Good News Day

Today was a good day. We have a small cafe at work that serves the various organisations on site and our many visitors. Whenever I buy lunch but want to eat it at my desk, I have been getting it on a plate, taking it up 3 flights of stairs, and returning the plates later on. This is largely because the take away boxes are polystyrene-style, and while they may be made of recycled plastics, they will be around longer than I am, for the sake of a 20 minute lunch. It carries a Masorti and a Reform hechsher (Kosher certification) and recently a colleague and I had been discussing whether to ask to remove the Reform hechsher if use of the polysterene tubs continued (my lovely colleagues have also started using reusable mugs and glasses for meetings instead of disposables - role modelling can work!).

Today as I was returning my plates to the cafe, without any prompting or know our recent conversations, the cafe owner showed me their newest arrival - vegware! They will now have takeaway vegware boxes and cups that will biodegrade even if in landfill. He cited The Blue Planet as a motivator - unsurprisingly this is the most common element of conversations that I have around plastics.

The part of this that is most important though, is that it isn't one or two people making a change, it is an institution (and service provider) making a change. Whether they are motivated by values they want to emulate, or by commercial interest in retaining customers, it is ultimately only when our retailers start to make changes that we see the real impact.

There have in fact been lots of good news stories lately, from plastic free packaging kite marks on Iceland own brand products to all shopping bags being bags for life in Asda, Tesco and Morrissons, and Waitrose removing disposable coffee cups from it's free cuppa scheme - you can still get a free drink, but will need to bring your own cup.
This is my bag of Tesco plastics I have saved up since January (not quite plastic free, but not tooo bad either!)

Plastic free aisles have also begun to make the news, and when I ask stores about these on twitter, they do all seem to have folk thinking about packaging. The reality is though these alternative packagings will cost them more, so they will only undertake them if the pressure is on from you and me - as consumers we have power! We can choose to make things different. You could try unpacking all your goods at the till, posting your plastic back to their freepost customer services address, as well as making sure you make the most of every piece of plastic you can.

One area we could collectively have a huge impact, is on single use disposable food ware. Our little cafe is doing it's bit, but over shabbat and Shavuot, how many disposable cups did your community go through? at Kiddush how many plastic plates and shot glasses get chucked each week? At birthday parties are you using something that will outlive your child to serve a few snacks on? If every single Jewish community stopped using disposables (and had 2 volunteers each week to work together on washing and drying) the collective impact would be astonishing!

Not all plastic is necessarily worse for the environment than other substances, but it very much depends on its purpose and use. Hard wearing plastic shot glasses that can be used 500 times without breaking are going to save money as well as the environment, and won't break in the way glasses can. I chose these which last apx 500 washes for the services I host at home - and once they aren't drinkable anymore, I wonder if I will be able to find another way to upcycle them! Paint pots, seed storers, scarecrows... we shall see!!

Change is coming much quicker than I or my co-conspirator perhaps predicted, because thanks to Blue Planet this is now what everyone is talking about. Next we need to get to a point where individuals choose inconvenience in favour of the earth surviving longer, and retailers choose (or are forced into) offering plastic-free packaging as the norm.


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