Friday, 3 November 2017

A tangle of opposing forces

Can we talk about plastic?

I expect, like me, you’ll have seen pictures and read articles about the rising tide of discarded plastic choking the Earth, and the serious problem of tiny plastic particles swirling about in the ocean — both just being there at all and getting into the food chain (including into us). Darn! How awful.

We are strongly urged by responsible voices to stop using plastic for packaging, especially one-use packaging; small spring water bottles have come into focus.

So far, so good. Let’s stop. Sounds simple, yes?

If I start with the positive and move on from there to the hand-wringing, you’ll know when to stop reading if angst bores you.

Here are the things I’ve figured out I can do (POSITIVES).

Get some of those net bags for repeated re-use. A choice at this point — the nylon ones are also essentially plastic and will give off the plastic particles when washed. I’d go for linen/cotton ones, but will they look alien enough to cause the store cashiers to make a fuss (and do I have the psychological strength to withstand that if they do)?

Get the fruit and vegetables sold loose in bins.

Make food at home instead of ready-made. We do mostly, but I could step this up a bit. The packaging for ingredients is usually simpler than that for ready-made — fewer layers, fewer bright (toxic) dyes, etc. If we cook our own beans instead of getting the canned ones they come in very simple cellophane packs from the whole food store. I know cans aren’t plastic, but there is still a packaging issue. Oh. Is cellophane okay?

Choose the things sold in cardboard and paper over things sold in plastic. I know cardboard and paper is bad news for trees — and by heaven, we need every tree we can get — but at least it could stimulate the growing of trees to cut for paper (does it??), and we use all our card and paper packaging as kindling for the wood stove, except massive boxes that had something huge in; and sometimes even then. I can immediately think of several switches I could make — washing powder, oats . . . er . . . I can’t think of anything else.

One huge triumph for us is our egg purchasing. Eggs are important to us because we eat very few animal products, and I want to be sure we get our animal-source zinc and don’t end up with just the plant source that won’t combine with the copper abundantly present in plants, this leaving us with Bothe copper starvation and copper poisoning — and other health problems that could occur if only I knew about them; B12 etc. So anyway, there’s this person who lives right next to the chapel I go to, who sells eggs at the garden gate from rescued battery hens. Therefore, no food miles at all (because we’re going to church anyway and the hens live right there), no cruelty (no gassed chicks — all rescued birds, trotting about free), and re-using our own egg boxes. Ha!

We have already gone over to always using cloth shopping bags, and we go always remember to take them with us. Tick. Go, us!

Okay, now for the HANDWRINGING

Clothes. Oh, crumbs. Well, in future I am happy to buy merino tights not nylon, but not to throw out the ones I already have. Likewise, some of my skirts are synthetic, and for the style that suits me that’s just what they make them of. It’s taken me such an age to get to clothes that suit me, I don’t ant to change them now — and anyway, they’d still be in the world, wouldn’t they? To get both clothes that suit me and ecologically responsible fibres, I’d be moving to much higher prices than I’m used to spending — eg buying new. And one of the reasons I was buying secondhand in the first place was to cut down on consumerist manufacture ruining the Earth. Hmm. This will take some thinking about.

Food.  Because I have several health issues, I have to be very careful about what I eat. I’ve found a range of foods that work for me, and some of them come in plastic packaging — eg the plant milks (almond milk, Oatly etc) come in tetrapak type cartons. They have plastic coating, don’t they? And plastic tops? Also in order to stick to eating the food that keeps me healthy and not stray ravenous into eating stuff that makes me ill, it’s important to get things that don’t taste bad. The mixed nuts at the whole-food store are hard and old and knobbly and I don’t  like them. The ones at Marks and Spencer are fresh and succulent and delicious — and packaged in plastic. What to do?

