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Meet the Plastic Challengers

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Rachelle Martyn, York:

I undertook the plastic challenge for the first time this year and it was absolutely brilliant! 

I generally try to live a non-SUP lifestyle so I must admit - I was a bit too confident that I’d sail fairly smoothly through the affair. But that’s what makes the Challenge so brilliant – it really opens your eyes to all the decisions you make without really thinking, that can lead to incrementally disastrous consequences for our beautiful oceans! 

One of the most notable instances was when I set out to do a Big Seaweed Search. Firstly, I bought a salad which I only twigged was in SUP just before paying –doh! Then, after some rigorous seaweed searching I rewarded myself with a big ol’ portion of chips and mushy peas! However, it was surprisingly tricky to find a place that sold their food in paper or card boxes, and also provided wooden forks. In the space of one afternoon we can be faced with multiple choices to promote or prevent the continued use of single-use plastics. 

Having completed the Plastic Challenge I am definitely far more aware of the decisions that I make whilst I am out and about, and don’t simply assume that having a SUP-free household means a SUP-free lifestyle. The Plastic Challenge really is so much fun, does so much good, and will teach you so many fantastic lessons about living sustainably!



Karoline Kuprat, Edinburgh:

The Plastic Challenge was a revelation and an education. It woke me up and showed me what a complex world we inhabit when it comes to our own waste. I blogged some of that journey here:

For a purist’s approach from across the pond, check out

I can only aspire...

Top tip: Write to a supermarket about something that really irritates you and ask them to change it...



Delia, Hampshire:

Hello everyone! My name is Delia and I took the plastic challenge in June 2016. I have to say, it was very challenging to go plastic free and I have to admit that I didn`t manage to go through the whole month 100% plastic free. It didn`t help that I travelled a fair bit as airports are a bit of a nightmare when it comes to plastic! Everything is wrapped up! But all in all, I did talk to a lot of people about my challenge - including an interview panel for a new job (Sustainability Officer) which I`ve been offered shortly after! - yayy! I definitely believe that, if nothing else, this challenge is a massive eye opener. It makes you realise that this evil plastic has taken over our lives and it`s very hard to get rid of now. However, nothing is impossible and with time, patience and perseverance, we can win the fight over plastic! I will definitely keep on fighting and try to influence as many people around me as possible. Keep up the good work everyone! Together we are stronger!



Elly Lindsay, Hippy Paste:

We completed a week of the Plastic Challenge. It was definitely a challenge! Both of our families have children and meeting everyone's needs added to the challenge. Shopping in a supermarket proved tough and we had better luck in some of the independent shops. Fruit and veg we could cover with a bit of picking and choosing. Tetrapacks and crisps we found impossible to overcome. At the end of the challenge we were left with a sense of more recognition of our plastic dependancy and a feeling that brands and supermarkets really need to be making plastic free life easier.

Top tip: Planning is essential. Winging it usually fails!


Nicola Ledsham, Surrey:

Plastic has always been a pet hate of mine - it’s so ubiquitous in our day-to-day lives that we forget we’re even using it. That’s why I wanted to give the #PlasticChallenge a go, to find out if a 100% plastic-free existence would be straightforward, or even possible. While I find it easy to cut out single use plastic in many parts of my life by dutifully making my own packed lunches, carrying around canvas shoppers and ditching water bottles, there have definitely been hurdles along the way. To date, my biggest grievance has been the rather large feta cheese-shaped hole in my life, having not discovered anywhere selling it without plastic. So, in order to take this plastic-free lifestyle seriously, I feel a goat is definitely a necessity…


Bev O'Kane, Herefordshire:

The first shock about starting the plastic challenge was just how far I managed to walk in the supermarket before finding something NOT wrapped in plastic ….So, if nothing else, the Plastic Challenge is definitely beneficial to making up the 10,000 steps a day!  

As a newbie to the challenge – sorry for the gloomy spiral of doom - I have been most enamoured by how swapping to a low-plastic lifestyle can result in ‘less sustainable’ products e.g. fairtrade foods in the supermarket are often wrapped in plastic. Why is it that when we try to become more sustainable in one sense, we have to compromise on another (unless it’s heavily branded with a big premium)? This begs the question, why does sustainable have to mean unattainable?

