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Emma: my day without plastics…


I have set myself the challenge of going an entire day without plastics, not using them, not touching them, at all!


07.23 The bathroom

I’m awake. And ready for a day without plastics. To be honest I havent slept that well for the past few hours, disturbed by odd dreams involving a never ending march of plastic items. I exited the bed pretty sharpish as any mattress that uncomfortable is not stuffed with natural fibres.I’m pleased to see I can wear my 100% cotton dressing gown and head to the bathroom. I can’t put the light on but I manage to overcome my number one worry of the day with the good old art of squatting. I am neither touching or benefiting from the plastic toilet seat. Looking at the plastic shower base and all the product bottles it’s quite clear most sorts of washing are out. I check the towel- 100% cotton again. Water and a wet towel it is then.

Breakfast - sorry for the poor quality photo I still can't turn the lights on!

07.37 The kitchen

I’m contemplating the kitchen. I should be in the gym right now for day 2 of my new fitness routine but looking and my plastic membership card and thinking about trainers and lycra I know it’s a no go. So I’m breaking my habit of eating at my desk to see what we have at home.

My forage has turned up an orange, a banana and the last home made biscuit (sorry housemates!). With bread cereal and the fridge out of bounds I’m limited on options.

08.00 My phone

It has dawned on me that two things are going to considerably slow me down today: trying to avoid plastics, and writing about it. Which brings me onto the point I know everyone will raise- my phone. I know however beautifully designed it is, my iPhone is essentially made of plastic. In my first idea for this challenge when I was going to write it up afterwards I would have left my rule breaking phone behind. Something that would be an enlightening challenge in itself. However, as I’ve promised constant updates I see no other choice. So this is the only willing exception I’m making.

As a compromise I have taken the plastic cover off the phone. I must not drop it!

08.14 My underwear draw

Not normally something I would share with the world at large and luckily for me (as I can’t use the plastic blind chord) still too dark for a proper picture. I have looked at the label of everything in here and there is nothing I can wear. I even desperately looked up elastane on my complete guide to plastics just to be sure.

The rest of my outfit I’ve had more luck with:
Trousers- one pair of work trousers are 100% cotton (yes there is one plastic button but I am dutifully neither touching or using it)
Vest- unfortunately my only elastane free vest is rather stripy
Top- all shirts were out but my latest favourite vintage buy is 100% wool.

I am largely dressed but with limited options and no hair products I look more like a boy than usual.

Next step: socks, shoes, coat.

08.42 Finishing touches

What to wear?! My shoe collection seems to be a plastic minefield...

Bag – my initial excitement at the site of my normal leather work bag faded when I remembered that I’d been plagued with guilt by concerns of the leather industry and it was actually made from fake- plastic- leather. I found a rucksack that assures me it’s made from 100% cotton and real leather. Having realised I can’t actually take most of the contents of my bag with me I’m not sure what I’m using it for.

Coat – a wealth of polyester and viscous in even the most promising of items. I’ve settled for a large blue zip up hoodie which is not helping me look less like a boy.

Hat and scarf – another 2 wool items from the vintage shop, I now look like a 6 year old boy.

Shoes – this was the hardest. Especially as nothing seems to be labelled. I have settled on some winter boots that are leather and wool lined with what seemed to be the most likely of all the options for real rubber soles. Fingers crossed.

08.59 Transport

Looking at my plastic oyster card it’s clear options are limited. I could get a paper ticket but picturing either the bus or the tube there’s unavoidable plastic everywhere. Even my bike has essential plastic parts. There’s nothing else for it…

I google maps it. 1 hour 24 minutes. That’s doable. Though I’m not sure in these boots. At least my route will go right through hyde park.

09.05 Provisions
An apple to try and overcome the tooth brushing issues and very pleased to find a large glass jar of sunflower seeds and a smaller jar to take then in. I’ve topped up on water as there’s no glass bottles to hand.

No pressing the plastic button!

