Category Archives: Food shopping

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

OLIVE OIL REFILLS

Until I started looking for alternatives to groceries packaged in plastic, I didn’t even know that there are places where you can get oil ‘on tap’ in the UK. In the town where I live, there are two such places alone. I just take along my own 1 litre bottle and refill it. As with many other grocery items, bulk buying and refilling seems much easier in the States where regulations are different and homesteading and bulk bin shops are more common.

Perhaps you think this is not a big deal since most cooking oils are sold in glass bottles anyway. But if you are going zero-plastic, you have to consider the little plastic pouring device inside the bottle and the tamper-proof plastic seal on the outside of most bottles of oil and vinegar – I’ll wager that none of that is recycled far and wide. So, if you’re going for the Nobel prize in sustainability, you’ll have to find where your nearest oil refill station is and take your own bottle. I love it because one of the sellers in my town produces the oil at their own farm in Spain which makes me cherish it even more.

CHRISTMAS FESTIVITIES

With some creative thinking and a bit of planning we managed our first ever plastic-free Christmas. It was a great experience and strengthened my resolve to keep going! The emphasis was on simplicity as an antidote to the usual frenzy leading up to the holidays. It was wonderful to have a Christmas without piles of plastic boxes, trays, shrinkwraps, vacuum packs, bubble wrap, styrofoam, tamper seals, bottles, bags, labels, clingfilm… the list goes on.

The food
Buying mainly from a local food cooperative, local shops and our excellent farmers market ensured that all of the food came unpackaged or plastic-free. We had a traditional lunch of roast turkey, veggies, roast potatoes, sausages wrapped in bacon and Christmas pudding. Beer came from a local micro-brewery, eggs from our neighbour Olga, bread from the bakers, milk and orange juice in glass bottles from Mike the milkman, and so on. It’s all about making connections with shop owners, market stall holders and local producers and not being afraid to ask for what you want. For example, Juliet from Monmouthshire Turkeys was more than happy to supply the organic, free-range bird in a cardboard box with giblets wrapped in foil.

We couldn’t have managed it if we had to rely on supermarket shopping or ordering online. The small amount of supermarket shopping that we did do landed us with a few little plastic surprises such as plastic labels on jars of mayonnaise and plastic stickers on fruit. It all sounds very time-consuming but consider that we already buy our food this way and know where to go. The thought that most of the food, including the turkey came from the surrounding countryside made it seem especially delicious.

The presents
We decided to buy second-hand presents from charity shops for each other this year. I like that the money we spent goes to charitable causes and that anything we bought is given another lease of life. We found interesting books, games, films, music CDs, smart button shirts, a framed black & white photograph and useful kitchen utensils. We decided that the hard plastic covers on DVD & CDs were ok as they are ‘multi-use’  and because we would eventually return them to a charity shop for someone else to enjoy. We went to the sweet shop for stocking filler treats. Sweets are dispensed from large glass jars and weighed in to paper bags. Chocolate and Turkish Delight are sold by weight too. Normally we also give each other magazine subscriptions at Christmas. But this year we let some of the subscriptions lapse because they come in plastic wrappers (New Scientist and The Economist). We renewed the subscriptions that come in compostable wrappers such as Resurgeance and Positive News!

Christmas crackers, wrapping paper and more…
I didn’t get any Christmas crackers this year (the type you pull apart with a bang and out pop a little plastic toy, a joke and a paper crown to be worn throughout the traditional British Christmas lunch). Instead our son Toby made some posh paper crowns for us with hilarious name badges. We chose not to wrap presents. A lot of wrapping paper contains plastic and glitter or is packaged in plastic film. You can’t recycle it so it’s just better to do without it or make your own. Whenever I can, I buy box sets of greetings cards from galleries and art shops to avoid individually plastic-wrapped gift cards and I applied the same principle to Christmas cards. Lastly, tea lights and batteries gave us a bit of a headache until we discovered both being sold in cardboard boxes at the hardware store.

Our next ‘living without plastic’ challenge: my husband’s 50th birthday party in February… for 80 people!

Francesca Chalk red coffeee cup hand screen print

TEA BAGS ARE MADE FROM PAPER – AREN’T THEY?

I have always assumed that tea bags are made from paper and that the only plastic is found in the packaging. Not so. The majority of tea bags used in the UK (55 billion a year) are made by adding acrylic polymer emulsions to the plant based materials that the bags are made of and then applying a very thin layer of polypropylene to help heat-seal bags and sachets. I checked this by writing to PG Tips, Tetley’s, Typhoo, Twinings, Taylors and Clipper, all of whom replied with detailed information. You may not like the idea of potentially drinking plastic particles in your tea but also consider that this plastic material falls apart as the tea bag degrades and ends up in the soil and ultimately in the sea. This explains why I keep having to pick’ tea bag skeletons’ off my veggie patch! The damn things just won’t compost and now I know why.

I also contacted Bristol based PUKKA, an eco-friendly company who don’t use plastic in their tea bag production and use vegetable inks on their boxes which are not wrapped in a final outer layer of plastic. However, even Pukka use a polyethylene lamination in the production of the sachets. I was also really pleased to read that Teapigs’ temple tea bags are made from corn starch rather than nylon. They also tell me that their packaging is plastic-free too, thanks to a material called NatureFlex.

Our solution at home is to buy loose tea leaves in large paper bags directly from the local health food shop, at the Whole Foods Market, tea shops and indoor markets. We keep the tea leaves in traditional tins and it takes only marginally longer to brew a ‘real’ cuppa than using a tea bag. What’s the rush anyway?

READ MORE:

The Guardian
https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2010/jul/02/teabags-biodegradeable

The Telegraph
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/gardening/7865706/Tear-your-tea-bags-before-composting-watchdog-says.html

Great blog entry from Treading My own Path:

The Scandalous Plastic in Tea Bags – Who Knew?

 

WHY IS PASTA PACKAGED IN PLASTIC?

I don’t understand why pasta is packaged in plastic. It’s not like it is going to go off, is it? And it’s not like we need to know what dried pasta looks like. In Italy and many other European countries pasta is mainly packaged in cardboard. In Bremen I have recently discovered a shop where pasta is sold loose from large containers. I wrote to Carluccio’s recently, hoping that their beautiful pasta is packaged in cellophane. A lady called Paola Pignataro replied: “The majority of our pasta packets are made of polypropylene, resin code PP5, therefore recyclable depending on local council policies.” She didn’t mention why they use plastic in the first place. Our council doesn’t allow that type of plastic in the recycling box and it would not surprise me if the majority of it is not recycled in the UK as a whole.

Once we ran out of pasta following our family’s non-plastic pledge in May 2016 we struggled to find an alternative. When we came across the Barilla range of pasta on our summer holiday in France this summer we quickly loaded up our car boot. Pasta is now a special treat at our house which is probably better for our waistline!