Once you make the commitment to reducing the amount of rubbish you produce, you suddenly see packaging EVERYWHERE, as if for the fist time. We’re so used to seeing all this packaging that we almost distrust anything that doesn’t come encased in plastic. I have to admit though, it was only quite recently that I realised the absurdity of buying a bunch of bananas that come in a polythene bag – bananas come naturally bunched together and within their own natural packaging (unless of course you’re one of those people who eats the skin – weirdo!). I would understand if some bananas became seperated from the bunch so the supermarkets wanted to bag up a bunch of singles – personally I’d still prefer to buy a load of stray ones and just skip the bag though, but I can see the appeal there for some people.
Anyway, back to the topic at hand… how do you go shopping and avoid excess packaging? The short answer is: plan ahead! With a little bit of planning before you hit the shops, you’ll be able to reduce your environmental impact and save some pennies while you’re at it. Before we get into it, I just want to say that this is not an exhaustive list and if I’ve missed anything please feel free to get in touch. So here it is, 8 ways to shop zero waste (in no particular order):
- Take your own bags! – Yeah, I know, I forget too sometimes… which is why I started to have a couple in the car at all times, one in my handbag and the rest hanging by the front door. Taking your own reusable bags will of course save you 5p per bag.
- Only buy what you need – So this is something that goes directly against all supermarket marketing plans because they want you to spend as much money as possible, which is why you need to ignore all those tantalising “deals” and instead make a shopping list (and stick to it). Before drawing up your shopping list, you may find it easier to create a weekly meal plan to then know exactly what ingredients you’ll need to buy. Don’t get me wrong here, there are deals to be had at the supermarket but just remember those deals are there purely to encourage you to spend more money per shop.
- Buy loose – You DO NOT NEED A PLASTIC BAG for your veg! You don’t need the pre-packed plastic bag supermarkets like to sell vegetables in (for more than the cost of buying the same items loose) and you also do not need to pull a plastic bag off the roll in order to put a few carrots or whatever into your basket – is it really so bad to have a carrot roll around your basket as you make your way to the checkout? If the answer is ‘yes’ then please invest in some reusable cloth produce bags (or even make your own).
- Take your own packaging – I have a set of nesting stainless steel containers with plastic lids which I take everywhere with me. I buy all my meat from Franklins at Throncote – I just hand over each container and say what I would like them to put in it, they then weigh, fill, and stick a barcode on the lid, which I then take to the till and pay – job done! This way I’m buying local, the meat is of amazing quality, I can specify exactly how much I need and I don’t have to take home any single-use plastic packaging! I also take the containers to my Mum’s house to take home yummy left-overs; in fact I’ve also used the containers to take home left-overs from restaurants… when purchasing the containers I made sure to get ones that advertised themselves at leak-proof, which is just as well as I have needed to use them to transport soup before now. I was a little unsure about whipping out my own containers at first, because my husband assured me everyone would think it was weird, but I decided to give it a go anyway and sure enough I discovered absolutely nobody gave a f**k! Hence I started taking them everywhere.
- Shop around – This isn’t an option for everyone, but if you can, try to get your veggies from a greengrocer, farm shop or market stall – it’ll be nice and fresh, inexpensive, packaging free and will help local businesses. Here in Biggleswade we’re very lucky to have quite a few farm shops and market traders in the vicinity. This doesn’t just apply to veggies – check out your local butcher, maybe buy your bread from an actual bakery, is there a working mill nearby where you can buy flour? Better yet, can you take and fill your own container with flour? Its not just the supermarkets that have the offers, and there can be huge savings available if you’re willing to spend a little time shopping around… you don’t even have to leave the house. If there’s an item I need to buy from a chain store then I’ll look around online first, and that includes hitting mysupermarket.co.uk which compares all the major UK supermarkets and shows you where to get the best value. If you want, you can even compare items by calorie or sugar content rather than price.
- Buy in bulk – For those of you already familiar with the zero waste lifestyle, bulk to you probably means taking your own jars and containers to a shop, getting the tare weight and then filling up those containers with items from big bins full of household essentials. To everyone else, buying in bulk means buying a massive quantity of (usually) items that won’t spoil, like toilet paper for example. If you have a packaging-free bulk shop available in your vicinity then please do shop there as much as possible. For the rest of us, this is simply impossible – I’m not trekking down to London every time I want to fill up a mason jar with shampoo! Instead, I have had to go with the large quantity option (I did try another option first, more on that in the next post)… I have purchased 5 litre bottles of both shampoo and conditioner which I decant into soap dispenser bottles and refill as and when I need them. These 2x 5 litre bottles should last me around 6-8 months assuming my calculations are correct. Now, whilst buying a large quantity of something can equate to large monetary savings, this is simply not something everyone can afford to do, or at least not on their own – if you can, I strongly encourage you to split the cost with someone. It is a significant upfront investment but it will pay off in the long-run. In all honesty, I did resent paying £100 in one go for 2 bottles of haircare products, but I just have to keep reminding myself that in the same time period I would otherwise be spending £250 on smaller ‘normal’ sized bottles, which would overall also require the use of a greater amount of plastic than the 2 big bottles I have. I’m quite tempted to send the big bottles back once they’re empty to see if they can be refilled rather than recycled – I’ll let you know how I get on.
- Go old-school – and sign up to have a glass bottle of milk delivered to your door. Sadly, long gone are the days of buying a bottle of milk from the shop and having a 2p refund for returning the empty bottle. Instead, the next best thing is having a milk delivery. It costs me 5p more to have a glass bottle rather than plastic from the supermarket, but unlike plastic, glass can be reused and (if it does break) is infinitely recycleable; and buying from the milkman instead of the supermarket is again helping support a local business. Oh and there’s no refund for leaving the empties on your doorstep to be collected – just the knowledge that each glass bottle represents one less plastic bottle being tossed out. Overall, more expensive, but still less than I’m saving on shampoo and conditioner.
- Make your own – From soap to toothpaste and everything in between, you’d be amazed at just how easy it can be to make your own household essentials, for almost no money. And let’s face it, who can resist the awesome smell of bread being taken out of the oven?! Even if you have a gluten-free diet, that smell will still get the mouth watering! I plan to share with you some of my favourite make-yourself zero waste essentials in due course, but if you’re keen to dive in before then there are plenty of recipes/instructions all over the internet – best of luck to you (especially if you’re trying out homemade toothpaste – my first attempt was truly awful!), please let me know what you tried and how it went.
One final thing I just want to say, with regards to shopping around – I understand mobility may be an issue for some people and would therefore encourage you to get in touch with others nearby who will be able to assist – for example, here in Biggleswade we have a Good Neighbours scheme whereby people volunteer their time to help others in the community, be it doing some shopping, ironing, giving someone a lift, DIY jobs around the house, or even just a bit of company etc. If you’re struggling to make it out to market or to a farm shop (or anywhere for that matter) then please do get in touch with the scheme organisers and see if someone is able to give you a hand. Conversely, if you’re out and about with your stash of containers and reusable shopping bags, maybe sign up for the scheme as a volunteer and help your neighbours to live more sustainably.
Next week I’ll be covering ways to go zero waste in the bathroom, including what works for us, what didn’t work for us, and eco-friendly alternative options – could you switch to reusable toilet paper?