The Tea on Sustainable Living

#3 | Is plastic really that bad?

December 02, 2021 Brandee and Hannah
The Tea on Sustainable Living
#3 | Is plastic really that bad?
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Show Notes Transcript

IS plastic really that bad?

That’s more or less the question we try and answer in today’s episode. And look, we get it; plastic is everywhere and pretty much unavoidable.

So, what’s a Give-a-Sh*tter to do? Listen in to hear about our plastic struggles (mainly plastic packaging), some ideas to start tackling the plastic in your life, and, of course, the greyness of it all.

So grab some tea, get comfy, and hit that play button.

Find our previous episodes at

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Links and resources:

#1 | How we started giving a sh*t
#2 | Why is Primark so irresistible?
What is chamomile?
What is upcycling?
What is downcycling?
How do we stop fishing gear ending up in the ocean?
Katherine Kellogg, Going Zero Waste
Where we ordered our pizza from and who delivered it
How Bad Are Bananas? (and a non-Amazon option to buy online)
Should You Swap Plastic Bags For Tote Bags To Reduce Your Impact?
I tried ALL these zero waste shampoos so YOU don’t have to
Why the zero waste movement is NOT a solution to the climate crisis
History and Future of Plastics
From edible algae packaging to olive pit bioplastic, here’s how 7 startups are fighting plastic pollution
Compostable vs Biodegradable
Creating a Circular Economy for Plastics
Single-Use Plastics 101

Support the show

-Brandee and Hannah

Note: This transcript is mostly unedited.

Brandee 0:04

Hello and welcome to the tea on sustainable living podcast where your hosts, Hannah, and Brandee try and help each other navigate the big messy gray area of giving a shit about the planet and hopefully helping you along the way.

Hannah 0:16

Each episode we have honest chats about our sustainability fails, sometimes amongst ourselves and sometimes with guests, while also leaving you with a little sprinkle of hope and inspiration to keep on giving a shit.

Brandee 0:28

So go make yourself a cup of tea, get comfy, and let’s dive into the episode.

Hannah 0:34

Hello, Give-a-Shitters. This is Hannah, and this is Brandee. And you’re listening to episode number three of the tea on sustainable living podcast. Number three,

Brandee 0:43

we’re doing this I know look

Hannah 0:45

at us. We’re like actually doing it.

Brandee 0:49

We’re batch recording today. So we’re on our second cup of

Hannah 0:51

tea. Yeah. And to this, the second cup of tea is kind of a mile. So what we’re doing,

Brandee 0:58

I say Chamomile.

Hannah 1:01

Of course you do

Brandee 1:02

or if you’re in a Spanish speaking country. Manzanilla. I don’t know if that’s the same for all Spanish speaking countries. In Spain it’s Manzanilla.

Hannah 1:10

I’m glad you knew that, because I did not.

Brandee 1:13

Not manzana, manzana is apple and I always get them confused.

Hannah 1:18

Yeah, so we’re here drinking my tea. And it was my turn to do some research. So well, I also Well, originally, I also looked up a project and Egypt because they, you know, skim read Brandee’s research for our previous episode, if you haven’t listened to it, check it out. So chamomile tea is also grown all over the world. It’s apparently there’s two types of chamomile.

Brandee 1:46

I didn’t know that I went to an herbalario the other day to ask about or to get loose leaf tea. And they confused me for a good five minutes, five minute speech about the two different types and what they’re good for.

Hannah 1:59

Alright, well, you just stole my thunder. They’re brand new. So I was telling you a new fact. I don’t remember what they told me. Yeah, I also couldn’t tell you what the two different types before. But I do know that it is grown throughout Europe, Central and South America. Let me look at my information. India, South America, South Africa and Australia. According to teach Julia to Julia, how do you say that name to

Brandee 2:32

I like the sound of T Tullia. Due to their alright.

