Week 3 was always going to throw up some challenges, because that was the week when I went back to work. There is a painful hypocrisy to my 2019 pledge to #pushpastplastic – I fly to work. All those efforts to be sustainable are slapped down in seconds by the plumes of carbon slamming out the rear end of my weekly Airbus. When we moved to France, we still needed an income, and my job (History lecturer with the University of Gloucestershire) stayed where it was. Sadly I don’t have the language skills (yet) to pull off being an academic (or much else) in France so, while the commute is not ideal for so many reasons, for now it is what it is.
However, we are not being complacent. While it is not so simple as to just stop working (as lovely an idea as that might be), there are still things we can do to offset the impact of all my flights. Planting trees is the obvious path, and while there are plenty of companies offering to plant trees on your behalf, we are fortunate enough to have land on which we can plant our own. Working out just how many trees to plant, however, is a little more complex. I’ve gone through several carbon calculators, and each gives me a wildly different number, ranging from 14 trees, to 60. I’ve taken the policy that, when it comes to planting trees, the more the better. So, come late summer / early autumn, we are going to set about planting 60 new trees around our land. Our woodland will benefit from this anyway, because we lack biodiversity in our immediate landscape. It might only take us to carbon neutrality, and the flying remains far from ideal – but it is one viable option that we can explore in the short term.
Having got the flying out of the way, I now face the challenge of staying #plasticfree while away from home. I overlooked some of the simple details – while I am away from home at work, I don’t have all my water containers, of glass jarred food supplies, or a range of reusable bag and wrap options. In a sense, starting back to work, was like starting the #pushpastplastic programme from the very start again.
On landing in Stansted airport, the first hurdle presented itself – I was thirsty, and had nothing to put any water in. That was a frustrating oversight. Looking back, all it would have required was the packing of an empty flask and (I think) that would have been fine with airport security. Fortunately I was able to purchase a glass bottle with some elderflower, which I was then able to reuse for water. That glass bottle now sits in my office, ready for reuse: one problem solved.
Then there was the issue of food. Being mobile for the better part of three days does not really lend itself to cooking (having no real access to such facilities while on the road), or bringing food from home – three days worth of nourishment is a fair amount to carry around. I already travel with a lot of work resources, so space is at a premium. One week before I left for the new academic semester, I was lucky enough to discover the app TooGoodToGo – a resource dedicated to reducing food waste. Partner restaurants, and other food providers, can advertise end of day produce at a highly reduced rate, which would otherwise just be thrown away. It seemed really exciting, but not something that I was really able to take advantage of in rural France. Cheltenham, however, has plenty of participants, and I did really well out of my first use of the app.
On my first night, I had a vast amount of food from a Chinese buffet, while day 2 saw me walk away with what must have been £20-30 worth of Yo! Sushi food, for about £3. I was really pleasantly surprised to have found such a haul – almost more than I could eat. The one drawback to all of this, was the plastic. I was not organised, so had no containers with me. On both nights I ended up with what I’m pretty sure were three cartons of single use plastics – that was far from ideal. Again, the solution was a simple one, and now, in the middle of my commuting bag, sat next to my metal flask, is my reusable food box. So, come Monday night, so long as there are some TooGoodToGo options left by the time I arrive (because they do sell out), I’ll be able to fight food waste, and plastic waste all at once.
Back at home, the push for plastic free continues reasonably well. Generally the only plastics to come into the home were tetra pack milk cartons. This continues to be a challenge, with tetra packs being notorious for ending up in landfill, their composite materials being too complex for recycling companies to strip into their separate elements. We had one break through right at the very end of the week, where we finally found organic milk in a recyclable, single type plastic bottle. All of the other organic milk bottles that I’ve found in France so far, are all destined to go straight to landfill. We are still searching for an elusive glass bottled organic milk, but this is at least a step in the right direction.
The one other slip came while I was away at work, where my wife, juggling rampant toddler, work orders and mistimed visits to the shop, ended up with a small shop which was big on plastic. While the materials which came into the home were all recyclable, and all have clear potential reuse purposes in our home, she was almost in tears having brought so much plastic through the door. It’s just another one of those things – being organised, and planning ahead, but that can be easier to say than do with a two year old who dominates our day to day – she is amazing, but occasionally tyrannical!
As we move into week 4, the challenges will be to execute the no plastic plan while on the commute, and hope that we have planned our weekend shopping well enough, so my partner is not forced to juggle a tricky shop while I am away.