This Plastic Free July, we asked you to pledge to stop using one plastic item. If it's your kitchen's plastic waste you've decided to tackle, food shopping can feel a challenge with the material appearing at every turn. But there are things we can do to make a difference. We explore some ways we can reduce or completely cut it out from our groceries.
The supermarket can undoubtedly be the place where most plastic is brought into our homes, with so much of our food wrapped in unnecessary packaging. A few years ago, 10 of the UK’s biggest supermarkets were responsible for a staggering 896,853 tonnes of plastic packaging. Current figures aren’t yet available, but many of these supermarkets have recognised the need for change and have been looking into ways to reduce their use of plastic and implement reuse and refill systems in their stores. Yet, these changes take time to roll out on a large scale, so what can we do as consumers in the meantime?
Switch up how you shop
The best bet when it comes to plastic-free food shopping is finding your local refill store. These independent shops selling unpackaged food are wonderful places to stock up on store cupboard items like pasta, cereals and nuts, as well as other often locally-sourced goods. Supporting your local farm shop, greengrocer, baker and butcher is also a great way to cut out the supermarket and their catastrophic production of plastic. If these aren’t an option, there are many services delivering seasonal and locally-grown fruit and vegetables to your door. Riverford* grow and deliver produce in as little packaging as possible, while Pikt aim to make organic fruit and veg accessible to the majority rather than the minority with their boxes. Oddbox tackle excess food waste in the UK by building boxes with fruit and vegetables that aren’t accepted by supermarkets, packing their ‘wonky’ produce in recyclable boxes with no unnecessary packaging.
It’s not always an option to completely avoid the supermarket though, but we can change how we shop there. Scour the shelves for alternatives to your usual plastic-wrapped goods – look out for items in cardboard, glass or aluminium packaging which can all be recycled or reused. Picking up loose fruit and veg is a great way to reduce plastic, and cut down on your food waste too, as you only buy what you need. Bread from the bakery can be put in a paper bag or a reusable one you’ve brought from home. Instead of buying pre-packaged meat or cheese, consider taking your own containers to the supermarket deli counter.
If you’re stuck on which supermarket to support, a comparison by Which? found that Waitrose put fewer tonnes of plastic on the market per 100,000 items sold each year, while Iceland produce the most – a like-for-like basket of 20 items from Iceland resulted in 73% more plastic packaging than one at Waitrose. In a similar comparison, Greenpeace found that Aldi improved the most when it came to plastic packaging, moving from last place out of 10 supermarkets to 2nd thanks to a reduction in their plastic footprint, removing single-use plastic bags and committing to halving their plastic footprint by 2025.
Ditch the plastic bottles
More than 60% of household plastic waste comes from bottles so looking at how many you use and throw away can be a good place to start if you want to cut down your plastic waste. When you’re doing your weekly shop, opt for drinks that come in glass bottles or aluminium cans as these materials can be recycled infinitely, or even creatively reused around your home.
Buying items like milk or juice plastic-free can be a challenge in the supermarket, but a milk delivery service is a good alternative. Whether you go for organic whole milk or a dairy-free alternative, your order is delivered to your door in returnable and reusable glass bottles. These delivery services also sell other essentials like bread, yoghurt and juice, often in eco-friendly packaging and sourced from local farms or businesses. We love The Milk Club and 10 Green Bottles where you can also stock up on your favourite bide products.
Fancy a plastic-free cuppa?
So, you’ve received your zero plastic milk order, but is your morning brew inadvertently bringing plastic into your home? Most tea bags contain polypropylene in the form of a glue which seals the teabags and stops them falling apart in your mug. While the amount of this plastic glue may be small, it soon adds up when you consider the bigger picture: Brits drink around 60 billion cups of tea every year, so that equals a lot of plastic. This plastic isn’t recyclable or degradable, so even if you’re popping your tea bag in your composter, microplastics will leach in the soil. Luckily, there are some eco-minded brands who offer plastic-free tea bags – like T2, Clipper and Pukka – or you can opt for loose leaf blends paired with a tea ball or tea strainer.
Keep an eye out for the wording on your teabags’ packaging, though. If the bags are biodegradable, it means that they need specific conditions (often high temperatures) in order to degrade, which is usually only achieved on an industrial level. It’s safe to pop these in your food waste bin, but if you’re popping them in your home composter, you’ll probably find teabags cropping up in your soil. If your teabags say they’re compostable, these will easily degrade in your home composter.
If coffee is your preferred way to kickstart your morning, it can be a bit of a minefield plastic-wise. Machines that take coffee pods are probably the worst culprit for plastic waste with the pods themselves usually made from a mix of plastic and aluminium which can take up to 500 years to decompose. Instead, look out for pods made from aluminium only as these can be put in your usual recycling bin once completely clean. Pact Coffee offer coffee in completely recyclable outer packaging, while the pods themselves can be dropped off at recycling points or in your normal recycling bin.
Loose coffee grounds or whole beans can be tricky to find in completely plastic-free packaging, but it isn’t impossible. The Corby Coffee Roasting Company offer ground coffee in your choice of packaging: a coffee tin, compostable potato starch bag or a paper bag refill; Lost Barn Coffee also offer beans or grounds in a compostable and recyclable paper bag or a reusable tin.
Doing our bit
Here at bide, we believe that everyone can make a difference, which is why we asked you this Plastic Free July to join us and pledge to stop using one plastic item. Whether you’re able to make one eco switch in your grocery shop or many, you’re already a huge catalyst for change. It is a privilege to be able to make choices to live a plastic-free, low-impact lifestyle, especially with today’s cost-of-living crisis, so don’t put pressure on yourself to make changes that are unsustainable for your budget; any change, however small it may seem, plays a big part in the green revolution.
*Head over to our Instagram on Saturday 16th July for a chance to win some goodies from Riverford. Closing date 11.59pm on Friday 22nd July,