Hannah 2:36

So my second project that I looked up was in India. And I thought this project is really cool, because we didn’t write the name on the sheet of paper. So I’m going to look it up. Because that would have been too prepared. So I looked up a project in India, which is one of the regions where commodities group and lots of tea in general, comes from India. So I’m sure we’ll talk about a tea from India again. But anyway, the budget I would have talked about, I thought sounded really cool. It’s cool to help us green. And it’s very culturally specific, which is what drew me to it. So it’s a business, which takes the leftover waste from religious festivals. So that’s like the floor waste that is used as part of religious ceremony. But then obviously, after that ceremony, you’re left with a lot of flowers that might stay in the temple, or they might end up in the Ganges. And so this business, they collect those flowers, and they use them to make incense and is it just incense? fragrances, organic fragrances, using these that you’d like recycling upcycling, giving a second life?

Brandee 3:58

Yeah. Like upcycling a new thing or not reusing that the flowers as a new thing. Yeah.

Hannah 4:02

So that upcycle these flowers. And then I was having a little look at them. And they were saying that during COVID As I guess people haven’t been able to congregate in the same way. They’ve been buying their flat flower fliers, maybe making their flowers direct from the producers, who otherwise wouldn’t have a way to make income. And they’re also investing some of their profits in supporting kind of educational programs about sustainable agriculture. That’s really cool. Yeah, it is. Right. So

Brandee 4:35

it’s one of those things it’s it’s not telling people to go without fragrances scents. It’s providing it in a more, more sustainable way using something that’s already there. Yeah. Yeah, it’s definitely cool. Because we look at things like essential oils, the amount of new flowers they they take, and the amount it takes to create such a small amount of like a little bottle of essential oil. So by reading Using by taking flowers that would otherwise be thrown away, lessening the need to grow flowers just for the purpose of destroying them, turning them into something that smells nice.

Hannah 5:10

Yeah, that’s an interesting one. It’s not something I’ve really thought about before the guests because as we talked about a little bit in our last episode, about how it’s quite easy to be disconnected from the way in which our which lots of different things are produced. Yeah. So it’s not actually something I thought about. So it’s cool to see like how even behind something like really, like a very niche behind every like, niche, individual object, there are people working to create kind of more sustainable pathways to kind of get to this product.

Brandee 5:46

Yeah. And then when you learn about these companies, businesses, it makes you realize that all the things you never thought about, they went into the things that go by. Absolutely. And then send you into a great spiral. Absolutely. shredded material, the tea we’re drinking, try not to spill this tea, someone spilled the tea, literally in the last episode.

Hannah 6:09

I mean, I didn’t get any of your fancy equipment. So I think we’re good.

Brandee 6:13

Yeah. These individual tea bags, were in plastic. I know I just said I went to a shop to buy chamomile tea and book, which I did. And then once I ran out of that, I was shopping and didn’t feel like going to a bunch of different stores. I just want to get everything from the one store I was in so I did I open the box. All the tea bags were wrapped in plastic.

Hannah 6:36

Now I feel like that’s one of the most frustrating plastic things when you feel like okay, the outside is in plastic. Oh, well, in this case, it wasn’t outside as paper right? And then he like open it on me like, everything is individually wrapped. And I

Brandee 6:53

didn’t do the shake, I probably could have been able to tell by just checking the box. But like I said I’d wanted to be in one shop, throw everything on the cart. Didn’t think twice about it. This is something I’ve been struggling with. lately. I used to be really good. Like I mentioned in the in our first episode that I went through a whole Zero Waste phase. No plastic only buying things packaged in reusable materials are easily recycled materials like glass, aluminum, paper, cardboard, and I’ve gotten away from that. A lot been buying a lot of plastic packaging. And that’s I want to point it out at this episode. I think it’s mostly based on plastic packaging. Not I don’t know, for example, health care, you need plastic, just going to a hospital. So I’m plastic free. Don’t use any plastic in my care.

