Little wins and smaller bins

At the start of Plastic Free July, we made a commitment to just try our best and celebrate the little wins. We knew that there would continue to be single-use-plastics in our lives – the stuff is so invidious – but we also knew that we could use less of it. So far, just over halfway through the month, we’ve had to empty our little plastics bin twice, decanting as much as possible into the recycling. And while that could feel dispiriting, almost all of it is either plastics we already had in the house, or the result of Ilse’s birthday party last weekend.

We actually bought very little single-use plastic for Ilse’s party. She was very keen on having ice cream to cool everyone down after a trip to the park, and as there’s no ice-cream stand near our house I went for the biggest, sturdiest tub I could find, with a view to reusing it afterwards. She also wanted soft, sesame-topped burger buns rather than the crustier rolls we usually buy, and they only came in plastic. Oh, and the butter for her cake came in plastic butter ‘paper’. Perfect? No. But not bad for an kid’s birthday party. In truth, the majority of plastic came with her gifts, and she was delighted to receive such thoughtful, personal presents. All in all, I think it was a success.

Other than that, I’ve long been the sort of person who cuts open tubes of toothpaste and bottles of moisturiser to get the very last bit out, and that packaging has gone into our bin. Bags of rice, packets of pasta… it’s amazing how quickly it all adds up when you start paying attention. However, John has had absolutely no trouble at all doing all our greengrocer, butcher, bakery and local shopping plastic free. For my part, our supermarket shopping looks very much like this:


So while we have emptied our plastics bin twice (decanting as much as possible into recycling), it is beginning to slow down. So much so, in fact, that we’ve been able to do a little bin reshuffle to reflect our aims.

I never thought I’d post a picture of our household bins online, but nor did I think I’d be declaring ice-cream purchases, so there you go. Allow me to introduce our little bins, from left to right. When we bought the blue bins at IKEA, many years ago, we’d already worked out that the smaller the bin the less rubbish you were likely to produce. Not only is it inconvenient to have to empty the bin more regularly, but it also makes me cringe. The bin on the left was our original rubbish bin, and its partner our compost caddy, until I had an epiphany and swapped them around. As a result, for many years we’ve had a landfill bin that takes a supermarket carrier bag, and tried to empty it just once a week, with varying levels of success. The wicker bin used to be a plastic-bag-lined bin in our bathroom, until it became our recycling bin (in which to carry things out to the garage and sort them into the council crates). The little Tanzanian basket on the right is our bathroom bin now.

Why, you might wonder, am I writing about our bins online? Lots of reasons, really. For a start, we’ve tried to align size with desirability. We’re most comfortable filling the biggest bin with old flowers and peelings, which gets carried to the end of the garden and composted. Next up is recycling, although we are well aware recycling isn’t really the solution. The smallest of the downstairs bins is for plastic – and, so far, none of these bins needs lining with even a reused bag. And now we’ve reached the point where our little bathroom bin is the recipient of only compostable stuff, so we’re lining it with newspaper and adding it to the compost heap.

The only rubbish that isn’t allowed for here is food waste. We genuinely do waste very little food – we’ve been working on that for years – but there are still some types of rubbish that I wouldn’t put in any of our bins. Mostly, to be honest, it’s old chicken bones, boiled up for stock after a roast. They’ll attract rats if I add them to the compost, and make a wet and smelly mess in our unlined wicker landfill bin. For now, I’ve lined a funny little drawer in the bottom of our freezer with newspaper, and the plan is to wait until it’s full, then put the frozen parcel out with the landfill on bin day. When we started Plastic Free July, none of us thought we’d be storing our waste in the freezer, but my wonderful family have just gone with it, as usual.

There have been a few unexpected benefits of our plastic-free endeavours. Ilse, Seb, Fliss and I have rekindled our interest in baking, making all sorts of bread (me) and cakes (the children). Afternoon tea has hit an all-time high in our house.

Bartenders feel inclined to top up my reusable cup with a little extra, once I’ve explained why I don’t want a plastic cup to take outside into these balmy evenings. I’ve also visited shops and parts of the supermarket I never went near before. The woman on the deli counter knows me now, and is delighted by how many of us are bringing our own containers in for cheese, olives and the like. The fishmonger helped me choose some absolutely delicious fish, which I later realised was not the most sustainable breed, but we live and learn, and we chose something different the next time. And it’s so nice to fill the fridge with food already decanted into your own containers, and not have to hunt down the scissors every time you make a meal.

With the end of term in sight, and summer trips on the horizon, we’re thinking ahead but I’m confident that we can do a pretty good job, even when we’re living out of our boot. No doubt there will be some plastic involved, but it’ll be less than it would have been ordinarily, and I’m happy with that for now. If I think about all our little wins, and all the other people around the globe similarly turning down one piece of plastic at a time, they begin to feel quite substantial. So at this point, just over halfway through the month, I’d say we’re winning, on balance. And this is just the start.


PS – Have you been taking part – formally or informally – in Plastic Free July? Do you have any wins you’d like to celebrate? I’d also love to hear about any tips you might have for plastic-free road trips…

5 thoughts on “Little wins and smaller bins”

  1. Inspiring post. I always work for improvement, not perfection, as the latter can stop me from trying. I’m going to follow your example of swapping our bins to the size I aspire to use. Years ago, when our garbage service offered a big green waste bin, I downsized to the smallest landfill bin. I am so happy we did, as our waste went down accordingly. I just took a trip by air and did not do well on the plastic-free meter. I brought a water bottle on the plane, but nothing for a hot drink and thus used a disposable cup. Snacks tended to be in single-use packets too. I will have to rethink my plastic-free travel plans in the future!

    1. It would be so easy to feel defeated by this challenge, as unecessary plastic really is everywhere. I wouldn’t have thought to take a drink for hot drinks on a trip either (before doing Plastic Free July). I’m very chuffed that you’re going to swap your bins! You sound as though you’ve had a good experience of doing so before. X

  2. It is really great to see so many people here being more aware of plastic usage. We’ve been avoiding plastic for years – not always successfully and we are by no means plastic free and could do far better. We used to pay £200/per year for not for profit small company to take all the recyclable material that the council does not take but unfortunately, it was not viable any longer because some of the material could only be recycled and repurposed abroad, which is costly. It was great because we were able to literally recycle everything, even clingfilm (which we have long since replaced with beeswax wrappers). It is the hidden/not spoken about plastics that are difficult to avoid (tea bags, sanitary towels etc) but once aware of the problem it is easy or at least easier. It can be a pain in the back because the solutions are not usually as practical! I have to say, recycling/avoiding waste is well behind other European countries here (I grew up in Switzerland). In Switzerland for example, households are charged for each and every bin bag put out for collection and it is not cheap but it sure helps to reduce waste. We’ve just returned from Denmark, where we returned all glass/cans/bottles to the shops and got money for it, too. Anyway, mustn’t go on and things are improving here rapidly so there is hope. Thanks for an interesting post, I really enjoyed reading about your experience. xx

    1. I totally agree with you about how great it is that awareness is on the rise. It really does feel as those there’s a significant shift in public attitudes towards unecessary plastic waste at the moment (thanks in no small part to Blue Planet II). We could learn a lot from established models in other European countries. I remember my family having to pay for their waste – and sort it very carefully – in Italy, too. It is heartening to speak to/ hear from so many people who are trying to do their bit. It all helps! X

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