Blog: Elizabeth Duncan on how we can all help the environment despite the difficult times we’re facing

The last few months have been a challenge for us all. Here, Elizabeth Duncan, Waste Strategy Officer at Maidstone Borough Council, explains how we can all continue to help the environment despite the difficult times we’re facing.

Lockdown is a phrase we are all familiar with. On the 23rd March 2020 life as we knew it changed with more people working from home, web chats, home schooling and weekly claps for the NHS and key workers becoming staples of our new way of living. Another thing that changed has been our use and perhaps attitude towards single-use plastics and their reusable counterparts.

Being in a risk category my husband took the mantel for the weekly shop but after a few weeks of surprise purchases and shocking supermarket bills, and with more click and collect slots coming online, I took back the food shopping reins. As avid users of reusable bags even pre-carrier bag charge, we were surprised on collecting our shopping that it was all contained in single-use plastic bags. There had been no charge and the bags were not branded.

Initially this rang no alarm bells, but very quickly after only a few weeks we were drowning in single-use plastics and the ‘cupboard under the stairs’ became a sprawling heap of fossil fuel-come carrier bags. Luckily we’ve recently managed to get to the carrier bag recycling bank and deposit the mound, relief!

Keep using your reusables

Certainly, at the beginning of lockdown with everyone stuck at home, there would have been less use of ‘on the go’ containers like single-use drinks bottles and coffee cups. Now as things have been able to open there has been some reporting in the news of coffee shops refusing to accept reusable cups favouring the single-use variety as a safer option in the current climate. Whilst safety must be paramount, I do wonder whether the coffee cup and carrier bags are two examples wrongly fitting reusable items as unclean or unsafe compared to their single-use counterparts?

There is no research to suggest that a reusable bag poses any more risk than a single-use one and the same goes for coffee cups. If the items are clean, the fight against single-use plastic should be able to continue, remember your reusables!

We are also seeing more plastic in the form of PPE with the use of face masks now mandatory in shops for most of us. It’s not unusual to see a lonesome blue glove or face mask on the floor. Whether falling from a pocket or deliberately dropped, the result is more single-use plastic escaping correct disposal and threatening the environment.

Reusable masks can be more comfortable, more stylish and save money in the long run so while there is the need from a medical stand point for disposable PPE, us regular citizens can choose a more sustainable solution to keeping safe….challenge accepted!

Thank you for still recycling

We have been fortunate in Maidstone to keep all our household recycling collection services running since the start of the pandemic (a big thank you to all the collection crews!) though it’s not been without its challenges. With more people working and being at home, parked cars have at times restricted access to roads. More people are getting home deliveries and so there is an increase in packaging to dispose of, people have had time for big clear-outs and there has been restricted access to tips so there has been more to collect at times too.

Maidstone’s residents have been fantastic at keeping recycling and using the food waste collection service. Don’t forget to make sure recycling items are empty, rinsed and squashed to allow more to fit into the bin. And please remember, we cannot accept carrier bags for recycling!

Let’s all continue to make a difference

With lockdown measures having eased slightly we are able to venture out for social distance catch ups with loved ones. When enjoying picnics with friends or a walk about, or even a trip to your favourite coffee shop, remember your reusables!

Fabric shopping bags can be washed, and the plastic versions can be wiped down with a squirt of anti-bacterial spray. Choose antibacterial spray and cloths which can be boil washed over disposable wipes. If you are using disposable wipes, make sure they end up in your refuse bin and not down the loo.

You may be able to purchase large bottles of hand sanitiser and refill any smaller bottles that you have to keep about your person, and don’t forget the empty sanitiser bottles can go in your recycling bin when you’ve finished with them.

We may be living with the virus for a while yet and masks and distancing may be the new normal, so let’s make sure that the progress made to turn the tide on single-use plastic presses on! Choose reusable items were possible, remember your reusables and keep recycling, we are all in this together!