Likewise, we try to eat a high proportion of organic food because of the glyphosates that are going to ruin the lives of everyone, human and animal alike. But of course, the fruit and veg sold loose at the supermarket aren’t the organic ones — these are wrapped in plastic. The greengrocer has paper bags and loose fruit and veg, but doesn’t sell organic produce. The whole-food store sells organic produce in plain paper bags, but their stuff is often old and wrinkly and usually very expensive.

Linda McCartney veggie ready-made things are sold in cardboard packaging not plastic, so that’s good. But they all include rapeseed oil (which, ingested over time, apparently impairs breathing) and palm oil (no friend to orang-utans or anyone else who lives in the rainforest — and trees are the lungs of the Earth). 

Butter is impossible to get wrapped in paper any more, and is not cruelty free. Margarine does your heart in. Oil is the best thing — and I must remember to get the sort sold in glass bottles not plastic. Our cider vinegar comes in glass bottles, though they do have plastic tops.

It seems to me there is no coulee of perfection and — as usual — the best way is to live as simply as possible so there are fewer choices to make at any given time, moving forward incrementally like a slug towards Better Habits. Oh — talking of slugs — that’s another thing we can do of course, are are doing increasingly; growing our ow food. Then there’s the question of what to pack in it to store it in the freezer . . .




28 comments:

Deborah said...

If you like drinking Oatley then make your own. Oats and filtered water in a blender, strained through a nut milk bag and voila! Fresh, disgusting oat milk ;-D orrr...you can make cashew/almond/rice milk the same way. You don't even need to throw the solid stuff out after straining you can use it in a recipe...with the oats, I suppose you can make awful porridge. Plus for your nut buying dilemma...have you tried Amazon? Still sold in plastic but in 1 kg bags so they last longer and probably use less plastic maybe?

Pen Wilcock said...

Hi Debs. Yes, I make awful porridge. Even worse, I mix in with it the vile fruit fibre after making disgusting apple and carrot juice. There's no accounting for taste, is there!?

Deborah said...

Nothing wrong with apple and carrot juice. Actually, that's a lie...there's plenty wrong with apple juice unless it's mulled...carrot juice is fine :-D Other vegetable juices are fine...not celery...celery is in the evil category!

I like flapjack, I will put oats in a smoothie but I do not like porridge. at. all! lol It doesn't matter what one does to porridge, it's impossible to make it taste nice in my opinion :-)

Pen Wilcock said...

Oooh — I love some celery added to my apple and carrot juice! Perfect!

Deborah said...

If it tasted like bacon, I'd eat it...but it doesn't! lol

Pen Wilcock said...

Ah. I do like the taste of bacon, but it's the intelligence in the eyes of those pigs. So sad.

Deborah said...

I know but I still eat all animal products and until I can ditch them all...

Pen Wilcock said...

I eat more and more veggie — makes me sad about the animals.

Anonymous said...

May I join you in the handwringing? Fairtrade, organic or local?
Fairtrade: ethically fair and respects the lives and wages of the impoverished - so important - but then there's the airmiles, packaging, fuel, lorries, warehouses...and thus melting ice caps and global warming.
Organic: No chemicals or harm to our world - so important - but pricey and packaged in plastic, from artificially heated and lit supermarkets. Not to mention the lorries blah blah which it took to transport it all to said supermarket.
Local: Good, honest food locally sourced - so important - supporting local economies and farmers, but possibly doused with chemicals and grown in a monoculture. Also what to do when families call for variety eg. spices, lentils, bananas
So, I try to grow my own as far as possible and enrich the soil, heart and mind as I do so. Oh, but then there's seeds - organic, packaged, transported and delivered, or GM from the local garden centre. Peat free compost? Or organic? Farmyard manure must be the answer thought I, until someone pointed out the animals are injected with hormones, antibiotics, immunisations...
I absolutely agree and understand your concerns. And tendency to overthink? ;) It's good to know I'm not alone. Thankyou for your posts and musings x

Rapunzel said...

Tangle of opposing forces, perfect way to put it. A couple of months ago my daughter in Germany challenged me to a No Plastics Month, in which we didn't buy anything of single use plastic. An overall good experience, but lots of challenges as you have noted.

