So, as plastic free July wound up, I wanted to take a look over the changes I’d made to my shopping and eating habits and there’s a few things that stood out. I can’t say that I managed to go the whole month without some compromises (loo roll!) but it’s definitely opened up my eyes and changed how I’m doing my shopping in future.
EVERYTHING is wrapped in plastic
..or at least that’s how it seemed to start with. Just walking into the supermarket and glancing around meant that sometimes whole aisles were off-limits. Pre-packed veggies, cereals, salad bags, herbs, fresh fish and meat, the list goes on. I plan my shopping and meals every week to save time and money anyway but this was a whole different ball game.
With convenience foods off the radar for a bit it also meant planning out long drives and train journeys – even the cutlery on the trains was wrapped in plastic. I had the joy of booking a First Class train journey for cheaper than the standard …and couldn’t have any of the free plastic-wrapped food on offer (first world problem right there).
Dolla Dolla Bills Y’all – plastic-free burned a hole in my plastic
Yup, it could be pretty bloody expensive. Individual apples, potatoes and tomatoes all cost more than their pre-packaged companions. This might not seem like much at first but at times it added up to an extra tenner on my weekly shop. With some careful recipe-hunting and meal planning though, I found this needn’t always be the case.
Frozen and plastic-bagged fruit and veggies were also no-no and so I made more frequent stops at the shops for food on the way home; not ideal. The same with fresh meat and fish products if bought from the counter – that’s when you can get them to put it in your reusable tub (turns out many can’t – store policy).
Impact on nutrition
The lack of frozen veggies for stir-fries, stews, pasta sauces, curries (they go into seemingly everything I cooked!) became apparent as my freezer supplies dwindled. There are still fairly cheap tinned vegetables but overall this could easily have an impact on getting your 5 a day and the variety of foods you eat without some serious planning – all pretty important.
Interestingly – it also meant that most chocolate, sweets, ice cream and crisps were also off limits and so my junk food choices were limited. It’s not something I usually eat too much of but now it was off limits I went on a mission to find some non-plastic-wrapped chocolate.
5 of the trickiest items and some ways around them
- Loo roll: pretty hard to get around this one. There are many imaginative answers available online (rag soaked in vinegar, anyone?) but my favourite is from a company called Who Gives a Crap. Sustainably produced, recycled paper and no plastic. Plus they donate 50% of their profits to help build toilets in developing countries.
- Hummus: try making your own in batches, it freezes really well. Try different flavours – like my fave beetroot version.
- Yoghurt: you could always make your own – you can buy a yoghurt maker or try out a recipe like this one. I haven’t tried this yet but it’s definitely on my to do list.
- Cereal: My kitchen has been a granola testing factory for the last few weeks.
- Milk: see if you have a local milk delivery, yep – glass milk bottles can still arrive on your doorstep. Or make your own dairy-free milks, remember that these alternatives won’t be fortified with calcium and other vitamins though so ensure you’re getting them from elsewhere.
Changes I’m keeping
I’ve gotten used to going down to HisBe to get my dry stores like beans, pulses, pasta etc and I love paying into what they do there – I’m very aware that there’s not something like this in every town though, we’re pretty lucky in Brighton. Home made hummus and granola also stay on the menu and I’m going to try to convince my colleagues to go in on a big ol’ box of loo roll.
As for the supermarket – I’m continuing to buy loose items of fruit and veg though and will try to keep my packaged frozen fruit and veg to a minimum with a bit of planning. Again, I realise that this is absolutely not practical for someone who can’t get to the shops that often, time is limited or who feeds a large family and so frozen veggies are a brilliant way to get their five a day – there has to be a balance.
Overall it’s made me much more aware of how much plastic there is everywhere, the fact that it isn’t going anywhere and that it shows no sign of slowing down; there’s an estimated 13 billion plastic bottles that will be thrown away in 2017 alone, let alone other plastic packaging – and this figure is expected to rise year on year.
What can we all do to help?
As a dietitian, I spend a lot of my time helping people to get more fruit and veg into their diet – fresh, frozen, tinned, dried – finding workarounds with meals and shopping planning. Pre-packaged veg is a pretty convenient go-to when clients are out and about.
Everyone should be able to get at least their five a day at an affordable price – it’s just what you do with them that makes the difference. The key is in planning – shopping, meals, travelling and for what you do when it all goes to pot. I’m writing a piece about this soon as it’s something I’m asked about a lot.
The thing is that these options obviously can include lot of plastic-wrapped vegetables, micro-bags, veg pots, frozen veg, stir-fry bags and the plastic-wrapped bargain in the knock-down aisles in supermarkets. Where appropriate, there is a focus on sustainability, but for a lot of people with very limited food budgets, this just can’t come into it.
The challenge this month has opened up my eyes to some small changes that we could all make to reduce it – be it investing in a reusable shopping bag, water bottle, coffee cup or lunchbox and not using the free plastic bags to put your fruit and veg in (you only wash it again anyway, right?!). Or even just making sure that you’re recycling where you can.
Local butchers, bakers and fishmongers are also brilliant at helping out with reducing plastic waste, helping us to stay in touch with our community and where our food actually comes from – plus what’s fresh, cheaper and in season.
Long story short
Don’t beat yourself up if you can’t afford the plastic-free versions all the time – it’s about balance. Just being more aware and making small changes will add up in the long run. It’s also up to the manufacturers to reduce the amount of non-recyclable plastics they use (paper veg bags, anyone?) and the only way they will is if we vote with our own plastic.
Bear in mind not to neglect your health when opting for reducing plastic – (as much as it’s great to care for the environment) – getting the right balance of vitamins, minerals and fibre from dairy products / alternatives and fruit and vegetables is incredibly important to health in the longer term.
I know going completely plastic-free might not be achievable for most people all of the time but it’s definitely worth thinking about if we care about the future of our planet now and for the generations to come.
Check out http://www.plasticfreejuly.org/living-plastic-free.html for some more great ideas on how to reduce your plastic usage any month of the year.