Although UK Supermarkets keep their plastic footprint a secret, a recent investigation by The Guardian newspaper gives a conservative estimate of 800,000 tonnes of plastic waste generated by our supermarkets every year. This is enough packaging waste just from the food we buy, to cover Greater London to a depth of 2.5cm! Although we are not yet literally wading through all this plastic, none of it has gone away.
Our supermarkets are under increasing pressure, to get rid of unnecessary packaging. Iceland became the first major retailer to commit to plastic free packaging for all its’ own brand products by 2023. Tesco announced it will ban all non-recyclable plastic by 2019, although it has yet to set a firm commitment to reduce the volume of the plastic it sells. In April, Tesco, Sainsburys’s & Aldi signed the UK Plastics Pact in which they pledge to remove single-use plastics from packaging by 2025.
Change is on the horizon, but 2025 is a long way off and another 7 years is over 5.6 million more tonnes of plastic. That's the equicalent of 17.5cm deep across the whole of Greater London. It still remains incredibly difficult to shop plastic free. If we really want to see change happen, we need to continue to push our major retailers and vote with our wallets.
It is possible to buy some fruit and veg lose in most supermarkets, just remember to not use those flimsy plastic produce bags. You can take your own produce bags along, or most of the time, I just load the fruit and veg lose into my basket. Morrisons have also reintroduced the brown paper bags instead of the plastic ones which is a great move.
At the beginning of the year, taking your own containers to supermarkets to buy meat, fish & deli items was a contentious issue shrouded in health and safety mystery. However, now that Morrisons have decided to accept customers’ own containers, it can’t be long before the others follow suit. Many independents are also happy for you to buy produce in this way so it’s worth asking. I personally find it far easier to shop lose fruit and veg at a local greengrocer than at the supermarket. It’s also worth mentioning to retailers that you are trying to shop plastic free so they understand this is an important issue for their customers.
Once you start trying to shop plastic free, you begin to notice just how many products now come in plastic. Buying larger bags of things, although not plastic free, is one way to reduce the amount of plastic you consume. Cooking from scratch is a big way to reduce packaging. Ready meals come with a large amount of plastic packaging and the black food trays cannot be recycled. See my recipe page for lots of easy inspiration. Cook in bulk and freeze meals as a plastic free alternative to ready meals.
Evaluate what you are buying. Do you really need to buy bottled water for example? Invest in a reusable water bottle and use this when you’re out and about. Snacks are usually big offenders when it comes to plastic waste. Can you swap any for alternatives or even make your own?
Do you have a local milk delivery service that will deliver your milk in glass bottles? Many milk delivery companies are reintroducing the glass bottle in response to customer demand. Some also offer other products such as orange juice in glass bottles.
Farmers markets are often good options for shopping plastic free so see if there is one local to you.
Most of us don’t live near a Zero Waste shop, but if you are lucky enough to, use it! They are amazing and you only buy what you need which means they help cut down on your food waste too.
Have a look at your kitchen today and see what you can change for a plastic free option. Here are 10 top tips for buying food plastic free.
Changing our habits requires a conscious effort and a degree of planning but is worth it. Don’t try and do everything at once but remember that every change counts and in making changes yourself, you are often without even realising it, encouraging others to do the same.