Plastic free, just how realistic is it? 10 tips to get you started
By Danielle Symes
Plastic free… has a lovely ring to it but how realistic is it? Unfortunately in this day and age of convenience and fast paced living it’s pretty much impossible. You only have to do one shop at Coles to see the rows of packaging, even fruit and veg is suffocating in plastic. Trust me, it pains me to say because I am trying hard to be as plastic free as possible but with two young children, being time poor and the sheer volume of plastic surrounding us, it’s a difficult task. Each week I try to cut out one more item from our weekly shop that is packaged in plastic, but it gets to the point of either no viable options or the solution is to drive 15kms to some kind of wholefoods shop. Even writing that sounds so selfish that I’m not willing to give up the convenience of my local Woolies but unfortunately that’s the reality for many people. I used to have a health food shop in my local complex and it was brilliant! I could get my nuts, flour and seeds straight out of bulk bins and put them into my glass jars. Then they closed down and I realised how much the convenience of having them there played in my ability to be plastic free.
That said, education is key… I saw a man with one avocado in a plastic bag that he then, along with the rest of his shopping, put into another plastic bag. If only avocados had some kind of hard cover on them to protect them… oh wait they do! The thing is, it’s not his fault, we’re conditioned that everything needs to be put into plastic. Costco had a special if you purchased one loaf of bread it was a certain price but if you bought two you got a discount. But, in order to get it, you had to put the two loaves, which were already in their own plastic bag, into another larger plastic bag which had the discount barcode on it. To get the discount you were literally forced to use more plastic and most people wouldn’t think twice. It’s just what we’re told to do. Yes we can make the choice not to purchase that bread or just take it up to the counter without the additional bag and demand the discount anyway but is it not time the big guys start taking some responsibility too? I’m that person that brings my own fruit and veggie bags, bags for the pick and mix section and I always try to get my fish and meats put directly into a Tupperware container… almost always I am refused. And when I get to the checkout I’m usually met with some comment, whether it’s curiosity or they think I’m a hippy weirdo, but it astounds me that it’s so bizarre to people that I bring my own bags for my cashews and tomatoes.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m in no way judging anyone for their plastic use, I’m not going to go all extremist on you and throw red paint in your shopping trolley, but it would be nice if stores educated more. Something as simple as not having plastic bags near the bananas or a little sign saying ‘hey, look I have my own protective cover, I don’t need a bag!’ So many people would have no idea they’re just routinely grabbing a bag for bananas but maybe a message like that might make them think twice. Unfortunately the likelihood is low so I’ll continue to try and do my bit and I thought I’d impart some of my little tips to eliminate plastic in our household. Some will seem hard work at first but once you start, the more you’ll find yourself wanting to do… before you know it you’ll be baking bread from scratch and making your own coconut yoghurt!
I’ll start basic so you don’t put it in the too hard box straight up but here are 10 tips that are a good place to start. Even if you just adopt one or two, it will make a big difference. And don’t worry… I’m not going to convert you into using a menstrual cup just yet.
Get a keep cup: If you drink take away coffee this is a really easy way to make a huge impact. Australian’s throw away approximately 2,700,000 coffee cups everyday which go straight to landfill. Most cafes now offer incentives if you bring your own cup… for example my local cafe offers $1 off coffee. I was there the other day and saw an elderly man bring in his ‘World’s Best Grandpa’ mug (made my day).
Bring your shopping bags: Seems common sense but how often do we forget and have to buy a plastic one. My husband is a huge offender of this, or he tries to juggle 21 items on top of a bag of nappies. I leave my bags hanging up in the kitchen so they are in eye view when I leave the house. I also leave some in my car at all times.
Invest in some produce bags for fruit and veg: I have a heap of little mesh ones but I also re-use the calico bags I get when I buy clothes online for things like dried fruit and nuts. If you forget your bags, use the paper bags that are provided for mushrooms (or don’t use any bags at all). I use my calico bags instead of the plastic bags provided at the pick and mix nut section. It’s exactly the same process with the weighing and printing of your barcode but you stick it onto your own bag.
Buy in bulk and avoid single use items: Things like those single serve squeezy yoghurts are unnecessary and easy to cut out. Before I made my own yoghurt we would buy the 1 litre tub and we’d serve portions in a container for Harper’s lunch box or Charlie will just have a bowl of it with some fruit. Where I can I’ll always buy things like rice in bulk too. One package compared to 10 adds up.
Look for plastic free packaging. A few I have found are: peanut butter, honey, mayonnaise, butter, flour, rolled oats, sauce and condiments. A double bonus is that a lot of the time food that is packaged in eco friendly packaging tends to be the real deal and isn’t full of nasty chemicals. It goes hand in hand that you are taking care of the environment as well as yourself.
Get a bamboo toothbrush and a reusable razor. The plastic those items are made out of is extremely dense and hard to break down. They are one of the worst culprits and as a society we use billions every year. I purchased my metal razor online and now all I do is purchase the blades when I need to replace them. We also all have bamboo toothbrushes which can get confusing but we make it work.
Make the switch to soap and shampoo bars. This one took me a while to do because I had horrific visions of the soap bar from my childhood sitting there with random hairs floating on it but since we made the switch we haven’t had that problem. We also ditched our shampoo and conditioner bottles and use bars for them too. It takes some getting used to and finding the right product for you can take time but a little goes a long way.
Get rid of cling wrap. It’s really not needed and there are plenty of alternatives. Tupperware, beeswax wraps and silicone covers do a great job and can be rinsed and re-used.
Bring your own bread bags instead of the pre-packaged plastic loaves. Yes you will need to go to places like Bakers Delight or your local bakery but in my experience they are more than willing to do it. I have recently purchased a bread maker and waking up to the smell of hot bread in the morning along with the lack of plastic being used is the best way to start my day.
Pack your lunch for work or at the very least bring some Tupperware along with you to get your take-away lunch put into. Don’t forget your drink bottle while you’re at it! Those pesky water bottles are taking over our oceans.
I could list 50 more but I don’t think Charlotte will want my ramblings taking over 8 pages so I’ll keep it to 10. Just remember it’s hard, the big chains certainly don’t make it easy and it’s up to you to implement these things so don’t get discouraged if you forget your keep cup or have to buy a plastic bag. For me, the most important thing is educating my children that this amount of plastic is not needed. As the saying goes… what you allow is what will continue. We determine whether or not the cycle continues. So let’s end it.