When it comes to plastic; reduce, reuse and eliminate needs to become our priority because it turns out recycling plastic is a lot harder than we, the public, have been led to believe. In fact most plastic cannot be recycled. Even high-quality PET bottles which contain resins, colors and contaminants such food, soap or bleach make many containers impossible to recycle.
According to ZeroWaste Europe, there is no way to track what actually happens to the plastic we think we are recycling. Up until last year most of Europe and the USA’s plastic was shipped to China at which point they banned all plastic imports that weren’t 99.5% pure. Now we are shipping plastic garbage to Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand and India which as become a poisonous black market trade (read National Geographic China Bans Plastic Trash Imports).
We as individuals can easily change our habits to reduce the plastic in our lives. Below are simple changes that have a large impact on the plastic you consume in your daily life.
Stop using the flimsy plastic bags provided for fruits and vegetables.
There are several ways to avoid using these flimsy plastic sacks. I often select my vegetables and fruit, place them directly on the scale and then stick my price ticket directly on one of the items. The check-out people have never made a negative comment about this.
If you worry about germs, you can purchase washable cotton bags that you place your produce in to be weighed. I’ve purchased these bags at Coop and a health food store. Migros sells these bags, too, but they are synthetic.
If worse comes to worse, keep reusing the flimsy plastic sacs until they fall apart.
Unfortunately, Migros and Coop prepackage many of their fruits and vegetables in plastic. I outright refuse to purchase these items. Instead I will go to the local market, the Union Maraïchère de Genève (inexpensive overstocked local vegetables) or Manor.
Bring your own re-usable containers to a bulk store. Geneva is supporting more and more of these shops- Nature en Vrac, Lyzamir, le Bocal Local -and so is neighboring France. For a list of shops in Geneva check out Carouge Zero Déchets .
Purchase cleaning products in a box.
I’m not sure how we as a society started using so much liquid soap. I have switched back to a cardboard box of powdered detergent. Not only is the box made from sustainable trees and it bio-degrades, but powder detergents are much more cost efficient than liquid soaps.
Furthermore, baking soda is a fantastic alkaline product (PH 9.0) that is used to cut through grease, scum and stains as well as a deodorizer. When mixed with water you should wear gloves because it dries out your hands but it is a safe product that is often used in tooth paste. I don’t normally shop in France, but this is a product that I have found in a store called Ma Planète Bio for only EUR 5/kg. (read Good House Keeping Baking Soda Uses for Cleaning)
Drink tap water, or if you need fizzy drinks buy a soda machine.
Switzerland’s tap water is rated as the best water in the world. I’ve written about the Geneva water standards here.
Soda machines are easy to use, the gas bottles are refilled (if in good condition) and the receptacles are re-usable.
Use solid soaps and shampoo packaged in cardboard.
Body soap bars are all the rage. Inexpensive bars are Nivea’s PH neutral non-scented body soap at the grocery store or Savon de Marseilles (some are packaged in cardboard) that pop up at odd places like Landi. Then there are more expensive, beautiful soaps like locally produced soap at Savonnerie de la Cité (les Grottes), imported natural soaps at Araignée Rouge (near Rive) and lastly, popular with the kids probably because of the heavy scent, Lush (near Rive and Balexert).
Shampoo and shaving cream is a lot more difficult to find in a solid form. Lush seems to be the only shop that carries shampoo (for men and women). I continue to search for shaving soap which is far less wasteful than creams in a can or plastic tube.
Consider coffee grains, capsules and take-away.
Most of us drink coffee. I use a Bialetti stainless steel espresso pot (found at Migros and Globus) and a milk frother that makes a fantastic cappuccino with minimum waste.
Like so many people in Switzerland, I own a Nespresso capsule machine. To be honest, I detest the waste. It was a gift and I use it for guests. The only good thing I can say is the Nespresso capsules are made from aluminum that the company will recycle versus the cheap knock-offs in the grocery stores made with an enormous amount of plastic.
And lastly, if you are a take-away coffee person, Starbucks will fill your personal thermos and give you an CHF 0.80 reduction. They also sells lightweight re-usable cups for +/- CHF 2.50.
For more actionable habits, attend a ZeroWaste Geneva workshop.
ZeroWaste Geneva, a sub-organization of ZeroWaste Switzerland, is a fantastic organization that organizes thematic workshops on how to reduce your waste in all aspects of your life; from wrapping gifts to where to find vinegar in a bottle. They promote low-waste shops and convince more stores and associations to find sustainable substitutes to plastic; for example allowing consumers to bring in their own containers to package meat, switching from plastic to paper packaging and enabling refills of glass products (beer, vinegar and oil).
We are a group of international women living in Geneva, Switzerland. If you would like to learn more about our activities and excursions, visit our website at http://www.aiwcgeneva.org/