A month of plastic-lite living

In June the Marine Conservation Society encouraged us to take up a “plastic challenge”, asking us to give up single-use plastic for a day, a week or even the whole month. See their website here. This blog post explores the challenge a little further with some solutions to the issues that arose.

My family and I attempted the plastic challenge for the whole month buying only packaged goods in HDPE, PP or some PET plastic that my local curb-side recycling will take! Our five supermarket shops during the month took place at different stores and we pledged not to buy rather than compromise from the very start. The rationale is that consumers can insist on packaging that is widely recycled, then big corporations can be forced to adapt to our (and our planet’s) needs. In addition, in preparation is the end of May, we replaced our plastic shopping bags with jute (natural materials) and our own paper grocery bags for loose items.

Why cut down on plastic?

Plastic pollution is one of the greatest threats facing our oceans. Up to 12 million tonnes of plastic is entering the oceans every year. This is affecting sea life – one in 3 turtles and 90% of seabirds are now estimated to have ingested plastic. Plastic is even ending up in the seafood on your plates. Coca-Cola produces an estimated 100 billion throwaway plastic bottles every year – and billions of these will end up on beaches, in landfill and in the sea. Send Coca-Cola’s CEO an email here.

A single plastic bottle takes hundreds of years to break down in the ocean, which is dangerous to wildlife. It could be swallowed by a whale or a shark, while its bottle top might be picked up by a seabird who then feeds it to its young. If it’s not swallowed whole, the bottle will break into smaller and smaller pieces, which can then can be ingested by creatures ranging from zooplankton to whales, which mistake it for food. Slowly but surely it will turn the ocean into a kind of toxic plastic soup. — Greenpeace Connect, Summer 2017


The five supermarkets we went to during June were: Asda, Lidl, Morrisons and Sainsbury’s. All are guilty of over-packaging; presumably for the convenience of warehouse storage prior to shelf display. We bought loose vegetables and placed into our own paper grocery bags; every time we went to checkout we got quizzical looks but we were keen to explain the plastic challenge and every time we were commended by the staff who said they would pass on to managers and what a great idea. Any processed, packaged food was scrutinised for the materials logo:

recycle-logos-1So we felt that by getting some items (ready-meal curries for example) in a PP tray would be ok as the curb-side collection take this plastic. As we soon found, on collection day all of the PP plastic was left behind in our front garden (even stuff previously taken).

Although this was a bit of a set-back, it was an even more tricky shop when trying to avoid food items we would normally buy not available in a recyclable form. Such as Alpro yoghurts. Tweeting about it directly to Alpro was very satisfying:

Alpro were very positive, they may even have something in development for June 2018! We did have trouble finding toilet rolls in paper packaging, all the supermarkets we went to use a plastic film that is not recyclable. We even had a look at other supermarkets in the area in case they had something; Tesco, Aldi and the Co-op. Nothing. This was our first compromise; day 12 of the challenge and we had little choice as we were totally out of supplies!

This was a great response on Twitter:

So we will certainly be prepared next June! We found Morrisons the best for frozen food packaging (cardboard boxes rather than sleeves with plastic/film lid inside). Lidl was the only one to supply brown paper grocery bags for bread (even though plastic supplied for loose veggies). Only the Co-op sell recycled toilet paper; and this is in a plastic package. This is shocking. All of the supermarkets need to be a bit more plastic-conscious; people always agree and usually have a positive comment about the habitat of wildlife so it is really should be  a case of ‘the customer is always right’. If a supermarket wants to be the first to put environment as priority they need to take adapt Greenpeace’s solutions for plastic packaging:

  1. Prioritise reusable packaging and develop systems based on reuse
  2. Make sure packaging is 100 percent recycled, as well as recyclable or compostable
  3. Share information about the plastic they use, reuse and recycle, so progress can be measured
  4. Support bottle deposit return schemes, where a small deposit is added to the cost of packaged drinks, which can be reclaimed when the container is returned.

Further: Get involved

Try the #plasticchallenge next June and support the Marine Conservation Society’s efforts – information here.

Greenpeace is leading the way in a campaigning against plastic waste; targeting one of the worst global offenders: Coca-cola. Sign their petition to affect change at Coke here or donate for their plastic appeal here.

Advice from EatDrinkBetter on reducing food packaging here (image at top credited to this website).



Modern life is rubbish* – Part 5: Plastic

*Post title stolen from Blur album of same name equally stolen from stencilled graffiti painted along Bayswater Road in London, created by an anarchist group¹.

Plastic debris is strewn across the beach on Henderson Island, an uninhabited atoll in the Pacific. Photograph: Jennifer Lavers/AP via The Guardian

What a chuffin’ mess. The wonders of plastic have changed our lives, but what has been the environmental impact? How much is buried in landfill, floats out to sea or is unintentionally consumed? What can we do?

