Friday 14 March 2008

The Recyling Challenge - Early Days

I was recently quite upset to read about a Plastic Soup twice the size of the US floating in the Pacific Ocean. This vast expanse of debris is held in place by swirling underwater currents and stretches from 500 nautical miles off the Californian coast, across the northern Pacific, past Hawaii and almost too Japan. It is believed that there is about 100 million tons of trash in the region.

However, I was inspired by one British woman who is now saying no to plastic packaging. So I've decided to copy her. I am going to see how long I can go without buying anything packaged in a non-recyclable or non-biodegradable container.

This promises to be more difficult that you might think. I am astounded by the amount of packaging UK shops use. Lettuces and cucumbers come in their own plastic bags, as do bananas (even they do have their own thick skin to protect them...). The British lifestyle is surprisingly fast-food. Most items are sold in bite-size chunks, all wrapped up in ubiquitous non-recyclable plastic packaging. It is almost impossible to get a freshly made sandwich - but it's very easy to find one made that morning and all wrapped up.

And whilst it should be relatively easy to not use plastic bags (or to re-use them again and again), and whilst the green grocers down the road will supply non-wrapped fruit and veg, some things will prove difficult. Pasta for instance. Where can you buy pasta not wrapped in plastic? Rice also. Even cereal has a plastic liner inside the box. Looking out for products that are not coated in plastic will, I think, cost a lot as there will be no more shopping at discount supermarkets. Today's challenge was finding cheese without plastic - I failed in finding cheddar, so I ate some very fatty feta that came in a jar.

The actual act of recycling will also be hard. My local council amazingly does not provide a recycling pick-up service, and the local recycling bins only cater for clear and green glass. The recycling plant is a decent walk down the road but has become part of my weekly routine - although the local talk is that it is soon going to be replaced, ironically, by a plastic packaging-loving Sainsburys. My apartment block provides no recycling service either, and the amount of recyclable material that is thrown out by my supposedly young/funky/forward-thinking apartment block is utterly astounding (see picture).

So far, it has been smooth enough sailing, but that wont last long. Difficulties I foresee are days when I grab a drink or something to eat on the train before a night out. Where am I going to put my rubbish? It's hard enough to find a bin near most London tube stops, let alone a recycling bin, and I don't fancy carrying my rubbish around all night till I get home. I've already had to carry around some aluminium Mars-Bar wrapping for a day, but that's a minor problem. Thankfully, the Cambridge Maths Department have just introduced more recycling bins, easing the issue, although I can't eat most of the things they have an offer as they're wrapped up in plastic.

I'm sure the late night kebab will also prove something of an issue, but we'll see how we go. I am quite converted to the Fried Chicken shops in the area anyway, and they have cardboard boxes... Another exception will be when I eat out. I can't do anything about where restaurants get their products, although I'm sure we can make some ethical choices.

The UK situation is different to the Australian one. The ACT was the first government in the world to set a goal of achieving NO WASTE going to landfill. Canberra is lucky enough to have vast open areas for composting - something London certainly doesn't - but its pro-activity is fantastic and hopefully by 2010 it will achieve this goal. state that recycling just one plastic bottle saves enough energy to power a 60W lightbulb for six hours. And as the UK has ridiculously decided to invest in new coal factories, instead of a renewable source such as wind (we are having the "storm of the decade" at the moment), every little bit counts.

Listen to this show here

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