Top tip: Muslin clothes instead of packaged wet wipes and exfoliators - better for your skin; better for the environment



Catherine Gemmell, MCS Scotland Conservation Officer:

After moving to a brand new city the Plastic Challenge is a great way for me to explore the different places I can do my shopping instead of just relying on my closest supermarket. I’m taking my own containers to small shops and filling them with rice, pasta and pulses and am using my own bags for fresh fruit and veg. I have to admit is already becoming significantly healthier by avoiding easy to eat sweet treats and fast food which is usually covered in multiple single use plastic packaging. I’ve also started a new love affair with LUSH!


Haley Cheek, Herefordshire:

I’ve always wanted to do something like the Plastic Challenge but could never bring myself to be fully dedicated, simply out of pure laziness and lack of initiative. Now I’m feeling really positive to be joining so many people experiencing the same challenge. At first I thought I was mad, spending what seemed to be a lifetime walking down aisle after aisle of supermarkets sniffing out packaging that wasn’t plastic. My madness was confirmed when I nearly cried with joy when I found the one cardboard box of rice. After already feeling like I’d bitten off more than I could chew, I realised that reading other peoples’ experiences online gave me a fresh perspective to battle the weekly shop once again. The second time I came armed with some compromises in mind and found it far less overwhelming! I’m looking forward to making a bigger change, lasting a lot longer than a month… and even if I fail miserably, I still will have learned loads.

Top tip: Lots of research...Pinterest is your friend!



Jules Agate, MCS Volunteer and Community Engagement Manager:

My first year of the plastic challenge was also my first year of attending lots of events on behalf of MCS. Providing food for yourself, and a group of people attending a course or a meeting, is extremely challenging to do single-use-plastic-free! Luckily lots of people were happy to enter into the spirit of it and bring along their own sandwiches (not cling-film wrapped). I made HUGE vegetable lasagne’s and kept them in my tiny fridge, taking slices with me in my sandwich box to eat at events, instead of buying lunch. That’s good news for the wallet and the environment too. The most annoying things were the little bits of plastic hidden inside cardboard boxes – especially biscuits. Not being a bake-off type of person, I just did without – better for my waistline to balance out all that lasagne! I know I should drink more water, but my tap water tastes of chemicals. After the plastic challenge I didn’t want to buy bottled water ever again, so I’ve since bought a soda stream. I love it! I get lovely, fizzy, soda water and can add all sorts of other juices for soft drinks. They even exchange and refill your gas canisters for free so there’s very little waste. Its made of plastic and comes with a good sturdy plastic bottle – but none of it is single-use.

Top tip: Cook larger portions of fresh food for dinner and use the leftovers for lunch.



Charlotte Hitchman, Wales:

As Miss Earth Wales 2016, I am working towards a cleaner and safer environment in our seas and oceans. For me the plastic challenge was a no-brainer; I can't think of a better way to raise awareness of the effects we are having on the environment. It is easy to make small changes to our daily routine and this will make such a huge difference in the environment when we all work together towards the same goal. I will also be running awareness programs in a local primary school; as a trainee teacher the no plastic month coincides perfectly with my school based placement which is such an amazing opportunity!


Imogen Napper, Plymouth:

The plastic challenge really opened my eyes to how reliant our society has become to using plastic, including myself! Before I started the plastic challenge, I collected all the plastic I used in a week. I was honestly shocked at how it all accumulates!  However, the more aware I became, the more plastic free options presented themselves. I started buying my fruit and vegetables from a local greengrocers; they were sold loose, so I could place them straight in a canvas bag I brought from home. I bought Toothpaste from LUSH, which was only packaged in cardboard. I also experimented making my own exfoliating face wash.
Was it worth it? On one hand I had to travel further, spend a little bit more money than usual and make more of an effort to find certain items. Although, on the other hand, I had a great experience trying out new products, exploring and supporting the local shops in my area and a feeling of great satisfaction for reducing my plastic footprint. I will definitely be continuing what I learnt during this challenge!

One of my top tips? “Use your imagination!"


See how Imogen and fellow Sea Champions Holly and Joe got through the Plastic Challenge in this video by Joe Burt.


Emma Gibbons, Bradford:

I did the Plastic Challenge in June for at least three weeks and cut down massively on the amount of plastic that I purchased. I bought a nice new string bag and I hope to keep going with this reduction plastic as well as buying recycled plastic products. But it is really up to the supermarkets and retailers to try to find alternative packaging and to not have so many things wrapped in plastic. I got many funny looks at the checkout but did okay with it apart from a few errors of things inlcuding that I got by mistake including kitchen towel and bread - I'm surprised  most supermarkets I went to didn't do fresh baked bread without plastic.  


