This year I am (unofficially) participating in my first ever Plastic Free July! Unofficial as I didn’t sign up on the website or anything, just decided to do it. I feel like I’ve been environmentally conscientious for as long as I can remember, probably starting with being obsessed with Captain Planet as a kid. Wanting to help the environment steered my career choice when I decided to study Conservation Biology at university, as well as fostering my natural interest in science.
Through every stage of my life, I’ve felt like I always did my part in helping the planet. I never littered, I recycled when and where I could, and refused disposable water bottles where it could be avoided. But as time goes on and I get older, I’ve been thinking more about living ethically, and in particular about food waste and sustainability; things like where our food comes from, how it is obtained, how it is packaged, and so on. I went from buying whatever was cheapest to buying only free range meat, and when it became apparent that free range legislation in Australia did little in the way of enforcing free range conditions, I stopped eating meat altogether. But while being vegetarian or vegan is often touted as the only way to effectively reduce problems associated with food waste and animal cruelty, it too is rife with its own set of problems. Plant-based protein sources are often packaged in ridiculous reams of plastic (as well as being sourced from overseas), which in my mind effectively negates many of the environmental benefits of engaging in that lifestyle in the first place.
So, what next? In recent months public awareness has taken a significant shift, with programs such as War on Waste highlighting issues and putting the spotlight on wasteful packaging and consumerism. Packaging and plastic has been at the tip of my consciousness for a long time, but it has always seemed too hard an issue to tackle, too many things that would have to be given up. Towards the end of June, seeing it crop up so much in social media, I finally decided to see if I could do it.
Looking just at food, I looked at what our weekly shop consisted of, and what we could do to eliminate plastic. While I’ve been veggo for a couple years now, my partner still eats meat in a big way, so the first step was finding a butcher that would be willing to use tongs to collect meat into supplied containers. Luckily, our local butcher was very accomodating. I’ve always collected fruit and veg loose and carried in green bags, so that was no big deal. I’m lucky in that my local farmer’s market also has great options for bread and cheese, and so these were also no worry to collect in my own containers and use paper bags for. My biggest problem has been my protein, and my plant-based milk. Our household overall has a huge problem with pre-packaged snacks, particularly savoury snacks like potato chips.
Tackling my items was a bit harder. First, I had to find a bulk food store that was convenient for me, that did food loose and without packaging. I chose one that was on the way to my sister, who I was planning on visiting anyway. Then it was deciding what to get and finding jars/containers appropriate for that item. I got a few lentils and pulses in big glass jars, and a Tupperware container for almonds to make almond milk. I also got a small jar of savoury soya crisps. All good, or so I thought.
Turns out I needed a much bigger jar for the soya crisps.
By the first afternoon, I’d eaten all the soya crisps. Mistake. By mid-week I already missed my savoury snack hit (terrible, I know). Determined to not cave on my first week of PFJ, I grabbed what remained of my packaging free cheddar, a fistful of chives from my balcony (about the only thing still alive in my pitiful balcony garden), and looked up a recipe for savoury biscuits. Turns out there’s heaps online. I used this one, adding a sprinkle of paprika and extra salt. They turned out really good, if a little short (probably from over-working the dough). It was just what we needed to get us to the second week of PFJ.
I’m really excited about this project, I haven’t needed to step into a major supermarket at all this week and it has felt incredibly liberating. I feel like PFJ is very achievable (although I just did my weekly shop yesterday and I have already eaten all the soya crisps again). Bring on week 2!