This year I took part in the Plastic Free Lent campaign by doing a plastic-free grocery shop. It turned out to be quite a challenge! The majority of supermarkets pack whatever they can in plastic, with only a few items available plastic-free.
Fruit and vegetables
Supermarkets offer very little choice in fruit and vegetables sold with no packaging. I did find several local green grocers with almost all their produce available for sale plastic-free. I also went to my local farmers market as there are a few stalls with fruit and vegetables.
Bread and cereals
Even supermarkets with their own bakery don’t always put bread in paper bags, so my solution was to either shop in bakeries or make my own bread. I stopped buying cereal in supermarkets a long time ago due to the sugar content; I have been making my own granola. However, this turned out to be problematic as I could not find nuts, seeds and dried fruit in plastic-free packaging anywhere. I looked in many shops, supermarkets and local health stores – as well as online.
I had to remove a few ready-made items from my weekly list. Frozen vegetarian products such as sausages and burgers come in cardboard boxes – so this was not a problem at all. It was more difficult to find products like hummus or falafels. I ended up making my own hummus.
It seems to be impossible to purchase any dairy products in completely plastic-free packaging, even milk in cartons have plastic parts such as the screw cap. I was not able to buy yogurt or cheese without plastic packaging.
Food cupboard items
Rice, pasta, and dried pulses are all packed in plastic. There are a couple of brands of pasta that use cardboard boxes – however they still have plastic ‘screens’. I was not able to buy any of these products completely plastic-free. Tinned products are plastic-free. There are some brands of tinned tomatoes that use cardboard, but supermarket own brands use plastic.
It was a similar story with snacks. Crisps, biscuits, chocolate and other products are mostly packed in plastic. Even natural brands that offer healthier options are not investing in other materials. Tea and coffee surprisingly was not too problematic. There are quite a few brands selling instant coffee in jars and ground coffee in aluminium packaging. There are some tea brands that wrap the box in plastic, which I don’t think is necessary. I have also found an independent trader at my local market who sells loose tea and coffee beans by weight.
Household cleaning products and cosmetics
It is very difficult to purchase cleaning products which are not in plastic bottles. One option is to buy eco-friendly detergents in bulk five litre bottles. They last for a long time and overall produce much less plastic waste. Laundry detergent can be swapped for powder, while shower gel and shampoos can be swapped for soap and shampoo bars.
Trying to shop plastic-free was a challenge. I was not able to do one big shop online, as I usually do. I ended up shopping around much more and as happy as I was supporting local businesses, I found it frustrating to spend so much time worrying about packaging. Moreover, many of the products that I replaced my usual ones with were more expensive.
Overall, I think businesses put the onus on the consumer to care about plastic packaging. What I would like to see is more supermarkets and businesses making changes to tackle the amount of plastic they use.