My week without plastic

2013-06-20 09:30

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Live one week without plastic? That’s easy, thought Terry de Vries. And then the battle started…

Morning has broken and I have to lift the toilet lid. But I can’t – nor can I brush my teeth or apply face cream.

I also can’t make my much-needed morning tea, or drive to the nearest shop to buy an apple in order to ‘eat’ my teeth clean – because the steering wheel is pure plastic. Plus, even if I walk to the shop, I can’t draw money because my bank card is plastic.

I also can’t look up my friend’s number on my cellphone because I only have plastic reading glasses – and even if I could see well enough, I couldn’t touch my cellphone anyway… because it’s made from plastic.

In short, my first morning without plastic has barely started and I’m already snookered… I can’t drive, can’t see, can’t eat. And oops: I can’t write either, because my computer’s keyboard is… yep, pure plastic.

Perplexed, I choose to make a few exceptions. I decide that my computer, cellphone, car, bank card, walking shoes, face cream, pills and glasses are permissible evils.

And so, armed with two fabric bags from my sister Michelle in America, and a basket specially bought for this week, I tackle the supermarket. Mushrooms, cauliflower, ginger, leeks, cream, loo paper, bananas, apples, rocket, sweet potato, couscous (because it’s in a cardboard carton).

But there’s trouble afoot.

‘No, ma’am, the sweet potatoes have to be weighed in a plastic bag.’

‘Can’t you just stick the price on one of them?’

‘No, ma’am.’

My next headache is at the paypoint. My basket is too small and I have too few fabric bags. Nonetheless I obligingly remove all the plastic packaging (polystyrene trays included) and leave it with the cashier. Second problem.

How do you pack loose sweet potatoes and apples so they don’t bruise the rocket and mushrooms? Slightly rattled, I then drive with my basket and bags to buy vanilla yoghurt (in reusable glass bottles) from a biodynamic farm shop in Somerset West.

Alas, the cows have calves and there isn’t enough leftover milk for yoghurt. I might need an extra trip to the supermarket for some mass-produced stuff later in the week.

I read online that the cute American bags I have been proudly swinging around are 100% recycled plastic. Surely not!

plastic bottles

I also read that manufacturing a plastic bottle uses seven times more water than the bottle actually holds. And every year 300 million tonnes of plastic is made. In the USA alone, two million plastic bottles are emptied every five minutes. And only one out of six is recycled.

Plastic ends up in the sea. It breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces, but it stays plastic and forms an unwelcome part of ocean-dwellers’ diets. Fish eat it. Marine birds feed it to their young. Millions of marine animals and birds die every year from ingesting plastic or being strangled by it.

Alarmingly, giant plastic islands float around the oceans. The first one in the southern hemisphere was discovered earlier this year.

Charles Moore, who found the massive plastic rubbish dump in the Pacific Ocean, says it will take 79 000 years to remove all the rubbish islands. By 2020 these islands will consist of 7.25 million tonnes of plastic, the weight of 1 000 Eiffel Towers.

It’s tempting to think we should just give up hope in the war against plastic. But further googling offers some positive news.

A 19-year-old space engineering student at the Delft University of Technology, Boyan Slat, might have the answer: a cleaning appliance that can remove all the plastic islands within five years. ‘It’s the biggest environmental rescue ever. We put ourselves in this mess. Don’t tell me we can’t clean our own mess!’ he says.

With new hope for mankind, I go for a walk on the beach with my sister Lize. It’s been five days since my no-plastic week began and the full moon is setting over the mountains of Cape Point.

She takes photos, and I don’t need to remind myself of all the reasons why I love our beautiful country. As I am swooning about the sheer majesty of the sunrise, my dog, Sasha, decides it’s just the right time to do her business.

How are you supposed to pick up such a thing up without plastic?

Summary: Days without plastic – 0.

The bags I’ve been swinging around are 100% recycled plastic…

PS Terry was so inspired by this story that she’s decided to make a difference. She’s going to use plastic from rivers and next to roads to build plastic mazes at schools that learners can walk before it gets recycled. She’ll also talk about plastic pollution. Anyone who wants to contribute to her dream can email her at

Did you know?

Manufacturing a plastic water bottle uses seven times more water than the bottle actually holds.

Listen to this

Two inspiring TED talks:



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