Every time I enter Het Kasteel, the charming football grounds of Sparta Rotterdam, a security guard singles me out amongst the crowd and makes me go through a security pat-down. Maybe it’s because I unknowingly give off the impression of a ‘sketchy hooligan’ , or the guard just wants to get a feel of my body. In any case, it’s become routine for me to get a security check the moment I enter the stadium while others pass by unchecked. And while the pat-downs usually take just a few moments, last Friday was different.

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These students are going one week without waste

Can student life and zero waste be possible at the same time? Post Plastic Generation…

“What’s in your pocket?” asked the security guard as his chubby fingers passed the inside of my coat.

“It’s a cup,” I answered.

“Please throw it away in the bin.”

“I can’t throw this cup away. It’s special. It’s made of bamboo-fibre,” I responded, knowing full well how absurd that must have sounded.

“Well, you can’t bring an outside object into the stadium unless it’s been pre-approved, so either you throw it away or you can’t go inside. If you throw it at a player, then I’ll be the one responsible.”

This was just the opening dialogue of a long, strenuous argument in which I had to convince a giant security guard to let me enter the stadium with my reusable cup. Why was I so adamant on bringing it with me? As a participant of the Zero Waste Challenge, I was trying to go an entire week without producing a single piece of plastic waste. That means if I wanted to enjoy a beer inside the stadium, I needed to bring my own reusable cup instead of using a standard single-use plastic cup.

Eventually the security guard allowed me to enter, but not before he called his manager who had me promise him I wouldn’t use the cup as a weapon. I swore to him I would keep it in my pocket, then stumbled into the supporters’ bar and asked the bartender to pour me a beer in my bamboo chalice. At first, she looked at me as if I were speaking Chinese. Then, after consulting her manager, she took my cup and filled it to the brim (the bamboo cup holds more centilitres than the plastic cups so it’s more economical as well).

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Beer in a bamboo cup and a kroket without mustard (I couldn’t use the plastic packets). Image credit: Ivar Laanen

Now I suspect some people might say it’s not worth going through all these uneasy social interactions just to avoid plastic, but to that I say ‘BULLSHIT!’

It’s known that we’re poisoning ourselves with plastic pollution, yet we’re convinced that we can recycle our way out of the problem. What we fail to realise is new plastic is being produced at a rate that far outweighs the amount that recycling facilities can handle. What’s more, plastic can only be recycled a couple times before the material becomes useless waste that will remain on the planet long after you drop dead. If we want to spare the Earth (and your potential offspring), the only option is to give up plastic altogether. With a little resourcefulness, it’s entirely possible.

Plastic-free shopping

I quickly discovered that if I wanted to live plastic-free, I’d have to kiss supermarkets like Albert Heijn and Jumbo goodbye — nearly everything they offer is preserved in plastic. Fortunately, Rotterdam has plenty of alternative places to get food items sin plastic. The bi-weekly outdoor market on the Binnenrotte has tons of cheap fruit, vegetables and nuts that you can buy that aren’t pre-wrapped. The vendors will automatically try to place foods in a plastic bag, but if you forewarn them that you don’t want plastic, they will listen.

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Could these students manage a whole week without plastic?

As a part of the Zero Waste Challenge, a few dozen students attempted to live an entire…

Although the outdoor market has an abundance of fruit and vegetables, it lacks the basic essentials like pasta and rice. For those things I went to Gimsel, the centrally located grocery store that specialises in natural foods and bulk buying. Bring your own bag or jar and you can scoop the exact amount of the foods you need, with the price based on the weight of your bag. Gimsel also offers liquid goods like olive oil and milk in glass bottles, which is good because glass can be endlessly recycled, unlike plastic. Tip: buy milk at Gimsel, it tastes as if it came from the teat of the most-pampered cow on the planet.

Natural grocery stores like Gimsel are usually labelled as expensive supermarkets for bourgeoisie hipsters, but this stereotype is highly misleading. Most things were priced reasonably for the student budget, with the exception of some of the organic produce. However, I found that I got back whatever extra I paid over conventional supermarket prices in the form of higher-quality foods.

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Satisfying your cravings

Let’s face it: if my diet only consisted of the aforementioned foods, it would be easy to live plastic-free. Alas, I am weak and occasionally enjoy foods that can be labelled as ‘junk’. The problem is that these foods are almost always packaged in plastic, so you have to get creative if you want it.

Four days into my week as a plastic-free health nut, I started yearning for some sweets. I had written off the possibility of satisfying that craving all week, but then I remembered it’s possible to scoop sweets in bulk at the general store Kruidvat. The cashier raised his eyebrows when I placed my own bag of sugary goods on the counter, but he didn’t question it. Plastic avoided.

Over the weekend I was in the mood for some sloppy takeout food from the local kebab shop. Knowing all too well that my broodje döner would be wrapped in tin foil and placed in a plastic bag, I decided to bring my own porcelain plate to the shop.

“Won’t it get cold?” asked the kebab guy when I asked him to serve the döner directly onto my plate.

“No matter,” I answered.

By the time I got home it was cold. Next time I’ll bring some Tupperware.

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Ivar enjoying his savory kebab on a porcelain plate.

A week without plastic?

As a consumer, I can say with some dignity that I managed to dodge plastic when purchasing this week. But can I say that I lived an entire week without producing plastic waste? Sadly not. Simply existing as a registered resident of Rotterdam means that I inadvertently create plastic waste in the form of unwanted mail. Magazines and advertisements wrapped in plastic flowed freely into my mailbox, all of which merely got a glance before winding up in the trash. Of course, I’m not alone in receiving unwanted mail – the average household in the Netherlands receives 33 kilograms of unsolicited mail each year. If I want to live entirely plastic-free, one thing I must do is contact all the businesses individually that send me mail to get off their mailing list.

However, the mailbox wasn’t the only place where I created plastic waste. In the midst of a dark, steamy dance floor, a gentleman gifted me a beer… in a plastic cup. I instinctively accepted and had a few swigs before I realised what I’d done, a small tear rolling down my cheek.

Before the Zero Waste Challenge I liked to think of myself as somewhat of an environmentalist. What a hypocrite I was. Sorting waste or switching to a clean energy supplier doesn’t qualify one to be called an environmentalist, especially when that person is producing a mound of plastic waste on a weekly basis. Frankly, there is no question about whether I will return to my wasteful ways after this week. How could I?  I proved to myself that living without producing plastic waste is possible, and I intend to continue this lifestyle, even if that makes me a freak who goes to football matches with a bamboo cup.

 

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