One of the first decisions I made before starting on this journey, was to break it down into small, manageable steps. Going plastic free, or zero-waste is not something that can happen overnight, unless you’re in a position to make big changes very quickly. I’m not, so my first step was to try to eliminate as much single-use, non-recyclable plastic packaging from my weekly shop as possible.
Shopping in supermarkets can be tricky for those wishing to avoid buying products which are packaged in this way. Since a large number of supermarket products are currently packaged this way, it can require some thought to be able to do successfully.
Check the packaging for information on recycling
Most supermarkets in the UK are now required to include information on how to recycle the packaging their own-brand products come in. You may already have seen the “Recycle Now” logo on the back of their own-brand packaging, but if not, I’d recommend looking out for it.
The “Recycle Now” logo shows which individual parts of the packaging are recyclable and which aren’t. This information has generally given me a good idea of which products to buy, and when to look for alternatives.
If the packaging indicates that all of the packaging is recyclable, whether at the kerbside, or through a local council recycling centre, I consider this acceptable to purchase while taking my first steps to reducing waste.
Switch from bagged frozen items to recyclable plastic, or boxed ones
A large number of frozen food products come in bags. Some are recyclable, and some aren’t, and the “Recycle Now” logo will confirm this for individual items.
Where they’re packaged in bags, I have been looking for boxed alternatives. For example, a bag of frozen chips can be swapped for a box of potato waffles. A bag of chicken nuggets or breaded fish can also be swapped for boxed alternatives.
I have generally found that there isn’t much difference in the price for how far the portions go. I have also found that some supermarkets sell these items at a more discounted rate than others – which is especially useful when those supermarkets are around the corner from your home!
Swap frozen veg for loose fresh veg, or tinned veg
This may seem like an obvious one! Many frozen veg products are currently packaged in non-recyclable plastic bags. I tend to buy loose veg from the fruit and veg aisle in the supermarket. I take my reusable produce bags with me, as it’s easy to bag loose produce as you go without worrying about using single use plastic bags. Alternatively, I will go to a farm shop. At farm shops the produce is usually locally grown and is likely to be fresher, having done fewer air miles. All great reasons to buy this way!
I do sometimes buy tinned veg. It’s not a perfect solution, but it’s about doing the best that you can under the circumstances that we have right now.
Buy sauces and dressings in jars and glass bottles
Ketchup, mayonnaise, mustard and a number of other sauces and dressings often come in squeezable plastic bottles. Although the bottles themselves are recyclable at the kerbside, often the caps need to be taken to a local council recycling centre, as they’re not usually accepted at the kerbside.
By switching to similar products in glass bottles and jars, not only are we helping the environment, but the jars can be used again and again for a number of purposes, such as storing dry foods, or freezing other foods such as veg.
The great thing about this is there are no chemicals in glass that can leach into your food. A great option!
Take containers to the deli counter
Some supermarkets are more accepting of this than others. I have started taking empty containers to the deli counter to ask them to put meat and dairy products in. Some dairy products are wrapped in cellophane. Again, not ideal, but at least it can be recycled. They give you a sticky label which can be scanned at the checkout.
I’ve recently found that this is the most cost-effective way for me to purchase these items, as I can buy as much or as little as I want to, which also means that less food is wasted.
Related article: 3 Months of a lot Less Trash: My Plastic Free Journey So Far
Buy bread from the bakery
Often the bakery counters at supermarkets have freshly baked rolls and loaves of bread which can be bought without the plastic wrapping. They do supply plastic bags to put them in though. To get around this I do one of three things; either use paper bags, or I bring my own containers or reusable produce bags to put a loaf of bread in. If not already sliced, I then slice the bread and freeze it.
Swap bagged rice and pasta for boxed alternatives
My local supermarket sells pasta, rice and noodles which come packaged in a box. Usually there is a small plastic window which isn’t recyclable. I buy these as alternatives which also help to reduce the waste I send to landfill. They can sometimes (but not always) be more expensive than the products on sale in non-recyclable plastic packaging. For those on a tight budget, if savings are made elsewhere, it doesn’t cost any extra overall. A great way to save money here is to buy the biggest pack that’s available – not only does it mean less packaging, it also works out cheaper. I also use my mason jars to store these kinds of foods in.