Resources

The Plastics to Avoid Next Time You’re Shopping

plastics to avoid

Today’s let’s chat plastic and the plastics to avoid next time you are at the supermarket.

Now, I know we are all trying to avoid plastic as best we can – and I’m not advocating the use of unnecessary plastic, but let’s have some real talk first before moving on to the plastics to avoid. Going 100% plastic-free isn’t something I have been able to achieve, or get close to.

It’s certainly a work in progress, however, the plastic-free movement is tied in to a whole lot of privilege (money, time, access to shops, health, capacity, and ability) that currently, it’s unlikely to become a realistic endpoint any time soon for many, including myself. Do I feel guilty about this? No, I certainly don’t feel guilty for not being able to be plastic-free (and you shouldn’t either).

It’s also important to not lose sight of the fact that plastic waste occurs further upstream before “plastic-free” items get to us. This excellent article points out that bulk shops themselves aren’t plastic-free. Meanwhile, someone I know who makes plastic-free/packaging-free products confided in me that they can’t source the raw materials plastic-free. Plastic waste is still produced from our actions, even if we don’t physically have to deal with that waste.

So plastics come in to our life, whether we like it or not, and whether we see them or not.

One thing we can do is make better choices about the types of plastic that come in to our lives. One of those is to try and avoid certain types of plastic.

Plastics to Avoid

According to research from the University of Oxford, of the plastic waste produced between 1950 and 2015, only 9% of that was recycled.

In England, the government aims to recycle 50% of waste by 2020, rising to 75% by 2035. Scotland has a target to recycle 70% of waste by 2025, as does Wales. Northern Ireland has a proposal that 60% of waste is recycled by 2020.

Whilst the array of numbers on plastic can be complex and vary from local authority area to local authority area, one of the best ways to help ensure that your plastic is actually recycled is to understand a bit more about the different types of plastic.

This is a really useful table from The University of Oxford about different types of plastic, and their recyclability. Every local authority area is different in what they will accept for recycling so treat this as a more general guide.

plastics to avoid
Source

Remember, to increase the chance of an item being recycled, make sure it’s thoroughly washed – without any food on it.

Now that we know what is and what isn’t recyclable it’s important to bear in mind that just because something is recyclable doesn’t mean that it’s economically viable to recycle. Say what? Put simply, some plastics aren’t worth the cost of recycling them.

It’s easy to forget that recycling is a global industry when we’re putting our recycling bins out on the kerb on bin day. I think a lot of us see recycling as a public service, when actually it’s a huge multi-billion pound global industry. Yep, an industry, which like any industry makes decisions based on cost-effectiveness.

Recycling companies sell recycled plastic pellets on to manufacturers as a raw material and each different type of plastic, and crucially the different colour of the pellets commands a different value.

I’ve put together a graphic indicating the maximum price per tonne recycling companies can currently (as of September 2019) earn for different types of plastic:

Source

As you can see, different plastics are worth different amounts – clear, white and light blue plastics (both HDPE and PET plastics) are worth considerably more than coloured plastics, or composite plastics.

The reason for this variation in price is that clear, white and light blue coloured plastics can be recycled and used to make a variety of different products. It’s easy to add pigment to them to make them different colours if required by manufacturers, giving these types of plastics lots of flexibility in usage.

Coloured plastics on the other hand, when recycled, turn a murky brown colour that isn’t particularly desirable to manufacturers as the plastics can only be made in the dark murky brown shade or darker – you can’t go lighter. As such, whilst you can put these items in the recycling bin for recycling, what you won’t see is that more than likely, further down the recycling chain, these green or red PET plastic bottles will get sifted out at a recycling centre and sent to landfill.

Takeaways on Plastics to Avoid

There’s a lot of information here, but the main takeways on the type of plastics to avoid are avoid coloured PET – the plastic most commonly used for soft drinks, bottled water, and cooking oil. Clear ones are worth money to recyclers, but coloured ones are unlikely to be recycled due to their low value.

When choosing cleaning products and things like shampoos, and other beauty products which are commonly housed in HDPE bottles, choose products in clear bottle preferably, and if not then white bottles. The clear bottles especially are worth nearly four times as much money to recyclers than the ones in coloured bottles – and the plastic product yielding the most money to recyclers – so are most likely to be recycled.

Manufacturers of eco products who use coloured plastic in their packaging know that this reduces the likelihood of the products being recycled – treat this as a form of greenwashing. If you know of a company doing this email them, tweet them or whatever your preferred form of communication is and let them know that you’re on to them, and ask them why they aren’t using clear plastic.

Of course, plastics can only be recycled a certain number of times before it isn’t viable to recycle them anymore, whatever the colour of them, but let’s help increase our shockingly low recycling rates by demanding that manufacturers make better packaging choices based on recycling values.

ps: found this article useful? You can buy me a coffee. ;)

Life & Style

How to Support Your Local Environmental Charity

how-to-support-your-local-environmental-charity

I don’t talk a lot about my day job very often on here, so you may be surprised to learn that I have spent two-thirds of my working life – a combined total of 11 years – working for different environmental charities. I’ve worked for three in total, and currently, work for a local climate change charity – helping the local community take action on climate change.

