Shopping without plastic waste

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woman-shopping-for-foodThis week’s ‘Change the World Wednesday’ challenge sounds nigh on impossible to me.

Small Footprints has said “This week refuse to buy anything which is, or which comes in, plastic. Instead, opt for Eco-friendly items and packaging … or do without.”

You know how much I love a challenge, particularly one which involves reducing waste, but I don’t think I can achieve this high target.

I’ve been reducing packaging waste as much as possible over the past 3 years, but I still buy things in plastic which is then recycled. I know that recycling is the least of the 3 Rs we should be using, but it’s oh so easy to recycle the packaging rather than give up a product you love isn’t it?

So here’s a photo of a typical week’s shopping for us:


All fruit and vegetables are bought in paper bags from a local organic farm shop – how lucky are we!

You’ll see tinned beans and fish – the tins are recycled after use and picked up from the kerbside.

There is butter in a paper wrapper along with olives and cheese bought in our own containers from the deli.

The honey comes in a glass jar with a lid that can be recycled or kept and reused. We sometimes buy products such as mayonnaise or tomato puree and I always buy these in glass jars.

So far so good.

However, chicken and sausages (not pictured because we buy those at the weekend) are bought, yep, you’ve guessed it, in our own reusable plastic containers! We do this to reduce disposable plastic waste. How could I improve on this? Well I could purchase some stainless steel containers which I would love to do but first these types of containers are virtually impossible to buy in the UK and second, we all need to remember that NO purchase is the most eco friendly of all. I still have perfectly usable plastic containers, so to me, it’s right that I use them until they wear out.

We’ve bought juice and soya milk in tetra pak cartons – altought we can recycle these too, they have a layer of plastic inside so are not plastic free.

Mr Green has cows milk in his coffee which comes in a plastic jug – recycled, but still plastic.

Pistachios are in laminated PP; ie foil with plastic bonded onto it. This is currently very difficult to recycle but we no longer have a local bulk buy bin store so it’s either throw away the packaging or go without.

Yogurt pots are washed out and recycled, but they are plastic. I could make my own yogurt but the milk comes in a plastic jug!

There are three other items too which come in plastic packaging – rice cakes, sprouted seeds and ryvita. Sprouted seeds we have done ourselves in the past, but hey, the seeds come in a plastic bag and the sprouter itself is plastic! Rice cakes I can’t even see a way around – I wouldn’t have a clue how to make them at home and erm, rice comes in plastic bags. Finally ryvita, one of Little Miss Green’s favourite foods; I guess I could make crackers in the oven, but you know what? I don’t think I’m going to.

So this week is a definite fail from Mrs Green; but it’s been insightful, if not a little scary, to see just how much plastic we are still using…

What about you – can you do a weekly food shop without buying plastic?


  1. Small Footprints on July 16, 2011 at 4:00 pm

    In my opinion, Mrs. Green … there are no failures. Raising our awareness is vital to making changes. Understanding the enormity of the situation is the first step to finding solutions. 🙂 I learned a lot this week … I actually found some alternate packaging that I didn’t think existed and learned a bit more about what I can and can’t buy locally.

    As I walked through the grocery store this week I wandered through every department, even those which I don’t typically make a purchase from. Plastic is everywhere and alternate choices are rare and expensive when found. For me, this week, the challenge was doable because I simply chose to go without … but I don’t think it’s a sustainable activity … at some point I’m going to need to buy some things. I’ve also been thinking about pharmacies and people who must have medication. Those “meds” all come in little plastic bottles which is, as I understand it, governed by law. And for the same reasons, those containers cannot be recycled. The same problem exists for vitamins/supplements. And then there are the people on public assistance … since farmer’s markets can accommodate them, they are basically forced to shop in mainstream grocery stores … which tend to be the worst for plastic. So, this challenge was a real eye opener … and as you said, a little scary. I’ll continue to make the best choices possible and “vote” with my dollar … but I think that eliminating plastic completely will be a long time in coming. It’s certainly worth the effort though. 🙂

  2. Small Footprints on July 16, 2011 at 4:02 pm

    Whoops … that should have said that farmer’s markets “can’t” accommodate them (not can). 🙂

  3. Mrs Green on July 18, 2011 at 4:44 pm

    @Small Footprints: It’s great that you found some alternative packaging. Actually I found three items in glass this weekend – yogurt, cream and hummus of all things 😀 Medication is certainly a difficult area for eliminating plastic, especially if it’s long term, necessary medication…

  4. [email protected] eco friendly homemaking on July 18, 2011 at 6:04 pm

    I think you are doing an awesome job! This weeks challenge is a bit more challenging though isn’t it. It helps us be aware of just how much plastic packaging is out there. Your posts are always so enlightening and I always look so forward to reading them!!

  5. Sarah Stone on July 19, 2011 at 12:00 pm

    I’ve found one less bit of packaging! Recently I bought a book on natural rememdies for things. I thought hey why not try lemon juice or vinegar to fix/clean things that I would otherwise have at least bought the eco version produced item for.

    The first one we tried was for a dose of athletes foot – two lots of lemon juice applied with several days in between and that was it goodbye sore skin and within about two weeks there wasn’t a sign of it left! Even if you bought a whole lemon to try it with, rather than out of the bottle left over from pancake day as I did it’s still soooo much better than paying £x for a tube that didn’t work very well 🙂

  6. Kris on July 21, 2011 at 5:34 pm

    Even without being 100% no are able to do great!

    I have tried to get Walmart (ugh..hate them) to let us use our own containers for deli meat but they won’t. They said it was against health code or some crap. I wouldn’t shop there but husband will only eat one of their deli meats, so we stop in just for that.

    I try to watch what I buy and will buy frozen veggies that come in a recycled bag…but I think that even has plastic. I just feel better about it than other brands because I know it’s made from recycled material.

  7. Mrs Green on August 14, 2011 at 8:55 pm

    @[email protected] eco friendly homemaking: Thanks Alicia, this one was especially tough and a little depressing too!

    @Sarah Stone: fantastic Sarah; I love hearing success stories like this; it’s so empowering to be able to take care of your health like that.

    @Kris: Yep, the good old health and safety excuse for laziness; I hate that one too. But I vote for my money and shop elsewhere instead 😀

  8. Joddle on August 21, 2011 at 12:31 pm

    When did the plastic spread begin? I take it people would buy everything in paper, card or tin before plastic was around. Do you think we might not have supermarkets as we know them without plastic? I guess a lot of stuff wouldn’t last as long and then we wouldn’t be able to do a weekly shop and *over-buy stuff.

  9. Mrs Green on August 28, 2011 at 6:32 pm

    @Joddle: I think you’re right; shopping would look very different to what we see. There would be queues, personal service, weighing things into greaseproof paper, buying what we need rather than what we want – and to think it’s only changed in less than 100 years!

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