Very frustrating to find something you need neatly packaged in earth-friendly looking cardboard or an organic looking cloth bag, only to get it home and open it to discover a secret plastic packaging inside. Grrrr!

You and my daughter are my very best challengers in walking my walk as responsibly and ethically as I can learn to do, and it is an ongoing learning process as time and technology changes.
But I am loving the journey!

Pen Wilcock said...

Anonymous — Exactly! I wonder if you have ever come across the book "Countryside and Cloister: Reminiscences of a Carmelite Nun"?
It includes memories of the childhood of the woman in question, growing up in rural England (the West Country), around the time of WWII. Particularly of interest to me was the off-grid lifestyle then the norm, with the closed loop of eating from the garden and fertilising the same with humane. I'm sure that's the way to go. Good book.
https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/1871217237/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o05_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1

Rapunzel — oh, it must have been so disappointing to commit to a no-plastics month, think you had a no-plastic purchase, then open it up to find sneaky hidden plastic! Grrr!

Elizabeth @ The Garden Window said...

We buy our meat from our local butcher, who sells reasonably priced, locally sourced and free range meat, mostly organic. All good stuff, but transporting meat home in sealed plastic bags for each item is a pain.
I hate the waste and am hoping he will be happy to put my meat into pyrex or re-usable plastic dishes I provide instead......

Pen Wilcock said...

There's a butcher shop by our bus stop. When I was waiting for the bus one day I observed a customer inside who'd evidently brought along his own plastic box for the butcher to put his purchase into, which intrigued me. I think in these small neighbourhood shops they would accommodate (what might seem like) our eccentricities kindly, but I'd imagine there could be health and safety issues to rolling out such practices on a large scale. If a customer got food poisoning after making a purchase placed into a box the customer provided, it could be harder to trace the source and deal with the root of the problem.

Elin Hagberg said...


It really is a cannot win situation with these things. We have to try to do our best and then try to be at ease. That is really all we can do. I will try the reusuable fruit and vegetable bags I think but here in Sweden they must be see-through so nylon is the easiest option unless you crochet them yourself.

Elizabeth @ The Garden Window said...

I hadn't really thought about that, Pen, and it is a very valid point indeed.

Pen Wilcock said...

Elin — Yes, I think I will try the nylon ones, too. To do our best then be at ease is lovely advice!

Elizabeth — there are some things you can do while still in the minority!

Anonymous said...

Thankyou for the book recommendation Pen and the helpful link - I love searching out new ideas and things to read especially when they have been flagged up as worthwhile.It certainly sounds interesting and I will be sure to look it up!
I also enjoyed your calming advice Elin, to do our best and then to be at ease. You are quite right; it is all we can do, although there's always that nagging thought that we could/ should be better...
Perhaps I should re-read Eckhart Tolle as part of my seasonal inspiration!

Pen Wilcock said...

Eckhart Tolle is always good for finding the way back to the right track. And Brennan Manning, too.

Anonymous said...

Oooh, looking up Brennan Manning. Thankyou.

Pen Wilcock said...

My favourite so far is this one.
https://www.amazon.co.uk/All-Grace-Ragamuffin-Brennan-Manning-ebook/dp/B005NHTROU/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1509817450&sr=8-1&keywords=a+ragamuffin%27s+memoir

Anonymous said...

Thankyou! That's my evening set. Fireworks ( more contradictions...handwringing), Strictly, Amazon. Hope you enjoy your evening too!

I also like this.

David Steindl-Rast: Want to be happy? Be grateful | TED Talk | TED.com

Pen Wilcock said...

Thanks for the recommendation — and Strictly! Almost impossible to know who to vote for!

Elin Hagberg said...

