top of page

Why are we living in such a throw away society?

We are living in an age where everything gets thrown away. So many things are one time use. Disposable cleaning wipes, disposable nappies, shopping bags (yes, even the so called re-usable ones!), coffee pods. The list goes on, and don't even get me started on throw away plates and cutlery!

stop single use plastic cutlery and straws

My biggest issue is with the supermarkets wrapping fruit and veg in plastic. Sometimes its even on a plastic tray and then wrapped in a plastic outer bag for good measure - for four apples! Seriously, FOUR?! A person living on their own will likely buy two of those packs a week, assuming they eat an apple most days. Imagine how many of those plastic trays and outer bags end up in the bin of a household with two or three kids (or more), all eating healthy apples, and other fruit. Cucumbers come shrink wrapped in plastic. They're not even delicate. They don't crush or bruise, but supermarkets, or the supply chain, feel the need to shrink wrap them. Lettuce comes in a plastic bag, often with moisture trapped inside, and the actual lettuce starting to wilt because of the moisture! They can't even use the pretence of it keeping the produce fresher for longer, as it doesn't! My big gripe is that the biggest supermarket here in the Netherlands, Albert Heijn, is actually starting to reduce this kind of plastic waste. But, and this is a pretty huge BUT, I challenge you to nip in and buy any organic (biological, as they call it here) fruit/veg. Any at all. I can guarantee that will be wrapped in plastic, while the non organic version sometimes isn't. I say sometimes, as it is still hit and miss. Their excuse for doing this is that they need to separate the biological ones from the normal, from a pricing point of view. So they wrap the so-called healthier and more environmentally friendly product in, yup, you've guessed it, plastic! Proper geniuses aren't they! I'm sorry, but I refuse to buy it! As for the pricing differences between organic and non, parsnips are one item that for some reason, they only sell organic ones here. Yet they are always packaged in plastic packs of three, which is very inconvenient as I usually only want 2. A larger household may want more! But why wrap them in plastic when they don't even sell non organic parsnips. It isn't like they could get mixed up and people underpay for them? But no, they like to make us pay for plastic packaging, not to mention having to buy often inappropriate pack sizes for our needs! I usually don't like the taste of the organic veg. Maybe that's just here, but I find it often tastes watery and has less flavour than the non organic. I know it shouldn't, but I'm living in a country that rarely has more than three types of vegetables on offer in even the biggest supermarkets! Almost everything comes in two to four person portion sizes here, already chopped up and of course in plastic bags! We do our shopping in a combination of three places. Albert Heijn for the majority of our things, followed by Jumbo (another large and somewhat cheaper supermarket), and then our local greengrocers. In my experience, greengrocers can vary from awesome to terrible here. Maybe in your country too? As it happens, our nearest one is awesome. We also occasionally nip to the local farm shops, but we find the greengrocer usually has better tasting fruit and veg.

Supermarket apples wrapped in plastic

The only food item I'm happy to buy pre-wrapped in plastic is meat. I know in days gone by people bought their meat from the local butchers and the butcher wrapped it in paper in front of them. I don't fancy getting meat juices all over my shopping, especially things that don't get cooked, like fruit and salad veg. Nor do I fancy ruining my shopping bags. So for hygiene reasons, meat is ok to be wrapped in plastic, in my opinion. But nothing else. We as a society have become so lazy. Have any of you actually tasted those awful prepared fruit salads meant for eating after your lunch or a picnic? Ew, they really are pretty awful. Far from fresh, and it goes without saying that they're in a plastic tray/tub, with a shrink wrap plastic cover as a rule. Some even come with a plastic fork. Grrrr! Why not buy fresh fruit, and chop your own up, and put it in a reusable tub? It's not that hard....and a bonus is that it will actually be fresh and taste remotely like food! But the problem is, our lives have become busier and we've become lazier as far as food preparation goes. But some things really only take a couple of minutes!

Then what about items such as peanut butter and chocolate spread? Probably others too, but there are so many it's hard to think of them all! They come in glass jars which are recyclable. Great! They also have big chunky plastic lids! If jam can be sold in jars with metal lids, why can't peanut butter also be?