I hope The Guardian don’t mind me reproducing the above photo especially as I will include links to their articles on Henderson Island, a tiny landmass in the eastern South Pacific. It has become one of the world’s most polluted places despite being one of the remotest.  Marine scientists have discovered the highest density of anthropogenic debris recorded anywhere in the world, with 99.8% of the pollution plastic.² The follow-up article featuring the McCreadie family’s response and subsequent attempt to cut out plastics³ for a one week period has elicited this post about modern life and what action we could take.

In June the Marine Conservation Society will launch its “plastic challenge”, asking us to give up single-use plastic for a day, a week or even the whole month. See their website here. I am going to attempt the plastic challenge for the whole month and encourage you to try the same! If consumers can insist on packaging that is widely recycled, then big corporations can be forced to adapt to our (and our planet’s) needs.

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Helping you make a choice in plastic packaging

One of the things I didn’t realise was the actual component materials that plastic packaging comes in. I use our local curb-side scheme, filling a large green tub every fortnight. However, some of these plastics aren’t recycled locally and should have gone to  a recycling centre. They may even end up in landfill despite having been placed in the green tub! During June, I will avoid single use plastic altogether. Here is a handy guide:

recycle-logos-1 1. PET or PETE (Polyethylene terephthalate) is single use plastic used for pop and water bottles. Can be recycled into fleece textiles but not refilled as harmful chemicals leach from the material and could be carcinogenic. AVOID.

2. HDPE (High-Density Polyethylene) is thicker, more durable plastic used for toys, benches and weather resistant products. Can be recycled.

3. V (Polyvinyl Chloride) aka PVC is dubbed the “poison plastic” because it contains numerous toxins which it can leach throughout its entire life cycle. Almost all products using PVC require virgin material for their construction; less than 1% of PVC material is recycled. AVOID.

4. LDPE (Low-Density Polyethylene) is a non-rigid plastic used for shopping bags, detergent bottles and some clothes. Not widely recycled so best to AVOID.

5. PP (Polypropylene) is widely used for yoghurt pots, bottle lids, crisp packets, margarine and butter tubs. This is widely recycled in the UK. Can be recycled.

6. PS (Polystyrene) is an inexpensive, lightweight and easily-formed plastic with a wide variety of uses. It is most often used to make disposable styrofoam drinking cups, take-out “clamshell” food containers, egg cartons, plastic picnic cutlery, foam packaging and those ubiquitous “peanut” foam chips used to fill shipping boxes to protect the contents. Polystyrene may leach styrene, a possible human carcinogen, into food products (especially when heated in a microwave). Chemicals present in polystyrene have been linked with human health and reproductive system dysfunction. AVOID.

7. Other (BPA, Polycarbonate and LEXAN) is used to make baby bottles, cups, water cooler bottles and car parts. Compostable plastics, made from bio-based polymers like corn starch, are being developed to replace polycarbonates and will say Compostable or PLA on the base next to the No. 7 logo. These are ok, otherwise AVOID.

How to shop without single-use plastic

The Marine Conservation Society can be provide a starter pack for members including jute shopping bags, cotton bags etc via their online shop. The plastic challenge is not about being completely plastic-free but avoiding wherever possible. I have replaced plastic bags with these from the UNICEF site as the money for each bag goes toward 4 polio vaccines. All loose vegetables will be placed in paper grocery bags from Amazon rather than the pre-packed plastic ones in store.

I am sure I will discover just how reliant we are on plastics during my plastic-lite month and will tweet about it with the hashtag #plasticchallenge. I expect each shopping trip to have it’s own challenges and discoveries! Perhaps you would be willing to do a day, week or whole month too?

Further: Do more

Plastic pollution is one of the greatest threats facing our oceans. Up to 12 million tonnes of plastic is entering the oceans every year. This is affecting sea life – one in 3 turtles and 90% of seabirds are now estimated to have ingested plastic. Plastic is even ending up in the seafood on your plates. Coca-Cola produces an estimated 100 billion throwaway plastic bottles every year – and billions of these will end up on beaches, in landfill and in the sea. Send Coca-Cola’s CEO an email here.



²38Million pieces of plastic found on uninhabited island, The Guardian 15th May 2017

³Could you cut out plastic from your weekly shop?, The Guardian 27th May 2017


Eco shoe review – Vegan Dr Martens


Occasionally, I include a review of my latest footwear especially if they’re particularly techie or Eco influenced. So I have to write up about Dr Marten shoes; these are the synthetic non-leather versions.  The soles come with the familiar cushioned PVC with yellow stitching and there are three lace-holes. Now you’re probably thinking: ‘so what, they’ve been around for years’ and I must admit that this particular shoe design has been something of a classic and I have owned several pairs. Their reemergence for me is down to the ease of accessibility to the vegan version (non-leather) and the ecological advantage of non-animal exploitation.

