BYO (container)...a New Year's Resolution

Thursday 27th of December 2012

POSTED BY: Gabrielle Grime, WMRC Earth Carers Coordinator

Now that I’m finally moving past post-natal day-to-day coping mode,  I've ramped up my attempts to avoid non-recyclable food packaging with a view to making 2013 a really big 'green action' year. The focus is on the more problematic items in my regular shopping list. There are certainly challenges (as those of you who went in Plastic-Free July will know better than I), but here are a few observations I've made after some trial and error! 

1.       Make a shopping list first and plan the storage you need accordingly. It took me a while to realise this, and so I either a) didn’t purchase the item if it didn't fit into whatever container I had or b) guiltily bought the item in its single use packaging if it was something vital. It was therefore important to make a shopping list with appropriate storage in mind. I save my shopping lists on my phone now, so it’s been easy to review them and improve each time.

Smart phone

Amy also had a good suggestion: she has a chalkboard in her cupboard with one list for bulk foods and another for other grocery items. A great way of organising shopping.

2. Assess what you eat - can you create more at home?

One of the things I've tried to do more of  is to look at our weekly food habits and consider whether I could make more of what we eat myself - bread, yoghurt, biscuits...sometimes time is a factor, but often it's just as fast to make them as it is to buy. And yummier! (See delicious chocolate beetroot muffins below - beetroot from garden).

Another part of assessing what we eat is that we plant our veggie bed with the vegetables we consume most often. That's yielding delicious results when we are quick enough - the veggies are in constant danger from our foraging daughter!

Veggie Bed Veggie Patch in Boxes 

3. If you’re used to doing a big shop, shop smaller (and more regularly...if you can be bothered). Initially I did my usual ‘big’ shop and unthinkingly took along all manner of containers. It was a pain. I felt like a poorly trained juggler, jostling loads of bags and odd-shaped receptacles, and cursed later as I struggled to fit them in the fridge and freezer. Shopping smaller has yielded positive benefits. For a start, the sheer effort of going to shop more often has made me “make do” more with what’s in my fridge and cupboard – less organic waste and a much better outcome for the hip pocket! Second, it means I don’t have to lug as many containers to the shops. Third, it’s made me a bit more motivated with cooking…when I shopped once a week, by Thursday the veggies weren’t as fresh and I was much less motivated to cook creatively. Now I’m finding that either I am forced to be more creative by ‘making do’ or if I do shop, then I make more of an effort with cooking because I put more thought into it. I’m making a lot more vegetarian and wholefood meals and we are loving them.

4.  Have your explanation and a process of how to go plastic free ready...and learn from each encounter. If you’re lucky enough to have a local deli or butcher with the same staff, then it’ll only take a few times before they understand what you want and stop using plastic bags. However, that initial conversation may take a bit of time and tweaking. The first time I gave my containers over, I wasn’t fast enough and the well-meaning attendant helpfully placed the fish into a plastic bag inside the container! The second time another attendant used plastic bags to cover their hand to extract separate items. So I’ve had to predict this ahead of time and politely suggest they use tongs - and take them myself. It's a work in progress!

5. Find a quiet time to shop. There are a few advantages to this. For one thing, staff are more inclined to be patient and pay attention as you explain what you want. However, if the place is busy and you are taking lots of time explaining, it can be an uncomfortable experience for all parties feeling the glares of impatient shoppers willing you to hurry up. The more battle hardened among us may not care about that, but I’ve discovered one of my barriers to changing behaviour is causing inconvenience to others (yes it's weak but true - I get all apologetic and 'never mindish') and so shopping at a quiet time has worked well for me.

Another advantage of finding that quieter time to shop is that it gives me the chance to chat to whoever is behind the counter or nearby about why I’m doing this (if they appear interested)! When I went into my local butcher on a quiet day a few weeks ago we ended up talking about the benefits of reducing packaging for 10 minutes, during which another customer told me enthusiastically about a local primary school which had introduced a policy of waste free lunches (no plastic wrap or single use packaging - yay). Hopefully that plants a seed.

So 2012 has been a good trial for sorting out some of the barriers in taking this step of cutting down on food packaging waste…for 2013 my New Year's resolution is to avoid meat and deli single-use packaging entirely, and continue the quest of reducing my consumption of single-use, non-recyclable packaging for all food. Roll on the New Year – and Plastic-Free July!


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