It’s time to tackle the complex issue of food packaging! This began with a trip to Lidl, the supermarket where I do my big grocery shop every week. My eyes were really opened when I set myself the task to take photos of all the items I usually buy that had plastic packaging. So many different types of plastic… many non-recyclable such as bags for fruit and veg, as well as black plastic used in many meat and veg containers. The challenge suddenly got a lot harder than expected! Here’s a summary of the second week:
Day 1) Loose Fruit & Veg
RESULT: You can go plastic-free, for some fruit & veg, if you bring your own bags! I brought paper bags that I reused from vegetables from my local shop, but it was suggested that I try old pillow cases or bags made out of old sheets instead… which I agree is a more sustainable alternative to both plastic and paper.
PLASTIC FREE? The only bags available are small clear plastic bags that are non-recyclable. I brought my own paper bags (reused from other purchases) so avoided using plastic… but we should demand that supermarkets like Lidl provide paper bags for fruit & veg.
Siân Powell (@sianmarip) August 15, 2018
CAVEAT: Some loose fruit & veg come wrapped in plastic inside boxes e.g. loose bananas in Lidl have lots of plastic in the box…. so they aren’t completely plastic-free. In spite of this, don’t buy plastic-covered bananas as you get a heap of unnecessary plastic!
@mhdelaney We usually bring a few homemade bags made from old sheets and pillowcases for bread and loose veg.—
Peter Kavanagh (@TheKavOfficial) August 09, 2018
SELECTION: There is a growing selection of loose fruit & veg available in Lidl (& other supermarkets too). Today I spotted oranges, mandarins, lemons, apples, grapefruit, nectarines, pears, bananas, tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, carrots, turnips & cabbages.
Day 2) Bread & Pastries
Most supermarkets stock unwrapped fresh bread and pastries so choosing these over their wrapped (slice-pan style) counterparts is an easy way to reduce plastic packaging.
@mhdelaney Or bake your own?!—
Dr Niamh NicGhabhann (@Niamh_NicGhabh) August 09, 2018
PLASTIC FREE? Yes, but only if you bring a paper or cotton bag (again!)
CALL TO SUPERMARKETS: Having paper bags for fruit & veg, as well as bread & pastries, is an easy & quick win in the fight against plastic.
Day 3) Chocolate
Chocolate isn’t something you instantly think of when trying to cut down on plastic packaging, but some brands are packed in non-recyclable plastic.
RESULT: Harder than expected… but can be done if willing to change chocolate brands.
PLASTIC FREE? Changed to own-brand big chocolate bars covered in card. However, my usual Cadbury Mint Crisp & Kinder bars are wrapped in plastic.
COST: Saved €2.50 per kg as changed to own-brand. Lidl hazelnut choc is the same price per kg if covered in plastic or card.
Day 4) Popcorn
What are movie nights on the couch without popcorn? Nothing I tell you! I used to make microwaveable popcorn which comes wrapped in non-recyclable plastic… but no more!
PLASTIC FREE? Make your own popcorn! Kernels are so so much cheaper than the microwave variety. Kernels are €3.70/kg but microwave popcorn is €9.97/kg if you get Kelkins brand for both in Tesco. You can also go completely plastic-free in shops like Small Changes in Drumcondra that sell popcorn kernels which you can put in your own container.
COST: My brother got me an air popcorn maker for my birthday so it cost me nothing… but I looked it up & you can buy one for €25-30. If you add salt & melted butter, it tastes like cinema popcorn. You can also pop it in a saucepan the old school way, and watch the savings roll in.
Day 5) Butter
I can’t do without butter on my bread… but most (esp easy-spread) varieties come in a plastic tub.
PLASTIC FREE? Bought an old-school block of butter wrapped in foil-covered paper.
COST: Saved 80c (454g – Dairygold €2.99 / Dairy Manor €2.19)
Day 6) Oil
I usually use olive oil but this often comes in plastic bottles (like the one on the left). Oils are available in glass bottles with a metal lid so I picked up some varieties last week (middle & right of photo).
PLASTIC FREE? There is usually a plastic spout for pouring inside the bottle.
COST (per litre in Lidl): Olive oil – plastic: €4.99, Olive oil – glass: €5.32, Rapeseed oil – glass: €7.98. Sunflower oil in plastic is cheaper again. Overall, glass bottles were dearer.
ALTERNATIVE: Bring your own bottle to some shops (e.g. Small Changes in Drumcondra) & fill with olive oil.
Day 7) Meat & Fish
Meat & fish in my usual supermarket (Lidl) is all wrapped in plastic… usually black plastic. Black plastic can’t easily be scanned by recycling machines so most goes to landfill. See recent article on the BBC for more on this – link.
PLASTIC FREE? I can’t go plastic-free in my usual supermarket but it’s possible at meat / fish counters, or butchers / fishmongers.
RESULT: I’ve brought my own containers to a number of shops with 40% success to date. Most butchers use plastic bags to pick up or weigh meat.
CONCLUSION: Even though I said I’m trying to cut down on plastic, butchers either refused to reset their scales (to accommodate my container) or had nothing to pick up meat with except plastic bags. But some were great (esp fishmongers) so it’s worth trying until you succeed!
Science Calling Plastic Free Challenge
Every day during the month of August, I’m going to tackle a plastic item in my home and try to eliminate it from my life (and bin). For bonus points, I’m going to do this without spending any extra money. For transparency, I’m excluding all prescribed medication and skincare from this challenge. Why is this related to science? Check out my first post on the challenge to find out!
You can follow my daily challenges on Twitter and Instagram (on that point… Science Calling is joining Instagram for the first time… hope to see you there!). There will also be a weekly post updating you about my successes (and failures).
Join in by taging me on social media, using #SCPlasticFree, and most importantly, reducing your own plastic consumption. If you have any tips to help me on my journey, please get in touch or comment below.