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Plastic Free July Diet!

Plastic Free July Diet!

My wife and I looked at each other…hmmm…”we both looked thinner? Or fitter? Or something?”. It had to be as a result of our newly restricted diet in July, an unexpected result of avoiding any food wrapped in disposable plastic packaging. We had two friends over for dinner who we’d last seen only a month ago, and they were so certain we both looked thinner that they said it a few times during our evening dinner. They also knew about our July challenge as we had explained the frustrations involved and so we put it down to the distinct lack of snack-able junk in the house as it generally tends to be wrapped in plastic. Who’d have thought of this as a sideline benefit of trying to live plastic free?

We had noticed that later in the evening when the kids were asleep, that a final snack before bed was just a lot harder to put together, no crackers, a lot less bread (we were waiting for the weekly farmers markets to get our bread unwrapped and had been getting the quantities a little short), no biscuits or dessert type snacks either – no bedtime bowl of cereal unless we made more granola, and at this point there was just more pressing gaps in our diet.

To be honest it was a little frustrating, but probably quite a bit healthier for us.   Mrs Makedo confessed to greedily stuffing down ”a lot of cake” when generously offered it at a friend’s house due to the recent deficit in her diet.

When at home with the kids, Mrs Makedo has regular callers for playdates. It was interesting to notice how different people responded to conversations about packaging waste. The older friends (say, over 50) thought it was just “going too far” and a little ridiculous.  Yet in the same conversation, would fondly reminisce about a time when things just weren’t so packaged, i.e. paper around meat from the butcher, milk from the milkman, and cloth bags for all produce. Some friends might leave more plastic behind (after kindly bringing fruit and snacks) than our house had generated in two weeks. Other friends who had been aware of the pointlessness of excess packaging were spurred on to make changes themselves, and now meet Mrs MakeDo at the Farmer’s Market with their own coffee mugs and food containers in hand.  From a quick poll of friends, we’d say there are definitely more people interested and supportive of this than not. But many still feel overwhelmed at how to start.

We had been thinking of trying to move towards “zero waste” – just in time for Zero waste week in September. But at the same time this is turning out to be tougher than we expected and so some of us at least are looking forward to a break in August before we regroup again. But for sure some of these habits will never leave us now. The thought of buying a plastic bottle to drink the water and then simply throwing it away has always seemed silly. Now having one’s broccoli or apples wrapped in plastic seems equally pointless, but with serious consequences that we as a family are much more aware of.

Please, please take a moment to follow this link to and if you only scroll through the pictures to get a feel for the extent of the plastic waste problem then this excellent report from 2009 (updated this year) has done its job. Whether one decides to do anything about this particular issue is of course a personal decision (and there are countless causes looking for our attention these days), but do keep in mind that this is one cause that we the consumers have full control over and is a direct result of our purchasing choices.  The manifestations of this waste problem are largely hidden for most people in the developed world where the majority of the waste is generated, while people living in other parts of the world see the disastrous consequences before them.

©© tedxgp2 / Plastic pollution coalition

Plastic Free July: The Power of the Consumer

Plastic Free July: The Power of the Consumer

Plastic Bottles, 2007. by Chris Jordan
Depicts two million plastic beverage bottles: the number used in the US every five minutes.

As our “Plastic Free July” (PFJ) experiment continues, we have passed through the trough of disillusionment and are now on the upswing of more realistic hopes coupled with some renewed enthusiasm for the task at hand. Our plastic recycling bin although not in as good  shape as we’d hoped, is much improved over earlier months.  Most of the contents are  a result of earlier purchases being used up and also from items left behind by visitors (more on that later).

We were starting to learn to live without purchasing some things that we just couldn’t find in any non-plastic packaged form, then it became apparent that some of those food items could be made at home from raw ingredients that weren’t so heavily packaged. A simple example of this is with pizza’s which the kids love (and the parents love even more). Premade, frozen pizzas tend to come on a styrofoam or cardboard base, wrapped in plastic and then in an outer cardboard box. Making your own pizza base is quite manageable and choosing your own toppings is a bonus. Those worked out well and the kids loved doing them.  We tried this base recipe.

