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.

Screen Shot 2017-05-29 at 16.00.33

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


Artificially intelligent

Photographer Gijsbert van der Wal explained: “A small group of high school students were sitting on the benches in front of Rembrandt’s Nightwatch. Almost all of them were either researching on their own smartphones or their classmates’. Or they were using Snap Chat.

This is an observational post about technology use and passive consumerism by teenagers in my school.

When I was studying for my masters degree, we undertook a discourse based around Marc Prensky’s concept of the ‘digital native’; by definition:


  1. a person born or brought up during the age of digital technology and so familiar with computers and the Internet from an early age.
    “the digital tools that are reshaping our economy make more sense to young digital natives than to members of older generations”

My major study explored how best to capture the attention and transmit learning through a scaffolded approach to these so-called natives knowing full well the controversy around the terminology. It may be that healthy, young brains can accept and assimilate new technologies but it frequently those with implicit agendas who seek to exploit them, for learning for instance. Teenagers might show how to use a technology but rarely use it to apply the technology to a learning situation. Hours of You Tube consumption (game footage, how to ombre cheekbone make-up etc) are rarely applied to ‘actually useful’ videos such as Bob Ross’ landscape painting, mixing skin tones and ‘how to draw hands’. Point the teenager at these videos and the blank look is sufficient to say: “You just made You Tube less fun. You made it into work.” Another case-in-point for art teachers like myself is pouty teenage selfies and photo effect apps. Tell them Rembrandt painted an annual selfie and you could too… or what about using the brilliant Prisma app to develop artistic styles for a drawing or painting? No? It seems that the ‘native’ wants to consume and there is an implicit danger to this behaviour.

I have just read Martin Ford’s Rise of the Robots (2015) on the economic and social emergence of artificial intelligence (AI). The key information presented by this digital entrepreneur can be summarised into pros/cons.

The pros:

  • AI and robotic automation may impact your career and way of life sooner than you think.
  • Artificial Intelligence doubles in capacity every two years or so (akin to Moore’s Law). Wow! A Utopian future is almost here!
  • AI already defeats the world’s best chess players and drives cars, runs restaurants, writes articles, creates original ‘art’, composes symphonies and ‘builds’ houses.
  • Automation handles most factory and agricultural work in certain countries.

The cons:

  • AI will take over most remaining farm and factory jobs, then retail and fast-food employment.
  • AI augments or replaces work that analysts, radiologists and scientists do. It will replace most knowledge workers.
  • Millions will lose their jobs, income disparity will grow, and the economy and society will break under the pressure.
  • Few will work, because machines will be a thousand or a million times more intelligent and capable than people. Uh-o, a dark dystopian vision is also possible. Surprise!

Interesting that radiologists may fall by the career wayside and yet there will always be a job for teachers (AI isn’t good at improvisation and emotional intelligence). More importantly is the connection to passive consumerism.

“Rather than resulting in a nation of slackers, a well-designed guaranteed income has the potential to make the economy more dynamic and entrepreneurial.” Ford (2015)

The argument goes, that big business will need someone to consume its product. Ford recommends a “guaranteed minimum income” as the solution. To give every citizen money, including those who contribute nothing would stimulate the economy with a much-needed infrastructure program and breathe new life into low-cost, smaller communities. Investment in education might equip people with skills to close gaps due to worker shortages in non-automated sectors, for example in health care. Taxes could target capital instead of labour as jobs give way to automation. “Current policies punish employers by levying payroll taxes, while businesses using machines pay nothing”. What will our content-consuming natives expend income on? Cloud-based depositories of data; your data. As Ford warns us:

“As thinking machines tap into the cloud – and each other’s knowledge – to become smarter and smarter, they might grow thousands or millions of times more intelligent than humans. Then will they ponder whether they need humans at all?”


“I didn’t get where I am today…”



The words of CJ from “The Rise and Fall…” comedy series really echoed in my mind when I saw the image above and it’s linked survey from @_futurecreate. There are barrowloads of reasons for us to take our chosen careers and especially we art teachers who do what we can to pass our enthusiasm for our subject on. We know the importance of starting to market to the kids making option choices (i.e. “the clients”!) at around the mid point of the first term. Due to early intervention, class sizes for choice as a GCSE are healthy but also is the importance of inspiring classrooms and characterful, stimulating teaching.