Louise Bolton, Wigan:

I'm really glad I tried this challenge but found it so disheartening because it was so difficult, missing products I enjoy buying and the cost. The increased spending I did to achieve this challenge was the most disheartening of all. In this current economic climate where things are increasing and salaries are not increasing to match the raise in the cost of living, I personally just couldn't sustain the increase in expense. It's so sad that being eco friendly is so expensive, it's wrong!!! I'm just glad I managed to raise some money for such a good cause and will definitely make a greater attempt to avoid single use plastic or find someway to re-use any single use plastic I use.

Ffion Matthews, Cardiff:

I'm not going to lie, living without plastic is not easy. You have to make sacrifices, you have to plan ahead, always be prepared and most importantly, you have to be willing! I have felt such enormous joy in reducing my plastic by about 90-95% since actively living without plastic. It all started by doing beach cleans, and realising how much plastic ends up in our oceans and on our beaches. Firstly, I boycotted plastic bottles (my worst enemy) for a few weeks, that soon developed into cutting out as much plastic as I possibly could! I now live a much happier life; I only shop locally now, have cut out meat (plastic everywhere!), and have cut out a lot of dairy and junk foods, which all contributes towards not only a healthier body, but a healthier environment. By doing this I'm now putting almost all the money I spend into small local businesses, which is amazing!

Caroline & Nick,

We very quickly discovered that we needed to change everything about the way we shopped. We had already stopped using plastic carrier bags many years ago, but nearly everything else (apart from beer and wine – phew) was difficult. So much salad and veg is pre-wrapped with plastic trays and covering, only some veg was possible, such as leeks and butternut squash. The solution to this was very easy for us, as we have a nearby vegan organic supermarket (Unicorn Grocery)  – so there was one problem solved. But what about toilet roll, cereal, frozen food, etc? Nick started making things we would normally buy pre-prepared, like hummus, pasta and pizzas, which takes more time, but is ultimately healthier for us, as well as for the planet. Have a go, for a day, week or month for yourselves. It gives you a real understanding of the massive scale of the problem facing us.

Lucy Champman, London:

It has been a really good experience. I've made several changes to my habits that will l keep, such as - getting milk delivered in glass bottles, using a keep cup for coffee and tea, making my own oatcakes, roasting my own nuts, making packed lunches, using a refillable water bottle, taking my own containers to the market and buying in bulk at the health food shop, using a rucksak, taking a cloth bag everywhere, buying chocolates from Booja Booja, going to Lush for shampoo bars, and using bamboo cotton buds - instead of plastic. So loads of changes! But I couldn't get everything I would usually use in plastic free packaging, however hard I tried, and it's made me very sad that it is so difficult to give up plastic altogether.

One of my top tips? “Use Onya bags for fruit and veg."

Sarah Han-de-Beaux, Hounslow:

This is the second year I have done the Plastic Challenge and have built upon knowledge from last year making this years challenge much easier. Not only was I challenged by sourcing plastic free foods, but this year I was also confronted with strange attitudes from shop assistants who didn't like touching fruit and veg when it wasn't wrapped in plastic bags. I hope that we can raise more awareness and next year have a day dedicated nationally to the challenge in the same way there is Red Nose Day etc. It's a great way to find local shops and learn to cook, and all round I think much healthier too.

Emily Keat, Cornwall:

As the Cornish Mermaid, I'm always trying to raise awareness of the plastic problem in the sea. I have brought the magic to life to create posters, and teach children how they can help to save the ocean. I've also been busy beach cleaning, which is a lot of fun! It's interesting to see what you can find on the beach, and it's a great feeling knowing that you've done something to help. I hope I can inspire others to help save the ocean too!


Kate Wilson, Herefordshire:

This started off being a really difficult challenge, but once you get into it and get yourself organised, it gets much easier. I started off in the bathroom, and found I could replace almost everything I normally use with plastic free alternatives after a quick visit to Lush. It really is amazing how much we depend on single use plastic when we really don't need to. The same goes for cleaning products from washing powder to window cleaner - you really can cut out a huge amount of plastic from your life.

One of my top tips? “Get organised, do some initial research and plan ahead."

Emily Smith, Lambeth:

After our Sea Champion volunteer Emily Smith gave up plastics for Lent in 2013 and raised over £700 for MCS in doing so, she threw down the challenge to others to do the same, and so the Plastic Challenge was born.

“We live in a throwaway society and the result is parts of our oceans are becoming like a plastic soup. It’s a massive problem - we're not just littering, we're changing the composition of the sea world-wide.

