Welcome to the blog of the course and textbook Facing up to global warming: What is going on and what you can do about it. This course is run by Professor Nick Gray of the Trinity Centre for the Environment at Trinity College Dublin.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Plastic makes the world go round...But can we do without it, when we are buying food?

 Once, I was at the airport at a time too early to be mentioned here. So, there was plenty of time to pass before the buses ran again. I decided to sit down at one of those airport restaurants, which already served breakfast, and I bought an on-site prepared smoothie, which was filled into a tiny, resealable plastic bottle. Of course, an unnecessary wrapping for me, because I finished the smoothie there, and a drinking glass would have done an even better job. Then I thought of how much unnecessary plastic wrapping there is, and how many things I just buy to throw them away again.

Back home, what I did next was to check my fridge for the last grocery purchase, which turned out to contain more plastic than I would have dreamt of, and more than was required. A sinister amount of plastic gathered in my fridge, and suddenly it struck me, why our recycling boxes are always full: not because we are so good at recycling, but because we buy so much waste, because we think that it is convenient to get six plums nicely wrapped up in a plastic basket.

But plastic is more difficult to recycle due to impurity and the mixture of different types of plastic. Therefore it is more likely to be burnt in order to generate energy than it is used to create things. Even worse, it is scarcely reused.  Paper and glass seem to be better wrapping alternatives, because paper is easier and more often recycled than plastic and glass does not lose quality, no matter how often it is recycled.

 That’s why I went down the road to the store and tried to get food without wrapping, or at least with less wrapping which would be easily recyclable. And, oh yes, I was quite successful.

As pictures paint a thousand words, just have a look for yourself.

The difference is striking: The food with less wrapping looks much nicer, and is more appealing to my appetite
There is less unnecessary waste, which does not leave me with a “Big Mac feeling“ of having eaten bad food and having created a lot of waste. Instead, buying food more consciously makes me enjoy my meals much more.

Within this comparison, the icecream seemed to be the most controversial. The first coming in a robust plastic box that could be reused, which would have saved me a lot of money on food containers. The latter came in thin cardboard only, not even foil on the inside.

I could replace most of the plastic by paper and glass, although many products can not completely refrain from using plastic. And even if you can not completely refrain from buying things wrapped in plastic, because there are no alternative products, you can reuse some of the plastic boxes, not forgetting to recycle them in the end.

Jasmin Grossmann


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