Today I took the plunge and as part of my ‘Plastic Free July’ I did my first ‘zero waste’ experiment: I tried to do my weekly grocery shopping without using any non-recyclable plastics, in fact keeping all plastics to an absolute minimum. Against all the odds I came out of the experience feeling empowered and excited and I wanted to share my experience and some things that I learnt with you today!
If you haven’t heard of the Zero Waste movement then simply put it is an aspirational goal to not create any waste that goes into landfill whilst also greatly reducing the amount of plastics and packaging that need to be recycled. There are a few pioneers of this movement, in particular Bea Johnson of Zero Waste Home and Lauren Singer of Trash Is For Tossers, both of which I have been following on social media for sometime now.
The amount of waste that I create has only really been on my radar for the last few months as I declutter and ready myself for the adventure of building and living in a tiny house with my partner Tom. This major life adjustment has bought so many factors into my mind stream that I wouldn’t normally have thought of, in particular waste, composting, water saving, and ecological practices in general. In perfect timing, this month is being coined as ‘plastic free july’ with many people choosing to refuse single use plastics and reduce the amount they send to landfill.
So today, after watching a few zero waste grocery shopping videos on Youtube, I googled bulk food shops near me, filled up my canvas shopping bag with some reusable bags and headed off on the tram, not knowing what kind of socially awkward experiences were awaiting me!
I am very lucky that I live only a 20 minute tram ride away from The Source Bulk Foods in Balaclava, Melbourne which was such a wonderful surprise. A note to my fellow Aussie’s, you really should check out this company, there are quite a few branches around Australia now, they have a huge range of products, really ethical practices and the staff were very friendly!
As this was my first ‘zero waste’ style shop, I didn’t come very prepared. Luckily The Source sell these fantastic organic cotton produce bags, I bought 5 which set me back around $20. They also sold little glass jars and bottles which I purchased as I was filling them up with produce. Something that I loved about The Source, is that they are completely plastic free, they don’t even offer plastic bags. It’s pretty radical and I love how they really stick to their values!
I spent around $50 on produce with The Source and purchased a range of quality organic and non-organic products: muesli, buckwheat muesli, oats, lentil soup mix, sesame seeds, apple cider vinegar, tahini, honey and freshly milled almond butter.
There were some products that I chose not to purchase because of the cost, in particular pasta which was a much higher mark up then what I am used to paying in the supermarket. It’s worth noting that when I usually shop I don’t purchase Organic for foods other than dairy, this is because of the price difference here in Australia. In general the cost seemed similar to the price I would pay for similar packaged foods in the supermarket which are non-organic, so it was great to know that in general there wouldn’t be a large price mark up for shopping this way.
Once I had finished at The Source I popped into Baker And The Rye which is a fantastic bakery also on Balaclava Rd. I picked up a loaf of olive rye bread which they were happy to put in my reusable bag instead of their usual paper bread bags. The bread is certainly more expensive then supermarket bread, at $8 for a large loaf, however the quality and freshness is totally worth spending the money on!
Finally I popped into the local Coles supermarket and picked up some fresh fruit and veggies, all going straight into my basket as all of my little canvas bags had been filled up, without any of the little plastic produce bags that I often pick up without even thinking. I realised how unnecessary those little plastic bags really are!
This leads me into some of the purchases that I struggled to keep plastic free. In Coles I purchase my usual organic milk, this time in the cardboard carton instead of the plastic bottle. I also purchased some organic butter however though I chose the least packaged option it’s unclear whether it is possible to recycle the butter wrapper. This is something that I want to look more into. I also struggled when purchasing frozen berries and juice that only seemed to be available in plastic containers. The berries that I chosen are Coles brand which say that the packaging is recyclable in store but I am not sure how effective Coles plastic recycling actually is. The juice bottle is also recyclable which is better than nothing, but I would like to come up with a better solution in the future. Tom and I do own our own juicer so we potentially could buy juicing fruit instead next time. I also found it impossible to purchase some veggies like spinach and cauliflower without being wrapped in plastic so I chose not to purchase those things at Coles and will look for a local grocer later in the week. I also noticed how all the fruit I purchased had little plastic stickers on them which I imagine will not be recyclable and will have to go into landfill.
Over all this experiment was incredibly successful. It’s clear that if you want to try and adopt some of the zero waste principles then you really do need to steer clear of supermarkets and stick to local grocers, bakers and bulk food stores where possible. I’m unsure how possible this would be in more rural areas that Tom and I will be living in throughout parts of the year.
It’s also great to remember that ‘Zero Waste’ doesn’t need to be an all-or-nothing principle. Making small changes like not using single use plastic bags to carry or store produce and groceries, and choosing food that is in cardboard or paper packaging instead of plastic will be a great move in the right direction. An added benefit to this is that you’ll be supporting the small retails too who often are price comparative to the supermarkets.
I hope this experiment inspires some of you to consider similar zero waste experiments of your own! Please do get in touch and share your own experiences of going plastic free!