09.21 Commuting

Taking longer than usual to cross roads as I can’t press the button. Really I shouldn’t be looking at the lights at all. I’ve walked for 10 minutes and I already have a blister – I remember why I stopped wearing these boots! Plasters out of the questions so I’ve stuffed tissue in my sock to try and stop it rubbing.

09.45 Phew!

Holland Park Avenue Hill and I don’t feel so bad about missing the gym this morning.

10.00 Making friends

Making friends along the way

Nice to see some more trees being planted in Notting Hill Gate.


Still a way to go

10.28 I’m only here!

I’m definitely walking quite slowly but it’s so beautiful here. And yes, that is a glass frame.

11.04 Work at last

I have finally arrived! I think I could win a prize for the slowest walker ever but I very much enjoyed watching the squirrels in Hyde Park. And, because I’d given up in rushing I even managed to help a tourist find her bus stop.

I couldn’t use my key fob to get in but luckily the buzzer was brass. After carefully avoiding the plastic risers on the stairs and another awkward toilet trip I entered the office to a small round of applause… followed quickly by disapproving looks of my outfit choice.

After a much appreciated glass of water I’m ready to try and start working.

11.47 Feeling the love

Great to hear people are feeling inspired

With lunchtime rapidly approaching and unpackaged food options looking scarce I was starting to feel a little low. But I’ve just heard that Keep Soctland Beautiful has heard about my challenge and is feeling inspired. They’re now going to pledge DoAction in support of Mark Wood’s polar challenge through The DoNation. Thanks so much for the support guys, makes it all worthwhile!

Do you think this is allowed??

11.55 A little freshness?

Half the difficulty seems to be working out what’s plastic and what isn’t. This chewing gum could be my salvation but is the packing plastic or not. Also, what is the gum made of…? Eating plastic would surely be a fail!

12.02 Settling down to work

There is nothing on my desk that I can touch so I’m sat at the meeting room table with the only food I could find that I could touch and the only work that doesn’t involve my computer.

13.30 Where to find a plastic free lunch…

14.24 Word spreads

Amazing! Keep Scotland Beautiful have written a lovely blog piece about my challenge and are feeling inspired to take their own on.

14.30 A meeting!

I don

I have a meeting in 30 minutes! I’m pleased as it will be one of the few productive things I can do today. But, as Suzy has already pointed out to the world, I look like a tramp!

I could go and hide in my office but I dont want to be ashamed of what I’m doing. As everyone we meet is in the green industry I’m hoping they will wholeheartedly support my endeavour and forgive the hair and outfit.

I’m off to the sink to try and flatten my hair – made worse by hiding it all day in the hat!

Will see how it goes!

16.56 Evening plans

After consultation with the missus, I’ve decided not to educate myself at the LSE Carbon Talk I was supposed to be attending and instead to use my free cinema tickets. Somewhat trepidatious about what plastic horrors may await me there, and really hope I don’t get asked for my Times Plus membership card (luckily I’d already printed the tickets). I’ve sent home strict instructions to bring me something to eat that’s not in a plastic container. Are those popcorn boxes plastic? I really hope not.

As someone’s now arrived to fit the insulation glazing and I’ve got a long walk ahead of me, I best get a move one!

17.27 Battling my way home

#NoPlastic is hard when you’re trying to avoid bumping into commuters.

Rushing too fast to explain to street fundraiser that even if I wanted to I couldn’t sign up because I can’t use their pen.

Could get used to this. Business on the phone while walking through Hyde Park. Breathlessness could be a problem though!


21.00 The good, the bad and the ugly

TOTAL FAIL: The cinema. I avoided all the food and drink, I tried not to touch anything visibly plastic but my seat was undeniably made solidly of unnatural polymers and let’s not get into what the projector is made of.

CHIPS! Ah sweet delicious chips. Even without your vinegary goodness your traditional paper wrapping and wooden fork have never looked so beautiful.

JO: Unexpectedly bumped into my old flatmate Jo. She asked enthusiastically for a hug but in all get cycle gear glory there was no way that could happen!