I am glad that my advice resonated with some of you. It is from my mom and one I heard my whole upbringing if I was worried about school for example. "Did you do your best?" "Then, be happy with that, it is all you can do. Feel at ease with having done your best." Yes, sometimes our best is not good enough but often it is. There are times when don't even need to do your best to do well or OK and that is also fine. We can strive for excellency but we don't always have to do that. Mend and make do is OK for effort sometimes, there will be time to go beyond that later most of the time.

Pen Wilcock said...

Sensible, practical, cheerful advice: thank you, Elin!

Bean said...

I think you are doing the best you can and always looking for further improvement, that is a good thing. Just imagine the difference it would make if everyone had your attitude. Things change one person at a time :)

Bean

Pen Wilcock said...

Well, you certainly made some impressive changes — and kept them up, too!
On the food side of things we made a step in the right direction, I think. Some of us in our household have to be careful what we eat or we get health flare-ups. The three of us to whom that particularly applies have therefore got together to eat the same supper every day — greens and beans. That has variety within it; sometimes the greens is kale, sometimes cabbage, or Brussels sprouts; the beans can be any one of all the different ones. Though we almost always start by frying onions, the vegetables and seasoning we add in varies a lot. And for breakfast we have the same thing every day, too. The other two have a kale shake, with frozen fruit, plant milk (almond or oat), nut butter, cacao, and other bits and pieces — things like chia seeds and hemp seeds. I make a juice out of apples and carrots, then take the fibre left over and cook it into a porridge made of oats and oat milk. We all eat separately at lunch time, and we can have whatever we like for lunch. I often go for a jacket potato (or baked sweet potato). That's the time in the day I eat fish or egg. Though we do quite often eat things we should not, sticking to that breakfast and that beans-and-greens supper is really helpful. And to finish off the day we crush a big garlic clove and share it out between the three of us, washed down with dilute cider vinegar!
As to the other things — I shared this blog post on Facebook, where it attracted some excellent suggestions. One was a UK site — Boobalou — that sells all kind of alternative to plastic items. So I ordered some net produce bags for fruit and veg shopping.

If any UK peeps are interested, Boobalou is here:
http://www.boobalou.co.uk

True North said...

We do all have to make changes as we are able whatever we can but as I get older and older I have realised that we also have to speak and change the attitudes of those who have the power to make the big decisions, from businesses through to our democratically elected representatives. I was never one for going to protest marches or ever making a fuss, its not in my nature, but I do have a friend who quietly sits and writes letters several a week and I have realised that if we can we do have to speak out and quietly demand appropriate replies, it can have an effect even if just educating a councillor or politician or company chairman. So even the quietest of us can start to raise our voices, to sit and pray and write a note or use whatever social media we choose. But a little piece of a tree landing on someones desks, has to be opened and carried and read and carried and given . Sorry bit of a ramble. Blessings and friendship to you Pen and everyone .

Pen Wilcock said...

Amen to that. Our circles of influence may be small, but we do have them. My own experience has been that the people I have most influenced have been those closest to me. I notice that my actions, decisions, habits and principles have affected the corresponding version in the people I live with and have brought up — I remember being quite startled to realise, as they grew into adulthood, that I had without thinking about it raised 5 politicised eco-warriors!
Another small thing I did still goes on surprising me. Over a decade ago I was pastor to a church where a newly retired pastor and his wife came to worship in the congregation, attracted by the quality of thought and levels of inclusiveness. They asked me, what in particular could they do to help. At that time we had no Fair Trade stall, so I asked, could they start one please. As it happened they both had a retail background, so they began (and are still running) the most stellar Fair Trade stall imaginable, becoming suppliers for church Fair Trade stalls throughout our area and all the Fair Trade stalls throughout the Methodist South East District, running trade events in people's homes and at big events all over the place. Mega. My only part in it was to make one small request — but I'm glad I asked them that, not "Could you see to the filing.' Yes, spheres of influence.
I'm not a marcher — physical strength doesn't stretch to it — but I'm an indefatigable sharer on social media and petition-signer.
It's what Jesus said, isn't it: 'Let your light shine.' As the hymn has it: 'You in your small corner, and me in mine.'