Plastic-free July: Day 29

Kake mentioned finding it hard to find plastic-free soap packaging apart from Lush soaps, and this surprised me. Of course, I don’t know where I’d find them in Croydon, but it feels to me as though there’s quite a few places worth trying in Oxford (and some of these solutions might apply more generally). This is going to have to be a bit of ‘armchair shopping’ (with no photo!) as I haven’t had time to get out much recently because of work, but let’s see what I can find.

There’s a gifty shop in the Covered Market that does French soaps (i.e. this kind of thing, though I don’t think it’s actually that brand). There’s probably quite a few other gifty shops that do this kind of thing, but I can’t think of any offhand (suggestions welcome in the comments!) but generally I reckon the more gift-like a soap is the more likely it is to be packaged in paper, fabric, etc. On the other hand, it’s more likely to be expensive, too. Indigo on Cowley Road does gifty/Fairtrade stuff, and from their website it looks like they sell One Village soaps (as well as some really fancy stuff wrapped in fabric).

Then there’s Boswell’s department store which does Bomb Cosmetics (quite similar to Lush, and they sound fairly green and ethical even if they don’t shout about it quite as much as Lush do). Their soaps are very pretty, and helped persuade my 3yo to wash her hands, but otherwise I don’t think they’re quite as nice to use (smell or feel) as Lush’s soaps. NB Boswell’s is brilliant and I really should remember to use their pharmacy instead of Boots, so I can support a local store (and go somewhere that actually sells pharmacy stuff without making me fight through a cloud of perfume to get there).

The Fair Trade shops (Fairtrade at St Michael’s in the town centre, Windmill Shop in Headington) stock Dr Bronner’s Magic Soaps (e.g. which are packaged in paper. I do like the Dr Bronner stuff, especially the Baby Mild (which is really gentle and more or less fragrance-free) and the Almond one which smells marvellously of marzipan (though I accept that’s not to everybody’s taste!), but I actually prefer their liquid soap, which comes in — guess what — plastic bottles. On the other hand you can buy it in GIANT bottles, which is at least probably less packaging-per-unit-of-soap than the smaller bottles…?

I’m also pretty sure Holland and Barrett (several branches in Oxford) do some paper-wrapped organic soaps, but I haven’t been in there recently and it’s hard to tell from the website whether packaging really paper/cardboard or plasticky stuff; similarly for Uhuru on the Cowley Road, except that they don’t even seem to have a website where I can check.

Can anybody think of any other places to get soap with plastic-free packaging in Oxford?


Plastic-free July: Day 23

I hadn’t thought of clothes as a plastic danger-zone, but the other day I ordered some pants from eBay for my daughter (we’re running short of pants which fit her, and I knew I wasn’t going to have a chance to get to the shops any time over the next few days). Online shopping does seem to be a bit of a blind spot for me, as the packaging isn’t so obvious! I went for eBay rather than any of the high street shops because a) I could get them cheaper, and b) I could look for specific colours/characters which might not be currently fashionable (rather than being limited to Peppa Pig, Frozen, Spiderman, and Pirates). They all arrived today (I didn’t mean to order two identical sets — they didn’t look the same in the pictures — but hey ho, if she likes them she’ll have two lots) and you can see how plastic-wrapped they are:

One set is bizarrely wrapped in clingfilm over cardboard, presumably some kind of home-made packaging; the other is in standard shop packaging for pants (plastic bag with tiny hanger attached); both were posted in plastic postbags (and sadly not the biodegradable ones mentioned in my previous post).

While the plastic packaging for postage was an unnecessary extra, I’m not sure how I’d buy new pants for my daughter in shops without any plastic packaging. (Pants for grown-ups are sometimes sold singly on hangers, but those are the sort I can’t afford to buy! Also, I’m guessing the hangers are single-use…) Second-hand toddler pants are hard to come by, for obvious reasons, though Freegle would probably be worth a try. Does anybody know of anywhere that sells pants in toddler sizes without plastic packaging? Bonus points if they’re Disney-free as well!

Plastic-free July: Day 19

I don’t have to come up with a pun for today’s title because the nice folks at Onya have done it for me. :-) I learned about Onya Weigh bags from a post by Kake about doing plastic-free July in Croydon (do read the rest of her posts — she writes really well and interestingly, and she is doing PFJ much more consistently than I am!) and I thought they were such a good idea I went ahead and ordered some. I’ve since discovered that I could have bought them from Indigo on the Cowley Road: this is frustrating in one way (I did look on their suppliers list, but their search UI is slightly confusing in a couple of ways[*] so I missed it) but great news in another way, as it means others in Oxford can buy Onya bags without having to order online.

