It’s Plastic Free July! This month, the folk at Plastic Free July are challenging people to avoid single use plastic for a day, a week or a month. If that’s too hard right now, you can start with the ‘big four’: plastic bags, plastic straws, coffee cup lids and plastic water bottles. Head over to Plastic Free July to sign up.
Image from Chris Jordan Gallery
Plastics end up in our oceans or leach into landfill for hundreds of years. Every piece of plastic ever made is still on the planet somewhere. And we make this stuff for throwaway packaging, often in multiple redundant layers. Mummy birds feed their chicks pieces of plastic, inadvertently starving them to death. Bags wrap around turtles in the ocean, strangling them. Microplastics outnumber krill in some areas, and are eaten by creatures all the way up the food chain to humans. This is not good because these tiny pieces of plastic attract chemicals, and can be thousands of times more toxic than the surrounding seawater. Scary!
So what can you do about it? Reconsider your plastic use. We use a lot of plastic in our society, and it’s a big step to going completely plastic free. So start with awareness and do what’s manageable for you.
This is our third year attempting Plastic Free July, and we’re pretty seasoned! We’re already in the routine of sourcing milk, eggs and vegetables from local growers. I do my own baking and make yogurt and muesli. Sometimes we make our own pasta or sushi. Usually, if we can’t buy it without plastic, we go without.
Something new I’ve learnt this year is how to make savoury crackers. I’ve made homemade sweet biscuits for years, and don’t buy shop biscuits at all now, but I’ve never tried making my own crackers. They were pretty easy; the dough needs a lot of rolling, but not as much as handmade pasta. They were also thinner than sweet biscuits, so they cooked quicker and I almost burnt a few trays. One batch made about 90 crackers, so I froze a big bagful and they should last us for a few weeks. If they go soft, I’ll crisp them up again in the oven; I’m not throwing them out after all that time I spent making them!
Another reason for avoiding plastic packaged food is that we are also attempting to go sugar-free and polyunsaturated-oil-free this month. I’ve just read ‘Eat Real Food’ by David Gillespie, which puts forward a pretty good case for avoiding these two foods. Basically, sugar (or more specifically, fructose) leads to diabetes, cancer, obesity, heart disease, tooth decay, mineral loss and gut problems – many serious health issues, including those usually linked to high saturated fat intake. And polyunsaturated or seed oils, which have been marketed to us as ‘healthy’ fats, are implicated in a similar range of diseases and are far worse for heart health than traditional saturated fats (animals fats, coconut oil and palm oil). Sugar also messes with your natural appetite regulation and is addictive; once you cut it out, you’ll be able to eat when you’re hungry and stop when your belly is full. Unlike sugar, once you have symptoms of diseases caused by high levels of polyunsaturated fats in your diet, your body systems may be irreversably damaged. I’ve already converted us to coconut oil and butter for most uses, but after reading this book I’m cutting our small consumption of fried and shop-baked foods even harder.
Fortunately, most high-sugar, high-seed oil foods are the ones that are packaged in plastic, so we’re avoiding them anyway. Unfortunately, screening out these foods means we can’t have fish and chips or any fried foods, paper-wrapped breads or baked goods, pies, pizza, or most takeaway foods like we did last year. So that whittles the choice down to fruit and veg, homemade bread and sugar-free baking, nuts, eggs, legumes and meat. Which is healthier anyway.
Despite investing a lot of time researching all the plastic-free outlets in town, I still went to the supermarket on the second day of July and bought white vinegar in a plastic bottle. Sigh. I needed it for a green cleaning workshop, and I visited two supermarkets to search for glass bottled vinegar. One brand used to have plain white vinegar in glass bottles, but now those bottles have the same shape in plastic! The other choice was using white wine vinegar for cleaning the toilet, which costs about ten times as much. I have found a couple of places that sell apple cider vinegar in bulk, but not the cheap white stuff.
My mum is having a go at Plastic Free July this year too. She has already sourced local plastic free meat from a friendly farmer! Meat is one of the things that I find very difficult to avoid plastic packaging. Even farmgate, farmer’s markets or home butchered meat is plastic wrapped. My mum took a metal tray to the farm to pick up the meat direct from the farmer, and is storing it like this in the fridge or in sturdy plastic containers in the freezer.
I’ve also been asking supermarket deli workers if they’ll put sliced meats and cheeses into my containers for me. They have been generally supportive, although they usually tell me that the meat scales can’t be tared for different weight containers. Depending on the price of the item I’m buying, this means I’m paying a dollar or two to avoid the single use plastic. Olives and other plastic-tub items come with different sized containers, so the scales can be zeroed to any weight container, including one I bring myself.
To remember my containers, I leave a few reused paper bags, small fabric bags, netting bags, a couple of jars and some containers inside my green shopping bags. It’s handy being able to buy plastic free meats and cheeses from the supermarket deli, because I don’t need to visit any extra shops.
If I forget to bring a container, I’ve found it easy to buy sliced cheeses by requesting that the cheese be placed directly on the butcher’s paper, without the plastic sheet. It dries out quicker, but we usually eat it quickly anyway, or you could put it in a glass or plastic container at home. Wrapping it in paper means there’s no messing around with trying to change the weight on the deli scales.
As well as these buying restrictions, Mum, child and I have gone on holidays for a week in the city. Armed with ceramic coffee cups, metal water bottles and cloth shopping bags, we’ll see how we go in unfamiliar shops with a six year old who needs feeding NOW!
Good luck to us. Good luck to you with your plastic free adventures this month!