Tag Archives: plastic

Greener Eating

In recent weeks I’ve been thinking a lot about how to make the household more environmentally friendly. The most obvious actions for us to take are around food – reducing the animal products in the diet (one omnivore, two vegetarians) and cutting back on plastic waste associated with food.

Limitations of both sourcing and budget mean that the only way we can do this, is to make more from scratch. Between us we do a fair amount of meals from scratch, but it’s the extras that need looking at especially. Snacks, puddings, biscuits, and bread.

There are in turn implications about comfort, wellness and energy levels. I make my least good food choices when I’m ill, exhausted, overworked and uninspired. At that point, making everything from scratch is a push too far. We walk for transport, shop on foot – there’s a lot of greener things going on that mean spare energy is not always available. I’ve also learned that it pays to eat with an eye to mental health, and that means carbs – often toast. Low blood sugar causes a lot of mood problems and if my mental health goes to the wall, nothing else is going to work out well.

So I’ve been experimenting a bit. There are issues around how and when I plan the food, and what breaks I get between food-making and other jobs. Tom is finding that having managed to bring work-related stress levels down, he has more energy resources for this sort of thing, too. It’s clearly possible to get into vicious cycles where a poor diet adds to body weariness and makes it harder to get on top of things and do better around food. There would be all sorts of benefits to getting this right. Mass produced food is always more bland and less nutritious than the stuff you can make for yourself.

But, convenience food exists in a culture that puts us under a lot of pressure to work. If you’re mentally exhausted, even thinking about what to cook can be overwhelming. Energy is required to be making bread and biscuits and whatnot. Having the kind of day jobs that requires massive amounts of concentration over long periods, Tom and I both tend to snack to keep going. There’s a complicated relationship already between how we work, how we shop and how we eat and it’s something I’ve had to think about carefully.

The conclusion I’ve come to is that making good changes depends on seeing the bigger picture. It means examining how we’re living to see what, overall, could shift us. This also requires time and energy. The key place to start is to ask why things are as they currently are, because without exploring that, any changes are likely to be brief and superficial, or counterproductive in some other way.


Reducing Plastic

The trouble with a lot of advice about reducing plastic is either it’s very basic – take your own shopping bag level of stuff – or there are privilege issues. I’ve been giving some thought to ways of reducing plastic that don’t depend on your health or your income too much.

Avoid overpackaging. It’s not always easy to tell the first time you buy something if it will turn out to have layers of plastic on the inside, but once you know, these are easily avoided. Overpackaging is most often a feature on snacks – multipacks of crisps, cake bars, sweets and whatnot. These are hardly essential. If you’re desperate for snacks, there are options with less packaging.

Carry a water bottle or a thermos flask – this has the bonus of saving you money. If you can’t afford a fancy water bottle, re-using bottles is workable. Keep your bottle cool to reduce the risk of it leaching plastic into your water. If you have to buy a drink, there’s a lot to be said for a re-usable cup in a cafe if you can afford it. Failing that, fruit juice in tetrapacks is worth a thought – better than paying someone to extract and bottle water – which is a preposterous thing. You can then re-fill the pack with water – I’ve done this at events.

Re-use packaging – jiffy bags, bubble wrap and all that sort of thing can be re-used, saving you money at the same time. If you end up with a lot of it, give it to a charity shop so they can re-use it when people buy breakables.

Check the price for weight on fruit and veg. Unhelpfully sometimes loose stuff is sold by the item not the weight, so you may need to give it some thought. Sometimes the loose stuff is the same price, or occasionally even cheaper than the bagged produce. Also consider the food miles though – loose mangos and pineapples may not be as good an idea as apples in a bag…

Clothes made from synthetic fabrics release plastic particles when you wash them. Try to wash a bit less frequently and/or on gentler cycles, or going over to handwashing (I do this, synthetics are easy to handwash).This will reduce the amount of plastic you put out. It also increases the life-expectancy of your clothes, which saves you money, and saves you money on water, electricity and laundry soap – which also improves your sustainability. Win all round.

Car tyres are another source of plastic particles in our environments. If you have to drive, then going at lower speeds, cornering and braking to reduce wear and tear on your tyres will save you money on replacing them, and save you money on fuel consumption and that all helps with being greener as well. If you can do without the car of course that’s even better from both an environmental perspective and a body health perspective. For those of us who can, walking and cycling is healthier.

Picking up rubbish is a good way of helping if you have the time and energy. Plastic bags and other detritus end up in our water systems, and then get out to sea and into the bodies of marine creatures. Plastic breaking down in wild places can strangle and choke wildlife. It doesn’t solve the existence of the plastic in the first place, but you can at least reduce the harm.


Greener Christmas – cut out the plastic

Here’s a simple tip to make Christmas greener: Cut out the plastic. Don’t buy anything that has significant packaging on it – all those gift boxes the supermarkets like to put together are just bundles of waste that have to be dealt with. Let’s send them a clear message that we don’t actually want a ton of extra packaging as part of the season.