These bags for life aren't that great either. They're still plastic! After so many uses, they split, and when they do, where do you think most end up? A few will get recycled, but most will end up on landfills. If you're good with a sewing machine, you can sew a few heavy duty tote shopping bags. They'll last much longer. If you're not so good, you can buy them, although they're not as strong as one you can make yourself. I've made a few myself. We use a mix of those, and the reusable plastic bags for life. I really must get round to making more shopping bags. The best bit is, when they get dirty, just pop them in the washing machine. They really last so much longer. I line mine. I use a thick outer fabric (Ikea sell some great fabrics, and very good prices too!), and I line it with a thinner cotton fabric. All double seamed. I don't know how long they last, as I've yet to wear one out, so I'll keep you posted when I know the answer! I also realised one day that we were using disposable anti-bac wipes like nobodies business. I never used to, but bit by bit they became more convenient than running a bit of hot water and getting some soap of some kind out from under the very sink I was using to store the wipes. So when we ran out of wipes, I refused to buy them any more. Instead, I started buying reusable microfibre cloths, and have gone back to the old fashioned soap, hot water and elbow grease. No more sticky residue on surfaces, and I actually feel everything is cleaner. It just didn't feel right using a cold wipe before! I could still do with more cloths, but I'm building that up gradually. They're not that expensive. We got ours from Amazon. There's loads to choose from on there. Just be sure not to use fabric softener on them. It won't do any harm, but it will reduce their absorbency. No biggy if you forget, as after a couple of washes that residue will be gone.

Reusable fabric shopping bag

I recently needed some bobby pins for my hair. That shocked me, as I expected them to come in a pack of 10 or so, attached to a card. Oh yes, they were, but that card was also wrapped in plastic! The packaging probably cost as much as the actual item I was buying! What a sad world we're living in. I assume that's done to prevent shop lifting? I can't see why else. Is somebody really going to steal bobby pins? The fancy accessories, maybe, but not something as basic, and cheap as that, surely?

I'm certainly not a saint when it comes to buying throw away plastics - although we recycle them in our house, but that still doesn't make them good for the environment! I'm enjoy drinking coke, and sometimes other fizzy drinks. So we buy bottles of Coke. However, there's a refund scheme in the Netherlands. Germany too. Possibly other European countries, although I'm not aware of those. Basically you're charged for the plastic bottle each time you buy a fizzy drink, whether it's a large 1.5 litre bottle, or a small one. You can return the empty bottles to any supermarket. There's big machines that you feed the plastic bottles in, one by one. Depending on the size and weight, the machine calculates how much you will get refunded. When you're done, it will print out a receipt. Hand that in at the till when you're paying for your shopping, and it will be deducted from your bill! That's quite a nice incentive to encourage people to recycle them! Of course it would be nicer if they weren't plastic at all.

plastic water bottles

For many years, France have used refill for various things from washing up liquid to some shampoos, shower gels, hand soaps. I believe only some brands do it. So you buy a washing up liquid in a plastic bottle initially. But then you keep that bottle, and buy refill pouches. The pouches are made of plastic, but considerably less than a thick bottle. You simply snip the top off, and decant it into your own bottle. I sometimes use a brand of skincare that that is available internationally, that also has many refillable items. It is very pricey though, so I treat myself occasionally, but unfortunately as most of us live in the real world, paying for expensive shampoos simply isn't feasible all the time! But I try to when possible. I recently stumbled across something new. Well, it's new to me, but I think it's been around for a while, and that I hadn't noticed it. That is eco deodorant! As soon as I saw it (this particular one was online), I decided I wanted to try it. But, just like all eco things, it's more than double the price of normal deodorants. For this particular brand, you have to be the reusable case, and then you buy refills in your choice of scent (natural scents) extra. You can take out a postal subscription and have them sent to you on a regular basis, but I'm not a fan of doing that, and prefer to buy them as and when I need them. But before taking the plunge, I saw a different type in my local drugstore. This one didn't have a reusable case, but it would allow me to try a natural deodorant before taking the plunge on a pricier one. I must say I didn't get on with it at all. It smelt awful, and it did nothing whatsoever to stop me from feeling wet, or masking the smell. But being a sucker for anything green, I've taken the plunge and ordered the one I saw anyway. Reviews on it are mixed, so I won't disclose the brand until I've got it and tried it. I don't want to endorse something I haven't yet tried! But am feeling nervous! I've just spent over €30 on deodorant (the case and three refills - three is the minimum order). So watch this space, I hope its better than the drugstore one I tried!

