It is Saturday morning and the sunshine gently wakes you from your sleep. You get your slippers on and head into the kitchen, eyes half closed, yawning and brew yourself a large mug of good old English breakfast tea. You pop a slice of bread in the toaster and open the fridge for some avocado and fresh tomatoes but find nothing. It’s empty apart from a lonely lemon rolling about in the fruit drawer. No problem you think, let’s head to the supermarket down the road and get some nibbles for today. Now, depending on your location, you might have more or less options and alternatives for buying package-free, loose, bulk, organic or local food and other utensils. Here are a few general tips from someone how has lived in two different time zones and always found a way to make low waste living work.
Take your time
Let’s take a step back before getting our bags and jars ready. Figuring out where to buy and what to buy is time-consuming. You might have to pop to different stores in order to tick off your shopping list. Perhaps you have to say goodbye to products you are used to or things you have always added to your basket. Wherever I lived, I would always start off by looking for farmer’s markets, pick your own farms and refill stores online. Saving results to a map will help you find a route that works best for you and allows you to plan ahead. For instance, we have a refill store a thirty minute drive away with bulk pasta, rice, grains, nuts, cereals as well as cleaning products and a local farm close by with fresh and loose frozen products such as spinach and blueberries. We drive to the refill store first and head to the farm on our way back to minimise the defrosting time.
Some products are not available for us at all. Natural cleaning brushes, solid dishwasher soap and toilet paper for instance. If I feel like I’m running short on any of these products, I have to place my online order about a week in advance for it to arrive in time. If you do not have the privilege to live in an area with low waste shops, have a look at plastic-free online stores. There are plenty of those in the UK (find a selection here).
A pinch of organisation
Once you know where to buy, you need to plan on how to buy. Create a weekly meal plan to help you save money and waste less food. Being aware of the ingredients you already have stored in cupboards and drawers and the amount of ingredients you need for your recipes is essential. Based on your meal plan you can write a shopping list. Knowing exactly what to buy rather than strolling through the aisles and looking for cooking inspiration is important in order to prepare the right amount of reusable bags, jars and lunch boxes. Over time we have collected enough glass jars to cover all the dry food we usually need. They do not only look pretty but simplify the entire process. One look into my kitchen tells me exactly how much pasta we have left and how many dates we need to purchase. Anyhow, I usually pack more than needed regardless of how perfectly I have planned the trip.
At the shops
To refill your bags and jars simply follow these steps
- Weigh empty container
- Refill container
- Weigh filled container
- Pay for product
In a typical refill store you will find pasta, spaghetti, rice, almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, cranberries, oats, popping corn, dates, lentils, couscous, bulgur, herbs and spices, loose tea, seeds, beans, chickpeas, cocoa powder, chocolate chips, olive oil, raisins, laundry detergent, all-purpose cleaner, shampoo, conditioner, hand soap and many more products that allow you to live more consciously without missing out. If you travel via public transport, cycle or walk, focus on reusable cotton bags only and refill your heavy storage containers back home.
In general glass and alumiuim always rules over plastic, no matter whether recycable or biodegrable. Plastic can only be recycled ever so often until it breaks down and cannot be reused further, if recycled at all. Glass and alumium on the other hand enjoy an endless cycle of recycling and can be remoulded and reused indefinitely.
Old but gold
Containers and bags can be expensive at times yet the whole purpose is to simplify. Old pickle and jam jars make excellent containers, old pillow cases turn into handy bread bags and Chinese takeaway boxes are brilliant for freezing leftovers. Use what you have or browse secondhand and charity shops for things you need but don’t have to save money and resources.
Once you are back home and have filled your fridge, sit back, take a deep breath and enjoy that feeling of happiness that naturally derives from having mastered the art of shopping greener.