Don’t buy plastic disposable things.

Don’t buy gifts in single use plastic packaging.

Don’t buy gifts that are themselves made of plastic – especially not the kinds of cheap children’s toys that are likely to break soon and wind up in the bin.

It can be tempting, especially when buying for children, to want to present them with a big mound of gifts to open. It is of course more affordable to do this by purchasing lots of cheap, plastic toys. Overwhelming a child with low value things that will go in the bin teaches them some unhelpful lessons about consumption and waste and will set patterns they’ll have a hard time breaking in later life. If they can break them at all. It is much better to have fewer things of better quality and to learn to take care of them and value them.


Cats, bins, snot and plastic

Late this spring I started properly monitoring how much my household sends to landfill, and what we send. I turned out that we were putting out a small bin bag per month – which for a household of three didn’t seem too bad. Our landfill waste was, for the greater part, un-recyclable plastic, so the bin bags were light and loosely packed and could have been compacted to take up little space. Sometimes we’d have to throw out a truly broken and useless item, but there weren’t many of those in any given month.

Then we took in a cat. Our bin use increased dramatically. As we live in a flat, cats have to be up for being indoors cats, and they have to use litter trays. This creates waste. However, what creates far more waste, is the non-recyclable sachets most cat food comes in. We can’t do tins because we haven’t got a fridge, and an open tin of cat food in a cool box in summer conditions is not going to work. One elderly cat with a small appetite does not get through a tin quickly. For a few months we were throwing away far more and far more often.

Eventually we found a food that the cat really likes and that creates less waste. Dry cat food of course comes in cardboard boxes. You can also get a sort of chewy and dry cat food in bags. It doesn’t go off in the way that fresh meat will, and doesn’t attract flies. We’d had an arrangement with our local crows about leftovers, but on the whole it’s better not to have an issue. One big bag creates far less waste than lots of little sachets.

With the cat food containers under control, and the contents of the litter tray leaving in the un-re-cycle-able bags some food stuffs come in, we’re fairly organised again.

I noticed during the same time frame that if the household all has colds, we create a lot more waste – entirely in the form of snotty tissues. I’m a bit more relaxed about those going to landfill as I think there’s less issue with those than plastic. I also note that at times when I’ve had an open fire or woodstove, tissues full of snotty disease have mostly been burned. I have no idea which outcome is the most problematic. And yes, I have tried fabric hankies, but they really do need boil washing and we really can produce a lot of snot…


Plastic and privilege

I’m always in favour of people being the change they want to see in the world. I think it’s an important place to start with any kind of activism. If you believe it, you live it. However, often there’s a massive privilege aspect to being able to walk your talk.

If you don’t need plastic straws – and most of us don’t – then giving up straws to save the planet isn’t that big a deal. It’s a small sacrifice. However, for disabled people who need straws for drinking, for whom paper isn’t durable enough and washable straws are problematic, giving up straws isn’t so simple. Of course most of us should do without them, but making life difficult for the disabled is not the answer here.

If you’ve got plenty of money, then buying loose veg and going to your farmer’s market is easy. You may have to drive to get there and to carry your plastic-free goods home and you’ll want a big fridge to keep them in. How green is it? And if we berate the people who can’t afford to do that, is that going to help save the world? If all a person can afford is the 45p bag of carrots, and doesn’t have a car to drive them home in and can’t afford to run a fridge to keep them in… complaining about the bag seems to be the wrong place to focus attention.

If being green is a game for the well to do, in between flights to nice places for holidays, then it’s pretty meaningless. As poverty is a real barrier to living a greener life, there has to be political change. There has to be change that makes it easier and more affordable to be green.

There’s usually some bright spark on hand to say that the poor should try harder. That it isn’t so difficult to do this and that and save money here and there and really, you don’t need the things you think you need. The reality of living in poverty is that it is mentally and emotionally exhausting. It’s hard getting good food every day when money is tight. And when you have to watch every penny and cost up everything it takes a toll, and yes, a few pence here and there on the cost of things can make a difference. It’s easy for people who live in comfort to talk about what they think everyone else should be doing, but that’s not good activism. And no, the farmer’s market is not affordable, and no, not everyone can grow their own veg.

It is certainly true that if everyone acted differently, a lot of environmental issues could quickly be solved. Inspiring, enabling and uplifiting people so that they can live more sustainable lives, is a good thing. Blaming those who are least able to make changes, is not cool. And if you’re jetting off to other countries a few times a year, I’m not convinced that your organic fruit is much of an offset. Green living as an affectation doesn’t fix anything, and it can serve to entrench injustice and blaming the victims of an unjust society.