Hannah 7:47

Yeah, I mean, I actually fucking love plastic. I think it’s amazing. I just think it’s so cool. And I actually think it’s a really example of all the qualities about humans that both kind of get us into this mess. But hopefully we’ll also get us out of it. Because I think, you know, there’s so much creativity, invention and work that went behind, you know, even creating inventing plastic in the first place. And then also, we’re just like, humans are just like, oh my God shining, like, look at this thing. It’s so cheap, it’s flexible. We can make so many things from plastic. Like, this is so cool. Let’s make everything from plastic, without stopping and thinking like, okay, is this you know, something that should be made out of plastic? Because, you know, obviously the big, big problem with plastic is that it is not? Well, I mean, it can be recycled in some cases, but often it can’t be recycled. I guess dahlias cycle. Yeah. And it lasts for a very long time.

Brandee 8:51

Yeah. A problem is making everything in plastic and using it once and then throwing it away.

Hannah 8:58

Absolutely. Which we do a lot. You know, I mean, it was probably a dumb idea. You know, it’s like why, you know, this product this thing is gonna last for at least like 1000 years. Let’s just go all in. Yeah, like what you know, that like bar of chocolate that you want to eat in like literally 45 seconds. That’s covered in plastic.

Brandee 9:21

Just so you can unwrap it and throw it away.

Hannah 9:24

Yeah, because then we can make it gold and food and it’s so cool. And like look at this plastic. But you know, I also think you know all those qualities about humans that make us invent things and make us you know, want to explore and create and find new things and then find ways to make money off it I guess hopefully, all of those clothes will come together. And I mean it already has like the people coming up with different solutions for things all over the place. Right? You know, I mean, okay. I don’t know like biodegradable plastic for collecting your fruit and veg, although maybe we should, you know, does not put it in in bags, but you know,

Brandee 10:08

isn’t oranges wrapped in plastic? And that

Hannah 10:12

was? Yeah. But you know, there was genuine I mean, not necessary. I don’t know enough about it to be honest. But the thing that’s one of the things that’s a bit of a gray area around food packaging, because there are ways in which plastic really extends the shelf life of certain products. Yeah, yeah. Okay, we’ve all seen that like, ridiculous image of like, you know, a banana wrapped in plastic. I mean, that’s not nice. But you know, for example, a bag of salad, you know, that has a really short shelf life. What do we say we say like owning areas which grow salads, you know, should people should eat them? Or I don’t know, the very weirdly phrased sentence. Now that that

Brandee 10:57

is one food item that Yeah, show without like those bags of bags of arugula or rocket depending on where you live. Okay. There are obviously leafs and greens you can buy without packaging, depending on where you shop. But what if you want the arugula? What if you want this type?

Hannah 11:14

Yeah. So I think that’s one of the really big issues around kind of low and zero ways. And in in general, it’s like, I guess a question we’re exploring throughout this, you know, the lives the lifestyle that we can sustain. Because obviously, in the West, you know, I think in the West, in general, our lifestyles, we live a very different lifestyle to the majority of the world’s population. Is it possible to maintain the kind of lifestyle that we have? Around a shaking head? It’s a no. And then if we do like, what things? I mean, if we can’t like what things do we keep, and the ways in which like plastic supports that? You know, do we do we literally just say, Okay, we’re going back, fully local. And you know, what, if you don’t live somewhere where you buy a kiwi, well, you’re not going to eat a kiwi, you know? And there

Brandee 12:11

are definitely people who adopt that mentality, and the sustainability space, the waste space. Absolutely. But I, one of the people in the stabilise space that kind of spoke to me the most that resonated with me, the most Catherine Kellogg can going zero waste. She was reflecting back on her time trying to be zero waste, no plastic, especially, and wishes that she hadn’t given herself such a hard time for buying some type of berry in plastic action, because they brought her joy. And there, she knew they were good for her. But she went without, in the name of not buying plastic.

Hannah 12:48

Yeah, it’s an interesting one. I mean, that’s like a big fundamental question. I mean, she’s right. She’s She obviously made the decision that her joy in that moment in time was worth less than what she was, I guess supporting by buying zero low waste.