In each of the charities I have worked for, whilst each has been different in what they do, each charity has faced the same issues so I thought it would be really useful to all environmental charities across the land to put together a post on how we as individuals can best support the important environmental work that they do. So here’s a non-exhaustive list of ideas on how to support your local environmental charity.

I’m not for a second suggesting that you do every single thing here, but even taking one or two points on board where and if you can, would be beyond useful to your local environmental charity.

How to support your local environmental charity

1. Follow them on social media / sign up for their newsletter

I’ve lost count of the number of times over the years that I’ve been to a community event on behalf of the charity that I work/worked for, to be told by people “oh, I didn’t know you did that”.

It can be hard for small charities to get the word out about all the great things they are doing. Whilst large charities do have big budgets for advertising campaigns, your little local environmental charity probably doesn’t, so by following them on social media or signing up for their newsletter, you’ll get all the news at no additional cost to the charity.

2. Like and share their social media posts/events with your friends and family

Facebook is a huge pain for charities. You spend a lot of time building up your followers, and then Facebook only shows your post to a small percentage of your followers. In order to show your post to more of your hard-earned followers, Facebook wants money and lots of it. Whilst this is practical on the odd occasion, it’s not practical for the charity to pay to boost every post or event or class.

Liking posts on Facebook means these posts often show up in your friends feeds, and sharing posts helps widen the reach of the post without the need for the charity to spend funds on Facebook boosted posts that could be used elsewhere to support the charity, rather than lining Mark Zuckerberg’s already deep pockets.

3. Go along to their events and classes

Many environmental charities run events and classes. From upcycling courses, sewing classes, growing your own vegetable classes and workshops, cycling lessons, bike maintenance workshops, waste reduction workshops, and more, environmental charities can offer a wide range of services depending on the skills of their staff, their volunteers, or their current funding. Many of these courses or events are free or offered at heavily subsidised rates, and some even run pay what you want courses for people on limited incomes.

If they are running a course or an event that you are interested in then do try and pop along. The more people that take part, the more people in the community learn useful skills, building community resilience, and the more likely the charity is to get future funding to run similar events and classes. This really is a key way on how to support your local environmental charity.

4. Take advantage of their services

You know the saying, use it or lose it. This applies only too well to environmental charities. If your local charity runs a service that you are interested in then take advantage of it.

For example, if you are interested in DIY and your local charity runs a tool library, join it and make use of their inventory. If you are keen to do more walking, and the charity offers led walks, join in. If you are interested in gardening or growing your own and your local charity runs a community garden, get involved! If people don’t take part, then the charity is unlikely to be able to keep offering those services.

supporting local environmental charity

5. Fill in their evaluation/survey forms

From someone that works for an environmental charity, believe me when I say if we could get away without asking people to fill in evaluation forms or surveys then we would. I have personally found that in some cases they can be huge barriers to participation when all we want is for as many people as possible to take part in our environmental initiatives.

However, as most environmental charities rely on external funding to be able to carry out their work, then the external funders want proof that their money is making positive change. So when someone asks you to fill in a form they’re not being nosey, they’re not checking up on you, it’s not a competition to see how well you’re doing, it’s simply collecting data which is anonymised and then sent to the funder.

If the charity sends you a follow-up survey, please, for the love of all that is pure and holy, fill it in. These can be crucial for the charity in gaining further funding to continue doing what they are doing.

6. Donate to them

If you go on to your local charity’s website, you’re likely to see a “donate” button somewhere on their website. Donations are so important to charities – donations are unrestricted funds that can be used in any way to support the charity. Whilst charities often get grant funding, grants are often restricted funds that can only be used for specific purposes, and some grants cannot be used to support the charity’s core running costs, such as rent or utility bills. Donations can be a real lifeline for small charities.

Money isn’t the only way you can donate to your local charity. If you have any environmental books that you’re not using anymore, then the charity might take them as part of a community lending library. If they have a tool library, then they will probably take donations of old tools. They may take donations of sewing equipment you no longer need. Basically, if you are looking to pass something on that may be of use, then get in touch with your local charity to see if it’s something they can utilise.

7. Volunteer for them

If you have the time and capacity, then consider volunteering for your local environmental charity.

It could be on a practical basis, depending on your skills – for example, helping out in the community garden, using sewing skills to teach others, using your cycling skills to take out a group of people on a bike ride, using your botany skills to take people out on a foraging walk, the list is endless. If you have a particular skill then get in touch to see if they can utilise it.

You don’t have the particular skills the charity is looking for, then there loads of ways to get involved. From helping out with admin, marketing, social media, blog posts, photography at events, helping out at events, most charities rely on volunteers giving up a little bit of time to help support their activities. This help can often be home-based if you don’t have the time to help in standard office hours, or have limited accessibility. In all the charities I have worked for it, I don’t think we have ever turned down someone looking to help out.

If you’re looking for a more specific or formal volunteering arrangement, then sites like Environment Job list a range of volunteering opportunities from across the UK – e.g. currently the group Flight Free are looking for a home-based campaign intern to help support their work in encouraging people to fly less for non-essential trips.

That’s my list of ideas on how to support your local environmental charity, but as always, if you have any more, then do pop them in the comments below.

PS: here’s a guide I wrote on how to get an environmental job if anyone is interested in a career change, or is still in education.