Although I have had many leather versions of this shoe, just over a year ago I adopted a vegan lifestyle and bought some Next men’s shoes made from a non-leather material. They look ok but don’t ‘give’ in the same way as leather so are a bit stiff, especially at the heel. It seemed that vegan shoes online and in boutique shops are so, so expensive due to hand-made etc and I suppose low numbers of sales. However, Amazon and Vegetarian-Shoes are  retailing them at the equivalent price of leather ones.

Wear and tear in the art room wise, they have stood up to acrylic paint, plaster and clay. Worse (as with the non-vegan design) is the effect of drawing pins on the sole but this is also part of the advantage when on your feet all day – no aches! I put a waterproof spray across the uppers of mine and even tried some polish but it doesn’t sit well on the material. A recent trip around London with 48 students clocked up a healthy 12 mile walk (!) and they faired very well at that too.

Ladies and gents versions available from these retailers:




Art lesson resource: recycled shoes

screen-shot-2016-12-10-at-15-43-10As a variation on the Surreal Shoes project for Year 8, here is an idea for the creative use of some recycled materials.

Our school caretakers wanted to dispose of various half-full tins of emulsion paint and asked if we could use them in art – of course! Students were asked to bring in an old shoe (or any item of footwear) or share a pair with a partner.

Like all good art projects, always start with a basis in observational drawing; shoes are always a favourite and a fairly good stretch of skills with a pencil.



Next step was to do a bit of research into Claes Oldenburg’s gigantic sculptures. Of interest were how these ‘pop’ icons (everyday or popular items) can transform a public space.


Shoe sketches were then translated into a similarly gigantic object; a bridge, a building, an archway or a skate park! Ladders, slides and doorways were added to the shoes and even vehicles, trees and people around them to get a sense of the scale.

Using the emulsion/wall paint in which to dip the shoes made them a) no longer a usable shoe and b) dried to a hard finish almost like cast plastic. It creates an instantly sculptural effect and a superb surface in which to work.

Taking inspiration from Roy Lichtenstein’s pop art style, the shoe can be used as a 3D surface for a 2D image. Some students chose to add features; this can be done using cardboard cut into shape and with a layer of mod roc /plaster bandage. To adhere this to the shoe takes quite a bit of PVA glue! As you can see from these details of my practice piece; I added the speech bubble and base. The shoe is hardly recognisable and adds to the distortion of the pop art image.

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The final stage is to use acrylic paint to add the details and colour. Using elements of pop art style such as primary colours, outlines and even ‘dotty’ textures adds an extra element of skill and is quite manageable for Year 8s.








Eco T-shirts review – cotton & the rest


I occasionally dip my blogging toe into eco-design especially as I think that we should be teaching about technology that should improve design and vice-versa. I have previously reviewed shoes made from recycled materials, super-durable boots and low energy technology. In this post I turn my attention to the humble t-shirt.

What is an eco-design t-shirt?

I’ve been buying ‘ecology’ shirts since they were first available on the green marketplace back in the ’80s. I know you’ll say in the ’60s and ’70s the hippy kids were wearing hand-knitted reclaimed wool t-shirts (!) and self-made potato print designs but I was that kid too and I still have the scars. Initially I’d say eco-design shirts were predominantly of the protest/message variety. I had a “Plant a tree in ’73” when I was small which was probably a freebie and dated to maybe 1978. The first one I remember selecting for myself was after joining Greenpeace and featured a very arty illustration of a blue whale in full colour on a white cotton shirt. This was pre-Katharine Hamnett’s typography laden designs of the mid-80s with their associations of Madonna and Wham.


This was also an era before the widespread availability of unbleached and organic cotton. This has become relatively cheap to use now but how about other textiles with equally green credentials such as bamboo and hemp? How do the designs fare and what about wearability and durability? Here’s the top 5 in reverse order…

5. Patagonia Logo T-shirt


This hard wearing, durable and comfortable shirt features a prominent logo and says: ‘eco-warrior’ all over it. Made from organic and sustainable cotton with phthalate-free inks. Added bonus is that Patagonia donate 1% of sales to sustainable non-profit organisations around the world.

Comfortable and surprisingly long lasting, you’ll get sick of the logo before the shirt.

4. Friends of the Earth Crowd Pleaser

Organic cotton (Soil Association verified) with PVC free inks. Bonus: made from renewable energy from wind and solar power. Certified by the Carbon Trust, these t-shirts have achieved 90% reduction using a combination of low-impact organic farming, efficiency in manufacturing and transportation and the use of renewable energy instead of the fossil fuel based grid electricity. A single Earth Positive t-shirt saves around 7kg of CO2 in its production. – See more at: http://www.foeshop.co.uk/crowd-pleaser-grey-t-shirt-mens.html#sthash.WOS9rYp4.dpuf

3. Braintree Hemp Plain
A relaxed, basic and down to earth plain T-shirt essential for summer dressing. A mix of 55% hemp 45% organic cotton jersey.

