The Last Straw
What appears to be convenience for the shopper is really slight of hand by the producer. The producer enjoys longer shelf-life and protection during shipping but the responsibility of disposing of the packaging is passed on to the consumer.
In the short term it's simply a matter of limiting ourselves to products that are responsibly packaged. But if we don't start refusing plastic, the supermarkets have very little incentive change.
The future of supermarkets
And, ironically, how it used to be.
hiSbe Food CIC (how it Should be)
The go-to place for package-free shopping. A large choice of produce in help-yourself hoppers, either take your own jars or use their paper bags. They also sell a selection of "loose" cleaning products: washing up liquid, fabric conditioner etc., and unpackaged soap bars.
Of particular note are ingredients such as dry coconut, cacao nibs, olive oil, goji berries and plain/milk/white chocolate buttons. Chocolate is only £10/Kg too, whereas Waitrose charges up to 20/Kg for a 100g bar of Green and Blacks and you have to do something with the packaging.
All major supermarkets pack their greens in plastic but Taj offer bundles of spinach with no packaging bar a rubber band (which you can repurpose or make into an awesome rubber band ball.) In fact they sell lots of herbs and spices that you often don't see loose. They also offer an interesting cheese alternative in a reusable jar: labneh. It's a beautifully sour strained yoghurt that you can spread on your toast. Taj has loose apricots - a rare source of loose dried fruit - and their Vatika soap bars come in a card box (no inner plastic bag).
Taj hack: they don't offer paper bags unless you're buying a takeaway curry. But the bread section has paper baguette bags hanging up so use them!
Bluebird Tea Company
A fantastic selection of loose tea and tea-supping accoutrements. 10% discount for bringing your own pot. Smells great in there.
La Cave à Fromage
Specialist cheese shop and very supportive of the cause.
The Food Shed
Another zero waste warrior Brighton Open Market. Lots of loose products available and a 10% discount for using your own containers.
Waitrose (Western Road)
First things first: make sure to take a flask for the free coffee.
Quite a nice illustration of the craziness of packaging: you can buy essential white mushrooms prepackaged or loose. But the loose ones work out cheaper! So we're paying for the convenience of not having to touch individual mushrooms? Similarly loose and plastic-wrapped peppers are offered side-by-side but we must always choose the loose one. Often this means you can't have exactly what you went in for but the sooner we stop buying products because of the packaging the sooner change will happen.
The paper bags can of course also be used instead of the plastic and gel panel bags found throughout the store (notably the bread section).
The own-brand bulk-by toilet paper is apparently from "FSC approved sources" and the wrapper can be returned to the in-store bag recycling box.
Waitrose also offer a range of organic apples, sealed in plastic with a choice of carbon footprint: Argentina, Chile or New Zealand.
TK is quite a good place to pick up items with minimal packaging. Although you do feel a bit "shop lifty" walking out with an unbagged jacket. I guess it just takes time.
Bread should only really only come from a proper baker like Real Pâtisserie. You can actually buy their bread from Taj but it mostly comes in those perforated plastic bread bags. Other breads of note are from hisBe and Silo.
- Milk kefir
- Soft cheese
- Home brew beer and wine
- Upcycled glasses by bottle cutting (Kinkajou)
- Buying loose where possible (hisBe)
- Refusing products with non-recyclable packaging
- Stopped buying energy gels/sports supplements
- Keep a zero waste pot at work
- Interest in mushrooms (although not confident enough to eat them yet)
- Foraging easy wild ingredients (wild garlic)
Every day ingredients
Coconut is a highly versatile oil for all cooking and I also use it as a daily moisturiser. The 500g jars are a really useful size to reuse.
Not something I'd even considered buying loose . hisBe are great.
hisBe's loose oats are very reasonably priced and of course you can take your own vessel.
The first oats I found that didn't come in a plastic bag or a box with a plastic panel were from Pimhill Farm. But you can also try Wessex Mill who make great flour. There are a couple of mostly plastic free options but look out for the tape seal at the top of the packet.
Check your current tea bags: how have they been sealed? Ideally we don't want heat sealed bags as they contain a small quantity of plastic to bond the two sides together. (We don't really want that in our tea either.)
In the week newspapers are OK but inexplicably at the weekend the food/environment pullouts come in a plastic bag.
- Zero waste superstar Lauren Singer: http://www.trashisfortossers.com/
- The zero waste restaurant, the only things that leave are diners and compost: http://www.silobrighton.com/
- Small scale plastic processing kits: http://preciousplastic.com/
- Plastic Soup Foundation: https://www.facebook.com/PlasticSoupFoundation
Six month review
(Inspired by Lauren Singer's zero waste jar.)