22.34 Finally it’s bed time

The Challenge

A day without plastics

Sounds simple doesn’t it? But on the dawn of my little adventure I’m starting to feel a little nervous. Looking around my desk I can’t see anything that’s not made from plastic and I don’t want to even talk about the realisation I just made after a trip to the loo!

Wondering why I’m putting myself through this? Yes so I am. Well here’s how it happened, a series of (un)fortunate events that led to what is starting to feel more and more like a formidable task…

After reading a particularly scary chapter of ‘The World Without Us’ I started thinking about just how much plastic we produce, and what we plan on doing with it all. We’ve got to find another way, which is why I was particularly pleased to start working with Biome Bioplastics who are doing just that- producing a viable alternative.

And then we took on our first pro-bono client, The DoNation, an innovative new sponsorship platform that encourages sustainable living. We’ve been promoting one of their biggest challenges yet as the explorer Mark Wood announces his record-breaking attempt to ski both the North and the South Pole to raise awareness of climate change. Mark’s asking people to sponsor him, not through money, but through action (DoActions to be precise) and is using The DoNation to get people to pledge climate saving actions whilst he risks his life to show us why it matters.

So here’s my DoAction.

I’m going to give up plastics, for a day. If you think that doesn’t sound like much then just run through just your basic morning routine and you’ll start to get the idea that it’s not as easy as it sounds. We live in a plastic world, and I’m about to find out just how much this stuff has infiltrated every part of our lives.

The rules:

  1. I must not touch or directly benefit from plastic for a whole day.
  2. I must attempt to carry out my normal daily routine.
  3. I have accepted that there will be a few fails, but I must avoid these at all costs and be honest about them when they happen.
  4. I must, unashamedly, report on all that goes on that day.

I’ll be updating throughout the day with live blogging, videos, photos and tweets so stay tuned for all the latest. Comments, suggestions and general words of encouragement will be greatly appreciated.

Wish me luck!


  1. Hahaha… Good luck!

  2. Still trying to think how you get past the toothbrush!! Good luck and looking forward to the updates.

  3. Good luck!

    A few perhaps unwelcome things to look out for:

    Clothing: Lycra in socks, etc –

    If you cycle to work, many chain lubricants contain Teflon; tube, train and bus are obviously out, as are synthetic rubber-soled shoes if you were looking to walk.

    Your desk is probably plastic-coated MDF, as are many other ‘wood’ products (possibly including wood-effect flooring and loo seats!)

    Your computer is probably plastic too…

  4. Somewhat drastic, no plastic. good luck with that.

  5. Dustin, I think you make some excellent points with regard to loo seats. Some interesting ‘live updates’ to come!

  6. Eating chewing gum will get your stomach ready for digestion and make you more hungry – avoid!

    • Good tips! I’ve given up on mints, the world will have to suffer it. I’m hoping the cardboard boxed super wholefoods salad I found for lunch won’t cause too much trouble.

  7. I am at the Carbon Show sitting on a plastic chair in front of a plastic table surrounded by plastic stands and thought of you :)

  8. just been shopping, and made absolutely sure there were no plastic bags coming my way. Arms full but feeling good about it. Well done. Hope the walk home goes quickly.

  9. Great write up of Emma’s day without plastics, and Mark Wood’s challenge, by Hermione Taylor of The DoNation here:

  10. Brilliant!

    Richard makes a good point, BusinessGreen were at the Carbon Show too – would have been deadly for you Emma!

    Looking forward to more updates.

  11. Pingback: Emma: Conclusions from a day without plastics | Life Size Media

  12. Well done Emma Murphy. An amusing and poignant reflection.

    What next, I wonder?

  13. Oh, I forgot to add that although it might be out of fashion, there are probably more than a few places you might be able to lay your hands upon an old-fashioned bar of soap!

  14. No electricity – the wiring [in your house and over the national grid] uses plastic as an insulator. Also, no cars, buses, tube trains or bicycles – all reliant on plastics to function. D’oh!

