Category: eco

The four addictions

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At the start of 2014 I wanted to confront four addictions in my life.

  • Plastic
  • Caffeine
  • Alcohol
  • Sugar

Why these four things? I observed that many, if not most, of us in the UK live as though these are daily essentials. They are also four things where the negative effects outweigh the perceived benefits.

Maybe you think that ‘addiction’ is too strong a word for our relationship to these things, and maybe it is. But the vast majority of people seem to struggle to get through the day without all four.

Plastic

We are surrounded by plastic. It is a useful material and is used to great benefit in many areas of life. I’ve not got a problem with that.

However, we are generating millions of tons of waste from single use plastic items like water bottles and milk containers and carrier bags and… And most of it ends up in the ocean.

There is so much plastic waste in the ocean that destroys life. Fish are eating it and when we eat the fish we are eating our own plastic waste.

That’s why I’m trying Plastic Free Tuesdays. It’s quite hard and requires a lifestyle change. We consume a lot of sparkling water, which previously came in single-use plastic bottles. So we switched to making our own sparkling water with a Soda Stream gizmo – one small example of how we have reduced our plastic waste. We are still working on this addiction.

Caffeine

Like most people, I really thought I needed that hit of caffeine first thing to crank up my body to face the day. But caffeine is a strong addictive drug. It is the fact that we are addicted to it that makes us think we ‘have to have it.’

Caffeine is in coffee but it’s also in tea – lots of teas not just ‘normal’ tea. It’s also in cola drinks and most energy drinks.

It might come as a surprise that caffeine is not just an addictive drug, it’s also a model drug of dependence

Caffeine is produced by more than seventy-five plants, which use it as a pesticide. That’s right – a pesticide! When we consume caffeine, our body thinks that some kind of emergency is happening. It floods itself with dopamine, epinephrine, cortisol, and acetylcholine. That’s what gives us that feeling of stimulation and being wide-awake and alert.

It takes about 24 – 36 hours to come off this drug so, if you are a daily consumer, prepare for a serious pounding headache for a whole day. Once you are off the drug, you’ll feel calmer, happier and less irritable. I quit thirty-six days ago and I’m not planning to go back. I no longer wake up with caffeine cravings and I can even have a cup of decaf right before bedtime and it doesn’t keep me awake.

Alcohol

I know I’ll have very few takers on this one! But… the whole nation has been brainwashed about this drug. A few facts:

  • Each year more than £800 million is spent on advertising alcoholic drinks in the UK, with the global estimate approximating $1 trillion.
  • In 2013 the UK government made £10.5 billion in tax on alcohol.
  • Average alcohol consumption has gradually fallen in many OECD countries between 1980 and 2009 with an average overall decrease of 9%. The United Kingdom however, has seen an increase of over 9% in these three decades.

For me, the thing was that alcohol is a big fat liar!

It’s a lie that it helps us relax – if alcohol caused us to relax then, when two drunks get into a fight on a Friday night, we would give them some more alcohol to calm them down… We associate it with relaxation because we often consume it in relaxing situations, and in moments when we are in relaxation mode.

It’s a lie that it ‘takes the edge off.’ If there is an edge, it was probably caused by the effects of alcohol the previous day. A healthier diet can produce a steady feeling of calm.

As I said, I’m not expecting a queue to sign up to this one(!), but having eliminated it from my life 198 days ago, I have to say that life is better. So many are cranking themselves up with caffeine in the morning and then calming the feelings of irritablilty that causes in the evening, by using alcohol numb their feelings. This pendulous swing in our metabolism places stress on the heart and other organs.

If, like some people I know, you have a small glass of something once a year if you remember to, then it isn’t an issue you need to think about.

Sugar

Here is the one I thought would be easiest and has proved to be the most addictive and difficult drug to kick. Our body needs some sugar and we can get the healthy version of this from things like fruit and honey. It’s the refined sugar that we get addicted to, and some have suggested it’s as dangerous as heroine.

Now the point of this blog is to suggest simple steps to improve your life. Tackling these three big beasties all in one year is a huge challenge. Also it may be possible to restrict or reduce them rather than giving up all together. So maybe pick the one that you think will be the easiest for you and see if you can go a week, a month, or a whole year without it.

I’ll let you know when I manage to kick the sugar (and the plastic!).

How many of these would you struggle to let go of?

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My Plastic Free Tuesday… #fail

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Today I tried to have a Plastic Free Tuesday. It has been an interesting day as it is almost impossible to live life like most of us do without using plastic and therefore generating unnecessary waste. As the Plastic Free Tuesday website says:

On Plastic-Free Tuesday we skip plastic to reduce our plastic footprint. That means we don’t buy anything that is made of plastic or contains plastic. We also don’t use anything made of plastic that we have to throw away after using it. So no bananas wrapped in plastic, no plastic bags, no take-away coffee in plastic cups and so on.

Why?

Plastic can cause harm in many ways. It clogs our oceans, injures and kills birds and marine mammals, causes air pollution when burnt, poisons our food when entering the food chain through fish and endangers our health when we enjoy food and our plastic environment.

Disposable plastic products are a big chunk of our household waste stream. It costs a lot of money to manage and process the waste from our daily take away coffee or the plastic bags that we use for our veggies at the grocery store.

We really need to rethink our use of plastic.

Lots of people are struggling even to get round to having a reusable ‘bag for life’ to do their shopping. I did that years ago but the amount of plastic our food comes packaged in is quite astonishing.

First up was breakfast: my usual porridge, honey and banana was OK apart from noticing I have switched from a glass honey jar to a plastic squeezey bottle of honey. I need to switch back to a glass jar and use a spoon.

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Down at the office, we needed milk but found that all the local stores only do milk in plastic bottles, so that was a #fail for morning coffee. Can I not buy milk in a glass bottle anymore?

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The popular practice of having a bottle of water through the day generates huge waste and cost for absolutely no reason other than the profits of big companies. Buying water in plastic bottles is madness! Some time ago I bought a reusable metal bottle and carry tap water for free and with zero waste.

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Lunch simply required a switch to a different sandwich shop.

Greggs, where I usually get a sandwich from, package their sandwiches in plastic. I switched to a local independent shop – CJ’s Sandwich Bar – who make them to order and put them in a paper bag. Result! And a nice bacon roll it was too!

Afternoon coffee – milk in a plastic bottle again. #fail

Dinner: As I was working late this evening, dinner was a meal I had prepared previously, from the freezer. In a ceramic dish and plastic free apart from a cover of cling film I’d wrapped round it.

My usual evening drink is lime and soda. Both the lime and the soda were in plastic bottles so another #fail. I think we can get the lime in a glass bottle but maybe we should explore ways of getting plastic free sparkling water. Or just have tap water with it.

What have I learned today?

It really is quite difficult to avoid using unnecessary plastic even when we are being intentional about it. But that doesn’t mean we should stop trying.

I would really like to stop being a source of plastic going into landfill. Although more plastic than ever before is being recycled, it is a fact that millions of tons of plastic is being exported to places like China, some of which may end up in landfill or polluting their environment.

Some plastic bottles can take up to 400 years to decompose. And when is eventually breaks down, all of those dangerous ingredients permanently plant themselves into our environment. Plastic buried deep in landfills can leach harmful chemicals that spread into groundwater.

It must be better to use less plastic in the first place rather than try and recycle the vast volumes of pointless plastic like water bottles that have only a few hours use between purchase and disposal.

I’m going to try another plastic free Tuesday…

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