Homemade Yogurt

Homemade Yogurt

A less obvious example is yoghurt – which tends to be sold in plastic pots. We had resorted to buying the very expensive “gourmet” yoghurts in little glass jars, but, it turns out that yoghurt is quite easy to make in volume while getting to add your own preferred flavour.

A friend came to visit one afternoon during the week and brought some fruit for a picnic with the kids. The fruit came wrapped in LOTS of plastic and so during the ensuing conversation about whether she might perhaps take her packaging home with her instead of adding it to our PFJ pile, it became clear that she thought what we were trying to do was somewhat pointless in the face of so much packaging in the world anyway.

Another friend who was leaving for a holiday trip, wanted to give away their left over fresh food instead of discarding it. So we said yes, but of course that meant taking on the plastic packaging too – it more than doubled our plastic waste to date (by mid July) in one go.

The sheer futility of the cause is certainly one to ponder…some figures say that 9 million tonnes of plastic find their way into our oceans EVERY DAY! Or that closer to home, Ireland is generating over 140,000 tonnes of plastic waste annually, that 50% of will go into a field (also known as a landfill) and will take 200+ years to break down releasing harmful by-products. The featured image above from artist Chris Jordan aims to help to convey one of these staggering metrics.

According to PlasticsEurope, the European trade association for plastics manufacturers, 265m tonnes of plastic are produced globally each year (2011 figures). In the UK, about two thirds of this is for packaging; globally, this translates to 170m tonnes of plastic largely created to be disposed of after one use.  (Ref The Guardian newspaper). That’s MILLIONS of tonnes….per year…hard to comprehend.

Even scarier aspects of this hidden problem come to light when one goes digging: for example, the use of microbeads of plastic in body products (scrubs, shampoos and even some toothpaste). These plastic beads are too small to be filtered from water streams and so are finding their way into all water systems and then into our food chain. Look for “polyethylene” in the ingredients.

In 2002, the then minister for the environment took the brave stand against the use of plastic bags for grocery packaging by introducing a levy to curtail their pervasive use. Ours was the first national government to do so. It seems that in the aftermath of this change, there was universal support and everyone though that in hindsight this was the right thing to do. We all understood the benefits of trying to tackle a very obvious waste problem and it has to be said that the solution in this case was somewhat inconvenient. Many other governments have since followed along with some choosing to go even further and ban the use of plastic bags. Remember when we all though smoking in cinemas, airplanes and even hospitals was acceptable? That is until we realized it wasn’t and that we could change it!

Societal attitudes can change quickly when the problem and solution path are presented well. Since we made that excellent change to the use of plastic bags in 2002, the amount of plastic packaging from other sources in Ireland has surged to the point where we have long since overcome those earlier gains, but of course this problem is more hidden from most of us as thankfully, we are a cleaner society now than we used to be and we don’t see as much discarded plastic waste around.


some unwanted pens

It’s still piling up somewhere though and we should be under no illusions that its being dealt with in a sustainable way. The best solution that exists now and is accessible to everyone is to try to reduce it at the source.  We realized that this is the important point: the private buyer has the most power.

Just as I was finishing this entry, a well-intentioned work colleague dropped this on my desk: 20 promotional plastic pens in a plastic bag that “would only be thrown away if someone didn’t use them”.

I sat looking at them for while…feeling sad.

We have a long way to go but this is something we can all help with.

Plastic Free July continues..

Plastic Free July continues..

Trying to avoid buying plastic for the month of July is coming with its daily challenges as we use up household things that happen to come in plastic containers, and then realise that we can’t simply run out and buy more of the same. It’s an interesting process – self imposing a new discipline on oneself that creates some difficulties until you remind yourself of why you’re doing it in the first place and renew that conviction to find another way.

