Category Archives: Food shopping

DAIRY PRODUCTS SIMPLIFIED

For years a lot of plastic packaging in our household came from a range of dairy products. In addition to the staples of milk, cheese and butter there were pots of yoghurts, crème fraiche, soured cream, double cream, cream cheese, soya milk, goats milk products, dips, individually wrapped cheeses for school lunches, spreadable Lurpak and margarine for baking. There was a vague sense of a lot of packaging and things going past their best-by-date, but I’m not sure it ever fully surfaced into my consciousness as wasteful. My focus was on catering for everyone’s tastes and preferences and having everything available, all of the time. It all sounds a bit mad to me now.

I now put the emphasis on non-plastic packaging and local availability and that’s it. Milk is delivered by the milk man and unpackaged cheese is bought straight from a local cheesemaker or the farmers market – and boy, is it delicious! I also learned how to make non-dairy milk such as oat and almond milk which is easy and inexpensive.

When Waitrose recently stopped wrapping their butter in paper, it forced me to go out looking for an alternative. I realised that there are three local producers of butter wrapped in paper. I keep the butter in the fridge and portion it into a lovely Cornish butter dish on the counter which keeps the butter just the right side of soft for easy spreading on toast and sandwiches. I would prefer to buy butter unpackaged as I have learned (from a reader commenting below) that the paper butter is wrapped in is usually impregnated with microcrystalline wax or other petroleum products. The same is true for the packaging of an excellent Breton cream cheese I buy and have many excellent uses for, such as spreading on toast, making dips, adding to soups, making carbonara sauce and more. The pots look like they are just cardboard with a little silver foil to cover the cheese. It is still better than a plastic tub, but it is just as well to know that things that look like cardboard, like Tetra Pak for example, are not all that innocent.

You can buy little glass jars of clotted cream in some farm shops, but again, you have plastic inside the lid and the glued on labels are printed in polymer colours and ‘gold’. A dairy shop near me that also does milk refills in glass bottles will take orders for cream in glass jars. It means phoning ahead and picking up. It makes double cream a rare and special commodity in our household but maybe that’s ok!

For those eating a lot yoghurt, making your own is probably a really good discipline. You can buy yoghurt making kits and build it into your daily routine. There is a recipe for yoghurt and for making crème fraiche in the comments from readers below.  But if none of this appeals to you and you have no sources of unpackaged food where you live, then consider cutting down on the number of products you use and simplify so you can save on plastic packaging and avoid food waste.

THE EASY ALTERNATIVE TO DAIRY MILK AND TETRA PAK

Are you someone who prefers an alternative to dairy milk? Perhaps you are lactose intolerant, a vegan, or you just don’t like cows milk? There are lots of alternatives in the shops – all of which seem to come in drinks cartons, usually Tetra Pak, as far as I can tell. They can contain a lot of sugar and additives and in any case, Tetra Pak is not an option when you want to avoid single-use plastic. The obvious solution is to make your own nut, oat, rice, hemp or soya milk and until I had a go at this, I had no idea how easy it is.

These alternative milks last a few days in the fridge and can be used with breakfast cereals, smoothies, shakes and for cooking with. They do tend to curdle slightly if added cold to a hot drink. You can add vanilla, maple syrup or pitted dates at the blending stage to increase the sweetness, but nut milks tend to be naturally sweet. Many websites also give you recipes for using up the pulp that is left over, for example to make oat biscuits. Oats and rice milk are perhaps the quickest and cheapest options, but you do not need large quantities of the basic ingredients, so price is not really an issue (I am convinced that the cost of the ingredients in commercial products are miniscule compared to the cost of the packaging and transport and mark-up for the retailer). Cashews also lend themselves to making cream which is great to use in Indian cooking. Simply soak a handful of cashews in a cup of water for 10 minutes and then blend – no need to strain afterwards.

You will need a blender or food processor, a piece of muslin or cheese cloth, a funnel and glass bottles with lids. If you have a local unpackaged or zero waste food shop, you will be going along with your fabric bags to stock up on the ingredients. If not, it’s time to get searching as most cities have at least one zero-waste, bulk buy, or unpackaged food shop. Have a look here.

Almond milk:

Cashew milk:

Oat Milk:

Hemp Milk:

Soya Milk:

Rice Milk:

ONE YEAR – ONE BAG OF PLASTIC

We have just reached our first anniversary of creating a plastic-free household. During the past year we concentrated mainly on unpackaged food, cleaning materials, toiletries and plastic-free clothing. We have collected every scrap of plastic packaging that we have accidentally, or otherwise, brought into the house. This has amounted to roughly one large bagful of plastic packaging from medical supplies, items that we bought which had hidden plastic packaging inside, presents that were given to us, and also from items that seemed unavoidable. Considering that UK households produce an average of 56kg of plastic packaging waste a year, our one bag weighing no more than a couple of pounds represents a great achievement.

In reality, our single-use plastic footprint is much larger than the household figures measured by Defra and in our case, it is bigger than the single bagful collected over the course of a year. Much of our plastic waste is created outside the home, for example in the workplace, at school, in restaurants, at the petrol station, at the hairdressers, at the gym, and by pursuing hobbies and other pastimes that take us outside the home. In the supply chain of the goods I conscientiously buy ‘unpackaged’, there are unknown quantities of plastic packaging. We are not the only ones in the dark: at a recent talk given by Tesco on food waste, which I attended in Oxford, I learned that all of the large supermarket retailers “currently don’t understand or know enough” about the plastic packaging waste in their supply chains. This means that the plastic packaging that each of us is ultimately responsible for is not just in our bins at home.

