Week 6 took us back to the UK, and it was a timely reminder of how good we have things in France. We had returned for a citizenship ceremony (for my wife, who is Belgian when it comes to paperwork – however, the joys of Brexit meant we needed to cover all bases, and while we have zero intention to return to the UK, we wanted to make sure that everyone in the family had the same passport, just in case). This meant staying with family and entering a cultural landscape with which we had become unfamiliar – the danger of plastic.
The image at the top of screen is encouraging, but I saw nothing like this in store.
The trip was actually pretty well planned – we did a big Biocoop shop before heading to the UK, so bags were packed with plastic free fruits, both fresh and dried, and a few other bags of organic snacks. Our metal water bottles were also at hand and, while we were running too late to be able to fill them in the airport, we managed to get some canned drinks on the flight (and packed them for recycling later – not being terribly convinced that Ryanair are going to doing anything responsible with their waste at the end of their trips). So, as the trip began, we managed to keep things plastic free pretty successfully.
As the trip wore on though, we found the plastics to be creeping in from all angles. At the citizenship ceremony, plastic cups were made available, something we have not seen for a while since such disposables were banned here in France a few years ago. Staying with my parents, we found ourselves looking into cupboards which were stacked with single use plastics. As a family, mine are big fans of their bulk bought Cosco shops which, while it might be cost effective, certainly introduces a stack of plastic which might otherwise be avoided. As we tried to do some of our own shopping, we found ourselves isolated from any ethical stores – being based in rural south-east Wales, options were limited. The nearby supermarkets were havens of plasticated produce – the raft of cardboard and glass packed options that we had grown used to in France were just not there. I know that some supermarkets have made a long term pledge to move away from single use plastics, but it certainly feels long term based on what I saw last week.
Inevitably, because we were on the road, we ended up with some plastics, at least a couple of units were certainly single use – the others had that ominous detail stating that they were ‘widely recycled’, something I have taken to mean ‘unlikely to be recycled’. I’ve been following several blogs here, from the UK, where the struggle with plastics has felt alien – why was it so hard, without extenuating circumstances, to make the transition? Having stepped back into the UK for more than a couple of days, it was easy to see how hard it actually is. France is not perfect, and there is plenty of single use plastic still in circulation, but I do feel, from a comparative perspective, that the UK is streets behind France in terms of alternative options.
Knowing that makes it all the more frustrating when we do slip up. However, I’m home from work for a couple of weeks now, which gives us a great opportunity to reset and put in place the schedules which had served us so well up until this point.
Making the transition is work, and requires commitment and dedication, but sometimes you need help in terms of systems around you, and I really do appreciate that for some, especially in rural parts of Wales and the UK more generally, that can be tough – however, it’s never impossible.