23: Don’t bag it – grow it!

food salad healthy red

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This one is inspired by my good friend, Andrea, who has just grown her first ever tomatoes!

Some of us are lucky enough to live near a street market, farmer’s market or ‘proper’ greengrocer that still sell our 5-a-day by weight and without the plastic. Of course, by now you’ll be taking your own reusable bags when you go shopping, so buying fruit and veg loose makes it easy to go plastic free.

BUT we don’t all live close to a fresh produce vendor like the ones described above, so instead of buying the cellophane-wrapped stuff from the supermarket, why not grow your own? I’m not suggesting that we all go out and buy an acre of land – some of us don’t even have gardens – but there’s lots of ways to start growing your own food. Even if you just grow one or two items, it’s a good start, and think of all that packaging that you’re not putting into landfill.

Tomatoes are very easy to grow in containers – I know because I’m useless at gardening and have still managed to grow them successfully lots of times. You can even grow them on windowsills if you don’t have outdoor space. Herbs too grow perfectly in containers, as do lettuces, and these are almost always sold in plastic packaging.  Start with one thing that you know you’ll eat and that will give you the confidence to try more. Most fruit and veg can be frozen too if you have a surplus.

To go completely plastic-free, buy seeds rather than young plants in plastic pots, but if you do have to buy young plants, keep the pots to grow more things from seed next year.

So far, with very little prior knowledge, I’ve managed to grow (and subsequently eat!) tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, courgettes, blueberries, strawberries and even sweetcorn in containers on patios and roof terraces along with all kinds of herbs like mint, rosemary, thyme, oregano…and all of them taste so much better than they do from the supermarket. A big bonus is that I know exactly what’s gone into the soil – and no pesticides! Of course, that’s perfect for vegans too.

I’m no gardening expert so I hesitate to give you lots of growing tips, but get yourself a beginner’s guide to growing fruit and veg or just look for advice online. There’s lots of it.

Have a go. Remove one plastic-clad item from your regular shopping list this year. Next year it might be two or three. And here’s an idea: get together with a couple of friends and all grow different things that you can swap with each other. You can have one of my peppers for a handful of tomatoes, Andrea!

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19: Softly, softly, plastic-free!

white textile

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Today the sun is shining, there’s a gentle breeze in the air, and it’s a perfect day to get some washing out on the line (I know – I should really get out more!).

I recently swapped my laundry liquid for washing powder in a cardboard box (a little less plastic), but nowhere on my local supermarket shelves could I find fabric softener that wasn’t in a plastic bottle. I live in a very hard water area, and if I don’t use some kind of softening agent in the washing machine, we end up looking like cardboard cut-outs in our clothes.

According to the Plastic Free July website, you can use white vinegar instead of fabric softener in the washing machine. Really?…surely not. Unless you want to smell like you work in a fish and chip shop. Well, I ran out of fabric softener yesterday and duly put the plastic bottle in the recycling bin. What have I got to lose? And there’s all those sheets to wash.

I can now report that I have just done my first wash with white vinegar in that little compartment where the fabric softener liquid usually goes. You only need a capful…..and it works! Not only do my sheets smell fresh (not a whiff of chips about them!) but the white vinegar is descaling my washing machine at the same time. It goes without saying that you will buy white vinegar in glass bottles and not plastic ones. Most supermarkets stock it as well as some hardware stores.

As a bonus, white vinegar is not usually tested on animals (unlike a lot of fabric conditioners), perfectly fine for vegans and vegetarians to use, and is great for people with sensitive skin. AND it’s a whole lot cheaper than fabric softener to boot….although don’t put your boots in the washing machne. I learnt my lesson.

17: Don’t Cling to the Film!