    • Bless her, she did walk to her place of work, having noted the presence of plastics in tube trains and buses.

      • Absolutely! Though it was mainly the oyster card that got my attention!

        Turns out it’s actually quite pleasant walking to work. Though not really that practical on a daily basis…

        • The soles of your shoes – plastic. The PC you’re using to blog – plastic.

          Why would anyone want to live without something as useful as plastic? It’s not just plastic bags, you know… it’s also medical devices, false teeth, contact lenses and Lego!

    • All good points Anthony and lucky I spotted them in advance and managed to avoid (or at least try!) all of them for the day.

      Just adds to the inescapable fact that we really can’t live without plastics, at least not if we wan’t to carry on life as we currently live it.

      • Did you live without electricity? No, I’m betting you didn’t.

        • Hi Anthony. I took the blog to be a piece focusing more on making people consider their reliance, not completely omitting plastic from their life, no?

          • And once you’ve considered your reliance on plastic… then what? Reflection is only worthwhile when it has a purpose – an outcome. And frankly I can see no worthwhile outcome and no real value in trying to do the impossible.

            I might try and spend a day levitating [to much the same result] although there seems to be a misplaced belief that shouting “Look! Plastic!” is in someway a worthwhile form of communication.

            If someone – anyone – can explain the value in trying to live without plastic then I’d like to listen. If implement the outcome would be a disaster – on transport, medical equipment, food safety and so the list goes on.

            Here’s a fact: plastics make your life better and are made from a material that would otherwise go to waste. So rather than decide plastics are ‘bad’ or some such nonsense, why not go and do a little research and some allied think before jumping on the ‘polluting plastics’ bandwagon?

  15. I agree with Anthony. Whether we like it or not, we live in a modern world where one way or another, plastic fundamentally enhances every aspect of our lives – every minute of every day!

    Plastic is Fantastic!

  16. Good shout Anthony, and as a plastics recycler ( here in the UK by the way !!) I for one certainly do not want a day without plastics. Not sure my 87 year old father would either, all the plastic bits and bobs that have kept him and mother going ….. I don’t particually like wasps, but I’m sure a day without them would cause all sorts of trouble.

    • You both make some excellent points.

      However, the point of the blog was not to be anti-plastics. It was meant to highlight how vital they have become in our lives. And if you read it through you’ll see that you’re right, a day without plastics is not an easy or necessarily that enjoyable thing.

      Likewise, I’m sure a day without wasps (if such a thing were possible!) would excellently highlight the vital role they play in our ecosystems.

  17. Reading Anthony and Emma’s dialogue reminds me that knowing “Plastics” are good for us and society in general, we should perhaps focus more on the “life time use” of Plastics and Re-cycling, as opposed to going to “Land Fill”. Making long term use of what we have for me gives it more meaning.

    • “Reuse, recycle and reduce…” as the old ‘green’ mantra says.

      Also, without wanting to cover old ground again, until the discovery of plastics the part of a barrel of oil used in their manufacture [around 2-3%] was burnt off at the refinery, producing Greenhouse Gases.

      So rather than waste a material – in the process contributing to global warming – plastics actually make the best use of a buy-product of crude oil processing. Not that you’ll ever get a green crusader to understand or believe that fact.

      Johnny Rotten was right – never trust a hippy…

  18. You’ve learned that plastics are everywhere, “vital”, you say… you probably knew that before your day of trying to avoid them. So what? What will you do now? I am not keen on actions that seek only to highlight things, particularly when other people think the action is helping the cause even though it probably isn’t. How about some real action, or something other than “look what I’m doing”?

  19. Hi Emma, Assuming you flushed the loo then you failed within the first two minutes! What brings the water to your home – plastic pipes. What takes the waste water away from your home – you’ve guessed plastics!! You topped up on provisions including water so failed again!!. You see there are as many hidden applications for plastic which are doing a great job that we all just take for granted. The reality is it has infiltrated our lives for good reason …. it is damned good! That said what your article does is provide excellent reasoning for why we need plastics. But that’s not to say we don’t have issues and some key sustainability challenges. I’ve spent the past 25 years working in plastics so I guess I’m a bit of an anorak (PVC one!). Happy to engage in further debate.

