THE morning milk, that takeaway coffee on the way into work, the carton of sandwiches at lunch – most of us would be amazed if we actually sat back and considered the plastic we use every day.

That is without the 11 free carrier bags each of us are said to use and mainly discard each month.

While most of us now regularly recycle – and in the past year almost 7,000 tonnes of plastic has been recycled across the county – the pressure to go greener is only set to intensify.

For that reason, the pile of free carrier bags at the end of each checkout could soon become an endangered species.

In 2012, 7.06bn plastic bags were used by people in England, according to the Waste and Resources Action Programme, with most ending up in landfill.

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg is driving a newly-announced 5p carrier bag charge for England, pointing to the 76 per cent fall in plastic bag use in Wales since the levy was introduced there in 2011.

Similarly good results have already been achieved in Northern Ireland and Scotland.

But while many of us will soon have to adjust to taking one of those bags for life to the shops, or just carrying our shopping home in our pockets, Kate Griffin has already taken the green challenge a whole step further.

The 34-year-old freelance journalist from Cogges Hill Road, Witney, took part in a month-long challenge to live plastic-free – and discovered just how difficult it was to get by in her daily life without it.

Mrs Griffin is a member of Sustainable Witney, a community action group which helps residents to live in a more environmentally-friendly way by organising swap shops, recycling events and even taking thermal images of their homes so they can find out about their energy use.

She decided to take part in an initiative called Plastic Free July, an Australian idea started in 2011 which has since spread to other countries.

She made the move after her sister, who lives in Melbourne, told her about it.

Throughout July, Mrs Griffin and around 20 other supporters from Witney and Oxford tried to live without plastic, charting their successes (and difficulties) online at sustainablewitney.

Mrs Griffin said: “Plastic does not need to be used once and thrown away. But doing your everyday shopping can be extremely hard.

“When I was telling people what I was doing, the majority of reactions were really positive. One woman in a shop gave me a high five when I explained my plan.

“But there are certain things which are close-on impossible to buy without plastic, like getting meat from a butcher.

“You can go in with your own container, but the butcher will still need to use a plastic glove to handle the meat which is then thrown away, defeating the objective.”

Mrs Griffin and her fellow Plastic Free July participants stayed in touch throughout the month, using Twitter to alert each other to tips as well as difficulties they experienced.

She said: “People with children used reusable nappies, but struggled with wipes, as even cotton wool comes in plastic packaging.

“My husband JP was also on a gluten-free diet and it was impossible to buy gluten-free bread and oat cakes that weren’t in plastic.

“But people who did find shops who used paper packaging instead of plastic tweeted about it and it was great just to know we had the support of others.”

Mrs Griffin said she will probably not take part in Plastic Free July again, but she will be taking on some of the changes she made for good.

She said: “I’ve made quite a lot of little changes since I finished. For example, instead of buying little tubs of houmous, I now make it completely from scratch.

“You can get tablets of toothpaste which you chew. They come in a matchbox-type box which you can get from certain shops, which is better than from a tube. It’s a weird sensation but a lot better for the environment.

“I’ve found dairy products, like cheese, are the hardest to buy without plastic and there’s not really an easy way to get around it.

“My husband also discovered that at Vitaburst at Oxford train station, they will give you a small discount if you take a travel mug with you to be filled rather than have a takeaway cup.

“Things like that have been worth finding out and taking on board.”

She added: “I’m right behind charging for carrier bags – it’s been happening all across the British Isles for years and should have been happening here 10 years ago.

“But the only way things are going to change is by consumers, you and I, demanding change from the brands to use fewer plastics.

“Until changes are made by the supermarkets, it would be very difficult to do this for longer than a month.”

Mrs Griffin is not the only one trying to change people’s minds about plastic.

Orinoco, based in Peat Moors in Headington, sources waste products to be re-used creatively.

Store manager Chris Bonfiglioli said recycling plastic has made the general public more aware of how much wastage there is.

He said: “Since Oxford City Council introduced its recycling measures, people are thinking more about the plastic they are using, and that can only be a good thing.”

He added: “We need to get across the message that plastic goes somewhere else and something else is going to be made and it goes on like that.

“If you think about your shower gel bottle, there are at least three different types of plastic in that – the bottle, the lid and the nozzle which it is squeezed out of.

“If this is recycled, it will be done as one and because of that it becomes mixed use plastic and is of a much lower quality.

“I think it’s not just about thinking about how it will be re-used but about trying to encourage people to ask for products which last longer.”

Orinoco trustee Howie Watkins said: “Initiatives like the month-free are good at raising awareness of the issue, but it is the culture of using things once and throwing it away which needs to be addressed by everyone.”

The Oxfordshire Waste Partnership, which is made up of the county and district councils, works to improve waste management in Oxfordshire and its officials agree with the concept of reducing our plastic consumption.

Chairman David Dodds said: “While we accept that some plastic packaging can play an important role in helping to protect goods and keep food fresh, it is important to avoid over-packaging.

“If packaging cannot be avoided, then try to choose packaging that can be recycled locally.”

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Chemical creation

The first man-made type of plastic was created by Alexander Parkes, who demonstrated it at the 1862 Great International Exhibition in London.

The material, called Parkesine, was an organic material derived from cellulose that once heated could be moulded. It retained its shape when cooled.

But the first truly synthetic plastic was invented by Leo Baekeland, a Belgian chemist living in New York who found that when he combined formaldehyde and phenol, he could produce a material that bound all types of powders together.

He called this Bakelite (after himself) and found it would not only set hard and did not soften under heat, but was water and solvent-resistant. It had so many potential uses, it was popularly dubbed the “material of a thousand uses” and was used as an electrical insulator and in the production of records and telephones.

After the First World War, improvements in chemical technology led to new forms of plastics and mass production of neoprene (1932), polythene (1933) and perspex (1934), followed by nylon in 1938. Sixty-four million pairs of stockings were made in 1938 alone.

Baekeland’s work has also been used to develop Teflon, used in non-stick plans, and Lycra, used in sports and casual wear.