I took a break from my Eco Edit last month in recognition of the fact that staying safe is higher on most people’s agendas at the moment than being eco-friendly. However, I think it is possible to find a balance between the two. Of course, the use of PPE in certain circumstances is essential – but what can we do as a community to reduce the use of plastic but still prevent the spread of the virus? Below, I have put together a reminder of why cutting unnecessary use of plastics is so important, and a selection of ideas for how to do it, without putting anyone in danger.

What’s wrong with plastic?

Worldwide, 300million tons of plastic is produced each year, with 8 million tons entering our oceans annually (OceansAsia). Plastic has a lifespan of 450 years and it never fully degrades, simply breaking down into microplastics which continue to be dangerous to Biosystems across the world.

Plastics have naturally featured heavily in the fight against Covid 19 across the world, with the use of disposable face masks, hand sanitiser and gloves being used together to prevent the spread of the virus. A French non-profit group Opération Mer Propre recently discovered what they described as ‘Covid waste’ (disposable masks, gloves and hand sanitiser bottles) lurking under the waves in the Mediterranean Sea and warned that the impact on marine life will be deadly (Guardian, June 20).

Face masks

Although disposable masks need to be used in certain circumstances, day to day activities can be carried out using reusable masks. These are deemed most effective when they are at least double layered and are worn over both nose and mouth. If visiting areas of low contamination such as the local shops then they can be washed with your normal load at 40ºC, but if you or anyone you’ve been in contact with are tested positive for Covid-19 then it is best to wash the masks on their own at 60ºC or above. If you are in need of a reusable mask then there are several members of our community now making these and selling them.

Hand soap

Bar soaps and liquid soaps are equally effective at breaking down the lipid bilayer of the virus. Bar soaps in recyclable packaging are best from an eco perspective, but if you prefer liquid soap then consider refilling your current bottle using the refill stations available at our local zero waste shops in Stotfold, Letchworth and Hitchin.

Hand sanitiser

Hand gel is great for when you’re out and about where there are no washing facilities. To be effective it needs to have at least 60% alcohol content. One way to reduce your use of plastic is to buy a larger refill bottle and then dispense into a smaller container to carry with you. You could then consider reusing the empty bottle at home rather than disposing of it. (Perhaps it could be a planter? Watering can?) Alternatively, hand gel is cheap and easy to make at home using the following recipe:

Ingredients:

¾ cup of isopropyl/rubbing alcohol (99%)

¼ cup of aloe vera gel

10 drops of an essential oil (lavender
or teatree are my favourites!)

Method:

Pour all ingredients into a bowl, mix and then beat until it forms a gel.

Then dispense into smaller labelled containers for easy use when out and about.

Lockdown clear outs

As the saying goes, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure! If you’ve used the lockdown period to have a good sort out at home then before you take a trip to the tip consider offering the items to someone else to use. The Facebook groups ‘Hitchin reuse project’ and ‘Waste not Stotfold’ are both excellent sites to offer up your belongings to others, most items are collected on the same day and it saves you a trip to the tip.

Lucy Whittington moved to Fairfield Park in June 2019 with her husband and two sons. She is a teacher at Fairfield Park Lower School.