Do what you can to make changes in your own life. Share things that work – especially things that really are low cost. Go after the people with the power to make changes, not the people with least power who are easiest to harass. Remember that if it’s easy to be greener, there’s privilege at play – wealth, opportunity, resources, skills, education, energy, and so forth. Seeing what personal advantages you have that enable you to be green is a good place to start if you want to tackle the issue of why other people aren’t doing so well. We need to lift each other into more sustainable ways of living, and we need to ask most of those who have most.

 


Plastic progress

Some weeks ago, I wrote about the difficulty of getting non-recyclable plastics out of my life and my bin. I was struggling especially with finding proteins in plastics I could recycle. Plastic-free protein seemed impossible. And then, a magic thing happened! A lovely person opened a plastic free shop in Stroud.

I can now buy nuts, pulses, pasta, couscous, dried fruit and other dried goods with no packaging at all. I can rock up with any container or bag I like, or buy re-usable packaging in situ. I can buy as much or as little of anything as I like. It’s reasonably priced and there’s a good range. The only downside is that it’s a much longer walk getting stuff back, but that’s worth it once or twice a week. I figure I can build up stores of dry things.

This in turn leads me to the happy prospect of picking up more re-usable glass jars for my kitchen, and having shelves full of plastic-free dry goods. This is a very superficial side of things but one that will give me considerable joy. My kitchen is finally going to look the way I have wanted it to look, and it won’t be just an affectation. I’ll need those storage jars.

I’m also enjoying the impact this is having on my cooking. Homemade bean burgers are now a lunchtime stable and I’ve got raw cacao to play with!

I understand that supermarket Iceland has made some clear statements about eliminating plastic packaging, so, when that happens, I may give them a little more of my custom, too.

However, I’m much more keen to divert what funds I can to my local ‘loose’ store. When you buy from a big chain, money goes to shareholders. When you buy from an independent store, much more of the money stays in the local economy. Rents disappear into the distant pockets of property owners all too often, but that’s the biggest fly in the ointment. I’m interested in contributing to my local economy, and to community economics rather than to the bank accounts of shareholders. I have no desire to help other people make money out of money.

I hope what’s happened in Stroud will happen more places – and it could. We’re sold everything in unrecyclable plastics because the belief is that we want speed and convenience above all else. If we can create a demand for better sourced goods with less packaging, everything can change.


Wrangling with plastic

Much as I would like to tell you I’m going plastic free, I know that would be disingenuous as a claim. Toilet paper would thwart me as soon as I run out of rolls. I’d have to give up eating nuts, which conflicts with my desire to try and reduce my intake of animal products. Yes, there are other plant proteins that don’t come in plastic, but some of them cost a lot more.

As it stands, we empty the bin every three weeks to a month, and most of what is in the bin bag is non-recyclable plastic. It’s pretty much all food packaging. As it’s the only thing in the bin most months, it’s become impossible to ignore. Can I eliminate it? Well I could, but there’s a price tag.

In the supermarket, loose veg often costs more than plastic wrapped – broccoli, peppers, tomatoes and others are cheaper to a significant degree when packaged. I can’t by spinach or cabbage without a bag. Cucumbers and swedes are wrapped in plastics. Most fruits are in bags.

Yes, I could grow my own veg instead – expect for the small problem of living in a flat and not having a garden. Many poor people do not have gardens and many disabled people don’t have the option of gardening, so this is a rather exclusive solution.

Perhaps I could get a veg box – I’m going to track what I spend on veg and see how it compares and whether I can afford it. At this stage, I’m not at all sure I can afford it. I know many people can’t – if you’re choosing between heating and eating then veg boxes are right out. If you’re on a tight budget, then loose, unpackaged veg is unaffordable.

Yes, there’s a farmer’s market locally, but it too is significantly more expensive than the supermarket. It also means carrying veg home on a twenty minute walk, and that’s quite physically intensive. On a bad day, it isn’t an option. I don’t have a fridge, so getting all my veg in one go may not be realistic – also an issue for the veg box.

Most snacks and junk food come in a lot of packaging. I’ve been cutting back on that for a while now. I can’t buy biscuits without getting unrecyclable plastic. I can’t get dried fruit without plastic. Healthier snacks at my health food shop are all in unrecyclable bags. I can’t get cheese, or pasta or rice reliably without non-recyclables. Although increasingly I’m being priced out of the market where cheese is concerned.

I’m looking at economies of scale – 18 toilet roles don’t have as much packaging per toilet roll as a pack of nine. Bigger bags of just about anything use proportionally less plastic. Again, you’ve got to be able to afford the greener option to use this as a way of cutting down, and it isn’t a total solution.

I’d like to solve this through personal action, but as things stand, only people with disposable income to deploy can shop their way out of unrecyclable plastic packaging. A solution that doesn’t exist for the less affluent is not a solution. Over the coming weeks I’m going to look hard at what I can afford, and make what changes I realistically can, work out what I can do without, and what I can’t.