Pro: plain and logo less.

Con: slightly itchy material. It’s hemp, what did you expect?

Added bonus: if you’re hot and sweaty don’t wear through airports as you smell like you’ve been on visit to the Body Shop or worse, to a Dutch cafe.

2. Papanui

The perfect casual t-shirt for people who appreciate quality. There’s also a little secret in the fabric: the wicking, temperature regulating performance & antibacterial properties of bamboo t-shirts make them popular as high performance athletic base layers.

Also available without the logo.

1. Vivienne Westwood ‘Save the Arctic’ shirt

Vivienne Westwood continues to communicate the threat of climate change. “The status quo will kill us. People don’t realise how quickly we are marching towards a possible mass extinction. Once the global temperature goes up beyond two degrees, you can’t stop it. Current predictions are that we will see a rise of more like 4C or 6C, which would mean that everything below Paris would become uninhabitable.”

Profits from the ‘Save the Arctic’ t-shirt sales are donated to Greenpeace. They are made of organic, unbleached cotton (white is the natural colour as it grows) from a 20 year old cooperative in Peru. All the growing, processing and production of the t-shirts is fully certified by G.O.T.S. (Global Organic Textile Standard). Bonus: proper fashion.


Eco flip-flops review – hemp treads

Occasionally, I include a review of my latest footwear especially if they’re particularly techie or Eco influenced. So I have let you know about Maasai Treads; these flip-flops (thongs to Aussies) are hand-made in Kenya from recycled and organic materials.  The soles come from rejected car tyres and inner tubes and are combined with a shock absorbing layer of EVA topped with organic hemp textile. Perfect for hard wearing summer use.

Apparently, the fair trade creators scour Kenya’s bustling “Mitumba” markets, to find the funkiest colours, designs and material and buy previously owned leather, denim and any material they think will make a “sexy” piece of footwear. Mine are from Fresh Cargo  and feature red 100% organic hemp and chocolate brown leather toe ‘thong’. The leather is previously used so isn’t too tough on your inner toe and the car tyre sole is incredibly heard wearing and sparks much debate from observant onlookers with comments like “You’ll get 20,000 miles out of them flip-flops”. True.

Ladies and gents versions available from these retailers:




Modern life is rubbish* – Part 4: Music

*Post title stolen from Blur album of same name equally stolen from stencilled graffiti painted along Bayswater Road in London, created by an anarchist group¹.

There’s a new musical paradigm in town; vinyl. Yes, those 12″ plastic disks that hold only 12 x 4 minutes of (picture free) data and come in cool, colour printed cardboard sleeves with amazing retro graphics. On their own, the disks cannot be used simply via headphones or usb; you need a relatively cheap looking piece of plastic with a needle and some speakers but woah the quality of the sound! Not convinced? Me neither.

Let’s back track a little here. From travelling minstrels onwards we have had portable music be it all in the form of play it yourself if you have the talent – if not, there was always the spoons, a paper comb, washboard or from 1978 onwards you could invest in electro-gadgets like Rolf in the clip above. What about us non-musical types? I could wax lyrical about the good ol’ days listening to Echo & the Bunnymen on a Sony Walkman at school but to be frank, the tinny quality of the headphones and poor battery life and tapes that got jammed etc etc. I could go on. Vinyls on the other hand were never that portable; sure you get a portable turntable like an Emerson Wildcat or Bush RP60 and carry your vinyls in a leatherette carry case but by the late ’80s the cool kids had a Walkman and a box full of mix-tapes instead.

Even though I was a Mac fanatic by the time the first (Mac-only) iPod came out, it’s price was pretty exclusive and it really wasn’t quite as good as the mains powered Creative Zen MP3 Nomad from the same time. Since then though the ante has well and truly been upped. The biggest draw back to the modern generation isn’t based on size, capacity, sound quality or user experience. It’s all about the ‘lock-in’ to a specific store with bumped up prices and distinct lack of variety. Perhaps this is why ION turntables and even China-manufactured rip offs of 1960s style Bush RP60-alikes are retailing again and suddenly it’s worth getting my vinyl collection out of the loft because they have cultural value again. Apart from the store lock-in the other negative of the iTunes (and similar) monopoly is opportunities for live music and new talent; cultural hegemony dictates that only a certain look or sound will survive and there is no room for a genuine ‘underground scene’. You Tube should be the place for this, let’s hope talent like Alex Day can spawn a truly underground scene (not dependant on recording labels) but what he and others need is propriety-free hardware to go with it.