Words: Daisy Muller. Images: Cover – The Plastic issue cover, National Geographic, 2018. And various.
Plastic’s bad, yadda, yadda, yadda. I know, you’ve heard it all before. But this issue is close to my heart, and it’s a problem in Paris – and everywhere else in the world. So I’ll say it again: Plastic. Does. Not. Decompose. That means every bit of plastic we use stays on Earth (or ends up in the ocean). So if you use 20 bottles of water a month, that heap of bottles will stay with us forever, adding to the zillions of other people’s heaps of plastic bottles, which is how you end up with landfills the size of islands like Thilafushi in the Maldives or the Great Pacific garbage ‘patch’ that’s now three times the size of France.
Do we really need to be using this much plastic (and lining the pockets of huge corporations – yes, I mean you, Coca-Cola, among others). How many plastic containers do you use just the once and throw away? It’s the unnecessary waste that gets me. So I decided to do do five super-easy things that make a bit more sense, that don’t take a lot of effort to do every day, and that actually save me money.
- Bathroom plastics blow-out. Cost: you actually save cash here.
It really doesn’t have to be hard. Just replace your plastic bottles of shower gel and hand soap with solid soap bars, and voilà! You’ll have saved two bottles of plastic every month. Solid soap is also cheaper, lasts longer, and is better for the environment and the body, because liquid soap can contain harmful chemicals.
That’s already at least a square metre you’ve spared on a landfill that we don’t have to live with. If everyone did this in Paris alone, then we’d save over two million square metres of landfill. So swap that chemically-induced lather for a softer product (and see what I mean in this easy-to-understand blog post at Cleancult).
2. A tote in every bag. Cost: zilch.
Put your hand up if you also have tens of tote bags piling up next to that heap of plastic bags in the cupboard under the kitchen sink?
I put my tote bags in one big tote bag and hang them on the back of my kitchen door. However, after my boyfriend grumbled about no longer being able to open the door properly because of the growing mass of tote bags, I decided to: USE THEM. I put one in every handbag I owned so that I would never have to ask for a plastic or paper bag at the supermarket or a shop again – because how many times have you forgotten to take a bag with you on a last-minute food shop on your way home from work?
It’s easy, tote bags are still in, you’re doing your bit for the environment, and you’re freeing up loads of space under that kitchen sink. Marie Kondō would certainly be proud.
3. Buy package-free foods. Cost: less than your average shopping basket.
I hate going to the supermarket, mainly because of the queues, but also because all I see is processed food wrapped in tons of colourful plastics screaming ‘eat me!’ and ‘buy me!’. Now, I only go to the supermarket when I really need to, and in Paris, we are blessed with greengrocers and markets in every neighbourhood – so there really is no excuse for buying fruit or veg in a plastic container.
Grab your tote bag and head to your greengrocer’s or market. It doesn’t have to cost more. There are upmarket grocers like Terroirs d’Avenir, Biocoop, La Vie Claire, Les Robinsons, Day by Day, Causses, Negozio Leggero and Kilogramme, among others, but you also have more reasonably priced places like Au Bout du Champs and Zingham, as well as markets like Aligre, Barbès, Ornano, Place des Fêtes, and Berthier, which are among the best-priced places to stock up on fresh produce.
Also, to make it easier to cook with that produce, put together a pantry of key items that will make any dish interesting and satisfying like ready-to-use pesto, pepper, spices, onions and garlic, chia and pumpkin seeds (they really do add a crunch to the most boring of salads), virgin olive oil, and vinegar (check out the WUP spice-up-your-pantry list if you don’t have time to think about it – coming soon).
4. The water bottle that will be your new best friend. Cost: you’ll start saving after your third month.
Yes, water bottles cost more than 5 euros – usually around 20 euros for a half-litre water bottle by Italian brand 24 Bottles, which I really like because they look nice, are light-weight, are pleasant to drink from and are chemical-free. However, you make the money back very quickly because you won’t be buying bottled water anymore. If your concern is the lime scale in the water, then use a water filter to fill up your bottle – and most work places have water fountains you can use.
I bought my bottle last year and have very rarely bought bottled water since. The trick is remembering to have it on you and to fill it up. When I think about how many plastic bottles I used, without even thinking about it, it must have equated to miles and miles of bottles.
On a roll? Then keep a real cup at your desk too, that you wash out instead of using a disposable plastic or paper cup for tea and coffee. You’ll soon be glowering at others who don’t.
5. Lunch and plastics. Cost: nothing.
When you’re grabbing some lunch or a drink, or you’re having a naughty McDonald’s binge, and you see a plastic cup, plastic cutlery or a straw suddenly appear on that tray or in that take-away bag, then your brain should be sending you ‘Wait!’ signals.
Do you really need the cutlery? You could keep metal cutlery at work, even if you have to wash it in the bathroom using hand soap. And while we’re here, do you really need the bag (now you have your tote in the bottom of your bag)?
Buying lunch everyday from fast-food outlets or takeaway from places like Label Ferme, Jour, Cojean or your favourite bobun place – and goodness knows I did it for years – means buying a plastic container you throw away everyday (just look at the overflowing bins in the parks in summer). So take some time out, and try to have more sit-down lunches with real plates and cutlery or better yet – make your own lunch. And for those of you who don’t have much time to make your lunch, have a look at this WUP three-ingredient recipe list (coming soon).
There are of course, lots of other things we could do to cut down on single-use plastics, but if everyone could stick to these five everyday, it would already make a huge difference. Give it a go and let us know how you get on or if you have questions/doubts/are feeling lazy and need a kick up the a-.
Take it further:
- Watch Al Gore’s Oscar-winning Inconvenient Truth (available on Netflix at time of writing).
- Cyril Dion’s Demain (‘Tomorrow’ in English – it’s in French with subtitles and it’s worth watching if you need your faith in our ability to make a difference to be renewed).
- Take part in a plastic clean-up near you – Google it to find the nearest one to you or organise your own on Facebook.
- Get inspired by following businesses and their founders who are actually living with less plastic like @packagefreeshop and founder Laura Singer @trashisfortossers who works with lots interesting people making a difference in their own way.
- Coming soon: our list of package-free shops and ideas to make doing our bit a little easier.