Another simple change today: Ditch the cling film/plastic wrap/whatever it’s called where you live. How strange we humans are to think that wrapping food in single-use plastic is the best way to keep food fresh or clean or safe. Clearly it isn’t. Here are a few ways to replace it:

  1. Use tin foil instead. It’s only a little more expensive but you can re-use it, and it doesn’t stick together when you try to pull it out of its box, rendering it completely useless! Tin foil is also stronger and keeps food just as fresh. It’s also easy to recycle.
  2. Use paper instead. Obviously not so useful if you’re storing food in the fridge, but perfect for sandwiches or picnic food because you can re-use the paper for wiping your hands/face/clothing if you’re a messy eater!
  3. Invest in a few re-usable containers. Try to buy ones made of recycled plastic, if you can. For the price of 2 or 3 boxes of cling film, you can buy a couple of containers that will last for years if you look after them. Most can be put in the freezer too.
  4. Invest in a couple of glass containers or dishes if your leftovers are going in the fridge…or give the leftovers to the cat or dog to save on pet food! (obviously only things that your pet can actually eat safely!)
  5. If you’ve bought cling film to wrap your torso in (a la ‘The Full Monty’) in order to lose weight, don’t bother. It doesn’t work. Go to the gym instead!
  6. If you’ve just had a tattoo and the artist tries to wrap your anchor/naked lady/skull inky artwork in the plastic stuff, ask them what the hell they used before cling film and ask them to do that instead!

Really, I can’t thing of a good reason to use cling film over any of the suggestions above. So, it’s simple. Stop clinging to the film and strike it from your shopping list today!

foil cooked on metal grill

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14: Don’t squeeze it – pour it!

Another simple shopping switch today. Simply swap those ‘handy’ squeezy bottles of ketchup, mayonnaise, HP sauce (for you Brits) for glass bottles instead! Glass is far easier to recycle than plastic and, if you’re handy at making things like jam, you can re-use the mayonnaise jars. (If you’re not handy at making those things – I’m not – find a friend who is and they’ll thank you for it!)

In actual fact, I’m not sure what the real benefits of squeezing are compared to pouring. Sure, it means you don’t have to slap that ketchup bottle on the bottom to get those first, thick drops out, but after that – why is it better? It’s even more difficult to get the last bits out of the bottom of the squeezy bottle without diluting with vinegar, at least in my experience.

And as for mayonnaise, was I really just buying the plastic bottle version just so that I didn’t have to wash up a knife or a spoon to get it out with? I guess I was. And that’s just silly!

I’ve checked with my local supermarket, and when I compared how much the products cost per 100g, on average it was actually cheaper to buy mayonnaise in glass bottles and only a couple of pence more expensive to buy the ketchup in bottles. Check out the sauce of your choice. If it’s really only a penny or two to swap to glass, is it really going to affect your purse that much? And if you find out it’s cheaper, then it’s a no-brainer, isn’t it?

food vegetables red tomatoes

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9: Let’s air that dirty washing…

This one is really short and simple, and will probably save you money at the same time.

In my continuing hunt for the unnecessary plastic items in my house, I realised that I had been buying laundry liquid in plastic bottles. I can’t remember when I switched from washing powder, but it was ages ago; no doubt because I had been convinced that it was somehow more practical or did the job better. Neither of those things are really true, especially with modern powders that you can even use at low temperatures, so the ads had me fooled. Those naughty tykes in the advertising industry are very clever!

Firstly, my washing is no cleaner using liquid than it is when I use powder. (I checked)
Secondly, powder is far more practical because I can never get that last little bit out of the plastic bottle but I can scoop every last bit of powder out of the box, so it lasts longer.
Thirdly, powder usually comes in a cardboard box, which I can then recycle easily.
Fourthly, washing powder (especially if it’s a supermarket own-brand) is much, much cheaper than laundry liquid so I actually save money.
Fifthly……I can’t actually think of another reason. I just wanted to type ‘fifthly’ because I’d never done it before.

So, I switched back to washing powder a few months ago, and my laundry is doing just fine. Next I need to find fabric conditioner that doesn’t come in plastic bottles. I shall post  on that after some more research.

Oh, and while we’re at it, don’t forget to buy wooden pegs instead of plastic ones the next time you need some. They last longer too!