One Shopper Against Plastic

Updated: Nov 13, 2019


We spoke to one passionate shopper about her intrepid journey towards a more sustainable lifestyle. Julie - single mum of two hungry teenage boys and very busy full-time teacher - decided plastic food waste was an area in which she wanted to make a difference. Her experience illustrates that reducing plastic is not for the faint-hearted!

Here’s Julie’s story….

Plastic is choking our oceans and harming our wildlife. Last year I decided to try for a month to do my grocery shop without single-use plastic. I bought some kraft paper bags and greaseproof paper, and put them in a cloth bag to take as a packaging alternative. So began a plastic-free journey of 9 months and counting.

It is difficult. I estimate around 95% of produce in supermarkets is unavailable to me. All the visible plastic in supermarkets makes me feel sick. Most difficult is dairy. Milk in bottles is delivered to the door, but I need to make my own yoghurt, cream and cottage cheese. Buying blocks of cheese is a rare treat. I cut down on meat and fish in order to save money; plastic-free is expensive.

The inside of Julie's fridge.

Loose goods displayed in baskets that look eco-friendly pose an ethical dilemma as they have often arrived at the shop in plastic and have been removed from this packaging for display. Meat and cheese counters are reluctant to serve me produce in my own packaging, fearing ‘cross-contamination’. My butcher ordered waxed paper especially for me only to find the ‘wax’ was plastic, heat-sealed to the paper.

Julie was delighted when her local butcher Mr Flynn bought butchers’ paper especially for her purchases, but both she and Mr. Flynn got a surprise when it arrived coated in plastic rather than the expected wax.

Some compromises are frustratingly inevitable. I don’t have space to store cat food in tins, so I recycle cat food pouches instead. My boys crave crisps so occasionally I buy a well known brand in a cardboard tube but with a plastic lid. I tried using tooth tablets but returned to toothpaste in a plastic tube when the enamel on my teeth became compromised. I wrecked my hair with shampoo bars and home shampoo remedies, so now I buy proper shampoo but in recycled/recyclable plastic bottles.

Plastic-free online communities are multiplying and some are helpful, but some posts give mixed messages. Plastic is bad for the oceans but alternatives can be worse for the climate. One product removes plastic but adds harmful parabens. As a consumer I’m left overwhelmed, disempowered and outfaced, and the only answer is to do one thing at a time; small steps. At least it is not doing nothing.

However, what initially seemed impossible has become transformative. I, a single working mum, do without single-use plastic as a sustainable lifestyle. I enjoy the weekly shop I used to hate. I visit local traders who remember me. I have swapped the lonely drudge of the supermarket aisle for the pleasure of swapping recipes with friendly people in short queues. I shop faster, being served in small shops where the choice is less overwhelming. I enjoy cooking from scratch, which is tastier, healthier and less wasteful. I create a quarter of the rubbish that I used to, most of which can be recycled. Through my example, conversations and blog I am changing the habits of those I meet. This is the grass roots where the revolution begins.

This article was kindly contributed by Julie Shaw who also writes a blog on the subject. Find her on Facebook @thegreatfreeplasticfoodexperiment or on Twitter @Gr8PlasticFree


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