Over this past year I have read report after report, attended events, talked to many people and the story is the same everywhere. Most people think there is too much plastic in their lives and that we should recycle more and develop new materials to replace plastic. However, few talk about the one solution that is surely staring us in the face. The one solution that could prevent further environmental crises and help restore local communities is ethical consumption. Ethical consumption means that you choose only what you need, what has been paid for fairly, what has been made to last, and what has been produced sustainably without hurting people, animals or the earth. I might not be a shining example of the perfect ethical consumer yet, but I am immensely interested in becoming one. It seems to be one of the few things in life that is actually within my power!

Read More:

  • Waste and Resource Statistics_2016 by the Department for Rural Affairs (Defra)
  • Plastics_Market_Situation_Report_2016  by UK based WRAP, the world leaders in helping organisations achieve greater resource efficiency. Between 2010 and 2015 in England alone, WRAP initiatives reduced greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 50 million tonnes (Mt), which is equivalent to the annual carbon dioxide emissions of Portugal.
  • How did I calculate 56kg of plastic packaging per UK household? I used the most up-to-date figures provided in the two reports above which are for 2014 (new data is collected every two years, so the data for 2016 should be available soon). I applied this to the total number of households in the UK in 2014 as provided by the Office for National Statistics.
  • Article on Ethical Consumerism by Tania Lewis first publishd in 2012

CHEESE STRAIGHT FROM THE CHEESEMAKER

This week I went to a friendly local artisan cheesemaker, Godsells at Church Farm in Leonard Stanley and bought the most delicious cheddar and double Gloucester, cut straight from huge wheels wrapped in cloth. The cheese is produced at a small facility on the farm, surrounded by cowsheds, hay barns, the village and fields beyond. I could actually see the very cows who provided the milk for the cheese. From the porch I could also see the workers in their white coats, hairnets and white clogs, chatting while they worked. I found out that the milk we have delivered every week at home comes from the same herd of cows. Thursday is delivery day and if you come to the farm in the morning, you can buy cheese before it is cut and packaged in shrink wrap. I bought enough to last for 3 weeks or so, wrapped in cheese paper and charged at wholesale prices.

As I stored away the cheese in the veggie drawer of my fridge I couldn’t help feeling pretty smug knowing that the supply chain for this cheese included milk from a local farm, exactly five food miles and not much else. There are at least three local cheesemakers in this area of the Cotswolds alone and today I found out about a brand new dairy scheme, providing unpasteurised milk in our town – and I never knew any of this until recently. All it took was for me to become interested to find out.

FOOD & DRINK CARTONS ARE 20% PLASTIC

Food and drink cartons look and feel like they are made from cardboard but the 184 billion single use cartons produced annually by market leading giant Tetra Pak contain 20% polyethylene and 5% aluminium. In addition, there are the billions of plastic ‘closures’ (lids to you and I).

Before saying anything else, let me tell you that a mere 23% of those 184 billion cartons are recycled worldwide according to the Tetra Pak website. That means that the other 138 billion cartons are simply wasted, burned, dug into the earth, or worse. Tetra Pak’s overall objective is to double the rate of recycling to 40% by 2020, still leaving a whopping 60% going to waste. Whatever else Tetra Pak claim about the goodness of their products, I think their commitment to sustainability is compromised by these facts and figures.

Tetra Pak asserts that their products are “GOOD FOR YOU, GOOD FOR THE EARTH”. Their ambition is to develop a package made entirely out of material from renewable sources, including polymers derived from sugarcane ethanol. But for now, most of their purchased volumes of polymers are still derived from conventional oil and gas sources. And, whilst the cartons are in theory fully recyclable, Tetra Paks cannot be made with recycled material. If you take the term recycling to mean “recycling of a material to produce a fresh supply of the same material” (Wikipedia), Tetra Paks do not qualify.

I am not a fan of recycling. A better way to protect our natural resources and avoid pollution is to produce less packaging and to curb our consumption. Recycling just means that the disposal of packaging becomes someone else’s problem. Of the miserly estimated 30% of consumer packaging that is actually placed into recycling in the UK, over 67% is exported to other countries, much of it to Asia.

Screenshot from the Tetra Pak website: http://www.tetrapak.com/

Tetra Pak says: “food processing with Tetra Pak is all about helping customers turn their bright ideas into exciting new food products”. Their customers are the global food and drink companies who want to grow their market share. I question why we need these brightly coloured and highly processed products in the first place. What’s in it for us?

The alternative is local, seasonal food and drink, milk delivered in bottles, water from your tap and things made freshly at home or preserved in the old fashioned way. With these simple maxims you don’t need a long shelf life, easy transport across the globe or recycling technologies.

Sources and further information

Tetra Pak recycling data:
http://www.tetrapak.com/in/sustainability/recycling

Tetra Pak facts and figures:
http://www.tetrapak.com/in/about/facts-figures

The Guardian: Only a third of UK consumer plastic packaging is recycled:
https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/nov/21/only-a-third-of-uk-consumer-plastic-packaging-is-recycled

The Guardian: 67%+ of UK plastic packaging waste exported in 2016:
http://energydesk.greenpeace.org/2017/03/13/data-uk-exporting-two-thirds-plastic-waste-amidst-concerns-illegal-practice/

UK Environment Agency’s packaging waste report:
http://npwd.environment-agency.gov.uk/Public/PublicSummaryData.aspx

Treehugger blog on Tetra Paks (from 2009):
http://www.treehugger.com/corporate-responsibility/in-what-world-can-you-call-tetra-pak-green.html