Climate Awareness: West Highland Free Press articles

It’s up to us to win the war against plastic

4th February 2021

Plastic. It’s like an addiction we can’t seem to give up. And, like most addictive substances, it is wreaking havoc everywhere we look. Little over a hundred years ago our beaches were clean, home only to driftwood and the occasional glass bottle; our seabeds were uncharted territory except for the lonely wreck of a ship, and Bakelite had just set foot on our shelves. Created in 1909, by Belgian Chemist Leo Baekeland, it was the first synthetic plastic to be produced and it revolutionised the consumer world.

crushed plastic bottles for recycling on a pallet

Crushed plastic bottles awaiting recycling.

Now, plastic is taking over our planet. It’s in our homes, our gardens; it’s drifting aimlessly through our seas and it’s suffocating our beaches. But this is only half the problem. From the moment we begin extracting oil from the seabed right through to the transportation of the final plastic product, greenhouse gases are released. These gases trap heat within the atmosphere, warming our planet to unnatural temperatures. We need to stop. 

Plastic can be an extremely useful material, but for many products it is not necessary. We need to end our reliance on it. Is there a way? Absolutely. Plastic free alternatives are popping up on shelves all over the place, all we need to do is choose them. The Selkie Collective, a new Eco-shop in Broadford, champions plastic free alternatives. They offer a range of sustainable products such as bamboo toothbrushes, plant based dental floss, beauty products and compostable bin bags. Co-owner Amy Bental says: “We also have Beeswax wraps of all different sizes and some vegan ones made with plant wax. You just treat it like cling film, then wash it off with a damp cloth and re-use over and over.” All the convenience, with little or no environmental damage.

The Selkie Collective also offers a refill service for laundry liquids, shampoos, cleaning sprays and even antibacterial handwash. Co-owner Emma Bee said: “I think these shops should be more common. You can come back, refill the containers and then it means you’re not buying a brand new packet each time that ends up in the bin.” In the coming weeks The Selkie Collective will also be introducing food refills such as pasta, flour, nuts, teas and spices.

Another store leading the way with refills is Rankins Supermarket in Uig. Gillian Brown, owner of Rankins, said: “It’s something we’re quite passionate about. We’ve been doing household refills, things like your laundry liquids, for about two years now and we started food refills about a year ago. We’ve noticed as we have been doing it other shops on the island have been picking up on it as well, which is great.”
Refill services skip the unnecessary single-use plastic packaging which is arguably the biggest battle we face in the war against plastics; according to the most recent data published by Statista Research Department, 54% of plastic packaging in the UK was not recycled. Just look at the parsnips sweating in their plastic blankets; a lot of the time, the food doesn’t need it.

Taking your own bag to the supermarket and filling it up with loose fruits and vegetables is another big, yet simple, way we can all cut down on unnecessary packaging. Tricia Petri-Clark, member of Skye Climate Action Plastics, says: “If your local shop or supermarket doesn’t have a lot of choice, ask them to consider their policies and offer more options on loose produce. The more of us that ask, the more companies will listen and make changes to serve their customers’ needs.”

Many companies are changing the way they offer their products. Rankins supermarket, Armadale Stores and An Crubh in Sleat all sell the vast majority of their fruit and vegetables loose and An Crùbh also offer their customers cardboard boxes and paper bags instead of plastic ones to take home their shopping.

The Scottish Government, in partnership with Zero Waste Scotland, have also launched a new Deposit Return Scheme for single-use plastic bottles, cans and glass. Research shows that the scheme, which will begin on 1st July 2022, will result in 76,000 additional tonnes of products being recycled each year.

But we cannot rely on recycling alone. It does not solve the problem. We buy a plastic bottle, we recycle it and then buy a new one; greenhouse gasses are still being produced. Ultimately, we need to start moving away from plastic products altogether. And the onus is on us, the customer. If we change our shopping habits, if we show the big supermarkets that we want to buy refills and loose veg instead of endless shampoo bottles and clingfilm wrapped vegetables, they too will have to change. It’s up to us to lead the way in the war against plastic.

For more information on how you can get involved in reducing plastics, contact

TOP TIP: Instead of using plastic bags, see this easy tutorial for making your own recycled cloth bag to put loose vegetables or fruit in when grocery shopping.