Brandee 13:08

And I think she has since shifted her efforts, her energy into activism, and I think she joined her city council and I just want to take a moment to explain. For anyone listening who maybe doesn’t know why plastic is a problem. And also why I think it gets a bad rap when it is not always the worst material. I’ll get into that a bit more. But when you only look at the beginning of its life, how it’s made from oil, and the end of its life, getting down cycled, ending up in landfills, landfills actually might be the best option.

Hello, give a shatter brandy here. I just wanted to quickly interrupt this episode to tell you a little bit more about our show notes. Each episode has a dedicated shownotes page on our website, the tea on sustainable living comm slash show notes, where you can find more information about the topic of the episode. In addition to links to any articles and resources mentioned in the episode, we throw in a few more ways for you to keep on giving a shit. From articles and documentaries to books and apps. We want each show notes page to help you feel better equipped with information and tools to take action today. You can think of it as a choose your own adventure. We’ll also update you on our chosen actionable item from the episode to let you know how it’s going for us. So after this episode, head on over to our show notes page at the tea on sustainable Flash show notes. All right now back to the episode

Hannah 14:38

what does that look like like me?

Brandee 14:39

So downcycling is basically for plastic bottle. It gets reused, made into a new bottle, but the quality is not as good and over time it won’t be able to be reused anymore.

Hannah 14:52

No. Do you know how many times that is? No, I used to rain. So yeah, there’s that Definitely some, definitely some issues around plastic. I think what’s interesting though, just to go back to,

Brandee 15:06

I actually wanted to add that. What I didn’t say before is that one of the other places plastic can end up besides landfill or being down cycled is the ocean. And that’s what gets all the attention. And I used to be one of those people using that plastic straw, you know, that’s going to end up in the ocean. But when the majority of plastic in the ocean is from commercial fishing, yeah, it’s an interesting one. So it’s so easy for your perception of, of anything, but specifically, plastic to get skewed and to think it’s a bigger issue than it is. And I’m not saying it’s not an issue, because like you said, it can be great. We’re just using it in the wrong ways.

Hannah 15:42

But maybe the issue is made about the individual, rather than focusing on businesses. Is that kind of where you’re going or, or maybe blown out of proportion.

Brandee 15:53

I don’t remember where I was going. We pause the podcast because our pizza was delivered. And it smells delicious. And I think I’m distracted.

Hannah 16:01

No, don’t think about the pizza. Think about plastic.

Brandee 16:05

So yeah, it gets a bad rap. Because when you look at how it’s made and where it ends up, you don’t look at anything in between. And you mentioned before how thin, light and pliable it is. If you look at how much food you can transport when it’s packaged in plastic, you can transport a lot more and the the emissions are lower because the truck doesn’t weigh as much because glass weighs a lot. Yeah. Therefore it needs less gas. Yeah, one of the books I read, which is very interesting, and just throw you completely into the quagmire of doom. Is that’s your fancy gray spiral. No,

Hannah 16:41

I like the quagmire

Brandee 16:43

of doom. Sounds like a video game or something.

Hannah 16:47

Yeah, that sounds like a video game. No, it’s a book called, I think it’s what’s the cost of a banana? Or like, what’s the cost of the banana? Before Yeah, and that’s a book, which very much focuses on looking at how sustainable things are, but from the perspective of carbon dioxide emissions. And that’s very clear, I can’t remember the exact statistics, but it was talking about how you need to use your, for example, if you have like a bag for life, you know, like either one of them, like heavy plastic ones, or you have like a fabric bag, for example, you need to use that I think it was a lot it was like it was in the 100 like a cloth tote bag, a cloth tote bag. Exactly. You need to use that in the hundreds of times for the emissions to be equal to using the same amount of plastic bags.