We share the washing up in our house and so it was a lottery as to who would use the last of the washing up liquid and who would then be faced with figuring out the replenishment plan. We ran out on day 2, a Saturday, and so Mrs Makedo had the pleasure of tackling Sunday night’s pile of dishes with only our trusty (non-plastic) loofah sponge, but with no suds to help.  We had to wait until Mr Makedo went to Cork Monday morning, when he could stop into the Quay Coop to refill of “Ecover” washing-up liquid (Similarly for washing machine detergent by the way). Problem solved and another plastic bottle in the world avoided.

We are learning that running a home without brinplastic-waste-management-6-638 (1)ging in plastic is challenging for sure, as plastic is by far the most pervasive packaging material in our lives. The chart shown (courtesy- Google) gives an indication of the relative size of different plastic waste streams in the U.S.

Unusual items will catch you out – for example, buying a Sunday paper meant that we couldn’t pick from the ones with the plastic wrapped magazines inside. Surely someone could figure a way to secure all the pieces of the Sunday Times together without having to wrap them in a plastic bag? That’s a lot of waste plastic every Sunday for little utility gain it seems, but as the marketers understand, it does give the feel of a quality product for some reason which may be why it’s done that way.

As a treat for our two girls, we gave them some Kinder chocolate eggs which a friend brought on a recent visit. Somehow forgetting they had stuff inside, we had some laugh when the  plastic toys popped out.  It was only day 3 and we were already getting caught out in so many places. Maybe the cute plastic toy will stay in use for the month of July so we don’t have to add it to our tally.

Later this week, having learned from our first mistakes, another treat for the kids took the form of a yoghurt in a glass jar which went down well and left behind a nice glass jar to be reused again.

We were also at a summer party at someone’s house over the weekend and as there were a lot of adults and kids to feed, the plastic knives, forks and cups were in circulation. It was a little disheartening until we saw them all being collected by our excellent hosts, in order to be washed and reused again at the next party.

We are compiling our list of sources for plastic free household options, and will post that shortly, to be updated as we go through the month.

In case you needed more data to inspire you, here are some rather disturbing facts about plastic waste:

  • Over the last ten years we have produced more plastic than during the whole of the last century.
  • 50 percent of the plastic we use, we use just once and throw away.
  • Enough plastic is thrown away each year to circle the earth four times.
  • We currently recover only five percent of the plastics we produce

Plastic Free July Kickoff!

Plastic Free July Kickoff!


assessing the situation

For some time we have been trying to do our bit by reducing and recycling the household waste we generate. We separated things diligently according to the streams decided upon at our local council recycling centre. For plastics, it seems that they separate them according to bottles types, hard plastics (toys, Tupperware etc.) and “film” plastics. In practice this means the pretty much every form of household waste that is not hard or a bottle, goes into the catch all bin. When we looked at the variety of our plastic waste, it was all food item wrapping.

It doesn’t seem so long ago that you had the option to choose, for example, fruits and vegetables that were sold in loose unpackaged form, for nearly all types. Increasingly however it seems that suppliers have opted to package nearly everything in some form of plastic. It could be that consumers were providing the incentive for more plastic packaging by preferentially purchasing the packaged options when presented with a choice over unpackaged versions, or it could be that suppliers preferred it this way as they had less spoiled or damaged produce when packaged for shipment. This is a question we are trying to get answered if anyone has any insights??

We decided that as a family we should respond to this and then along came “plastic free July”!

“Refuse single use plastics” for plastic free July

We wanted to sign up for this and try to eliminate plastic waste from our home during the month of July. But first we needed to test run during the month of June to see how we would fare as it’s not a trivial undertaking as we would learn.

IMG_0814Our approach was to simply not buy anything wrapped in plastic. A difficult task as it turned out when trying to stick broadly to the foods the family are used to and enjoy. This restriction meant that we now needed to plan meals from what we had rather than buying to suit the meals we wanted.

