I had intended to write more posts on Plastic Free July during this month, but real life took over in the past few weeks and my energy was diverted elsewhere. So I’ll summarise our experience overall.
It felt futile visiting the supermarket this month, to buy both packaged goods and fresh food. I would stand gazing over plastic open bags of grapes, shrink-wrapped cucumbers, plastic bags of potatoes and carrots, plastic tubs of nuts, and mentally cross off everything I couldn’t buy. Especially frustrating are the displays of organic produce, all shrink-wrapped on Styrofoam trays. Eek!
Another annoying thing was how most healthy snack foods – sandwiches, salads, sushi – are packed in plastic, while less healthy choices – pizza, pies, toasted sandwiches, burgers, kebabs, fish and chips – were easy to find wrapped in paper or cardboard. Sometimes I requested that the cafe wrap our sandwiches in paper specially. Drink options were limited, but we mostly drink water anyway.
It was certainly useful to have an excuse not to buy cheap plastic toys. When my son started whining for lollies, toys or sweet drinks at the supermarket or service station, I just asked ‘what is it packed in?’ and that would rule out everything I didn’t want to buy. We did also eat more ‘junk’ food on the road, so we had our treats!
If I forgot to bring small cloth bags to the supermarket, I would use paper mushroom or bread bags. Usually I use old flour or oat bags for small purchases.
We spent a week in the city during this month, and found it mostly easy to avoid single use plastic. I took our stainless steel drink bottles, metal straw, cloth shopping bags and lunch boxes.
In one small supermarket, we walked in hoping to find something to eat for lunch. All I could find was a pear and a carton of flavoured milk. All the bread, all the snack foods, almost all the dairy and most of the fruit and salad vegetables were packed in plastic. Luckily there was a cafe next door, with toasted sandwiches to save us. Otherwise I guess we would have had cold baked beans and pears! We used our metal drinking straw, which I keep in the car glovebox. I rinsed the milk out with water from our drink bottles before we got back in the car.
My son was thrilled to find icecream packed in cardboard.
My biggest plastic buy was when my grandmother asked me to pick up a loaf of bread, a bag of salad leaves and a cooked chicken for a shared lunch, two days in a row. I didn’t have time to cook any of it myself, or find a store that would sell the bread in paper, the chickens in foil and the salad leaves loose. It was all packed in plastic bags. I at least found free-range chickens and local bread, from the supermarket. We also chose a whole melon instead of a shrink-wrapped half, and a bunch of baby carrots that were tied together instead of a bagful. While I was feeding myself and my son, I could keep it plastic-free; but fitting in with extended family was trickier. Ah well.
Twice I forgot to find a plastic-free option; once when buying bubble tea (no other option available anyway, although we refused the straws) and once when ordering milkshakes with a friend. The cafe gave us two straws in each milkshake! Agh. I rinsed them out in the bathroom sink and took them home to cut up for craft. I kept the bubble tea plastic cups also; I’ve already used them as temporary vases and will find a use for them in the garden or the house.
Even with all this conscientious buying, the bin still seemed to fill up with pieces of plastic. Packaging from toys that well-meaning friends gave to my son; cling wrap from food I brought back from my mother’s; a bag containing playdough that was give to my son at school; packaging from pantry items bought last month; wrappers from muesli bars given to us by the lawnmower lady; plastic bags from vegetables obtained by bartering. Hopefully the time lag between shopping and consuming food will mean my bin has less plastic in it for months to come.
At home, I was glad of the local co-op that sells loose produce in paper bags and the school markets. I buy from them both regularly; this photo is from last summer, when there were local bananas at the markets.
I also buy my milk locally in glass bottles. Towards the end of the month, they dried their cows off for a few weeks, so I made some almond milk and refilled the glass bottles with that instead. While I was travelling, I bought milk in cartons. I even found a brand of cream packed in glass jars. It was deliciously thick.
We found pasta packed loose into cardboard boxes. *Edit: concerns about the insecticide required to keep this product free of bugs has stopped me from buying this brand again. Some stores sell bulk dry pasta. Or you can make your own.*
I ended up with more paper and cardboard in the house than usual. Some of it went onto the compost heap, some I reused, and some went into the recycling bin. I tried to carry food scraps home to feed to the chooks or compost, rather than throw it out in town. On our trip to the city, we stayed at a house with a worm farm which was great.
It’s hard to find tea sans plastic in the supermarket. Try buying loose leaf tea at the health food shop instead. You can brew it in a teapot, tea ball, or special loose herb cup with ceramic insert.
Or pick your own lemongrass, mint or nettle from the garden! I often use a large sprig when I make fresh herb tea, so I can just lift it out when it’s brewed. This is stinging nettle; no, it won’t sting you once it’s wilted. It’s a great source of iron and other nutrients, as a cooked vegetable or a tea.
I always find this plastic-free gig an interesting exercise to do. Choosing to avoid single-use plastic forces me to realise how much of it I still use. Every time I attempt this, I find more alternatives and permanently reduce my plastic consumption. Two new things I’ve found this year are refillable peanut butter stations (at a health food shop) and two cafes that sell soups and salads in cardboard containers.
Did you take up the challenge? How did you go?