"I was overwhelmed by the support from family, friends and the media. I raised over £700 for the Marine Conservation Society and got exposure on national TV and radio. Inspired by this, I’m encouraging MCS Sea Champions and supporters to get involved in the ‘Plastic Challenge’!"

One of my top tips? “Start having a doorstep delivery of milk to avoid the plastic containers.”

Charlotte Gee, Bristol:

"I made some dramatic changes in the first week of the Plastic Challenge. I made home-made bread, refilled detergent bottles, opted for plastic free fruit and veg, got cheese from deli counters and I self-weighed dried foods like herbs and spices, coffee, dried fruit and even pasta. I took containers and reusable bags everywhere I went!

“Carrying on after the Plastic Challenge was a natural progression. Buying products unnecessarily wrapped in single-use plastic is not something I wanted to carry on doing. So if I can avoid it, I do.

One of my top tips? You can get unpackaged loo roll from ScoopAway and The Better Food Company!

The Carter Family, Devon:

Steve and Tamsin Carter and their three children - Jayfin, Robin and Bodie - gave up Single Use Plastics for Lent in 2014 after reading about Emily Smith's plastic free challenge in 2013 on the MCS website. They gave up SUPs for 6 weeks and documented the journey daily in a blog.

"The one thing above all else we learnt is that we are all responsible. We can all, as individuals, make the biggest difference. You can choose not to buy plastic wrapped food which only takes minutes to eat but will never breakdown..."

"We identified local shops that could supply goods plastic free. We all went without things if we could not find an alternative; the children went without sweets. Our shopping habits changed. Our diet changed. We also learnt we weren't the only ones who felt upset by the situation. The whole process changed our outlook and our lives."

One of our top tips? "Shop less in supermarkets. Turn SUPs into non-SUPs by reusing for other things eg. punnets as seed trays."

Jake Skelton, Devon:

Jake reported a change to his snacking habits during last year’s Plastic Challenge! “When I took on the Plastic Challenge I gave up crisps and sweets and had a lot more fresh and dried fruit from the wholefood shop, which not only saves on the waistline but also on the pocket! I also gave up the usual pizzas, hams, and frozen meats that normally reside in the freezer, and instead opted for lots of fresh vegetables.”

One of my top tips? Get a shopping basket – they last a lifetime!”

Atlanta Cook, East Sussex:

“I used to buy cherry tomatoes, blueberries and occasionally mushrooms in dark plastic punnets, but they were filling up my bin and going straight to landfill or incineration.

“I had to go without mushrooms, unless I could get to my local green grocer or Asda for loose mushrooms.

“But blueberries were a different story all together. In 16 months I have only found blueberries in a cardboard box once!

“I really missed them, so resorted to exploring growing them in my back garden instead.

“Please ask your local grocers and supermarkets to reduce plastic punnet use. If we all said something I'm sure they'd start to introduce alternative packaging.”

Sarah Han-de-Beaux, Hounslow:

“I switched to Lush hair products and deodorants, learnt how to make fresh pasta, and I located useful shops near to me in readiness for the challenge! It was tough, but I was keen to make it a success. I hope the Plastic Challenge will allow the UK to put more pressure on supermarkets and retailers to reduce unnecessary plastic use and help raise awareness to the public about the long term effects of plastics to help save our oceans.

“The Plastic Challenge certainly opened my eyes last year  – it’s  truly scary how much plastic is around us and how people don't even think about it. I’ve kept up lots of the lessons I have learned...from cooking fresh rather than buying prepared food, using my local shops for fresh produce, avoiding the use of plastic bags, keeping up with those lovely Lush products. It was a great challenge!”

Stephanie Barnicoat, Truro:

“At first, I thought it would be easy to go without single use plastics, but I found it very difficult. Without plastic, I am very limited in what I can buy from supermarkets. There are items I can’t have such as crisps and a lot of my favourite chocolate bars, but thankfully I can still have Cadbury’s Creme Eggs!”

“I’m now making a lot of things from scratch, like falafels, risottos, hummus and orange juice.

“I hope the Plastic Challenge will make consumers think about whether they really need their product wrapped in plastic, or if there is a greener alternative.”

One of my top tips? Go to Lush for plastic free toiletries - they have everything you need!”

Patrick Joel, Warwickshire:

Patrick thought he’d eliminated single use plastics from his first lunch of the challenge, until further inspection...

“Parsley bunches came with a plastic label to tell me I've bought parsley. I used it to make a tea (an Italian tradition for reducing garlic after effects). No one else liked it in the office. They liked the chocolate though, but the paper wrapper was encapsulated in plastic. And so was the cardboard for my soup. The Plastic Challenge was to be much harder than I first thought!

