Reduce Your Wasteline: The Kitchen

This is the big one: there are a lot of changes that can be made in the kitchen to cut down on waste in general and plastic in particular. First, however, there is a new R in town. Several in fact. The old environmental mantra of Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle (which should be done in that order!) has been supplemented by:

  • Refuse: Don’t consume what you don’t need. Whether it’s food, clothing, or the latest must-have gadget, be honest with yourself: is it actually something that you will use or consume, or will it end up taking up space on a shelf before eventually ending up in a landfill?

  • Recover: It’s worth a reminder that “waste” is not just about the materials involved in a product or its packaging, but also the energy, water, etc. that goes into its production. Rather than send all of this to the tip or even to the recycling centre, trying to recover what’s possible through upcycling is a great way

  • Re-gift: This was a big part of Lindsay Miles’s Less Stuff: if you have products sitting around your house that you are not using, there is someone out there who can benefit from them. You can try Freecycle, a local Buy Nothing group, or asking friends and family if they have any need for it (but perhaps not if they gave it to you in the first place!). You can even try selling through eBay, Facebook marketplace, a car boot sale, or an auction house.

  • Repair: Instead of throwing something away because it’s not working, why not fix it or find someone who can? You may also be surprised what you can give away or sell for parts.

  • Rethink: This quote from Zero Green in Bristol sums it up perfectly: Be mindful of your consumption, your relationship with “things”, and with the Earth. How many things do we really need to be happy? What happens to those things (and their packaging) once they’re no longer needed? The idea of living lightly on the Earth is not a new one. Unfortunately, neither is the out-of-sight-out-of-mind mindset that we seem to have enthusiastically adopted. However, the sheer amount of stuff that is now produced day in and day out, and its associated packaging waste, is overwhelming. Without a rethink, we’re likely to find ourselves drowning in it.

My household has completely rethought how we approach food. Just a few years ago, a normal weekday dinner would have included at least one ready meal in black plastic, which cannot be easily recycled. Today, we buy fresh or from a refill shop where possible, although there are still a few areas we’re working on. This is an overview of our normal food shop in Chippenham; while refill shops, farm shops, greengrocers, and farmers’ markets are all good ways to avoid packaging, more and more supermarkets are also trying to provide plastic-free options:

  • Eggs: Morrison’s carries eggs produced at a local farm and supplies them without a carton if desired; they’re towards the back of the fruit and veg section. Simply BYOEC (bring your own egg carton). Cardboard egg cartons in particular can be added to a garden composter once they wear out.
  • Milk: This is a tough one for us. We drink soy milk and haven’t found a good alternative to the supermarket own brand Tetrapak yet; instead, we stopped drinking milk in our tea, meaning the carton lasts twice as long. Throughout the UK there has been a movement back to milkmen (milk people?), and you can find a local milk person here.
  • Cheese: This is one product I’d like a few more options for. At the moment I’m not completely sure how eco-friendly the wax coatings are on commercially produced cheese (i.e. it doesn’t seem that they can be composted) and it seems to be either that or plastic. I had a disappointing experience with Godminster cheese recently—I thought the cheese was just wrapped in a cloth bag but it turned out to be in plastic inside said cloth bag. Delicious cheese though.
  • Fruit and veg: SK Fruits in Chippenham has been a godsend. Most of their products are sold loose so we just pop them in our mesh bags and avoid any waste; they also tend to be cheaper than the supermarkets. They have started to provide paper bags, which is fantastic for those occasions when I pop in unplanned (on that note, their medjool dates are fantastic and I may be addicted, hence the random shopping trips). Morrison’s is the only place we’ve found locally that do cucumbers without plastic, at least in the summer.
  • Meat: Jon is a vegetarian and I don’t like to cook, so this isn’t something that we buy often. I have had success using the BYOC (bring your own container) method at shops, both local supermarkets and farm shops.
  • Bread: We don’t do sliced bread and instead get loose rolls from Morrison’s or Tesco. They can just be popped into one of the mesh fruit and veg bags … although for complete honesty, we actually have a specific cotton bread bag that stops crumbs from going everywhere (similar to this).
  • Tea: We switched from tea bags to loose-leaf tea a few years ago and haven’t look back. I was originally concerned about the additional mess but simply using a strainer and caddy refills from the Teahouse Emporium and Comins Tea does the job: no packaging waste and great tasting tea. Many refill shops do loose leaf as well.
  • Condiments: Jon is the sauce expert and recommends Sainsbury’s; unfortunately, Morrison’s tends to be primarily plastic when it comes to ketchup and mayonnaise.
  • Treats: Jon makes what we (well, me) have termed Joncakes, a chocolate shortbread confection that is not only delicious but the ingredients can be purchased without plastic. Drop me a line for the recipe.
  • Drinks: Mostly water or tea. Occasionally cordial in a glass bottle. We keep tap water in a carafe in the refrigerator so it’s always cold, and there’s no need to run water until it reaches the desired temperature. If you like carbonation, I have heard good things about SodaStream from a taste perspective, but I’m afraid I don’t know about their eco-credentials.
  • Dry goods: Beans and pulses, sugar and flour, pasta and cereals … all of these can be purchased at a refill store. We tend to go to Zero Green in Bristol because it’s in a good location to then visit friends in Somerset; they also have a fantastic selection of products. Preserves is along Gloucester Road in Bristol (you may have caught sight of it in War on Plastic) and Packaging Not Included is in Marlborough. There are new shops opening all the time so check out Zero Waste Near Me for details.

