Ecover and get your bottle refilled at Beanbag, or try using white vinegar (sold in glass bottles in Waitrose and the Co-op) instead.

Laundry detergent: most shops sell washing powder in cardboard boxes. Or buy Ecover liquid detergent and get your bottle refilled at Beanbag.

Washing-up liquid: buy Ecover, get a refill at Beanbag.

Washing-up brushes: you can buy brushes with replaceable heads, which means you only have to replace the head rather than the whole thing. Both the brushes and replacement heads are available from the Oxfam on Market Square in Witney (info correct Sept 2013).

Personal hygiene and beauty

Lush is currently the only chain store selling these kinds of products to make a serious effort to reduce unnecessary packaging. Many items are sold in black plastic tubs and if you bring five of these back to the store for reuse you get a free face pack! The nearest branch is in Oxford (on Cornmarket Street).

Bubble bath: Lush sell a whole range of fun bath-y things in reusable packaging or no packaging.

Deodorant: Lush sell this in a block wrapped in paper. Messier than a roll-on but it does work.

Exfoliator: buy one from Lush in a black plastic tub and return to the store for reuse

Moisturiser: also sold by Lush in the black plastic reusable tubs.

Periods: for reusable internal menstrual protection you can’t beat the Mooncup. Available from Beanbag Natural Health and the Witney branch of Boots, or buy online. It costs £19.99 and lasts for years with proper care.

If you prefer sanitary towels, the Natracare brand is plastic-free. Sold in Beanbag and some branches of Oxfam, including the one on Market Square in Witney. Or go for the high-maintenance but very green option of reusables, available in a surprisingly varied range of designs.

Shampoo: Lush sells solid shampoo bars, each of which (they claim) lasts as long as three plastic bottles of shampoo. (Kate estimates that one bar lasts her about four months.) Buy two and get a free travel tin. A tip: don’t leave them lying around in the shower to go all gloopy and they’ll last even longer.

Shaving: Lush sells a choice of shaving creams, again in the black plastic tubs which you can return to the shop.

Toothbrushes: the Montebianco range has a clever design allowing you to remove and replace the head (the bit that gets worn out) without replacing the whole thing. Packs of replacement heads are available online or from certain branches of Oxfam (but sadly, not either of the Witney ones).

Toothpaste: Lush again! They’ve come up with Toothy Tabs, small chewable tablets packaged in a small box rather like a matchbox. Nibble one tablet between your front teeth to break it up, then brush as normal. Weird at first, but it works! There are lots of different flavours including a Fairtrade one.

We’re still looking for: low-plastic ways to buy cotton wool pads, cotton wool buds, dental floss, razors and wet-wipes. Also looking for alternatives to Lush for people who find the over-friendly sales staff a bit intimidating!


Lush will wrap gifts in vintage scarves for £3.95 extra, and obviously your delighted recipient gets to keep the scarf too! (The Japanese art of Furoshiki can be used for gift wrapping, grocery shopping or just decoration.)

Presents for kids: If they only play with a plastic toy once, does that count as single-use plastic? The Fairtrade shop in Oxford (on Cornmarket Street, underneath the church) has a range of kids’ stuff that’s plastic-free. Great for babies and toddlers, not so good for older children.

Big thanks to Katharine Mann for her help with the info in this blog post.

Plastic-Free July: how did Week 1 go?

July 7th, 2013

plastic-free-july-logo-straight-lgeI blogged last week that I’m trying an idea called Plastic-Free July, where you try to avoid single-use plastics for a month.

I was initially unsure about the idea, because I already try to reduce the amount of single-use plastic I buy and I wasn’t sure if there was much scope for reducing it further. Comments from family members (who are trying it all the same!) included “Sounds practically impossible” and “How on earth can you buy things like yoghurt?”

So I wasn’t starting with a very optimistic frame of mind, but the first day of Plastic-Free July came with a nice surprise: several people who said they’d like to join in with the idea after seeing our blog post and/or tweets about it. Now that a group of people are doing it together, we can share tips and support each other.

» Read more: Plastic-Free July: how did Week 1 go?

Join me for Plastic-Free July!

June 30th, 2013

It’s official: disposable plastic is now seriously uncool. Making it in the first place takes a toll on the planet because of the oil required, then the plastic does further damage after we’ve finished with it. Marine scientists have known for decades that plastic rubbish finds its way into our oceans, killing sea life.

A seahorse under the sea near a plastic bag

A seahorse tries to camouflage itself inside a plastic bag. Photo credit: Greenpeace UK

So how do we reduce the amount of plastic we consume in our daily lives? How can we become more mindful about a substance that’s practically everywhere and makes our lives a lot more convenient? More to the point, how do we separate the convenient from the truly essential?

My sister Esther, currently living in Melbourne, has sent me details of an Australian scheme known as Plastic-Free July. The challenge is simple: you attempt to get through July while using as little single-use plastic as possible. By “single-use plastics”, they mean plastic items that are actually designed to be used once before being thrown away: plastic cups, straws, plastic bags and so on.

I’ve decided to give it a go, along with Esther, her partner and a couple of other family members. We start tomorrow (Monday 1st July) and I’ll be blogging about how it goes. Does anybody else want to join in? I’ll be happy to hear about your experiences and share them on the Sustainable Witney blog!