I’ve been trying to stop producing so much garbage by looking carefully at what we’re buying. Most of our packaging comes from our food, so I’ve started there, but many of the ideas translate to other things we need.
- Buy it directly from the farmer or producer. If you’re very lucky to live near a farm or market, you can get food and other things with little or no packaging.
- Buy locally. If it doesn’t need to travel the earth to get to you, it doesn’t need so much packaging around it. Fresher, in season food, without the fuel spent transporting it, and supporting the people and businesses in the community around you are clearly great side benefits.
- Make it from scratch. I like to do this not only because I can control the ingredients and how they’re prepared, but because it’s far cheaper. If you’re careful, the ingredients to make it will result in less garbage than if you were to buy the thing you’re making, especially if you make a good amount of whatever it is. I’m often amazed how much faster and easier it is to make things like oatcakes, yogurt and cream cheese, than I think it will be, especially once I develop a weekly ritual.
- Buy it in bulk. Often the packaging is massively reduced, though I was once distressed to find that the ‘bulk’ peas I’d bought were actually a dozen small individual packages of peas. Shucks! Set up a buying group to share the base amount required to get a discount. Often buying organic can be 3/4 to 1/2 the price if you buy from the folks that supply the organics shops. Make a list of anything that stores well that you could decant into jars and store somewhere, if you can find some space for it. I buy flour, tomato paste in glass jars, butter to freeze, beans, grains, pasta, toilet paper, cleaning products like vinegar and baking soda, epsom salts and fair trade chocolate in bulk. Chocolate so I have lots of it, that’s clearly a staple.
- Choose the option available in less or recyclable packaging. The brand of dish soap we use comes in a refillable bottle, and a local shop will refill it. Brilliant. There are refillable pens on the market (though my fountain pen is by far the most ecologically sound).
- Ask if you can bring your own containers or get whatever it is delivered loosely in a box, as appropriate. I’ve been surprised how many restaurants even give a discount, if you show up a bit early with your own containers for a take-away.
- Tell the shop, the company, the owner, that you’d buy their product if it were available in an ecological mode. I love the idea of voting with your dollars, but speaking up is a powerful thing to combine with it. If you’re organised enough you can ask others to join in requesting better packaging options. When ordering something online, in that little window that says ‘special instructions’ I like to make a polite request for ecologically sound packaging.
- Set up a custom or standing order. Sometimes having a standing order for something gives you an opportunity to request it in a particular way – for example I get cream in glass, in a pint size, since I make cream cheese with it, and this way I avoid the plastic that the smaller size comes in, which isn’t a recyclable type where I live (though if I do get the small size I use the pot in my garden!)
- Preserve your own food. This is getting more popular again, and is very easy when you know how. Get someone to show you, look at video tutorials, read books. It’s another frugal option, can allow you to eat organic, foraged, or farm-picked foods, and buying in bulk is a great option to get in-season foods at a great price and preserve them for later. If you love jam but not sugar, try a calcium-set pectin, it allows a good set without all the sugar to wig everyone out. A row of beautiful jars of preserves is also a tremendously satisfying thing.
- Bring your own bags. I know you know this one. Keep some in the car/by the door/in a shopping trolley/folded tightly in your bag. I also have a few little mesh ones I like for filling with smaller things like carrots or apples. And you know I love my market basket.
Any more ideas for me? I’d love to hear. Have a great weekend! I’ll be watching historical weddings, eating the last of the chocolate, and taking a cue from England to have Monday off as well. As I’m here. Twist my arm. I’ll see you here on Tuesday, refreshed and ready for May.