It has not been until recent years that I have become aware of this single use plastic crisis our Planet is facing. I remember a time when we brought our entire groceries home with single use plastic bags and we did not even have a green recycling bin collection until the last decade. Considering a single use plastic bottle lasts approximately half a century and a single use plastic bag somewhere between 20-1000 years, I can’t help feeling somewhat guilty and overwhelmed thinking about where all these plastics have ended up and just how big my plastic footprint is. For years many of us have been bringing our own long-life plastic or canvas bags whilst shopping but I am only beginning to open my eyes to just how much plastic bags I am still thoughtlessly consuming daily. With great frustration I am seeing plastic bags in all shapes and forms, which I have never recognised until now. I have plastic bin liners, my cereal box contains a plastic bag, ice cube freezer bags, potatoes by the bag, bread, crisps, frozen peas, pasta, rice, seeds, herbs, greeting cards, etc. The list is endless and to try and eliminate all of these items can be somewhat overwhelming.
I am starting little by little and really taking my time at the grocery store to look at what options I have to avoid plastic. It may take shopping around at a few specialty stores to buy in bulk or loosely without the packaging. If you study the shelves at the store, more often then not you can find the same products packaged in card rather than plastic. You can buy boxes of powder laundry detergent, herbs and spices, frozen peas, eggs, potatoes, ice-cream, milk, sanitary wear, pet food, etc. Approach the store with the intention to select plastic-free packaging and bring your own bags if you need for weighing and separating fruit and vegetables.
Getting friends and family involved helps taking the chore out of sourcing and will also help raise awareness of sustainable consumption. Ethnic food stores are great for buying large restaurant size quantities of rice and grains and generally they come in a woven style hessian sack. If you live close to a coffee roasting factory you can try buying coffee in big hessian sacks. These sacks can be reused or up-cycled for upholstery or even growing your own vegetables in (perfect, if like me, you are without garden space). If you’re stuck for storage to keep bulky produce or concerned about food going bad, divide up portions amongst friends, neighbours and family and take turns to buy in bulk. Take a trip to your local farmers market to pick and choose loose fruits and vegetables or buy by the crate (cheaper and packaging free).
Ditch the fridge isle at the store and order fresh fish, meat and cheeses at the counter. Not only can you request your own portions but they will generally wrap up produce in waxed or plasticised paper, or better yet you can bring your own containers. You might get a few funny looks at first but inform your local store what you are doing and they will most likely be happy to oblige, you might just inspire them to make some improvements while you’re at it. It’s the same at the café, if you make a regular pit stop on your lunch hour say, ask them to make your coffee in your own thermos and bring your own lunch box for take away salads or sandwiches. I have seen some cafés encouraging customers by offering a small discount for BYOC (bring your own cup).
If you can’t find what you’re looking for in your favourite product write to the company and tell them what you’re looking for, we need to put pressure on big brands to offer plastic free solutions. If I can buy a carton of wine or milk why can’t I buy a carton of liquid detergent or washing up liquid? In the ‘Take Action‘ tab you can copy and paste an example letter for a template and write to these companies with your ideas. Companies don’t like to loose customers and if we all put pressure on them we can inspire a change.
In most regions we are paying for our refuse collection. Unless we reduce our packaging not only are we wasting plastics but our own money (and nobody likes taking out the trash anyway) WIN WIN.