The reality of plastic-free shopping

This morning, armed with my shopping list, meal plan and a rare full tank of petrol, I decided to see how many things I could purchase without generating plastic waste.

As Husband didn’t have any work this morning, he opted to join me and our youngest child (4) on our mission. Given that no one was remaining in our home, the dog had to come too*, which added an extra dimension to our trip – an almost full car, a time limit in each shop, and little space to put the groceries.

Three supermarkets and one private dairy later, and this was the state of affairs:

The circled items contain plastic packagaing. Though the above picture isn’t that clear, I hope that it’s visible enough…

Anyway – the first place we called was Lidl. I like shopping here because they have a bakery section with loose items, a good selection of loose veg, and you can buy nuts by weight – ideal snacks for after school. It’s also cheap, so if I can get the majority of my shopping here, I’m onto a winner. I also made sure to buy something from the bakery section for us to snack on for when the 4 yr old announced ‘I’m Hungry’, lest we accidentally gave in to the inevitable incessent requests for something grab-sized and packaged.

Again, the picture quality isn’t amazing but items on the list which did come housed in plastic were those which I knew would be plastic-wrapped anywhere but which were cheaper at Lidl.

These were:

  • Muesli (one of our sensory safe foods which must come from Lidl anyway).
  • Double cream – I will use the pots for packed lunch deserts/freezing things in.
  • Greek Style Yogurt – for a recipe in which the yorgurt serves as marinate. Leftovers will be breakfast/decanted into smaller containers for packed lunch and the bucket will be used to store/freeze/transport items from the package free shop.
  • Spatzle/German Egg Pasta – Husband’s taste of home. I don’t begrudge him that and Lidl only sell it every few months so we stock up. I will use the bags to freeze things in as they come with metal ‘ties’.
  • Cod Fillets – I don’t know. Husband put them in.
  • Scottish Baby Potatoes – See ‘Cod fillets’.

After Lidl, it was on to Morrisons. There is maybe a mile between the two, through the town centre. On my own, with a shopping trolley, I would definitely have walked it in my pre-children days. Of course, in my pre-children days, you didn’t get fined for staying too long in one car park. This ‘parking eye’ nonsense means that unless you plan to ignore all the fines you get sent until they leave you alone**, you have to keep moving your car between supermarket car parks. In our case, we had to travel through the centre of an already concested town.

Anyway, that’s a rant for another day… Plastic purchased from Morrisons, bearing in mind we took our own jars for olives etc:

  • 4 Packs of salted Brittish Butter (this makes many things a safe-food – non-negotiable)
  • 6 packs of Stockan’s oatcakes (though I forgot to circle two cheese-flavour packs for the picture). These are wrapped in a thin layer of plastic and nothing else, unlike the likes of Nairns – for example – which are in cardboard and then further plastic inside. Both Stockan’s and Nairns use sustainably sourced palm oil for their oatcakes.***
  • 1 pack of fresh corriander – we can grow this in future, but I accidentally killed off the last plant and the new one hasn’t germinated yet. Buying cut herbs in a bag seemed less wasteful than buying living herbs in a pot when I already had a pot.

Finally, we made our way to Tesco, which I’d been hoping to avoid, but Morrisons had run out of fresh yeast (on the plus side, the yeast from Tesco is free so… bonus). Another store within a mile – again it was necessary to repark.

As you can see, the reciept does not say ‘fresh yeast’ on it… basically, you just walk up to the bakery section in large stores and ask the staff for some fresh yeast, please. They then go grab you some, give it to you, and you show it to the cashier as you leave. Then that’s it – you’re not charged (or shouldn’t be).

You might also be able to see that most of what’s on the Tesco reciept is plastic wrapped, but in this case, I’m glad of the individual plastic packaging. Only the tea, the asprin and two of the essentials toothpastes came home with me. The rest went into the foodbank collection box. I’m not sure how easy it would be to distribute a huge sack of salt, but little plastic shakers are easy enough to pass out. Obviously “poverty plus plastic” is too large a topic for a layman like me to tackle, but it’s instances like this which  raise a lot of questions for me. It’s easy to get judgy about plastic use, but our situations are all so difference and there are so many without a choice – it’s a nice reminder to be gentler with another.

But I digress, of the stuff that came back with me, the following contained plastic:

  • The toothpaste tubes – a ‘sensory safe’ item, this is non-negotiable.
  • Curry powder – not available in larger containers in any of the supermarkets we visited and not available at this time from our plastic-free shop.
  • Asprin tablets – the only thing which will touch my migraines. I live in the cope of finding these housed in glass bottles somewhere but have yet to be successful.
  • Leaf tea – the box is cardboard, there are no bags so no plastic there, but the film beneath the lid is ‘not currently recyclable’. Still, it’s a start.

And then we went to the dairy. I refilled my three 1-litre glass bottles, as well as a large plastic milk bottle originally from Tesco and a plastic 1 litre tonic-water bottle. The later two were sterilised using milton, so didn’t require heat. I’ve frozen both of the plastic containers so that we will have lower-waste milk for longer this week.

You might have noticed a large quantity of some of the goods – the muesli and the toothpaste, the tea and croissants, for example. These are either part of our ‘safe’ set of products, or are part of the ever-vital routine of our household (Sunday morning croissants – mmm). I’m trying to gather a little ‘backlog’ (I don’t want to call it a stock-pile yet), in case Brexit does disrupt food lines to the extent expected. At least this way, I have options.

If you’d like to read more about stockpiling, Jack Monroe – as ever – has you covered.

So yes, having been to 4 seperate businesses, 12 out of the 45 different items purchased were packaged with some kind of single-use plastic. That’s just over a quarter of all food.

__
*The dog happened to us, almost accidentally. He was originally purchased as a Jack Russel x Chihuahua by someone who, presumably, had never seen either breed (given that he’s undeniably a sight-hound x labrador). On his growing larger than the family had expected, they put him on Gumtree as ‘free to a good home’ and he was lucky enough to be picked up by a local greyhound charity. Placed with one home, it soon became evident that he couldn’t be left alone without destroying things so he was moved on. To us. Because 99% of the time there’s someone in our house, he’s usually the happiest, easiest dog ever. On that other 1% of occassions we toss a coin and either leave him here (in which case he destroys ALL THE THINGS) or we take him with us. Today we took him along.

That was a really long back-story for one sentence… oops.

**I don’t recommend it. It’s pretty stressful…. or so I hear. Ahem.

***I know you can make oatcakes fairly easily, and I do quite often, but these are just so great to have in the house – ready made – for if my packed-lunch plans fail, or if the bread doesn’t work for lunch and we don’t have time to wait for me to make an alternative.

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