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'How I'm finding my way in the #LowImpactMovement'

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Plastic. Arguably one of the biggest buzzwords of the season, and for good reason. Us Brits bin around 22 million tonnes of waste every year, and as a global society more than eight million tonnes of plastic is dumped into our oceans annually - with devastating impacts on both the environment and the people and wildlife we share it with.


The solution has to operate on all levels. On an international scale, the United Nations has launched a ‘global plastic platform’ to fight plastic wastes worldwide and, when the UK government plan to slowly phase out single use plastics by 2042 was criticised for being too little too late, Britain’s supermarkets took it into their own hands to pledge to almost half that timeframe in a “UK Plastics Pact” earlier this year.

The Co-op has taken this issue even further, sustainability being at the core of their ethos, by implementing a number of changes across their product range (even rolling out biodegradable carrier bags) and actively encouraging a more positive approach to the problem.  

Iain Ferguson, Co-op environment manager, says: “What is needed is a coordinated response to the problem. This should start with retailers and major brands listening to recyclers and developing packaging that is better for recycling.”

But all change starts with us, the individual and the consumer - and I’ve tried to take that to heart.

Early last year, I was merrily time-wasting on Youtube, avoiding a looming deadline (as all good students should), when I found myself watching a video which claimed to be “the best speech you’ll ever hear”. Anything seemed more attractive than my essay so, even when it became apparent that this speech was nothing more than a direct and undeniable assault on the ethics of my own lifestyle (I make no comment on whether it was actually “the best speech ever”), I failed to click away. This left me with two choices: become a vegan or become a hypocrite. And so it was that I joined the ranks of “insufferable, annoying vegans” trying to destroy slightly less of the planet than I was currently doing.

The first part was actually fairly easy. I could just pop down to the Co-op round the corner and grab a pack of stir fry veg and some Alpro ice-cream and have a suitably student-esque meal with a bit less of the death and destruction. But every now and then I would catch myself groaning at the prospect of having to drag multiple black bags out to the curb on bin day, and it made me question how much waste I was actually producing - and more importantly, how much of that could be avoided.

The answer is: a lot. A large part of that comes from educating yourself. As Co-op’s ‘Tipping Point’ report acknowledges, part of “the problem lies with a lack of knowledge about which packaging can be recycled”. I for one never knew that black plastics are not recycled (hence Co-op using blue mushroom pots and lighter milk bottle tops).

I similarly had never thought about where hard to recycle things like crisp packets end up (shamefully, these are often sent abroad) or paused to imagine the horrifying reality that every toothbrush I’ve ever used is probably lying out there on some beach. The truth of the matter is, even of the plastics that are recyclable (Co-op aims for 80% by 2020) cross-contamination and a lack of facilities means that two thirds of UK packaging is still sent to landfill, and that that isn’t cannot be recycled infinitely. Sooner or later, all plastics end up in the same place and I’d rather not play a part in it.

What started out as the somewhat daunting task of trying to cut out at least some of the plastics that cover nearly everything has turned into quite an exciting and empowering challenge. It started off with some easy swaps - investing in a reusable water bottle (and then making sure to actually carry it with me!), replacing my old toothbrush with a more eco-friendly bamboo alternative, carrying reusable shopping and produce bags at all times (even little paper bags for when I am tempted by the student Mecca that is Lidl bakery) and swapping to a menstrual cup rather than constantly having to buy pads and tampons. I’ve got a swanky, old fashioned safety razor too.

When I’m out shopping I always opt for loose fruit and veg even if it costs a few pennies more (though the local market is an amazing place to do this and grab a bargain!), cans are a lifesaver (and more easily recyclable than plastic) and I always do a little happy dance when I find things in entirely cardboard packaging (Co-op’s pizza bases and Irresistible tomato are as are everyone’s favourite: Linda McCartney sausages).

Other things take a bit more effort and preparation, but are totally worth it. It may sound extreme, but whipping up some homemade bread or pasta is both fun and yummy and I’m super excited to start making my own oat milk (literally just oats and water blended up into creamy deliciousness).

And it doesn’t have to stop in the kitchen. A few basic ingredients that you can pick up from the supermarket can sort you out with a surprising amount. Admittedly it sounds a little gross, but a bit of ordinary vinegar mixed with some water in a spray bottle makes an effective disinfectant or surface cleaner and the same mixture can even be used as a conditioner in your hair after you, wait for it, “shampoo” your locks with bicarbonate of soda. Similarly bicarb can be combined with a good coconut oil to make a toothpaste that doesn’t come in a tube, and is still super easy and effective to use!

There is no end to the possibilities for making or finding alternatives to products that come in excessive packaging and this, I have found, has turned trying to live #lowimpact from a daunting, almost impossible challenge, to an empowering one.  

Students get 10% off at Co-op with a Totum or NUS extra card.

Find out more about how Co-op is addressing food waste with the Co-op Food Share here.

For more inspiration from Co-op throughout the year follow @coopukfood

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