Plastic Free For a Week {The Sustainability Challenge}

There’s such a buzz around ‘sustainability’ at the moment, isn’t there?

Everything from banning single use plastics, to reducing meat production; saving energy to recyling. It seems to be everywhere you look.

I think we humans are starting to become increasingly more aware of how our actions are impacting on this little blue planet we call home.

Both in a negative and a positive way.

As a family, we definitely try to do our bit.

We recycle as much as we can; old clothes and shoes get sent to the charity shop, possessions get passed along, food scraps go in the compost or food waste bin, and we sort glass, paper and tin every week.

We switch lights off and try to conserve water.

It’s something that I make a concerted effort with and, I figure, even the smallest action can help. I love the fact that my boys — even at such a young age — are learning to take care of the environment.

So when Howdens Joinery threw down the gauntlet and asked us — as a family — to take part in their ‘Sustainability Challenge’, we agreed without hesitation.

The Sustainability Challenge

So, what did we have to do?

Well, there were three strands to the challenge; ‘Energy Saving, Reducing Kitchen Waste and Zero Plastic’. We were asked to choose just one and try to work it into our everyday life.

These were the pointers that we were given:

Energy Saving
  • Use microwaves and slow cookers to save money and energy
  • Use lids on pots to trap heat
  • Use the right sized pans
  • Cook in batches
  • Don’t leave appliances on
  • Energy saving lightbulbs
Reducing Kitchen Waste
  • Reuse and recycle
  • Boycott bottled water
  • Make sure everything you’re throwing away is actually waste
  • Compost your food scraps
  • Reduce or eliminate paper towel use
Zero Plastic
  • Reusable coffee cup
  • Plastic free lunchbox
  • Reusable cutlery
  • Foldable chopsticks
  • Stainless steel water bottle
  • Reusable straw
  • Foldable tote bag

On paper, the most challenging of the three was definitely going ‘plastic free’ for seven days; so — never one to shy away from a good challenge — I decided to try see if it was possible.

Not So Fantastic Plastic

These days, everything comes in plastic. Even if we take our own bags to the supermarket, almost everything we take off the shelves comes wrapped in plastic of some kind.

We decided that for one week, we’d shun the supermarket shop and try and be as self-sufficient as we could; using food that we already had in the cupboard or from our allotment.

If you’re a city dweller, growing your own food could prove tricky, but we’re lucky that we live in a rural area and have the space to grow our own fruit and veg.

Instead of the heading off to the supermarket, to do our weekly shop, the boys and I wandered down to the allotment to pick up our food for the week ahead.

Going Plastic Free For a Week {The Sustainability Challenge} - walking to the allotment

Going shopping…

Plastic Free For a Week {The Sustainability Challenge} — our allotment

Beats the supermarket, any day of the week!

Pick Your Own

By growing and picking our own produce, we were definitely able to reduce our plastic usage considerably.

Over the course of the week we didn’t buy one thing that came in a plastic bag, bottle or wrapper.

We bought meat from a local butcher and took along a reusable plastic tub to bring it home in — and OK — it was still plastic, but it was something we already had and wasn’t thrown away once we’d bought the food home.

Bread came from an independent bakery; that wraps it’s loaves in paper bags. All our fresh veg and fruit came from our allotment.

I guess, if you didn’t have the luxury of a large garden or an allotment, you could still make a difference by swapping supermarket shopping for market produce; you could take along reusable tubs or paper bags for things that would ordinarily come in a plastic wrapper.

Going Plastic Free For a Week {The Sustainability Challenge} - Picking the veg

Take your own bags

Going Plastic Free For a Week {The Sustainability Challenge} - teaching the next generation

Teaching the next generation

Going Plastic Free For a Week {The Sustainability Challenge} - produce

Nature’s bounty

Admiring his handywork

Going Plastic Free For a Week {The Sustainability Challenge} - apples and blackberrys

Apple and blackberry crumble for pud

Going Plastic Free For a Week {The Sustainability Challenge} - checking the sweetcorn

Checking the corn

Going Plastic Free For a Week {The Sustainability Challenge} - leeks

Leektastic

Plastic, plastic everywhere…

Over the week, I became more and more aware of plastic, in all sorts of places.

Even down on the allotment; the compost bins and water-butts are made from plastic, as were the tool handles, netting and twine.

I guess, in this day and age, it’s inevitable that things we use will be made out of plastic. It’s the go-to material — cheap and malleable. In days gone by, netting and twine would have been made from jute and hemp, bins would have been made from metal or wood.

I suppose, it’s not all bad though; these things are hard wearing and will be utilised again and again.

Going Plastic Free For a Week {The Sustainability Challenge} - compost bin

Plastic sneaking it’s way on to the allotment (giant compost bin gobbles tiny man)

Going Plastic Free For a Week {The Sustainability Challenge} - courgette flower

Little green courgette (sorry Prince)

Going Plastic Free For a Week {The Sustainability Challenge} - cutting the courgettes

Going Plastic Free For a Week {The Sustainability Challenge} - gardening

Love that face

Going Plastic Free For a Week {The Sustainability Challenge} - cutting the beans

Grandad’s beans — these seeds came from his original plant!

Going Plastic Free For a Week {The Sustainability Challenge} - me and sweetcorn

Looking pretty happy with myself!

Going Plastic Free For a Week {The Sustainability Challenge} - freshly picked sweetcorn

Freshly picked

Turning Our Back On Single Use Plastic

Definitely easier said than done.

Whilst eating home grown produce — and taking vessels to the shops, to bring products back home in — definitely cut down on our consumption of the single use plastics used for the packaging of food, what about the other things we buy? 