Certainly, if one of my parents hadn’t been a keen visual artist who had worked in the arts industry, perhaps I wouldn’t have been encouraged, nurtured and supported. If the ebacc emphasis had been around in the early ’80s then I wouldn’t have had the chance to do my art and design O level and wouldn’t have done the A levels I did (art, art and craft and history of art) then no chance at art college and on to (eventually) a career in teaching. Perhaps I would (reluctantly) have joined my other parent in the building trade? Who knows…

Aside from nurture, does ‘proximity’ play a part? A recent assembly at my school on the theme of proactivity presented an aspiring senior leader’s route to the top. He said that that the construction of Meadowhall (a ’90s shopping mall) inspired him to do well at his GCSEs in order to attain the basic level for a retailing job thereby enabling saving up for beloved football boots (Adidas predators). The Sports Direct job he eventually got because they demanded potential employees attained at least 12 GCSE passes (a very high standard for any weekend job). Not only did this motivate him, he went on to get the job, the sports shoes and a range of other desirable, luxury items. The added affect was that he could now take up a Post 16 position for A levels and go on to university and his future potential awaited him. My proximity to creativity may have been a motivator for me but perhaps his proximity to capital, consumerism and retailing enabled him to be a wealthy ‘super-shopper’?! (Part of his assembly also detailed his more recent shopping acquisitions too.) Does his work motivate behaviours to spend time shopping, buying more things etc. Is he on the promotion ladder in order to attain the more expensive, luxury items? I would say that as a teacher, first and foremost, he works to pass on his love of his subject and encourage others to do so. Accumulation of capital (and cultural capital, i.e. the football boots etc) is a by-product of being successful in this aim. What if he hadn’t got the 12 GCSEs, despite trying really hard to do so? Would he not have ‘got where he is today’? Or would learning life lessons through failure have nurtured a slightly different instinct about consumerism being a proactive aspect of his journey through life?

It did also make me think about proximity of opportunities for our students. What creative industries are nearby? Can they be inspired only to a life of shopping? As art teachers and enthusiasts we need to more to create opportunities for creative experiences in order to motivate; theatre visits, talent shows, gigs and art exhibitions to name but a few. My next task: design a poster to get Y8-11 kids in to see a post 16 art exhibition!


Should you upgrade your tech?

People often get the impetus to get the latest versions and upgrades to their hardware and software and ask themselves and others: Should I upgrade? In schools, we have committee meetings to discuss the latest and the best between groups of governors and interested parties of teachers. Is it always right to be ‘bang on trend’ with the tech and invest in the latest developments? Usually if you have to ask this question, the answer is NO. If you have an obvious need for something, like a new server or an IWB in the Foundation stage classroom, there’s no question that you ought to get it. If its obvious, you’re not having to justify the pedagogical principles, it’s a case of signing off the funding. On a personal level it might be a case of convincing your partner that a Macbook Air really would be more practical for holiday web-browsing rather than the actual need to invest in ‘another’ piece of hardware. Indeed, many schools made do with Win XP way beyond it’s life expectancy and are only just justifying the move to Win 7 and appropriate Office upgrades. Despite the fact that older hardware can cope just fine with ‘free’ Linux/Ubuntu alternatives.

Okay, I am just as at fault as many others. I can say that I was pretty keen to dispose of my last Power PC based iMac in order to get an Intel one even though there was plenty of life left in it (not to mention the software that I had to replace). There have been occasions of course where practicality has overridden functionality; the case in point being my Psion 5mx (as shown above). This was my third Psion mobile device bought in 1997. As you can see in the photo, it still works just fine after 15 years. For practicalities sake though it has long been abandoned to the status of techno-antique as there are no longer 16 pin printers or Win 95 drivers and I can’t get it to connect to the Internet with the dial up modem as it once did. With equipment, what everyone (with exceptions) fails to realise is how little the technology has to do with the actual result.

Yes, a zoom lens for your DSLR will make it so much easier to capture the action on school stage or sports event but any 35mm camera used by someone with the right skills can win photography competitions. I am reminded also of @mattpearson’s blog post on iPad’s magic fairy dust – the eagerness of individuals to purchase quantities of iPads for educational use or upgrade their own older models has a whiff of consumeristic marketing snake-oil about it. Nothing wrong with blowing £400 of your own money just to get the screen-mirroring output of the new iPad or iPad 2 but how will you use the technology differently and appropriately in the first place? In two contexts recently I witnessed the justification for buying sets of iPads to ‘get teachers up to speed with technology’ and secondly as ‘ a way of introducing more research activities’. Having trained teachers across the borough using iPad version ones there is definitely a ‘coo! shiny’ effect followed by a ‘what do I do with…’ and subsequently followed by ‘playtime/golden time’ unless the teacher has specific aims to use the tech differently and appropriately. The research use proposal was to upgrade from a set of netbooks; hardly a planet-saving ecological idea!

If we pay attention to what we already have and how we might use it, we can let the manufacturers spend billions on advertising nurturing the myth of the upgrade as the easy solution and ignore them until the essential becomes tangible.