Because I live out in the sticks, our house isn't connected to the main sewer. So we have a septic tank. Because of that, we can't use any harsh chemicals to clean the toilet. It has to be eco ones, so it doesn't kill the natural bacteria in our tank that breaks down waste. Our grey water (from the kitchen sink and shower) actually goes into a ditch behind our house. The neighbours and farm houses water also goes in to that ditch. We don't (technically) have to use eco cleaning products for kitchen and bathroom, only toilet is essential. But I personally do. I must admit, I only started to when we moved to this house, as I appreciated being in the countryside, and didn't want to pollute it myself! So it has really been the last few years that I've become very aware of trying to use less damaging items, both for household cleaning, cosmetics, and even when it comes to other items. If there's an alternative that isn't wrapped in plastic (and hopefully not four times the price), I'll opt for the alternative. If it's eco too, that's an added bonus! Sadly, many of the greener alternatives are so expensive.

We bought a nearly new car four years ago. Our old car was on its last legs, and when we moved house, my husband had a much longer commute to work, so it made sense to buy a better car. We chose a hybrid car, simply because at the time, no full electric car would have got him to work and back. Let me rephrase that, I think a Tesla would have done, I seem to recall, but that was just a tad (LOL) out of our budget. But they are capable of doing more and more miles, so maybe that's different now. But todays mentality - pushed by governments no less, is to scrap our old cars because the emissions are too high and they pollute. Er, hello! All cars pollute! Making it impossible for those older cars to enter cities - don't forget, many people work in the cities! What happens to our old cars when scrapped? Only a small part actually gets recycled, I'm sure. Much of it will be too dirty, polluted, covered in oil to recycle, surely? Maybe I'm wrong on that. If so, do correct me! The recycling process pollutes! Not as much as creating new materials, I'm sure, but it isn't as clean as we're lead to believe! Then add some new materials to the salvaged recycled ones in order to make a new car as it will need extra. So is it really cleaner to scrap your car to save a few emissions, when it costs significant to make a new one, albeit with many recycled materials? And electric cars - full electric - are they really cleaner? I don't know the answer to this, but I'd put a guess at not really. The car certainly emits less, or maybe even no emissions. But producing electric isn't always clean! The Netherlands has huge wind farms, but only produces about 5% of its electricity from wind farms. Most electricity in the Netherlands comes from fossil fuels, so I don't feel that scrapping your old car (unless really needed) is actually cleaner! In other countries, maybe it is, if they don't use fossil fuels. But in general, I think we're being lulled into false pretences. After all, when we buy a new car, the government gets a nice little tax payment from us! In our case, we needed that new car, but if we hadn't, we would have kept going with our old car until we ran it into the ground. It wasn't far off, anyway!

recycle logo

We also have that same throw away culture with most electronics. Tv's, mobile phones. Everybody wants the latest gadgets, even if it means throwing away a perfectly good phone, watch, tv, laptop etc. As soon as a new model comes out with more bells and whistles, we're sucked in. As a child, if our tv played up, we'd argue about who's turn it was to get up and thump it (before remote controls were the norm). I think everybody who grew up in the 80's and early 90's remembers hitting your tv on the top when it had nothing but a white line against a black screen just as something exciting was about to happen on your favourite programme? If thumping it didn't work, you'd call out the tv repairman! Yes, that was a real profession once upon a time! If you want to get a tv fixed now, it would cost an arm and a leg. Certainly more than buying a new one! Chances are, whatever parts are needed to repair it would be unobtainable as a five year old tv is now old technology. But the price to pay for all these fancy new bells and whistles is high! We have poor quality things that don't last.

I've also read about people throwing out all their plastic food storage containers, to replace them with glass. If it aint broke, don't fix it! I have a cupboard full of plastic containers. I use them time and time again. They go in the freezer, microwave and fridge. Then I wash them and re-use them. I've had them for years, and will probably have them for many more yet! I could throw them out to go on a landfill just so I could buy glass ones to possibly crack when I put them in the freezer? That's taking things too far. The plastics I have are staying until they're worn out. Then I'll think about an alternative, but only if it's likely to last. Otherwise it will be another plastic container, that will last me many years.

Anyway, I cannot claim to be green. I still use many plastics. I honestly think it would be nearly impossible to go plastic free. Unless we all start growing our own fruit and veg, it will be! But I am certainly becoming more aware of the plastics I do use, and trying to minimise them where possible. What about you? If you're ahead of me, I'd welcome any tips. If not, get off your lazy tush, and start doing your bit ;) Seriously though, the big giants in manufacturing, supermarket chains, and popular tech brands aren't helping any of us, but if we all make a little effort, they'll have to start listening to us, the consumers, sooner or later. If we don't buy it, they will change!

15 views0 comments
bottom of page