I got a LOT of funny looks this week…

So, if you have seen any of my recent posts on Facebook, you’ll know that I have attempted a challenge at Zero Waste Week 2014 this week.  To make it clear from the start, my goal was never to have NO WASTE AT ALL, as lovely as that would be.  My pledge was, ‘I will not buy any food products that have packaging that cannot be recycled or reused.’

I had a lucky find a week or two before the challenge started and discovered that I can actually recycle ‘soft’ plastic bags at my local Coles supermarket.

Look out for this bin at your supermarket.  Coles recycle ‘soft’ plastics
and turn it into outdoor furniture for schools and pre-schools!

However, as my ultimate goal was more along the lines of reducing my impact on the planet, I felt that that was a cheap option that allowed my usual consumption levels to continue.  Even though recycling is good, NOT CONSUMING in the first place is better, considering that quite an amount of energy is still required for recycling.  So I tried hard to say ‘NO!’ to plastic bags and packaging altogether.  I actually found this a very difficult task.

Take for example cheese!  It is virtually impossible to buy any sort of cheese without a soft (or hard) plastic coating on it.  My only option was to take my own container and have a chunk cut off a bigger chunk that was covered in a bigger plastic coating. My only consolation in this was that they had at least not created another smaller package for me which is what would’ve happened if I had bought it off the shelf.  I achieved this at my local supermarket simply because the staff were amazingly obliging and helpful.  I found that it helped if you explained why you wanted the cheese in your own container rather than just simply asking for it.  They were baffled otherwise.

Note to self: get a bigger container to fit the cheese!

I failed in that department when at a different supermarket where I asked for some ham in my own container without explaining why.  First of all, the staff member didn’t know how to make the machine take off the weight of my container and then she followed up by putting the price sticker on a plastic bag and instructed me to, ‘Just give this to the cashier!’  That’s when I realised my error in not explaining that the actual purpose in doing it was to avoid the plastic bag.  After backtracking and explaining, she was unable to peel the sticker off the bag, so she printed me a new sticker for my container and more than likely just threw the plastic bag in the bin because it had an unremovable sticker which would not be suitable for anyone else.  Argh!! Lesson learned, always explain yourself!

I have had a LOT of funny looks but also a LOT of very interesting conversations with people along the way.  Like the poor young guy in the fruit shop who watched me intently filling up my reusable net bag with potatoes.  He finally asked, ‘Where did you get that bag?’  You should’ve seen the surprise on his face when I said, ‘Right here! You put all your specials in them, so when I buy a bag of something, I keep the bag and reuse it.’  (They actually weigh less than a normal plastic bag!)  I figure most people just throw them out and he agreed saying that he also threw them out and had never thought to reuse them.  Hopefully from now on, he will!

My net bag of potatoes ready to go into my potato bag!

And the lady at the checkout at the same fruit shop who now says, ‘I remember you!  You’re one unique customer!’ when I start putting all the net bags up on the conveyor.  She was also surprised that the net bags were simply ones I had kept from their store.  They come free with the food and they’re perfect, why wouldn’t I use them?

I have to admit to using proper white reusable vege bags for small things like grapes, snow peas, beans or cherries, but the net bags work for all the big things that won’t fall through the holes.  The irony though in buying a few more this week to make sure I could complete the task hit me in a big way.  Note the slogan, ‘Kick the plastic bag habit!’.  How frustrating that they couldn’t even do that themselves and packaged their bags in a plastic wrapper!  If the people who are promoting this stuff can’t come up with a better packaging option, then what hope do the rest of us have?  Seriously!

Reusable plastic bags packaged in a plastic bag….argh!
Meat was another difficult task and I had to forgo a few items because they were already packaged, but that just meant I had to be more resourceful and use what I had at home, or slightly change the dish I was cooking.  One very helpful organic butcher in Oxley (unfortunately a little too far a drive to make it a regular) offered to keep my containers until the next morning when his fresh delivery came in so he could pack my meat without the plastic and styrofoam.  Alas, it was worth it!  I felt very proud at my first plastic bag and styrofoam-free trip to the butcher…and the meat was gorgeous organic fare to boot!

I did however have an easy success with bread this week.  I bought one loaf in a paper bag which I have already reused and will be reused again and again until it falls apart, at which point it will either be recycled or placed in the compost.  I also baked one loaf myself in my bread maker and bought two in my own plastic container.  Surprisingly the baker didn’t even bat an eyelid, simply sliced the bread and plonked it into my appropriately shaped container, no problem!  Phew!

My conclusion is that PREPARATION is the key to a waste free life.  I now have my green bags, my net and vege bags as well as my containers ready to go to the store and if I’m caught without, there aren’t really too many options to choose from.

Stay tuned to find out how much waste we actually created this week that will end up in our trash…

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