Brandee 17:47

And also, people often use reuse those plastic bags as like trash bags in their homes or for other purposes. Yeah, it’s true. So they’re, like the best fashion episode, there’s so many things to take into consideration, type of packaging, and whether you’re buying local. Yeah, the thing you’re purchasing, because if you’re buying animal products, that’s, in my opinion, worse for the environment than the plastic packaging. So if you’re between an unpackage I don’t know. Let’s just go extreme with example. And unpackage piece of meat with plastic free next to the bag of salad greens wrapped in plastic. To me this bag of plastic wrapped salad greens is way better for the environment.

Hannah 18:34

Yeah, I wonder if one of the reasons because I feel I mean, you touched on this really briefly, but I feel like zero waste really went through it’s kind of high point, shall we say like 2007, eight through 2000. I’m putting a date on it. And I don’t know, like 2015 2016 I feel like it was a really there was like a point like five to 10 years when it was the thing, right? It was like all the Instagram the blog post was like zero waste, low waste. And it is really important. And it’s still important. But I wonder why that became the focus.

Brandee 19:14

Honestly, you touched on this before about the responsibility on the consumer versus the company. And when we surprise a lot of big companies, where it’s in their interest, to continue to produce things, how they are to shift the responsibility on consumers and let them off the hook.

Hannah 19:34

Yeah, I wonder as well. I think maybe it’s something we’ve talked about before and honestly on this podcast, but about how, for example for us having like diet, or for me anyway, having dietary rules that I’m vegetarian is easier to go all in rather than okay for me. I would say it’s sustainable to eat meat maybe once or twice a month. So reasonable stakes for the environment for the environment, you’re able to keep up with it. Right? But but as in, but I just prefer to be 100% Vegetarian, because then it feels like a slippery slope. And I wonder having if that having that goal of like zero waste kind of gave gives me like a sense of like, okay, if I just follow these rules, I can feel like I’m living an ethical life to life. I mean, which of course is like really hard because zero waste is extremely difficult

Brandee 20:31

to privilege and accessibility that goes into Yeah, goes into it.

Hannah 20:37

But it’s a really hard one. Because at the same time of having this conversation, it is clear that we do need to reduce just the amount of stuff. And the amount of stuff that does come in pass, I think it seems to me anyway, it seems that we do still have to reduce the amount of packaging the amount of thought especially single use. Yeah, so yeah, single use is just has just a bit silly. What are we doing,

Brandee 21:03

I used to be so much better at buying food in bulk. And as I said before, you know, when you’re just in one shop, when you don’t feel like going to a million shops that day, I just buy what’s there. I’ve been doing that a lot.

Hannah 21:13

Yeah, I’m the same. And it’s something I struggle with. Because within my you know, where I live, I’m really lucky. We have a lot of fruit and veg shops. I’ve got to bookshops. I’ve got an organic, like, kind of vegan vegetarian shop, within five minute walking distance. And yet, I still go to idle, because I don’t have to go to multiple shops. And it’s affordable.

Brandee 21:37

I’ve been thinking about how to not go back down the rabbit hole of zero waste and going to you know, all the stores in one day. And I think just splitting it meeting in the middle somewhere sometimes going to the little or the whatever big grocery store, and then also sometimes going to the bookshop or the organic shop, it’s down the corner for me.

Hannah 22:00

Yeah, I think that that’s a good way to go. I was also thinking about when we’re talking about like the action steps for this related to this week’s podcast, kind of just staying in one area of my life. Because it’s so easy to just get overwhelmed. You know that? And you know, something’s kind of out of your control. I was gonna give the example of like cleaning products, but it’s like, Well, I live in a shed flat so I don’t actually have free choice about that. But yeah, I mean make baby or even breaking down your food shop as that’s like the big issue from like, Okay, I’m not going to try and go zero weights and everything, but I’m going to try and be low I can let’s go with the way Sarah way scissors. Let’s just not agree. Like low ways, okay, Fruit and Veg, I’m going to aim to have that as low waste or snacks. I’m going to try and be low waste.

Brandee 22:50

So be more intentional. I think to think another actionable step is to do like a trash or recycling audit. What are you throwing away? Or going through?

