In July this year the zone’s Matt Cox, an endurance athlete and sustainability advocate, went plastic-free. Here’s his story.
Week 1 – Going plastic-free will not be easy
Plastic-free? I thought I was almost there. It turns out I’m not. Plastic is everywhere and infiltrates all areas of day to day life.
I started my plastic-free week by setting some ground rules. If perishables already in the house had single-use plastic as part of the packaging then I could use them. Anything that is recycled kerbside will also be ok, as long as I recycle them. Food waste is something that I studied at university and although a separate problem it is also a big environmental concern.
My strategy so far has been avoidance, whilst I have also been researching materials of products and figuring things out.
I forgot to tell, my wife, Laura I was doing Plastic-free July, so she was slightly surprised at what I came back from the shop with and my explanation for it. I’ve also become better at things that I occasionally do, I’ve had my water bottle and bamboo coffee cup (Thanks Croyde Triathlon) on me at all times, and I’ve made myself coffee in the van at the weekend, and taken packed lunches when we’ve been out for the day. I’ve mainly eaten loose fruit and veg.
I have done one shop only (limiting time in supermarkets due to COVID-19). I chose Morrisons for week one, and it was disappointing, very limited choice of loose plastic without single-use plastic. They have however informed me that usually, you can take your container to the deli, meat counter, fish counters to use.
I’ve also ordered Greenpeace’s Head of Oceans by Will McCallum, unfortunately, the second-hand bookshop sent it in plastic packaging. I’ve also ordered a plastic-free bathroom starter kit, with some loo paper that isn’t wrapped in plastic as we were getting dangerously low! And we have veg box coming from my local farm shop, Plowright Organic Farm.
Week 2 – Small steps
I started the week with a visit to Lidl and I was impressed. They had a big selection of loose fruit and veg, plus a bakery section with a very tasty chocolate and hazelnut croissant. I had taken my paper bags, so I managed to pick up a good selection of products for the week. A great initiative is a box of loose veg for £1.50 comprising bits that are close to the best before date to help prevent food waste, along with my Plowrights box I’m good to go this week!
My bathroom starter kit has arrived with toiletry essentials, and although the toothpaste tablets are a great idea, they don’t quite have the same feeling as toothpaste so I’ll keep looking for alternatives. Some bad news, however, I have discovered most tea bags have micro-plastic in them, I’m devastated. Within seconds, I have been offered many options via social media, with Clipper Teas and Tea Pigs leading the way.
A couple of BBQ’s with family and friends did, however, allow me to see how much plastic I have cut out this month, although I did find it difficult to turn some items down, It was also really good to chat to people about the initiative, lots of support, but mostly it got them thinking about it and made them realise how much of an issue it is.
Got to be prepared for next week. A bike-packing trip on Exmoor. Prep, prep, prep.
Week 3 – Homemade plastic-free on the go food
I now have a good source of fruit and veg and we have discovered a butchers in a local village who will put meat into your container, and there is even a refill shop in our small Somerset town!
I’m usually a last-minute person but this week that I’m on a 130 mile bike-packing trip on the Quantocks and Exmoor Hills and need to think about home-made high-density high energy food. I scour Instagram looking for some alternatives to the bars and gels I’d usually use on a ride. Homemade rice-cakes! Boom! I decide to go with these, a couple of burritos, and some bits from my local bakery.
I make jam and peanut butter rice-cakes, but don’t have any risotto rice that doesn’t come in plastic, so use brown rice and I make my wraps for my burritos which can at best be described as mediocre.
When it comes to the bike I explain what I’m doing in the bike shop, and they pick through which spare parts come in plastic and which don’t, they also grab some bits from their workshops to save me buying some parts new that have plastic packaging. Kudos! Plastic packaging in the endurance sports industry is something I think I’ll reflect on further post-July.
I tell the boys what I’m doing as we set off. They list the food they’ve bought with them, all of which is in single-use plastic. However, we talk about it and think about different things to help me get by, again it’s these conversations that make me feel positive. First stop, Lewis shouts out from the shop: “Pasties! In paper!”
Bombing down a hill on the way to a pub for tea and we puncture, we puncture the spare, when we get to the pub they’ve stopped serving food, I settle for a pickled egg for tea, but it’s placed in a pack of salt & vinegar crisps. My second fail. I keep the packet just in case its not plastic and I can recycle in some way – clutching at straws really! I eat my burritos under the stars whilst the others dig into meals in a bag, I feel pretty smug!
The second day leads to more amazing cycling, another pasty and another burrito, and I should have definitely used Risotto rice for those rice cakes although they seem to be great for energy. By the third morning, I’m running on empty, I’m out food, with only water for sustenance, we start at 5.30 am expecting to get to the nearest town at 10ish, and home by midday, and I’m struggling. By 8.30 am I’ve lost all energy and in cycling terms I am BONKING! I give in and have a Graze bar that is offered to me, my third fail of the month. It does the job however and that boost gets us to a Costa takeaway where they happily take my re-usable coffee cup and serve up bacon sandwiches. Result!
Week 4 – Plastic-free holidays
I felt a bit disappointed after lasts weeks couple of mistakes. I knew it was going to be hard, but nonetheless, I still feel like I’ve let myself down. The two guys that I was with however both said they were incredibly impressed about how much I turned down over the weekend, which did make me feel slightly better.
Laura and I are off on holiday this week, a few days camping in the Purbecks with a friend. Laura organises the food picking up meat from the butchers in containers and also co-ordinating with our friend who lives in an area that is much more likely to have plastic-free options, so we have lots of camping food.
It is amazing how much a little planning can reduce plastic. We ate macaroni cheese, scrambled egg croissants, BBQ and a curry all cooked over our little stove and with no single-use plastic. At the end of our few days away we had one small bag of rubbish, and one small bag of recyclables, thinking back to other trips this was a massive reduction in waste.
We end the weekend with a walk near Studland and pop into the National Trust Café to grab a bite to eat. We order a pasty and a jacket potato, all of which we have clocked will be plastic-free. But when we open the bag we see they’ve included a plastic knife and fork, in a plastic bag. Due to COVID-19, they won’t accept it back. I can understand including the knife and fork, and we will re-use that by keeping it in the camper-van, but why wrapped in a plastic bag? A frustrating way to end the month!
I actually really enjoyed the month, it made me so aware of the problem and how much single-use disposable plastic is being used in our day-to-day lives. I also really enjoyed talking to people about it, friends were really supportive and seemed to think about it more just by having a conversation with me.
The main takeaway for me has been the lack of choice. I genuinely believe that with more choice a lot more people would choose to reduce plastic, the fact that none of the supermarkets I used had toilet paper not wrapped in plastic and had to order this seems crazy.
I understand that it isn’t simple, and tied into this issue is the issue of food waste, energy consumption and recycling. Plastic is an incredible material, that is so versatile and there are obvious uses for it, but we need to think about how it is best used and how we can them further re-use it. It boils down to consumption and a throw-away culture that we have become too used to.