I guess I do not need to tell you anything about the problems with plastics. There is too much of our durable and water-insoluble waste, which is resistant to most natural processes of degradation. To increase our awareness of the amount of plastic we produce in our daily routines we tried to abstain from producing plastic waste during the last Lent. Wasn’t that easy, as you can probably imagine.
As soon as you try to avoid plastic it seems like everything is made of these organic polymers. I’m not talking about the plastic bags that you receive in supermarkets en passant, or the wrappings around frozen pizzas – those are luxuries and almost easy to avoid. But you will have a hard time to get cheese and meat, as they are almost always wrapped in plastic. Milk is then only available from bottles (significantly increasing the weight of your bag); fruits and vegetables are difficult to get – especially organic food: sellers seem to make sure organic food isn’t mixed with non-organic food and therefore apples, for instance, are neatly wrapped in plastic, often just four at a time. I think avoiding plastic is a superset of avoiding supermarkets, as there is almost nothing plastic-free you can buy at supermarkets. Thus, local marketplaces are the last resort. There you can bring own vessels to get them filled by the sellers.
However, that was just the easy part. For some things we did not find a good solution and we simply had to abstain from them or we needed to cheat (which really made us feel bad!):
- Do you know these tiny plastic things that help you open wine bottles? -> Go for other brands with a screw-cap, for example.
- Do you know Nutella? -> cap is plastic.
- All the bathroom stuff. Soap or shower gel for example. You probably need to create your own brands.
- Handkerchiefs? They always come in plastic wrappings. Only alternatives are these old-fashioned cotton made handkerchiefs. Not very hygienic in my eyes..
- Same for toilet paper: always in plastic wrappings. I do not have a solution..
- No IKEA, no Amazon, no non-local stuff in general.
Ah, and did i say no take-away? It is not allowed to go and get some Chinese food or a kebab, as that usually involves buying plastic. So… yes.. it’s been a hard time.
All the more I am happy that this issues already arrived at the higher layers and there are efforts to produce organic plastic, which is bio-degradable and made from renewable resources, such as starch, lignocellulose, or polylactic acid. For example, bottles from organic materials, some supermarkets already offer organic bags, and quite a bit of research is going on, e.g. the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Polymer Research develops organic based foils and coatings that realise sophisticated barriers.
However, the bridge from the lab to the industry is of course challenging. We put high requirements on our products, especially in case of groceries. We do not want to see chemicals from the wrappings passing over to our food and, the other way around, flavours of our food shouldn’t leave the wrappings (just think of coffee!). There are other but equally high requirements for products in medicine and cosmetics.
- European Bioplastics
- EU restricts the use of plastic bags to protect the environment
- Bioeconomy - new concepts for the use of natural resources: a program of our Federal Ministry of Education and Research to develop a new research strategy