Mrs MakeDo took our vigilant 5 year old daughter on grocery trips with her, armed with veto rights over every purchase that came in plastic packaging. They went through 4 major supermarket chains operating across Ireland (the 4 you would name first if you were to pick), looking for enough fooIMG_0815d to feed us. The  initial results were disappointing to say the least. If it weren’t for the trusty (but destructive) hens doing their part in supplying some protein without any packaging in sight we would starve!

We needed to put more thought into keeping this plan afloat. IMG_0817The obvious first stop was the local farmers market, but even there some negotiation was needed to get the food items without the plastic wrapping in some cases. The bounty here proved to be much richer in variety. Note that the bags and tupperware were our own re-use. Arriving at the markets armed with plenty of reuse containers seemed to do the trick.

We gave back the cherry tomato plastic containers to the vendor who agreed to reuse them, asked another to bring in unpackaged spinach and lettuce which they gladly did (thanks Richard’s Little Farm), transferred 5Kg of potatoes into our bag and returned the large paper sack (which Joe from Joe’s Farm Crisps said cost 30p each). We brought a bag for the bread, tupperware for the fish, the cheeses, and some cakes. We continued to use our own water bottle and coffee cups wherever we went.

I should also point out that we choose to avoid meat in our diet but that if you were a meat-eater then bringing your own containers into a local butcher should be an option I would assume. Also we found some bulk dried foods (noodles, lentils, rice, bulgur, and popcorn available in “the English Market” in Cork.

We were surviving at least, but not thriving so
IMG_1254[1]it was back to supermarkets for a more in-depth search around. Eventually we found plastic free sources for most things we were used to having, but not everything. The local SuperValu was without doubt, the best at providing plastic free options which was nice given that they probably carry a higher percentage of local produce than others, although their process are generally higher.

Once we got the hang of things we tackled other aspects of our household waste such as nappies – these are such a horrifying waste stream and so from the beginning we had tried to use re-useable/washable nappies.
Sometimes we got lazy though and lapsed back into disposables and so this needed to be stopped. IMG_1332[1]We even tried a process known as “elimination communication” with our six month old which worked and is remarkable – but that is for discussion another time. We planted a lot of our own veggies (broccoli, tomatoes, herbs, lettuce, spinach, carrots, and beets) but have yet to see how these turn out, and started t make and bake much of what we couldn’t find without plastic, such as granola to replace cereal and kids snacks, pitta bread and crackers.


washing-up loofah and homemade deodorant

Some environmentally friendly deodorant (baking soda, coconut oil, essence – a secondary school Transition Year project from the Quay Co-Op) was purchased in a glass jar which proved to be an excellent replacement for the regular stuff in plastic containers. We also discovered Norwex cleaning products which cuts down on our washing powder usage and associated waste and switched from plastic scrubbing sponges for dishwashing to a loofah.  We even dabbled in going shampoo-less to avoid the bottles that seem to have more plastic than liquid in them. On an ongoing basis, the kids toys and clothes are nearly all second hand from friends & family, and from, and Mrs Makedo tends to swap and borrow a lot of our own clothes now.

It’s very satisfying when you “find a way” to make it work.

By the time we got to mid June after 3 or 4 weeks of doing this groundwork, our plastic waste had dropped dramatically and from our food shopping it was now near zero, but our diet was still taking a small hit. Cooking was more about working with what you had rather than cooking what you wanted. Tough to get used to.

Our process of searching for new plastic-free foods had widened out now to include Asian stores and other markets we know of in the Cork area and so our diet is still broadening back to closer to where it was, but certain things remain off limits for a zero plastic buyer (at least for now).

July 1st is here – are we ready?

More to follow….

If you want to look for motivation to do this then check out “The clean Bin Project”- a movie about trying to go zero waste (

They say that one needs to feel something rather than just hear it or see it in order to be driven to respond with conviction. If you need more motivation for why plastic waste is such a problem then check out the info on what seaborne plastic is doing to birds on Midway Island in the Pacific – thousands of miles from where waste is being dumped.

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