It wasn’t the most obvious place to be impressed by our progress towards zero plastics and environmental commitment. We were sitting in the Pilgrims coffee shop, near Holy Island in Northumberland.
The stand-out, was that we were drinking from cups made of bamboo. The spoons were of wood, the cakes home-made and the coffee roasted on the premises, from a sustainable source. We were served by incredibly intense youngsters who were doing something they believed in, and the result was absolutely marvellous.
Not for us the plastic throwaway cups, the plastic straws and the junk food served on polystyrene trays. This was a café that even Greta Thunberg would have approved off.
So we went home inspired and enthused, determined to lead plastic-free lives and live up to the ideals of the Extinction Rebellion.
Except that it’s impossible.
Refill our washing up liquid and other household cleaning bottles, we thought. There is not a refill station within 20 miles (and Ecover is the only brand doing it anyway).
Buy vegetables without wrapping. That cancels out all supermarkets and means making a point of getting to the market once a week.
Don’t buy any food items with plastic packaging. Really? Have you tried it? I can’t find a shop that has non-plastic wrapping for meat, fish or dairy. I can’t refill a milk container, or even buy cheese. Even the pulses, rice and nuts all come in their plastic wrappers.
With heavy heart, I unpack the shopping each week and fill the bin with unwanted plastic rubbish. Any supermarket that tried with even one aisle of plastic free produce would get our business. But there isn’t one anywhere near. Apparently there is one in the Netherlands. A world first.
Thornton Budgens has one plastic free aisle, but that is in a Belsize Park, London store. Whole Foods is working on a plan. We hope.
Sian Sutherland, co-founder of the campaign group A Plastic Planet, which is a supplier to Thornton Budgens, said the transition was being aided by “challenger” producers more instinctively comfortable with packaging their produce in non-plastic.
“It’s the big brands that are like snails with their pace of change,” she said. “What we are doing is an open door for new packaging technology.”
The fact is that everyone is moving very slowly, especially the retail stores, and it is really surprising given the level of plastic discontent. Consumers want to help save the planet and there is a massive loyalty advantage to be had by any company willing to stake its loyalty flag to the ecological mast.
Of course it won’t be easy. But launching one of the first loyalty (plastic) card programmes wasn’t easy either.
It is the time for eco-loyalty to emerge as a movement. And we would dearly love to hear from you about how you intend to take part.