When I first realised the catastrophic problem plastic creates for our oceans, I felt completely powerless. I learnt that in one week we go through 10 billion plastic bags worldwide and we will add 14 billion pounds of trash to the ocean this year, 60-90% of which – you guessed it – is plastic.
I had been completely oblivious to the damaging impact of our plastic waste, but after watching the documentary Plastic Planet, I desperately wanted to do something.
After returning home from my next shop at the grocery store, I looked at my produce and realised that everything came in plastic packaging.
I was convinced that I could never go zero waste or even plastic free – it’s just too difficult, but I started swapping a few items, like choosing ketchup in a glass bottle over the plastic one.
After a year of playing with ways to reduce my plastic usage, I moved to a new place and decided to challenge myself to break old habits and commit to creating less waste.
I started shopping at a bulk store and going to the farmer’s market. I started to notice that by consciously reducing my plastic waste also positively influenced other parts of my life,I would not have associated with reducing my use of plastic at all!
1. I used all the foods in my pantry. I was inspired by a youtube video where someone said that they always try to use up everything in their pantry before they buy new items. I thought that was quite a revolutionary idea and decided to give it a go. How many of us have food skeletons in our pantries? For example, I had spring roll paper from before I became allergic to soy and mung beans that I bought for health reason, but was too afraid to use. I started including these in my meal planning and it was easier than I thought. I made an amazing curry with the mung beans and finally found a substitute for soy sauce to enjoy with my spring rolls. I slowly got rid of the skeletons in my pantry.
2. I rarely go to the grocery store. I didn’t really plan on this, but since I can get most of the typically packaged products at a bulk store and fresh produce from the farmer’s market, I don’t go to the grocery store as often anymore. I noticed how I would mindlessly buy items I didn’t need when at the grocery store like candy or packaged fruit. This racks up the cost of my shopping and leaves me with a lot of random food items that don’t fill me up. When I don’t go to the grocery store, I save myself from a lot of these impulse purchases.
3. I spend less money on food, even though I buy more organic and local produce. I buy produce for one person and usually walk out of my bulk store paying about 5€ for 3-5 different items (including amazing vegan dark chocolate which is 1,20€/100g). When I buy fresh produce at the Farmer’s Market, it is more expensive than buying it in a shop, but because I only buy the amount I need, it comes to about the same price as my previous trips to the grocery store. I get less, but better food for the same money. It also stays fresh longer so I don’t worry about produce going bad before I use them.
4. I eat less sugar. The bulk food store I go to doesn’t offer candy, so anytime I want to eat a treat, it has to come in plastic packaging. This extra obstacle makes it harder to answer ‘yes’ to the question: “Should I buy candy knowing that I’ll eat it all?”. Plus, since I go to the grocery store less often, I am not around candy as much and walking to the grocery store just to buy candy seems too big an effort.
5. I now know that cheap fruit from the discounter doesn’t taste like anything. Plus, it rots super quickly! For example, I bought a package of about eight nectarines from Aldi. Two of those started rotting the very next day, and by rotting, I mean they developed a weird looking fungi. In the end, I had to throw five of them away! And they didn’t taste anything like the ones I get from the Farmer’s Market. This was a good lesson in wasteful and expensive buying!
6. I buy as much as I need and save money. When a recipe calls for three carrots, I go to the Farmer’s Market and buy three carrots. If I were to buy carrots from Aldi, I’d have to buy 12 in a package. And those remaining nine will rot quicker than I could eat them!
7. I am better at meal planning and rarely throw food away. When I pay more for my produce at the Farmer’s Market, I value my food more and ensure I use every item. The days of forgetting what is in the fridge are long gone. It also makes me really happy to see my fridge full of delicious, colourful veggies!
8. I didn’t need to buy fancy mason jars to get started. Most of the “getting started” advice about reducing your plastic waste you find online will tell you to stock up on mason jars and produce bags. I am five months into my journey and have kept it simple. I have a small cotton bag in my purse, which is convenient for those spontaneous buys. When I go to the bulk store, I just bring old jam or olive jars, which I then use to store my produce at home. They might not look as pretty as mason jars, but that’s not the point. You have everything you need in your home. Keep it simple.
If you are curious about reducing your plastic waste, start by noticing the simple swaps you can make at the grocery store. Choose olives in a glass jar and opt for unpackaged veggies. Or you can simply start by carrying a canvas bag in your purse so you can refuse plastic shopping bags.