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Part 5: Plastic-free desk and gifts

Welcome to part 5 of the How to go Plastic Free guide.

I hope by now you have noticed that going #plasticfree not only drastically reduces the amount of waste in your recycling bin and in your landfill bin, it also makes you feel like you are actually DOING something for the planet.

This guest blog is written By Marianne Jordan – founder of local plastic-free support group Ethical Fridays (@ethical_fridays on Instagram) and winner of St Albans Mayor’s Pride Award “Environmentalist of the Year 2020”

The Big Picture

So to end, let’s go back to the beginning. Blue Planet II  got the world really talking about plastic; how baby albatross in very remote corners of the world are being fed plastic and dying of starvation. Watch this clip from the BBC’s Drowning in Plastic programme to see how much plastic was pumped out of a living chick. Seabirds, marine mammals, turtles, fish and even crabs have been found with plastic in their bodies. One dead pilot whale off the coast of Thailand was found to have 80 plastic bags in its stomach and….

“… in December 2019 a Sperm whale died off the Isle of Harris, Scotland, with 100kg of plastic in its stomach, including fishing nets, bundles of rope, plastic cups and a large blue plastic sheet.”

These whale deaths are all the more sad, not only because whales have an instrinsic right to live in the wild without being poisoned by human activities, but also because whales have been found to be a great help in the fight against climate change. Watch this amazing video, to find out how:

Whales stimulate phytoplankton growth (which take CO2 out of the atmosphere) and oxygenate the water column as they dive down to the bottom and bring nutrients back to the surface, allowing other creatures to thrive.

So if you don’t want your pen lid to end up inside the stomach of an albatross chick (this has happened), check out this guide to plastic-free things on your desk and giving plastic-free gifts.

Plastic Free Desk

Pens: Do you really need to write with a pen? Would a pencil do instead? If you really do need a pen, make sure it is refillable. Most fountain pens can be fitted with a converter to use bottled ink instead of plastic cartridges, but even cartridges are better than using ballpoint pens. Metal fountain pens need not be expensive, some start at £6.99 eg Helix Oxford.

If you haven’t used one in a while, you might have forgotten how smoothly a fountain pen writes, it is so much nicer to use than a biro.

Many types of ballpoint and rollerball pens can be refilled, so check online (eg Cult Pens) before chucking one away. Some local organisations collect old pens for recycling, check on Terracycle to find one near you (e.g. Rymans St Albans, Rothampsted Cafeteria Harpenden, some schools.) If you HAVE to buy a new pen, and don’t want a fountain pen, why not choose one made of recycled plastic or even wood! Cultpens has a good selection and has a tab to show which refill to buy. But you probably already have enough pens in your home to last a lifetime, use them first (and save old ones for recycling.)

Pencils: Once you get used to using a pencil most of the time, it will feel funny using a pen. Unless you have to sign a legal document, most notes you take will be just fine in pencil (shopping list, to do list, revision notes etc.) Any pencil made by one of the big European companies will be made from FSC certified wood. Just watch out for colourful patterned pencils which are wrapped in a skin of plastic (you can see the line where the pattern doesn’t match, if you have these at home peel off the plastic before sharpening) and some “eco” pencils are actually made with a mixture of recycled plastic, so you will be creating microplastics when you sharpen.

Better options are: recycled newspaper pencils from Peace With The Wild which purportedly last longer and sharpen better than wooden pencil, Fabula pencils made from coffee grounds and tea leaves (not yet available in the UK) or Sprout pencils which contain seeds in the top to plant once the pencil gets too small to use from Boobalou.

Pencil sharpeners and rulers: both can be made from wood, bamboo or metal, find in art supplies websites eg Conscious Craft, Myriad Online, Artway, GreatArt etc.

Erasers: Most erasers these days are made of plastic, so when you are rubbing out you are creating microplastics. Instead look for a “natural rubber eraser” (the old-fashioned kind), the rubbings can go in the compost.  I like the white Lyra India Rubber eraser (eg from Conscious Craft) others are by Koh-i-Noor or Faber Castell.

