Plastic-Free July 2020
There’s no contesting that reusing is the best option to reduce waste, especially when it comes to reducing plastic.
In this post we’ll highlight some of the ways we can help you to reuse. Although we are a shop and we do sell reusable items, we’d prefer if you bought less and reused what you already have – crazy business acumen altogether, we know.
REUSE = REDUCE
In our last Plastic-Free July blog post back in 2018 we wrote about our own journey reducing waste. Since then we have continued that journey and more of you have joined us. By shopping local and independent you’re not only supporting small businesses and growers, you’re also more likely to find plastic-free options. At Small Changes all of our fresh fruit and veg is unpackaged – apart from leaves as we have found when we sell those loose it leads to more food waste – and that’s also terribly damaging to the planet. Customers can refill their containers with pantry staples like beans, grains, vegan alternatives, cereals, flours, teas, coffee, dried fruit, nuts, seeds, oils and vinegars, as well as household and laundry cleaners and shampoo. We sell these items unpackaged by weight or volume so you only buy as much or little as you need (our full list of in store refills is on our refill page).
Paper Bags aren’t going to save the world.
We ask our customers to bring their own containers and bags – if you forget yours you can take a box if it’s available. While we do have some small paper bags available for when you forget your containers we would encourage you to bring your own. People often ask us why we don’t stock large paper carrier bags too. Here’s why:
- It takes four times as much energy to manufacture a paper bag, as compared to plastic, and the raw materials have to come from trees, a natural resource that is otherwise carbon-fixing. Making paper bags not only adds waste to the world, it kills one of our greatest tools for fighting pollution.
- Paper bags generate 70 more air pollutants than plastic.
- They generate 50 times more water pollutants than plastic.
- It takes 91 percent less energy to recycle a plastic bag than it does a paper bag.
- Paper bags are very thick, so shipping them costs more fuel per bag.
These points are admittedly biased toward plastic (and reusable bags), but if this is starting to sound like a vote for plastic bags, think again. Plastic leaches chemicals into our oceans and waterways, breaks into small pieces and accumulates in the stomachs of baby birds, strangles fish and collects into great seafaring clumps that become islands and continent-sized rubbish patches. The point isn’t that plastic is good; it’s that our unwavering assumption that paper’s okay is wrong.
RECYCLING IS THE LAST OPTION
Small Changes has been offering household refills since 2010, and dried food refills since 2017. One customer has been reusing a bottle she’s had since 2008. Each time these customers refill a bottle, bag, or jar they’ve made the decision not to buy more plastic that would end up either in landfill or a recycling facility. Ireland is the top producer of plastic waste in Europe with an annual average of 61 kgs per person. 34% of our plastic is recycled with 39% being incinerated and 31% going to landfill. 60% of our plastic waste comes from packaging but only 40% of that is recycled, so the numbers tell us it’s better to reuse than to recycle. Also, the same piece of plastic can only be recycled a maximum of 2-3 times before it is rendered useless and sent to landfill. That’s why we always quote the 3 R’s in order of priority: Firstly, can you Reduce what you use? If not, can you Reuse it? And finally, can you Recycle it? Mywaste.ie is a great resource for recycling in Ireland but do keep in mind the order of the 3 R’s
You can also reuse personal items like cotton menstrual pads, menstrual cups, cotton face pads – we’ve been stocking these for years and are glad to say they are growing in popularity. Once you get used to using them you’ll wish you’d have started sooner, they are an absolute game changer and not just better for the environment but for your body too. If you’re handy with a sewing machine you can even make your own cotton pads, youtube has some great free tutorials.
There are, of course, certain things you can’t reuse like toothbrushes and dish brushes etc. (unless you make your own reusing old materials). Instead of using plastic brushes opt for bamboo which wont still be on the planet for your great-great-great grandchildren to find at the beach. They also look a lot prettier in your kitchen or bathroom. Just remember if you do still have plastic items use them until you can’t anymore, don’t just ditch them while they are still perfectly usable to buy the more friendly alternative. We know Covid_19 has made it more difficult to be eco-friendly but you can still use things like your reusable bottle when at work, and a lot of café’s can safely pour coffee into your reusable cup. If you’ve been nervous about this during the pandemic use Plastic-Free July as a starting point to reintroduce these habits. Using reusable face coverings is also much better than using disposables just make sure you do your research on the best materials and also how to use your face mask correctly.
Some reusables and alternatives-to-plastics you can buy at Small Changes (when you’ve run out of what you have).
After 10 years running an eco-friendly business, Small Changes is still on a journey learning how to be kinder to the planet, and everyone working in the shop brings new knowledge and ideas to the upcycled table. If you need any help on your journey, whether you’re just beginning with Plastic-Free July, or have any tips for us, let us know in the comments. And remember to reuse what you have first.