It's time to lose weight on the plastics diet

I am overweight – catastrophically so. I’ve given myself the challenge of losing the excess in just a week. Dangerous? Not when we’re talking about the planet. To celebrate World Oceans Day, I’m going on a plastics diet.

Did you know that the average person generates more than 30kg of plastic waste a year? That’s around 4,500 pieces of plastic annually. What’s more, only 35 per cent of recyclable household plastic actually makes it into our recycling bins, according to the government’s Waste Resources Action Programme (Wrap). And, when it does, only two-thirds of that is exported to be recycled – well, we hope. When Britain’s plastic waste ends up in criminal hands – as Greenpeace’s latest campaign exposed – it’s burnt or dumped. So, if we can’t rely on the recycling system, then it’s up to us to stop using so much.

Only 35 per cent of recyclable household plastic actually makes it into our recycling bins

First, I needed to measure my waste. For a week, I collect my family of three’s plastic trash in two “sin bins” – recyclable and non-recyclable. It comes to 1.3kg, which might not sound much, but plastic is light – that’s 76 plastic strawberry punnets (actually, it’s empty cleaning products, shampoo, a toothbrush and loads of food packaging). Multiply 1.3kg by 52 weeks, and it’s a very naughty 67.6kg per year.

I enlist the help of a “plastic dietitian”, i.e. the free app My Little Plastic Footprint. Facts such as “five per cent of all plastic in daily use is thrown away within 20 minutes” help maintain my resolve. The app calculates your “PMI” (plastic mass index – or how much plastic you’re using), where 100 means you’re morbidly overweight; this, shamefully, is the average Brit’s score. Mine’s 91 – clearly room for improvement.

Helen Bird, Wrap’s plastics expert, tells me that two-thirds of British households’ plastic packaging is from groceries, “so it’s there we can make the greatest inroads.” I sign up to Loop, a zero-waste shopping platform, currently offering 110 different pantry, drink, beauty and home cleaning products to mainland UK, where users pay a deposit to borrow Loop’s containers. But, at £3.50 for 650g of fusilli pasta, it’s pricier than your average. Abel & Cole‘s Club Zero is cheaper, though only offers 35 pantry products. Going zero waste is important, however: Bird explains there aren’t enough trees to provide sufficient cardboard alternatives.

If we can’t rely on the recycling system, then it’s up to us to stop using so much

If Instagram is to be believed – it is, isn’t it? – I could eliminate a significant proportion of “bad” plastic (bags, film, wrapping etc), which very few local authorities collect, by growing veg from scraps. Thus, my kitchen windowsill is currently incubating shot glasses filled with sprouting stumps of spring onions, pak choi and lettuce, thus neatly skipping the seed, soil and packaging stages. Also under observation are sprouting scraps of carrots, potatoes and fennell, though they’ll all need to be planted in soil to actually provide more food.

Digging around the sustainable subscription boxes proved a rich seam for inspiring eco swaps. Authentic House’s June box (from £15.50 for 3-4 items) includes coconut scouring pads. Here’s an eco confession: I can’t abide aged, manky (plastic) sponges, so they’re chucked all-too frequently. And, thanks to Leo’s Box, I discovered Iron & Velvet’s concentrated cleaners; once diluted, a 10ml sachet makes a 250/500ml bottle of oven cleaner/anti-bac surface cleaner/glass cleaner etc. After all, why freight water all over the country? Leo’s Box’s £4 monthly membership fee gives access to, on average, a 40 per cent discount on any chosen product, thus avoiding a pile-up of unwanted eco goods.

Talking of pile-ups, I realise I can switch out my plastic sanitiser bottles with the Bower Collective’s refillable version (£5.95 for 50ml) – its plastic waste calculator will make you want to invest in its refillable cleaning products for the whole household: kitchens, bathrooms, humans.

What’s left is the hard-to-recycle stuff. Terracycle is a godsend for the guilty. I could fill this entire screen by listing all the awkward plastics that Terracycle recycles – around 50 in total, many of them featuring in my own eco crimes list: biscuit/cake/crisp wrappers, contact lens packaging, toys, food pouches, toothbrushes, toothpaste tubes, cosmetics, pens, disposable gloves, coffee pods, Pringles packets. But, if I separate my recycling into all these categories – and I will – I’ll need to make about 15 different drop-offs. “Until these are collected at the roadside, Terracycle is really for the keen greens,” Bird explains. “Most people can’t be bothered.” Who could blame them?

A week on, it’s time for another audit. My bags of plastic waste are significantly lighter, at 0.4kg – meaning I’ve reduced my weight by more than two-thirds. The remaining culprits are mainly plastic packets not covered by Terracycle, and easy-to-recycle food containers. But my purse is lighter, too, and my household budget up by about 50 per cent.

Until the supermarkets and big brands offer refillables and greener packaging, there are tough choices to be made. I also need more time; eliminating plastic can mean relinquishing convenience. This could be seen as a complication of life, but, if reducing plastic consumption is about home-growing, refills and bottle deposits, I prefer to think of it as a return to simpler times.

Shop four of my favourite plastic-free purchases, below:

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