    • You’re right Jason, not to mention the ‘wood’ flooring and ‘carpet’ I stepped on all day (though in my defence I did resist toilet flushing- much to my colleagues dismay!)

      But the fantastic merits of plastics aside there are, as you say, key sustainability challenges. Yes we could and should look to reduce the unnecessary and wasteful use of short-life plastics but our reliance on them goes far beyond that, to the uses where plastic really does do the best job. Which is where Steve and Peter are right- it’s about where we get our plastics from and what we do with them once they’ve finished being useful to us. Plastic recycling and further incentives in this area have got to be key. But for me the debate isn’t complete without bioplastics- re-thinking how we make plastics in the first place.

      As a (PVC) anorak (that one was much appreciated in the office) what are your thoughts?

      • Hi Emma, Bioplastics do have a role to play, provided that we can decouple them from food chain. But there is a lot of confusion for the non-experts here. We can make bioplastics which don’t biodegrade, equally we can make others that do. For short term use then biodegradability is probably a good thing but for long-term usage that is the last thing we want.! Durability is key. Berlin Olympics used PVC pipes are still as good as new (1936) so we need to make molecules work for us particularly if we can make cyclic use of them. My long term view is that we need to develop future plastics from waste streams and encourage recycling of large components made from plastic into new products (preferably in the same application). There is a lot going on wrt plastics recycling. At least you have generated a serious discussion.

      • And in the UK companies such as Biome are helping lead the way on bioplastics. Go check out what they’re up to…

  20. I like Peter’s comment that we should really be re-using old plastic where we can. Call them ‘second-life’ products. There are lots of companies making useful products from scrap plastics these days. Like here

    I also think the Government should maybe put more resources or incentives into this very important area to encourage businesses to get involved in developing second-life products.

  21. Emma whilst i appreciate what you are trying to acheive you will instantly fail. In the world in which we live right now, short of staying naked in a cave for the day living off of the land, you cannot escape the benefits of plastics. They are in everything and make our lives what they are today. Simply put, we cannot live without plastic.

  22. Okay you failed at the first hurdle: -

    but I manage to overcome my number one worry of the day with the good old art of squatting

    your toilet has plastic compents and is connected to plastic pipes that use plastic seals

    I think it is time to take a look at the positive contribution polymers make to sustaining life!

    • Yes, Emma, rather than trying to highlight the extent of our use of plastics [a pointless exercise] why not try your hand at promoting a range of materials that are increasingly being seen as a public enemy? Plastics are fantastic – and that’s a fact.

  23. We need Plastics and a lot of good work is being done by the PVC industry that set out more than 10 years ago to promote long term safe products that can be recycled for example a PVC water supply pipe may have a life of 30-50 years and a a PVC window at least 25 years. When they have reached the end of their useful life they are being recycled.For example more than 50,000 tonnes of PVC plastic will have been recycled in the UK by the end of 2011. The PVC industry’s recycling initiative is set to beat the 49,343 tonnes of post-consumer PVC recycled last year in the UK through its 26 specialist recyclers. Furthermore new targets are being set as part of the Vinyl Plus Inititive
    These targets include 800,000 tonnes to be re-used in all European countries by 2020 – with 700,000 tonnes mechanically recycled and the rest using new technologies for more difficult-to-recycle or contaminated PVC.

  24. I think the initiative was amazing and it did what it was supposed to i.e a good debate around the use of plastic and what can be done for the future. Currently we cannot live without plastic, even if we avoid direct plastic, for anything that we consume or use etc, plastic has been used. The issue is to raise awareness, reduce the unnecessary use of plastic, continue and intensify the research for a more sustainable way of creating, using and reusing plastic.

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