Reducing plastic from your weekly shop
So plastic free July is coming to an end. As you might recall I was taking part in the Change One Challenge to try to avoid plastic in my weekly shop. This challenge has turned out to be significantly harder than I expected. I managed to rid a lot of plastic from my shop but there were certainly areas where I found I could not avoid it.
One thing that helped me this month was a bit of forward planning, specifically meal planning. This helps me plan out the week and think ahead about what food I'll need. This allowed me to consider what food I would normally buy and if it comes in plastic whether I could think of or make an alternative. For example we regularly have pizza night as a family. We typically buy pre-made pizza bases however this month I wanted to avoid them and try to make our own. As I need a bit more time to achieve this I planned pizza night for the weekend when we have a bit more time up our sleeves.
While there were challenges with the shop I've found a few areas where I eliminated or reduced plastic that can become a regular part of the way I shop.
Bring my own packaging or containers
This is an easy win and all you need to do is remember to bring them with you.
Here's a few examples and tips I've picked up this month
* use reusable bags for produce - you can buy these pretty cheaply at the supermarket, make your own or if you have old plastic bags at home from previous shops reuse these
* packaging for bulk bins - unlike the bulk stores you can't have your containers weighed using the bulk bins at the supermarket however you can reuse plastic bags from home. I bought my own Kai Carrier bags.
TIP - remember to write down or take a picture of the code for the item so they can key it in at checkout
* deli section - this was a bit hit and miss depending on where I shopped. Some supermarkets were happy to let me use my own containers but others had a policy of washing the containers first which they advised would take about 15 minutes, something I wasn't really up for.
* meat - I managed to cut down some plastic from this area by bringing my own containers but I did find that some places only had the more expensive cuts of meat in their butchery section. I also tried a local butchery but again found that they didn't have a great selection of cheaper meat to put in your own container. I'm going to try one more butchers before I go back to simply buying from the supermarket. For containers here I used a mix of old takeaway containers and tupperware.
TIP - it can be difficult to know how much meat you need for a meal so look in the meat section first for one that you would buy and check the weight of it before heading the butchery section to ask for what you need.
I'm a creature of habit and I typically buy the same brands each week without particularly looking at the price. However, this month I've take the time to look a bit closer at the brands I buy to see if I could swap items out for less packaging. I had a couple of really good wins where I swapped something I would typically buy in a plastic container for something that can more easily be repurposed or recycled. My wins included ice cream in a cardboard container (less variety but price wise quite similar), mayonnaise in a glass jar and coffee. This was a tough one. I rely on a couple of coffees to get me through the day and my favourite brand comes in a plastic container. I've trialled a few different coffees this month and think I've managed to find an acceptable alternative in a glass jar. I've also replaced liquid hand soap with bars of soap in some places throughout the house, although I've decided to keep liquid hand soap in the kitchen as I'm not keen on using a bar of soap for cleaning my hands when I've been handling meat.
Making my own
I've been quite busy in the kitchen this month making food from scratch to avoid the packaging. Sometimes this backfired as the raw ingredients I had to buy came in plastic, although they will last a long time. I made some delicious ice cream but I had to buy cream in a plastic container so this really defeated the purpose, plus the combined ingredients probably cost me double what it would have to buy a 2L ice cream tub.
Some examples of things I've made that were easy and cost effective are;
* chicken stock (using leftover bones from a roast chicken)
* breadcrumbs (using the crusts of loaves and any stale bread I had)
* crackers (easy to make although I needed to trial a few recipes to find one the kids liked)
* bread (I tried a few oven recipes but again the kids weren't fans so I tracked down a second-hand breadmaker and have been having more success)
* pizza bases
* muesli bars
Shopping at the bulk store
One great way I avoided plastic was to shop at a bulk store and take my own containers. My nearest store is a 20 minute drive away so it's not sustainable for me to go here as part of my weekly shop so I've decided to do a trip every 4-6 weeks and stock up on things. There's such a great range of items and this was another easy way to reduce my plastic. Examples of things I got here include dried fruit, sugar, cereal, cornflour, baking powder, sunflower seeds and a huge range of spices. I refilled liquids including oil, vinegar and even golden syrup. Most things were similarly priced however there were some items that I decided not to buy as they were significantly more expensive. Hopefully the prices of these items will come down as I'm not keen to pay more than double the price and this is where you have to consider the balance in your life.
If you're not familiar with where your local bulk food stores are check out this handy guide that the Rubbish Trip team have put together. They travelled across New Zealand to find and map all the stores for you.
There were some areas that I wasn't able to cut plastic out and so I bought a bigger packet or container than I normally would to reduce the number of times I'll have to purchase it. For example rather than buying a 12 roll pack of toilet paper I bought a 24 pack.
Room for improvement
There were some areas where I just couldn't avoid plastic easily. These included all things diary - milk, cheese and cream I was unable to find easy swaps for these items. I make my own yoghurt with an easiyo maker so I avoid the yoghurt tubs but I still have the packaging to contend with.
I also struggled to replace some items that are really cheap with an inexpensive non plastic option. I usually buy .99c wholemeal bread. I tried several versions of making bread, none of which the kids liked and I bought bread from the bakery section but this was $4 a loaf. I'm now trialling a bread maker so hopefully this might produce better results.
I have found things like rice and pasta have been difficult to replace. These items are available at stores like bin inn but they're much more expensive than the .99c bags that i usually buy. I could possibly replace these with larger quantities from wholesale stores but I don't really have the room in my kitchen for a 5kg bag of rice.
As a busy mother of three if I want to make these changes part of my everyday life they have to not be significantly more time consuming or expensive. For me it's not about being perfect and eliminating everything but finding the right balance and taking the wins where I can. Every week will be different so I don't want to be beating myself up if one week I'm not able to make a lot of food from scratch and resort to buying a packet of crackers instead of making them. While I'm trying to do my part I think more pressure needs to be put on the companies who make these products. In the meantime I'll keep up with many of the measures I implemented in my shop this month. It was hugely satisfying to find alternatives and eliminate as much waste as I could.