April 22nd 2018 is Earth Day and this year the theme of the day is ‘ending plastic pollution’
This article explores an individual journey to try and achieve a plastic free existence and is written by Jess Padley who began her plastic free lifestyle in June 2017 and is working to apply it to all aspects of her life. As well as purchasing locally sourced food, Jess has taken on an allotment in the Reading area in an effort to become as self-sufficient as possible. A keen cyclist, Jess is also interested in trying new activities, most recently this had included basket weaving!
Going plastic free
My decision to go ‘plastic free’ has been something that has been on my mind on and off for at least a year, and I finally decided to take the plunge in June 2017. Along with my boyfriend, we’ve chosen to go plastic free for a number of reasons, primarily because of the ongoing damage it’s doing to the environment, the fact that it seems unnecessary to use so much plastic and the fact it’s incredibly unclear whether plastic can actually be recycled, despite being labelled as ‘recyclable’.
Our overnight decision had no immediate implications as the cupboards and fridge were in reasonable shape, so it was a case of finding replacement items as and when they ran out.
The other major contributor to this not being an instant, dramatic change was the fact that I regularly make and take in my own lunch to work, if I was like many of my colleagues who buys lunch everyday then I’d have been in a bit of trouble! On the lunch front, my local café which has a salad bar lets me use my own container, so don’t ever be afraid to ask!
Our approach was two-fold with medium and long term options if more research was needed to find the best option.
First up – dairy. Milk was extremely easy and just a case of registering with the milkman; we’re lucky in Berkshire that foil can be recycled, so there is no waste with the bottle tops. I’ve read articles that milk in glass is inefficient due to the weight of distributing it, but for me, its ability to be reused and recycled outweigh this.
It was an instant goodbye to yoghurt, and this is on the long list to see if it’s possible to source/make our own. There were also a couple of weeks without cheese (the hardest thing for me!), but thankfully working near Covent Garden, I discovered Neal’s Yard Dairy who supply cheese in waxed paper (which I reuse every time I visit the shop). On their website, they openly advise that keeping cheese in plastic isn’t good as it makes it sweaty. It’s also great to buy local cheeses and their knowledge in the shop is exceptional.
Vegetables is super easy – it’s all about town and farmer’s markets. We are quite the connoisseurs in this now. It supports local businesses and you know where the food is coming from. Reading’s farmer’s market also had a dedicated organic stall. It’s a bit lean at the moment due to the time of year, but is abundant for most of the year. Some supermarkets are average in this regard; the basics (potatoes, onions, carrots, leeks) are generally available plastic free.
Not for everyone, but we took on an allotment plot in December, so are looking forward to growing our own fruit and veg. With our reuse ethos, eggs boxes and toilet rolls have become our seed trays.
We always reuse the paper bags available for vegetables, and once they are of no use are consigned to compost. It’s really important to do this as we’d read an article that the production of paper bags is energy intensive, so although it’s stopping plastic chocking wildlife, filling landfill, it’s not the perfect solution.
To source meat we made friends with the local butcher. We found that a traditional butcher is more than happy to use our containers for meat, they also are used to handling meat so don’t use plastic gloves like meat counters in supermarkets. Our butcher is also extremely knowledgeable on meat – source, what’s in season, cuts etc.
For kitchen cupboard foods, we are reliant on a local bulk market shop and supermarkets for this. True Food in Reading buys dry items (pasta, rice, oats, nuts etc.) in bulk, leaving you to fill up your own containers with the amount you need. This is a medium term solution for us as it’s only minimising our plastic consumption rather than removing it. There are some online options we’re looking into which say they and their supply chain are plastic free. Supermarkets are used for tins and jars of food. The lid of jars have a plastic lining, but we feel that their isn’t an alternative at the moment (we’re not beekeepers…yet), we do avoid those that add an extra plastic seal on the jar – it’s this type of pointless plastic that is the most frustrating, the way jars are sealed these days means this just isn’t needed.
Apart from making our difference to the environment, the other big upside to going plastic free is having a much clearer picture of what we’re eating – alongside making our own meals, we make our own bread, houmous, energy balls, stock cubes (with the added bonus of avoiding palm oil), crisps etc. Even factoring in cakes, it feels less processed.
Next up is learning how to make our pasta, noodles and to review diary options – for me chilli just isn’t the same without crème fraiche!
While the focus is on food packaging in this article, it is also worth noting that we have made great inroads into cleaning products and toiletries. We wash our clothes with soap nuts, plus vinegar and baking powder, (with the latter items being used in pretty much all cleaning) our loo roll is recycled and the wrapper is compostable, we use bamboo toothbrushes and toothpaste that comes in glass jars with a metal lid (made locally in Sussex), I use a deodorant bar and a shampoo bar with an apple cider vinegar rinse. We also avoid all single use plastic, either having an alternative with us (e.g. reusable cup) or just not using it.
I appreciate that going plastic free can seem daunting, my advice would be to not try and do everything at once. It does also take some coordination as you will need to shop in a couple of different places, but don’t be alarmed, the only items needed every week are vegetables and meat, which as two full-time workers we’ve managed to make work! Like many households do anyway, we plan our weekly food menu, and plan what we buy on specific days. This has the advantage of having fresh produce and helping the environment as we minimise waste, only buying what we need.
AgriFood Training Partnership
The University of Reading
PO Box 226, Whiteknights
Reading RG6 6AP