I mentioned yesterday the importance of working with your existing habits if you want to transition towards eco-friendly products, and this is vital when it comes to food shopping. Breaking the hold of quick, convenient, grab-it-and-go products takes a little bit of planning, but old habits can be replaced by new with a bit of intentional engineering.

What has worked for us is the humble shopping list. Research has long shown that writing one means you’re less likely to impulse shop (it’s great for your other waistline too!). For us, it has also become an organisational tool. Getting eggs? Toss the carton in the bag. Fruit and veg? Add the mesh bags to the pile. Our large reusable shopping bags are put in the same place each time, so all we have to do is grab them when walking out the door.

Beyond food, there are a number of other substitutions that can be made in the kitchen:

  • Dish Soap: We don’t have a dishwasher, so have switched to a concentrated dish soap from Zero Green in a refillable container.
  • Scrubbers: We have given up sponges in favour of the EuroScrubby; they clean well and go through the wash without any issue (I just toss them in one of the mesh bags we use for fruit and veg so they don’t get caught on clothes). I was given a coconut scrubber for Christmas and I have found it excellent for heavy-duty outside cleaning tasks and I’m sure it would do a great job on dishes as well. I’ll be talking more about cleaning products tomorrow so stay tuned.
  • Beeswax wraps: I will be the first to admit these are pricey, but I have found them so much easier and more pleasant to use than traditional cling film. Just use the heat from your hands to mould them around whatever you’re trying to cover. I’m aware that the New Road Goodness Emporium (the shop formerly known as Hall’s Emporium of Fancy Goods) has them, and you can also DIY. They’re not so good for meat, but …
  • Jars/Containers: Just popping things into existing Tupperware containers (or investing in a set of glass ones) is an easy way to store food. A friend told me that she has started to use large jars to freeze things in, and this seems to be a good way to reuse packaging while extending the life of your food. Jars are a particular good way to store things because you can reuse an existing item, they look better than plastic storage (in my opinion), and they are so versatile: craft items, toiletries, tools (e.g. nuts, bolts, screws), etc. can all be popped inside.

Throughout this week, I have been sharing what my two-person household has done to reduce waste in general and cutback on plastic in the bathroom, in our wardrobe, and while out and about. I recognise that we are privileged to be able to do this, having both the money to spend on things that may cost more than their plastic-wrapped brethren and the time to shop at multiple places to get the products. For those counting every penny or just wanting to do one weekly shop before a small child has a meltdown, I recognise it can be really hard to make these changes.

This is one of the reasons I am planning to launch the Reduce Your Wasteline blog later this year. The idea of going zero waste or completely plastic free can be incredibly daunting (and, quite frankly, difficult and costly). But by making lots of little changes, we can all move in the right direction—hence the Progression Not Perfection tagline! I will be bringing in my experience as a researcher to look at how these swaps can be made easier so that we can all change our behaviour for the better. In the meantime, consider joining the Facebook group to start sharing your own tips and tricks.

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