Plastic-Free July has been hit and miss so far.
It’s great when you have the time to plan and prepare everything in advance, whether you need a snack to tide you over or are shopping for something specific and need a canvas bag to carry it in. But it’s a lot trickier when you’re put on the spot, because what’s available is rarely designed to help you avoid single-use plastic.
Luckily, my food shop is something I plan every week. Meal planning saves me time, because I don’t have to get home from work and decide what I’m going to cook that night. And since there’s only me, I can save the leftovers for lunch, which reduces food waste. Not a lot of food products are made for one person.
Some background info
This was the first time I’d gone food shopping with a view to avoid anything packaged in single-use plastic. I always put my loose fruit and veg in one of my own bags, rather than the little plastic ones, but as I said in my introductory post about Plastic-Free July, I can do more.
A few things I think you should know before we get going:
- This was a food shop to tide me over, and therefore less of a challenge. I already had basics like pasta, noodles, kidney beans, oil, herbs, spices, and oat milk at home.
- Unfortunately, my nearest bulk store is an hour away, so it’s not worth making the trek over there when I can drive for fifteen minutes and produce a quarter of the emissions.
- I live in a houseshare and only cook for myself. No one else is dependent on me, which means I’m free to buy what I want, within reason.
- I have a regular income. I’m not rolling in it, but careful budgeting and meal planning means I can normally buy what I need without worrying.
I say these things not to boast, but to point out that our circumstances have a big impact on the way we shop for food. My habits would be different if my housemates and I all ate the same food, for example, or if I had an unreliable income or a family to feed. The fact I can take part in plastic-free July in the first place already puts me in a position of privilege. I think it’s important to recognise that.
With all that in mind, here’s what happened during my first (sort of) plastic-free food shop.
There was plenty of loose fruit and veg available: peppers, carrots, broccoli, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, and apples. The cashier at the checkout was concerned that they’d run out of little plastic bags already, until I told her I preferred to go without. She then very kindly packed all the produce into one of my canvas bags after she’d weighed it.
(Speaking of canvas bags, I’d highly recommend Lush’s Fighting Animal Testing bag if you want something sturdy that can hold heavier items, such as tins and jars. The other bags are ones that I used to use when I lived with my parents, that have since found their way over to my house instead as my mum’s collection of jute bags grew. Sorry, Mum.)
Better than most
My local Morrisons has a scheme where they sell locally grown free-range eggs. You can choose the eggs you want and fill up a label-less recyclable carton, and it’s about the same price as an own-brand box. They also now only provide paper bags at the checkout, rather than plastic ones.
As for other food staples, things like beans and chopped tomatoes are always available in tins, and are much cheaper (and just as tasty) if you buy the value version. Sacla’s dairy-free pesto, which is made from tofu but indistinguishable from the non-veggie version, comes in a glass jar with a metal lid, so I’ll wash that out and keep it in the cupboard for storing nuts, seeds, or baking ingredients. And Linda McCartney’s vegan sausage rolls, which are one of my favourite comfort foods, are packaged loose in a cardboard box, with no plastic wrappers in sight. More brands should do this.
I wanted to buy loose avocados for a Mexican recipe, but they hadn’t been restocked when I shopped. (I normally go fairly early on a Sunday morning to make the most of the quiet roads.) A pack of two avocados wrapped in plastic was my only option. In hindsight, I could have gone without, but I picked up these without really thinking about it—which is a habit I’d like to break. When I’m able to, I want to think about my purchases more carefully and not just grab things automatically.
I think maintaining a healthy, varied vegetarian diet and avoiding plastic altogether is going to be impossible while there’s no bulk store in my local area. But I also think that I can make more considered choices when I’m planning my meals for the week and shopping for the ingredients. And hopefully, as I get used to it, choosing the plastic-free items will become normal, the same way choosing cruelty-free toiletries has become normal. Everyone has to start somewhere.
Have you tried to eliminate plastic from your food shop? Do you have any tips? Let me know in the comments.
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Beth, 26, South East England.
Lover of books, dogs, yoga, travelling, and gin. Always thinking about my next meal.
I write about ethical & eco-friendly living, minimalism, and mental health, as I muddle through one step at a time. Enjoy!