Highlighters: Pencil highlighters – who knew there was such a thing? We have been so conditioned to thinking highlighters are only those chunky plastic pens, that to find out there are highlighter pencils is a revelation! Lyra made a pack of 6 neon pencils, or for singles try Faber-Castell Neon Textliner pencil or Caran D’Ache Fluo line pencil, from art supplies shops. Plastic highlighters can be recycled with other pens, see above.

Felt pens: Sorry, there are no plastic-free felt pens ☹. However, a decent pack of colouring pencils will give you the brightness you are looking for eg Staedtler Super Soft coloured pencils, bright enough to show up even on black paper. A pack of these and a black recycled paper sketch pad is a great present.

Gifts and Wrapping

Wrapping paper: Individual sheets of wrapping paper can be bought from St Albans Market and some newsagents/card shops.

“Avoid anything with glitter or metallic as that is plastic and unrecyclable”

    • Wrapping paper made of recycled paper is available online eg. Re-Wrapped which is a London based company who design and make their own 100% recycled wrapping paper and use vegetable-based inks.
    • Wrapped by Alice is a small business based in Sheffield that designs and makes recycled paper, cards, gift bags etc.
    • You could also make your own wrapping paper out of recycled brown craft paper and a set of stamps and ink.
    • Alternatively look up Furoshiki (the art of Japanese fabric wrapping) on YouTube to see beautiful ways of wrapping gifts, including bottles or even bread, in fabric. This is great for giving gifts within the family so the fabric can be re-used again and again.
    • Check out Happy Wrap  for some ready-made fabric wraps (plus recycled wrapping paper.)  I have even been known to wrap a gift in a (new) tea towel – double gift!

String: Brown paper packages tied up with string, these are a few of my favourite things…if Maria Von Trapp says so, then it can’t be wrong! Make string one of your favourite things by checking out all the amazing colours string comes in on the Nutscene website. They have been making string out of natural fibres (jute, flax and recycled cotton) since 1922 in their Dundee factory, still using the original machinery. Jute is fast-growing and will grow on wasteland without the need for watering or fertilizers, where it improves the quality of the soil and of course, once your jute string comes to the end of its life, it is fully compostable.

Why use plastic sticky tape when your presents will look so beautiful tied up with this string?

Cotton ribbon: For a more luxury look, wrap up your present with cotton ribbon printed with butterflies, hearts, polka dots etc. Have a look through a haberdashery department (Dunelm, Hobbycraft, John Lewis etc) or search on to find beautiful ribbons made of unbleached organic cotton, recycled cotton saris, vintage lace, recycled cotton yarn, hessian, ticking tape etc.

Plastic-free sticky tape: Is available online (e.g. Plastic Freedom etc.) and sometimes at The Refill Pantry. Yes it is brown, but at least it doesn’t sit around in landfill for hundreds of years. The tape is made of paper, the adhesive from rubber, both fully compostable and strong enough to tape up parcels.

Plastic-free greetings cards are becoming more easily available, Paperchase has a good selection and Panda Cards (Waddington Road, St Albans) also has some. Lots of companies are changing over to plastic-free, so it will soon be easy to buy them.

Gift ideas: There are so many things once you get thinking and my biggest suggestion would be to plan ahead, take some time to gather some ideas and keep a list (however you like to keep one).

  • The first place to start would be Olivia Rose Fairtrade shop in the Village Arcade, St Albans, which sell fair trade gifts from around the world.
  • Oxfam also has a range of fairtrade gifts and cards.
  • Online check out Namaste Fair Trade or Traidcraft.
  • Here are some of the gifts I have bought over the past year: plant from the hairy pot company, personalised enamel mug, recycled stainless steel pint glass, books (second hand if the recipient is OK with that!)

For younger children: books, look on Conscious Crafts or Myriad for natural and wooden toys and crafts. Older kids/teens: adopt a shark, giant jenga, wooden beach tennis set, compostable phone case, hedgehog pendant made of recycled silver by Silver Hedgehog , Zao make-up in bamboo containers, macramé gift set (Esty), books, audiobooks.

That sums up my guides to going plastic-free. I hope you have found them useful. For more information follow me on Instagram @Ethical_Fridays or contact me via Sustainable St Albans.

‘The future of humanity, and indeed all life on earth, now depends on us’    David Attenborough

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