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 want 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 counsel 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, and are doing increasingly; growing our ow food. Then there’s the question of what to pack in it to store it in the freezer . . .