Shampoo and conditioner? Household detergents? Sweets? Biscuits? Once I started really looking into plastic free living, I realised just how hard it would be to have a totally zero plastic lifestyle.

Granted, you can buy some things loose and take your own container to put your goods in, but with things like shampoo, I think the best way at the moment is to buy larger sizes.

Bulk buying means less waste and — whilst that’s not a long term solution — it’s the best I can come up with at the moment.

Going Plastic Free For a Week {The Sustainability Challenge} - Bean picking

Bertie Bean Picking

Going Plastic Free For a Week {The Sustainability Challenge} - pumpkins

The pumpkins are nearly ready for our annual Halloween party!

Going Plastic Free For a Week {The Sustainability Challenge} - learning from their dad

Learning from the master (sort of)

So what have we learnt from the Howdens Sustainability Challenge?

I think the biggest eye-opener for me was the sad realisation that it would be almost impossible for my family to live our current lifestyle, totally plastic free.

We love the odd packet of crisps or chocolate bar — and buy packets of rice, pasta and cereal — and with the best will in the world I’m sure if we could find a non-plastic wrapped alternative, they’d either be super expensive or not quite right.

Whist we could definitely make small changes here and there — which eventually could add up to a big change — going totally plastic free would be pretty hard, as things stand at the moment.

But — weirdly — by choosing the ‘zero plastic’ option, I noticed that we also met the other two parts of Howdens’ challenge, without even really trying!

We didn’t buy any bottled water during the week of the sustainability challenge. Plus, as we didn’t purchase anything in a plastic wrapper, I didn’t buy any paper towels, so it naturally eliminated that too.

We used the composter on the allotment more regularly and generally ‘reduced our kitchen waste’ quite considerably.

With the food we harvested from our allotment, we made big batches of soup and stews — this met the ‘energy saving’ part of the challenge.

Going Plastic Free For a Week {The Sustainability Challenge} - pick your own

Picking and packing

Going Plastic Free For a Week {The Sustainability Challenge} - our family

Four happy plastic free challengers!

We’ve loved taking part in this little exercise. It’s made us look at things with a totally new perspective and we’re definitely going to continue to try new ways to cut down on our consumption of single use plastic.

I guess, the purists among us would say that my three boys and I failed the zero plastic challenge.

Although we didn’t buy any products that either contained — or came in single use plastic — for a whole week, we still used plastic tools and plastic containers.

We still drove our cars and washed our clothes.

I remember reading a study, last year, that said:

‘…up to 30% of plastic pollution came from primary microplastics; of which the biggest contributors (almost two-thirds) were abrasion of synthetic textiles (whilst washing) and abrasion of tyres (whilst driving).’

It’s a sobering thought.

The plastic that is finding it’s way into our oceans — harming the wildlife — and eventually making it’s way back into our own food chain, is a stark reminder that we just can’t go on like this. It’s totally unsustainable for our little planet.

But, little by little, if we make small changes to how we live, the things we buy and the choices we make, we can hopefully start to make a difference.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, after all.

Going Plastic Free For a Week {The Sustainability Challenge} - the next generation

The next generation

Pin ‘7 Days of Plastic Free Living’ for later…

7 Days of Plastic Free Living — The Howdens Sustainability Challenge

Thanks so much to the lovely folk at Howdens for asking us to take part in The Sustainability Challenge.

For more information on sustainable living pop and have a look at their website. There are more tips and tricks; plus news on how they’re working hard to make their own business as green and sustainable as possible.

This is a collaborative post but all thoughts, words and images — as ever — are entirely my own.

Caro Davies

Caro Davies art directed fashion and interiors before leaving the world of design to pursue a career in social media. She can now be found chasing the light — and two small twin boys.

Find me on: Web | Twitter | Facebook

6 Comments

  1. Lizzie
    22nd September 2018 / 9:18 am

    This is an excellent and very interestung post . Mum and I keep doing little beach cleans on different beaches on the island and I just keep thinking about the bigger picture. But like you said little by little 🤞. Lots of love to you all x x x

    • 22nd September 2018 / 2:23 pm

      Thanks so much Lizzie! It was SUCH an eye opener. Once you commit, and make a start, it’s like unravelling a ball of wool. It’s never-ending. There are just more and more and more things to think about.

      I guess, eventually, if enough consumers make a fuss about it, there will be a change. But until that happens, I think the only thing we can do is make little changes. Thanks for your lovely message :) xxxx

  2. 3rd October 2018 / 2:29 pm

    Oh my goodness, Caro. Wasn’t it so hard to do? And once you start looking around, plastic is every-bloody-where. It really opened our eyes. We made changes during our week and we’re continuing to make even more but my god, there’s so much to be done. I ADORE your allotment photos. The boys are really growing up.

    • 10th October 2018 / 9:56 am

      It was SO hard. And made me feel depressed, if I’m honest. I know that we can try to do our bit — and every little helps — but it feels like a drop in the ocean (if you pardon the pun). It’s going to take a LOT more than a couple of families making a few changes… the supermarkets really, really need to step up and take some responsibility.

      And thank you. They ARE growing up!! WAY too fast!!! xx

  3. 7th October 2018 / 10:21 pm

    This is such an interesting post. When I think of plastic free, like you I think of the fruit containers etc, in the fresh aisles. But in reality, mostly everything is in some form of plastic these days and it would be so hard/expensive to change that! Great post lovely (and beautifully written as always). xx

    • 10th October 2018 / 9:48 am

      Ohh Lisa — it’s really awful. Once you start thinking about it too carefully, it’s absolutely terrifying. Single use plastics are such a horrendous blot on the earth. I don’t know where it’s going to end, to be honest. Something has to give — let’s home manufacturers and consumers start making a change soon xx

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