Hannah 23:00

The most? Yeah, absolutely.

Brandee 23:02

And asking yourself, Okay, do I really need to buy three bags of chips in a week? Or whatever there is. Chris, for you. I think as far as actual tips, it is just being more aware of what you’re purchasing and the packaging it’s in. And understanding that there is no perfect packaging. And that could be another episode of other materials. Yeah,

Hannah 23:31

I think this is definitely an area to come back to. Because I think there’s a lot to unpack here.

Brandee 23:38

I think the bottom line is that plastic is not all good or all evil depends on how it’s used.

Hannah 23:44

Yeah, brand is kind of hit the nail on the head and that you kind of have to be kind to yourself and meet yourself where you are. while still being intentional, I guess it’s that kind of like going a little bit more. You know, every so often, like maybe every month kind of having a look me like, oh, is this something I can add? Or how did I do? Or like what’s a balance for me? Like, okay, for example, for me, my shampoo, like there was a whole time when I was like, Oh, I’ve got to find like a shampoo bar and it’s gonna you know, no packaging and like, the best of the best. And I just, it just wasn’t really working for me. So what I ended up doing is I get like, I have a shampoo I like and I got like a big bottle of it. And that bottle normally lasts to be like nearly a year.

Brandee 24:35

That’s a good action item by the biggest volume the biggest size you can if it’s food item before the food will go bad.

Hannah 24:42

Yeah. And so I just was like, You know what, for right now, this is where I can meet myself. And okay, gases, so creating waste, and you know, obviously I’m going to live to 110 So okay, that’s like maybe 80 bottles of my lifetime. That’s how we’re gonna look at it. But but it was just kind of stressing me out trying to find like a shampoo bar. And I’d be like every time like, oh, I need to go look and blah, blah, blah. And I’m like this and I feel ugly because my hair looks greasy or I don’t know, maybe this is kind of bullshit. But I think it’s like normal human thoughts to think like this.

Brandee 25:21

Yeah. And if it’s stressing you out, that’s missing the point. It’s not seeing we’re not going to keep up with it. Yeah, like, well, you’re gonna start it in the first place. So yeah, I think starting where you are, and what you’re willing to, to do if you want to just start in your bathroom. Just even starting with asking yourself, what in here? Could I replace? Or could I buy in more sustainable packaging? Yeah. For me, I think I want to start going back to the to the bookstores.

Hannah 25:48

Now. I think I might do the same, actually. Especially because I think that’s quite an easy, I mean, I’m saying easy because I know that there are a couple near where I live, it’s difficult if you don’t live somewhere where there are bookstores that are easily accessible. But I used to kind of maybe go like once a month and stock up on certain items. So I think I think I’m, I will join you.

Brandee 26:12

Okay. So that will be our action item. So other action items. Yeah, let us recap. Trash audit, being more mindful and trying to examine different parts of your home that maybe you could make some changes and buying book if you can, if you can afford it, if it’s near you, because a lot of times it can be more expensive.

Hannah 26:31

Yeah. And let us know on Instagram, what you’re doing. And if you Yeah, I mean, there’s so many different ways to do this. So let us know the ideas you have

Brandee 26:40

what’s worked for you what hasn’t? Yeah. I think that’s all for this one. We’ll definitely revisit this topic.

Hannah 26:47

100% There’s so much to say. Stay tuned. Stay tuned next week.

Brandee 26:54

Thank you so much for listening to this episode of the tea on sustainable living podcast.

Hannah 26:59

If you made it to the end, we can only assume that you’ve enjoyed this episode.

Brandee 27:03

Please consider sharing this with a friend or family member who could use some support on their sustainability journey.

Hannah 27:08

And find us on Instagram at the tea on sustainable living and let us know what you liked about the episode.

Brandee 27:15

Alright, Give-a-Shitters, tea you later. Get it? Tea you later? As in, see you later? So punny. Whyyy?

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