After watching the BBC documentary War on Plastic, Nikki McIntosh was inspired to go plastic-free.
Together with her husband, the learning support lecturer at Scotland’s Rural College decided to eliminate single-use plastic from their shopping bags.
“I have always been fairly aware of environmental issues but had never really stopped to think about the extent of single-use plastic and how it is or isn’t recycled,” said Nikki, speaking at the start of Zero Waste Week.
The first few weeks proved challenging as the couple found themselves driving from one end of town to the other and back again, in search of food.
“We were conscious of how our attempts to be plastic-free were causing more fuel emissions,” said Nikki, who lives in Dundee. “Since then, we have managed to reduce the driving as well as the plastic, but it has meant us having to plan our shopping trips in advance.
“We now know where we can and cannot get the things we need and shopping is becoming easier.
“We try to shop ‘local’, using farm shops, farmers’ markets and butchers. We still use supermarkets, but we use them far less often. Some supermarkets are getting better at offering plastic-free options, particularly for fruit and vegetables, but the vast majority of their offerings are still wrapped in plastic.”
They have also made use of the refill shops which are springing up around the country – including their local shop, The Little Green Larder.
“These shops buy in bulk and we simply take our own tubs and bags and fill them with whatever we need,” she said. “We can get all sorts of items in these shops, for example pasta, spices, shampoo and washing up liquid.”
The biggest challenge for Nikki, who works at SRUC’s Elmwood campus in Fife, has been trying to find alternatives for her favourite snack – crisps.
“I wasn’t aware just how much I like them until I couldn’t buy them. I tried to make my own but that was a disaster, and eventually I caved in and bought some.
“However, I’m trying not to beat myself up too much about it. One of our local refill shops has a TerraCycle point for crisp packets. They specialise in recycling hard-to-recycle materials, so my crisp packets can eventually be turned into something useful.”
Other concessions are their pets’ dog and cat food, which still comes in plastic, and medicine.
Apart from lessening their environmental impact, the couple have also benefitted from eating more healthily.
“After our first week of eating nothing but fruit and veg, I had lost a kilo,” said Nikki. “It didn’t take me long to figure out where I could get cakes and chocolate bars without plastic wrapping, but there are lots of things we simply do without – we never needed to buy those items, we bought them because we could.”
As students get set to return to SRUC, Nikki is planning to spread her plastic-free message.
“If anyone brings single-use plastic into my classroom, they’ll be getting a mini-lecture from me,” she joked.