Tuesday 1 August 2017

#PlasticFreeJuly wrap-up - 10 habits I hope will stick

I loved being involved in this year's global Plastic Free July Challenge. It got me thinking a lot more about how I shop, the products I buy and how much I packaging I carry home just to throw straight into the bin! That's madness! At the beginning of July we threw out one full 15 litre rubbish bag to landfill about every fortnight and our recycling box was usually half to two-thirds full every week. I'm hoping to have at least halved our landfill waste by the end of October and maybe reduced our recycling too.

We had already taken a few small steps which fitted perfectly with this Challenge so I was inspired to continue these plus I now have new habits to try and make stick too. This post is a ideas round-up and I have scheduled another review post for three months' time to judge my success. Here's my ten Plastic Free July changes:

1. Store food in glass jars
I saw many beautiful Instagram and Pinterest pantry shelves on the #PlasticFreeJuly hashtags, all with rows of matching Kilner jars for pulses, pastas and spices. I don't have that kind of budget though so decided to keep the jars we empty - jam, honey, mayonnaise, etc - and gradually transfer everything in our cupboards from plastic tubs to glass jars. I even thought to label the less visually identifiable ones! I learned that toxic chemicals leach from plastic into food over time so I feel much happier with glass storage. This photo shows July's jar collection (including three pinched from downstairs' recycling!). Freeing up locktite tubs made 2. super easy.

2. Ditch the clingfilm
As Dave will verify I am a tad paranoid about leaving food uncovered in the fridge. I hate when it starts drying out. I used to automatically reach for the clingfilm roll, use a big square for maybe a day, then screw that up and throw it away. Now I can either use tubs freed up from 1. or reverting to old-fashioned solutions like upturning a bowl over a plate (or vice versa) for leftovers. I recently received a trio of BeeBeeWraps too and I absolutely love these for food storage. They are easy to use and work perfectly. (Full BeeBeeWraps review to follow!)

3. Make my own dairy-free milk
Cheaper, healthier and with far less packaging than cow's milk, making up my own Sunflower Seed Milk is much easier than I thought it would be (click here for the original post). I prefer its taste and texture in our daily porridge too. We used to get through 5-6 tetrapaks of milk each week, now there are usually three or fewer in the recycling and we pay pennies a litre for Sunflower Seed Milk rather than close to £1 a litre for the dairy equivalent. I did still have plastic to throw out because Holland and Barrett's package seeds and dates in plastic, but I bought the largest bags of each I could in order to proportionally cut down this as much as possible. My first visit to Earth Food Love in Totnes (click here for the original post) showed I can get packaging-free ingredients from there. I just need to work out how to economically make the journey!

4. Don't buy if I can bake
Making two batches of milk each week left me with lots of sunflower seed pulp which it seemed far too wasteful to compost. I googled recipes and ended up baking Oat And Date Cookies (click here for the original post) which are scarily healthy and, even with all those chopped dates, considerably cheaper than their equivalent in packaged biscuits. There's obviously no packaging to dispose of either.
Making my own crackers wasn't as successful - more practice is needed. However I enjoyed baking my own wholemeal bread again (click here for the original post). It's tastier than plastic-bagged commercial loaves and cheaper than artisan baked! I remembered why I stopped though - the loaf isn't great after the second day if we don't eat it all fast enough - so I am now baking the batch as six rolls, freezing them in pairs to defrost as we need them. They still fit in the slow cooker.

5. Drink loose leaf tea
Did you know most tea bags contain plastic? I was shocked to find out (on Treading My Own Path here)! The plastic apparently strengthens the paper tea bags and even super-ethical brands like Clipper use it. I'm not comfortable with the idea of soaking plastic in hot water every time I make tea so looked for loose leaf. In Babbacombe, the Royal Windsor tea room stocks bags of Devon Tea Company tea. I love the Citrus Grey which is so delicious with just a dab of honey that I don't even need to add milk. Unfortunately its paper bag does have an inner cellophane liner, but this is the equivalent of the more usual outer cellophane on a box of tea bags so overall I am left with less rubbish. I think pricewise the loose tea will be comparable with brands like Twinings and I am glad to be getting lots of use out of my seaside teapot at last.

6. Ditch individually wrapped sweets.
This was a surprise Plastic Free benefit! I walk a lot in town rather than taking the car, but always found it hard to resist treating myself on the way. I've got to climb that steep hill, let's have a mini Thornton's bag to help! However, it turns my plastic-refusing willpower is 100 times stronger than my sugar-refusing willpower. I have stopped buying random treats, plastic-wrapped or not, thereby saving money and helping my health. The only exception is our boiled sweets stash for car journeys. I now choose loose sweets which are not individually wrapped and discovered the American Delights Candy Shop at the top of Union Street in Torquay are happy to pour straight from the scale to my own container. No throwaway packaging at all.

7. Make my own laundry powder
We started this back in September last year (click here for the original post). The soap bars and soda were wrapped in plastic outers, but I am still using that first £2 batch of ingredients! It will easily last through September this year so that will be over a year's worth of clean laundry for £2. I don't need to add additional fabric softener and the powder is good for both machine and hand washing of clothes. I store the mixed powder in a airtight plastic tub which I already owned. It will probably last for years.

8. Mix my own toothpaste
This was a completely new experiment for Plastic Free July and I am thrilled with its success (click here for the original post). It does slowly separate to leave a glycerine layer on the top so needs a stir up a couple of times a week. Otherwise I am very happy with how it cleans my teeth, my gums are no longer red and there is no more bleeding when I brush. Now I just need to replace my plastic toothbrush with a bamboo one.

9. Buy unpackaged whenever possible
I left this seemingly obvious point until near the end because it is actually the most difficult to consider. Where should I draw my line? I crocheted cotton produce bags and now try to avoid plastic-packed fruit and veg even to the point of substitutions or walking to a different shop if necessary. I can buy soaps and bar shampoos unpackaged from Fresh Soap on Fleet Street in Torquay. I now have a reusable cotton sanitary pad to back up my Mooncup so don't need plastic-packed disposables any more. I made my own Lentil 'Pate' and Chickpea Tofu, both thereby avoiding their equivalents' plastic packets.
However I could not find entirely plastic-free meat, fish or cheese in Torquay. The butcher will put my purchases into my own containers, but uses disposable plastic sheets to do so. The fishmonger wraps in paper, but the fish must be in a plastic bag first. I can avoid rigid plastic packs by visiting Waitrose counters instead of just picking from the fridges, but food is still bagged so not completely plastic free. My dilemma is whether to settle for the plastic reduction I can get or avoid these foods altogether - effectively becoming mostly vegan. Food for thought.

10. Don't slide back
Several of the above habits are more long-winded than their plastic covered alternatives or they require preparation so I think the toughest part of Plastic Free July for me is actually going to be August! In the same way as I automatically carry a cotton shopping bag rolled up in my handbag because I don't want to pay 5p for a plastic carrier, I now need to keep reinforcing these plastic free habits until they are ingrained. Fortunately I enjoy making and baking so setting aside time to knead dough isn't a problem, but remembering that I need to do so at least three hours before I want to eat the bread will require organisation! Getting enough empty jars and tubs together at the same time to justify an Earth Food Love visit could also be tricky.

At the moment I am feeling very positive about my Plastic Free July achievements. Fingers crossed I'll be doing even more come October's post!