“I found it is impossible to avoid all single use plastics, but you can get by without most of it”.

Elspeth Owens, London:

“To me, this challenge is about asking people to focus on the unnecessary plastic in our lives. The plastic packaging that your apples are wrapped in just so that you can carry them to the till, where you put them inside another plastic bag to take them home, before you throw the plastic wrapping away. To me, that use of plastic is unnecessary, and that is what we are trying to eliminate.

One of my top tips? “Refill your cleaning products! I found that Ecover sell 5L litre re-fills of toilet cleaner, multi-purpose cleaner, washing up liquid… and much more. And use soap bars instead of handwash, and save some money too!”

Sanjay Mitra, Ross-on-Wye:  

“I nearly didn’t take part in the Plastic Challenge until I popped out for lunch one day and bought a pasty from a display fridge wrapped in cling film and on a polystyrene tray. I walked out feeling awful. It was then that I vowed to do the Challenge for a whole month to highlight some marine environmental issues associated with plastic through a blog. I also raised some money for MCS.
“The first thing I noticed was the number of vegetables I just could not buy in the supermarket. No salads for a start and most greens too. I couldn’t even buy spring onions as they had a plastic tag. There were a lot more tin cans in my shopping too (which I found out, during the challenge, are lined with a type of plastic – oops).

“I made my own yoghurt from tinned milk and a small jar of the live stuff, my own potato crisps, bread and a sugar scrub. All very easy, but you really have to think ahead and devote the time to it, which I found very difficult at times.

“Since the end of last year’s Challenge, I’ve been avoiding takeaway sandwiches etc., making more yoghurt, putting the rubbish out every two weeks rather than one. Basically, I’ve been avoiding single-use plastic as far as I can.

One of my top tips? Make your own sugar scrub using only natural ingredients. Much cheaper than shop bought stuff!”

Trevor Morton, Cumbria:

“The thing that really made me think about our misuse of plastics was when I received a phone case through the post that I’d ordered online. The protective casing is a fantastic use of an innovative material, but there was a shameful amount of plastic packaging. Did it really need inner plastic packaging?  An over-elaborate injection moulded acrylic case? And then bubble wrap?! I wrote to ask the company to do something about this, as a modern product should be sold in an environmentally responsible way.”

Agatha Ioannou, North London:

Agatha’s first big hurdle when she took on the Plastic Challenge in 2014 was …toothpaste!
“Where on earth do you find toothpaste not in a plastic tube? I thought I'd been defeated before I had even started, until I walked into Lush.”

“All my other toiletries were bought there too! Plastic free deodorant, shampoo, conditioner, face wash, moisturiser etc. etc! I was pleasantly surprised by how good their naked shampoo bar was.  Another hurdle overcome! Who needs plastic packaging?”

Kimberley Wyatt, Hertfordshire:

Kimberley took on the Plastic Challenge for Lent last year, and gave up buying anything that came in single-use plastic.

“Where possible, I searched out ways to make things myself - teaching myself to bake bread, make pasta and bathroom items like liquid soap. I wanted to try and demonstrate that doing this is better for the environment, but also for your health and bank balance. My main goal was to try and become zero waste, whilst highlighting the damage that plastic pollution is doing.

One of my top tips? It’s easy to find plastic free stationary for the office online.”

Ed Santry, London:

One of my top tips for anyone taking on the Plastic Challenge is to make your own packed lunches rather than nipping out to buy pre-packaged sandwiches. Also to shop locally! Check out your local butchers, grocers, fishmongers and markets, you’d be surprised, there are more plastic free products than you first think!”

Abigail Ferrar, Yorkshire:

After a visit to Madagascar where Abigail took part in a survey of mangroves, she was appalled the amount of plastic found tangled up in the trees and around the roots! So in 2014, she gave up single use plastics for Lent 2014 whilst raising money for MCS and encouraged others to ditch single use plastics too.

“I was horrified when I realised I couldn’t even have brown sauce on my sausage cob at work! The challenge encouraged me to continue my studies and do a MSc in Marine Environmental Management.”  

Gill Bell, Monmouthshire:

MCS staff member, Gill, found her first shopping trip particularly hard.

“I needed coffee and peanut butter, but although they were in glass jars they both had plastic lids! Breakfast cereal came in boxes but had plastic inside, and toilet rolls came in plastic wrapping. My shopping trolley looked very healthy, but quite empty!

One of my top tips? Share your tips! So people like me can get some useful hints when we’re struggling with our shopping.”

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