What's the best way to assess your plastic usage? Keep all of it.
Pledge to keep everything that is neither biodegradable nor recyclable in your area or office. A nice idea is to fill a jar and see how long it takes you to to fill it. It makes it all the more horrifying when you have to thrown it away in bulk, knowing that it's destined for the landfill.
It also makes you consider how much you want that bag of crisps knowing that the bag will be hanging around long after you've finished. Conveniently, processed food usually comes in plastic so it makes it quite easy to avoid.
It goes without saying: no plastic bags. Ever! People argue that they reuse them, but how many times must they be reused to justify the decades they will be hanging around afterwards? Why do they need a bag to keep all the plastic bags in? Must they be handed down to their children to offset the manufacturing cost and environmental impact? Even official bags-for-life are unlikely to last for the duration of your lifetime as claimed. But a cotton bag will at least have a chance of decomposition when it has reached the end of its useful life.
The answer can only be to not use plastic bags at all.
Various tweets about plastic bags
Dean Turbo @deanturbo Jan 3 2016: "@waitrose hi! Can beercan plastic rings go in with the plastic bag recycling? And are they sorted manually when they leave the store?"
Waitrose @waitrose Jan 3 2016: "@deanturbo I'm afraid not - only plastic bags and film displaying the OPRL logo can be recycled"
Dean Turbo @deanturbo Jan 12 2016: "@sainsburys Hi! Just noticed the 5p bags don't have the OPRL logo on them. Does this mean they can't be recycled in store?"
Sainsbury's @sainsburys Jan 12 2016: "@deanturbo Hi Dean, they're made of recycled material and are recyclable, we'll replace them free of charge if they become damaged."
Alternative recycling companies
Disclaimer: I do actually eat animals but I think it's important to challenge the arguments that justify it.
Does zero waste matter if I don't have any children?
It matters more if you have nobody to bequeath your plastic legacy.
Why doesn't the council recycle more?
Because you don't pay for it. Some things are prohibitively expensive to recycle and it's the consumer's job to refuse them.
We are evolved to eat meat
We have evolved to be able to eat animals. But does that mean it's good for us? And the planet? We could exist by eating only puffins but would we be healthy? Equally we can live perfectly happily on plants.
Drinking cows' milk is unnatural
We can only consume our own species?
I only eat animals that have been looked after
But does it matter? You're still slaughtering and eating them. Is this for your benefit or the animal?
I'm an animal lover [but I'm not a vegan]
How can you love animals and eat any of them? You love consuming animals? You love some animals and eat the rest?
I just want to help the animals [but I'm not a vegan]
You just want to help them into your belly! How can that not be hypocritical? You just want to help some of the animals.
I eat cows but eating dogs is wrong
What's acceptable to eat is, of course, completely arbitrary and driven by culture and religion.
Is it size? I don't think so: cows are good (unless you're Hindu), horses bad.
Is it intelligence? No, pigs are pretty smart.
Is it availability? Still no. Tigers bad, cod fine.
Is it cuteness? Absolutely not. We eat tonnes of lamb but foxes go untouched. (Bar the sport.)
Animals are there for us to eat
For survival, perhaps. But we grow plants to feed mass produced animals. If they're ours to eat why stop at one level of indirection? Why not fell forests to grow soy to raise cattle to rear crocodiles and then eat the crocodiles? Perhaps soy-fed cow crocs are tastier than grass-fed cattle?
Or we could just eat the soy and live perfectly healthy lives without killing anything.
The veggie ready meal section in Waitrose: without exception each product has a plastic tray or panel. After a while you just start seeing the plastic. Interestingly, though, the frozen section has plenty of choice in simply packaged products.
Which types of plastic can be recycled?
Bottle recycling in Brighton
Plastic bottles are the only plastics that Brighton & Hove and many other local authorities currently recycle. Plastic bottles are mainly made from PET plastic (soft drinks and water bottles) and HDPE (milk and detergent bottles). There are already markets for plastic bottles as these can be recycled back into bottles or even fleeces!
There are several reasons why other plastics are not currently being recycled. These include:
- There are not well developed and secure markets for all plastics. This means we may not be able to sell them on.
- Even though some items such as food trays might be made from PET, they have different properties than the PET used to make bottles. This means we may not be able to process the material.
- Plastics are used to make food trays and there is a concern that residents might place trays out for recycling that still contain food. If too much recycling becomes contaminated, it cannot be processed.
Yes as the lids are made from different plastics so can contaminate the recycling. Please wash and squash your plastic bottles and put them in your recycling box without lids.
