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BIG PLASTIC COUNT – confession time!

Updated: Feb 11

<< 2024's Big Plastic Count is heading our way - have you signed up yet? If not, here's the link. But be warned: the results of the UK’s biggest survey into the amount and types of plastic we all throw away can be a shock! Climate Action Newcastle members have taken part in previous years; Olwyn Hocking was one of them, and found it a salutary learning experience! Please add comments with your own tips to cut down on throwaway plastic. >>

After more than 20 years of climate activism, I thought the Big Plastic Count might be quite an enjoyable experience! After all, I’d worked hard on my carbon footprint:

· many step-by-step reductions of what went into the landfill bin

· next step was to reduce what went into the recycling bin

· started enjoying the idea that I was at the reuse and reject stages.

Or so I thought!

The week-long monitoring was really simple. A single A4 tally sheet listed waste by category. Each time an item went in the recycling bin, we ticked that category. After seven days, we added it up and submitted to the national database.

Instantly – our household received chilling feedback.

· Our week-long figures were projected to our annual waste figures

· This was scaled up to the mountain of plastic that would be produced, if everyone matched our total

· We were informed that:

o only 9% would be recycled

o 20% would go to landfill

o 12% would be exported

o 51% would be incinerated

The calculations were based on general stats, so were not necessarily correct for us to the last decimal point. However, the general gist was bad enough!

It sent us back to the drawing board, knowing we MUST DO BETTER! The organisers are say the results to make clear the Government must ALSO do better. They’re calling for:

· Reduce single-use plastic by 50% by 2025 (by switching to reusable packaging)

· Ban dumping our waste on other countries

· Implement an all-in deposit return scheme (something Climate Action Newcastle strongly supports)

Below are my household's results, and the next steps we’re now taking. If you’d like to do the tally, there’s a copy of the form here, and the campaign has created this useful handbook.

CATEGORY (our examples) Total

Fruit, veg, salad (bags, wrappers, nets) 8

Our responses: Reduce exceptions to our “buy loose at the market” approach

Grow more leaves all year round in our hydroponic growers at home

Hard plastic caps, lids (mainly non-dairy milk, sealer) 5

Our responses: Increase visits for refillable oat milk, which we collect in a screw-top glass bottle. My personal treat would be to also find a supplier for refillable non-dairy barista milk.

Pots, tubs and tubes (2 tippex sticks, 1 biro, moisturiser) 4

Our responses: Switched to pencils and sharpener, and investigating refillable skincare (in the meantime, pressure suppliers of favourite brands to introduce refillables)

Black pots, tubs and trays (Quorn, tofu) 3

Our responses: Switch purchases to those with packaging that uses far less plastic (e.g. tofu in a thin inner plastic wrapper in a cardboard container – thank you, Heaton's Honey Tree refill shop!)

Pots, tubs and trays (large yoghurt) 2

Our responses: Reminded us we’d been too busy to use yoghurt maker – switched back, now only need 1 small tub of yog per week

Squeezy tubes (toothpaste, shampoo) 2

Our responses: Not typical - we mainly use solid haircare bars and a glass jar of toothpaste. These were leftovers from holiday emergency purchases (lesson learned - plan better so don't run out and have to buy replacements in plastic containers while away).

Small bottles (dairy milk) 1

Large bottles (dairy milk) 1

Our responses: Used to have milk delivery (reusable glass bottles) but not available for our flat. Will continue to increase our switch from dairy to non-dairy.

Peelable film lids (yoghurt) 1

Our responses: See above

Fruit, veg trays (tomatoes) 1

Our responses: See above

Other hard packaging (food) (mayonnaise) 1

Our responses: Exception, usually use glass pots, will try harder to keep to that!

NB: have started to switch to non-dairy mayo made with cashew nuts

Other soft packaging (food) (bread rolls) 1

Our responses: Emergency exception to usual brown paper bag. Lesson learned - keep more standby non-packaged bread in freezer.

Other soft packaging (non-food) (bubble wrap packaging) 1

Our responses: The dreaded online delivery packaging. We love the way alternatives (e.g. shredded cardboard) are now mainstream, and try to use product selection and feedback to encourage more to go that way. Plus we're continuing our preference for the fun of second-hand shopping – Freegle swaps, charity shops, Gum Tree etc – which also avoid any risk of online deliveries having the nasty surprise of plastic padding.

Perhaps after the self-flagellation, we can celebrate the categories that had zeros! – these included cleaning; toiletries bottles and hard/soft packaging; and toys/stationery/tech packaging. This last was a triumph of second-hand! – we acquired loads of brilliant toys, a playtent, a giant bubble blower and books this way, saving money and meaning NO PACKAGING!

Thank you to the Big Plastic Count campaign organisers: Greenpeace and

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