I hadn’t actually given the issue of packaging much thought when I ordered, but fortunately Onya had thought about it: my bags arrived in a plastic envelope which was a) reusable and b) apparently biodegradable. I know that’s not quite as good as plastic-free packaging, but it’s a lot better than most online businesses manage, and certainly better than the ubiquitous jiffy bag (paper sufficiently welded to its bubble-wrap that both are more or less impossible to recycle — though possible to reuse, in various rather contrived ways beyond the obvious one).

Anyway, today I used my Onya Weigh bags for the first time, and I’m pleased to report that they were really easy to use — not that I actually expected it to be difficult to put vegetables in a net bag instead of a plastic bag! The net bags squash up into a really tiny bag on a carabiner clip (which I clipped on to my belt while going round the Co-op so I could get to my bags easily), it’s easy to get them out, and they feel nice and soft (though may not feel so soft after lots of washes). The checkout staff didn’t even comment on them (to my slight disappointment!), just weighed the veg as normal. The only difficulty is the same as that for most reusable packaging, which is remembering to take it with you when shopping.

So here’s some of my shopping in its Onya Weigh bags, alongside the tiny bag for storing them in:

It’s funny how much difference a sensation can make: the feeling of “oh, these look/feel nicer than plastic” made me momentarily happier about my shopping. So even if it only has a drop-in-the-ocean positive effect on plastic usage, it also has a tiny positive effect on my state of mind, and at the moment those really aren’t to be sniffed at.

Onya do lots of other interesting reusable alternatives to disposable plastic carriers/storage/etc; it’s worth having a look through their site (though perhaps bearing in mind that buying more stuff is not always the best solution!). Other places in Oxford which are listed as Onya stockists are The Windmill (Headington Fairtrade shop) and Fair Trade at St Michael’s in central Oxford (though I can’t guarantee either of them sell the Onya Weigh bags).

[*] In brief: it doesn’t make it very obvious that you can only search by first half of postcode, and it doesn’t make it at all obvious when your search returns no results (as it just gives you all results, but the first is coincidentally plausibly near enough to Oxford for it to be returning the nearest location). Yes, I have emailed Onya about this…

Plastic-free July: Day 17

I’ve failed to post anything for a few days because I’ve been really busy at work, preparing for giving some training/presentations as part of the week-long Digital Humanities Summer School. Being busy has, unsurprisingly, meant I’ve been less good at staying plastic-free: I’ve ended up with plastic-packed sandwiches and snacks bought (and eaten) in haste because I haven’t had time to prepare my own in advance; I haven’t always had time to make the journey to the shops that sell the plastic-free alternative to something I need to buy; that sort of thing.

Part of the point (for me) of this month has been to look for changes I can make to my shopping habits, and if things become habitual, it’s more likely that I’ll stick to them even when things are busy. In the meantime, I’m doing what I can.

Anyway, today I noticed the water which was provided by the venue (Wolfson College, Oxford) in one of the seminar rooms:

A choice between single-use plastic cups and reusable glasses! Of course, I chose the glass; but I genuinely don’t know why they do this: if they can provide reusable glasses at all, why not just do that? I guess there aren’t enough to go round, so they provide glasses only for speakers/trainers, and plastic cups for delegates/students? Not sure.

On the other hand, this time the conference freebie was a lovely shiny reusable water bottle:

Mind you, the organisers of the summer school did a fantastic job overall, so it’s not probably not surprising that they picked a nice conference gift as well! :-)

Plastic-free July: Day 10

Today was the day of Oxford University’s ICTF Conference, a one-day event for all IT staff across the University. It’s always a fantastic day, full of useful and interesting talks as well as being a brilliant networking opportunity, and I’m really grateful to all the people who organise it.

In general, though, IT-related conferences are often (in my experience) a nightmare for single-use plastics because of the tradition of the ‘conference goody bag’ and the general sea of freebies being given away by vendors: cheap disposable pens, ‘stress balls’ and other desk toys, keyrings, and all sorts of other stuff which basically exists solely for marketing purposes, to shoehorn the vendor’s logo into your life. Sure, lots of these things aren’t technically “single-use”, but even if they’re beautifully made and will last forever, how many of us really need another keyring?