And come contradictory advice from Twitter:
BHCC_Cityclean (@RecyclingRefuse) Jan 7 2016, on communal recycling bins: If you're removing plastic lids from glass bottles, just unscrew the top and leave the ring attached to the bottle. You can cut them off if you really want to remove them. Plastic bottles can have them left on. Ryan.
Soya milk and Tetra Pack recycling
Zero-waste restaurant/cafe/coffee. Not vegetarian but increasingly plant-focused. Their in-house composter (which actually lives in the restaurant) has such an appetite that they also take in waste from the surrounding businesses.
Burger specialists and they use reassuringly biodegradable boxes.
We're fortunate enough to have a good supply in Brighton so it's difficult to justify bottled water. But it is of course treated. If you're concerned about chlorination for general consumption or home baking then it can be left to stand or boiled.
Infinity Foods stock Life refillable bottles if you'd rather have mineral water: "which is sourced from springs on certified organic land in Pembrokeshire."
I've been thinking about this granola for a while. It's quite hard to buy dried fruit without also buying a plastic bag.
- 300g large oats
- 60g cacao nibs
- 60g dried goji berries
- 60g Silverspoon UK-grown caster sugar (paper bag)
- 60g Surrey honey
- 60g coconut oil
Combine everything bar the berries (lest they burn), spread on a tray and cook at 200C for 8 minutes until brown (give it a stir around halfway through). I tend to chuck the berries on top when it comes out of the oven.
Actually you can chuck just about anything in and 60g seems a good proportion. I try not to make it too much about seeds but hemp and flax make an interesting addition. And if you're feeling flush you can omit the sugar and double up on the honey. I have tried olive oil when I've run out of coconut but it seems to catch (burn) very easily. Keep an eye on it.
Once you're happy with it check your Twitter for a while whilst it cools and transfer to an airtight container. This does keep it nice and crisp but we're all busy people and it will keep quite happily for a week covered with another baking tray.
300g of oats makes one baking tray's worth. I tend to do two at once, the lower one stays in for the first eight minutes, stir and then I bring it to the top for a further four minutes.
Drying is really good way to extend the life of fruit. Apples work particularly well: slice to 2mm with the skin on - cookers and eaters - spread out on greaseproof on as many trays as you can get in the oven and bake for roughly three hours at 110C. Check every hour.
Fermentation is not readily practiced by much of society but it's a great skill and it will start you on the road to preserving things when there's an abundance.
All these recipes use a percentage of salt. If 1.6% salt is stated, 1000g of veg would need 16g of salt. But you should always taste the raw mix before bottling.
Basic principles of fermented cabbage
Shop bought fermented goods are pretty pricey considering it's mostly cabbage. But it's really easy to get involved.
There's plenty of shop-bought kimchi in Brighton but very few in eco-friendly packaging. So why not make your own?
- 100% red cabbage (loose, Infinity Foods)
- 25% wild garlic (wild, The Downs)
- 1.6% salt
- 1% red chilli (loose, Taj)
Chop everything and mix in the salt. Crush with your hands to get the juices flowing (if it's a particularly tough cabbage you might need to use a pestle). Leave for ten minutes and repeat until there's a good amount of liquid in the bottom of the bowl.
Pack into a glass jar leaving about 20% expansion space and close the lid.
Keep out of the sunlight, it should start to bubble by day two. Taste it after a week. Is it delicious? If so, eat on homemade bread with aioli.
The flavour profile evolves over the course of a few weeks. If you manage to not eat it all you'll notice the taste drops off after a few weeks. If you really like the taste on a certain day move it to the fridge to slow it down.
A very quick ferment that goes with anything.
- Two large tomatoes, coarsely chopped
- Half as much onion as toms, 5mm dice
- Two garlic cloves, finely chopped
- A few radishes, finely sliced
- One red chilli, finely sliced
The denser the vegetable the finer it needs cutting.
Put it all into a mixing bowl on a scale, add 1.6% of the weight of the veg in salt. Mush it between your fingers until mixed and quite liquid. Add to a jar, almost to the brim, pop the lid on and leave in a dark cupboard for up to a week. You can put it in a fridge if you like but the acidity should stop anything untoward occurring.
Put everything in a mixing bowl on a scale, add 1.6% of the weight of the veg in salt. Mush it between your fingers until mixed and quite liquid. Taste and then dd to a jar, almost to the brim, pop the lid on and leave in a dark cupboard for up to a week. You can put it in a fridge if you like but the acidity should stop anything untoward occurring.
Beer and wine
Bison Brewery sell large refillable bottles of beer affectionately known as "growlers" from their shop on East Street. If purchasing tins of beer then don't choose those with six-pack rings. Ten packs come in a cardboard box with no plastic. Or go to the pub. Or brew your own!