This year I didn’t go out of my way to pick up any freebies, not even the pens which I always tell myself are ‘useful’ (I keep meaning to buy myself a decent refillable biro, and to be honest I probably won’t run out of disposables any time in the next 5 years anyway), but I did claim my conference bag (a sturdy-looking rucksack), so here’s what was in it:

  • Solar charger for mobiles, tablets, etc.
  • Plastic bottle of water
  • Notebook
  • Sample ‘for Dummies’ book
  • Plain disposable biro
  • Fancy disposable biro
  • Box of Smarties
  • Small square of chocolate

So only 3 of the 8 items on there are single-use plastic (of course there are other issues with electronic gadgets, but this is a single-issue challenge we’re doing here!): in conference-goody-bag terms that’s a pretty good hit rate. And while the plastic bottle is intended to be ‘single-use’, it won’t be for me; they don’t last forever, but I do reuse them until they actually fall apart (or until I lose them).

Then the evening social event after the conference was a boat trip, and I’m afraid I didn’t take a) my own cutlery for the food, to use instead of the disposable plastic knives and forks, or b) my keep-cup, to use instead of the plastic ‘glasses’ at the bar (to be fair I could have stuck to beer in glass bottles and/or soft drinks in cans, but someone bought me a G&T…). At the end of the night there were bins full of plastic glasses and cutlery; and while I don’t make a habit of going on boat trips, we were just one of the probably-thousands of trips that the boat hire company Salters Steamers will run this summer.

Once again, my individual choice (or lack of choice) isn’t going to make a big difference here. Though, plastic-related considerations aside, I probably should have skipped the G&T. ;-)

Plastic-free July: Day 9

Today I went for lunch in the café at Oxford University’s Zoology department, thanks to a friend with connections there (OK, I admit it, I have a silly ambition to eat at every college and department in the University; no, I’m not doing it alphabetically, and still have lots to go!).

It was a hot day and I headed straight for the salad bar, only to find that it made single-use plastic unavoidable: the three available sizes/prices of salad could only be measured by putting the salad in the plastic tubs provided (hard to see from the terrible photo, sorry, but the tubs stuck to the top of the display unit illustrate which size corresponds to which price, and there are no reusable-crockery alternatives).

If it had actually been my department or somewhere I was likely to go again, I might have asked whether there was another way to measure the salads, or whether they could consider using ‘real’ plates/bowls of different sizes instead (the Saïd Business School’s café manages this for their salad bar). As I was just a guest I decided to pick my battles and went for the hot meal, served on a real plate, instead. But I might get in touch with our University-wide Green Impact team and see what they can do!

Plastic-free July: Day 8

Today I replaced the black cartridge in our colour inkjet printer. The cartridge itself is, of course, a piece of plastic; it comes wrapped in plastic, and then in a cardboard box. I’m afraid I’m not even going to think about what the ink is made of, but I’m guessing it’s not infinitely-renewable unicorn-breath.

Is the cartridge ‘single-use’ plastic? I know you can get printer cartridges refilled, but I’ve read so many people saying it will wreck the printer that I’m afraid I’ve never wanted to risk it. With my previous printer I tried using off-brand cartridges, and the printer died soon after (though of course I don’t know for certain whether that was cause and effect or just coincidence). I don’t know enough about the issues involved in third-party ink/cartridges to go into it in more detail here, but there’s a reasonable short summary on Wikipedia (as well as a bit about the pricing of ink cartridges and the way it effectively encourages people to buy a new printer rather than pay for new cartridges). Basically, though, the current system is a bit of a mess; so it’s encouraging to see that the Restart Project are working on a project to design a less-wasteful inkjet printer. (Do check them out on Twitter at @RestartProject, their feed is full of interesting and thought-provoking stuff.)

More and more I suspect the answer for me is “don’t have a printer”; I’m certainly fed up of it taking up as much space in the house as it does for the rare occasions when we use it. If I need to print things for work (and I rarely do) I can print them there; if I need to print something for personal reasons (and I rarely need to) then to be honest I don’t feel too guilty about printing out the occasional page at work; if I had to print a longer document I could go to Ryman with my file on a USB stick. What do I print at the moment? Packing slips for things I sell on eBay/Amazon; photos of my daughter to send to the relatives who aren’t on Facebook; pictures for my daughter to colour in; very occasionally, job applications (though increasingly these are all online). None of this really sounds like a good case for the waste and expense of owning a printer, does it? Perhaps it’s time to reclaim that space in my life for something less wasteful and more useful.