Deli counter in the grocery shop

Practising a Plastic-Free Lunch

As part of the #30DaysWild campaign by the Wildlife Trusts, we held a plastic-free lunch, where members of the team were encouraged to prepare and bring in lunches with as little disposable plastic as possible. Laura was inspired to write a piece about the experience:

We had some good conversations at Ullenwood today about plastic-free foods. Lawrence had make an excellent effort to wrap his sandwiches in paper and an elastic band rather than plastic, and Jennie generously made a pasta salad to share – but realised that every single ingredient, from the pasta to the tomatoes to even the basil had originally come wrapped in plastic – it’s so hard to avoid it!

We had a good conversation about just how much plastic is in the supermarkets, and how difficult it is to buy food without it. We talked about some options like buying cheese and meat from delis and butchers, taking your own containers where possible, but of course that prices out the majority of people. Even non-packaged vegetables are hard to come by, particularly in the most affordable supermarkets – I was in Aldi a couple of weeks ago, and there was no loose veg at all (the aubergines were individually wrapped!). We wondered why supermarkets had stopped providing paper bags for loose veg, and thought about our experiences abroad, where supermarkets are much more likely to sell loose produce. We thought about alternative packaging that could be used, like waxed paper for cheese, or even just different types of plastic which are more easily recyclable.

I did a supermarket shopping trip last night to see what I could come up with that wasn’t wrapped in plastic. I had had a thought that I could do a roasted veg salad – which normally I would have with some feta cheese and maybe some nice bread – so I thought I’d see if I could cobble something like that together without buying any plastic.

I looked down the cheese aisles, and, as expected, everything was plastic wrapped:

Cheese aisle on the grocery shop

I even checked the deli counter, and everything was “plasticked” – and, when you buy from there, handed to you wrapped in more plastic:

Deli counter in the grocery shop

So no feta for me!

On to the veg: I knew I could find loose veg in Sainsbury’s, and took my own bag so that I wouldn’t be using the plastic bags available in the dispensers – so I was feeling pretty confident about this bit.

It was a bit trickier than I’d anticipated, though – lots of the varieties weren’t available loose, and lots of the loose baskets were empty or filled with pretty bedraggled food:

Eggplants in the grocery shop

I also couldn’t have any salad, because absolutely all of it was bagged. Even the ‘living’ salad pots, which are lettuce leaves growing in pots, are wrapped in an additional layer of plastic. So that idea had to go. I did, however, pick up some aubergines, white onions, carrots, courgettes, broccoli, and even a couple of tomatoes – not too bad!

Not too sure what I was going to make yet, but I figured I could go and find some bread to have with whatever-it-would-be (bread is a weak spot for me…), so headed to the bakery section – but here too, even the more expensive speciality bread was wrapped in plastic, or, at best, a paper bag with a plastic window.  I wavered for a bit, but stuck to my guns and reluctantly walked away…

Breads in plastic packages in the grocery shop

I checked out pasta, rice, couscous – all bagged in plastic, all no good. So, back home with my bag of veg, I was trying to figure out what to do for carbs and flavour and an actual meal base, when I remembered the TIN CANS in my cupboard: hurrah! So, a can of chopped tomatoes, some chick peas, and a bunch of spices later, I made a giant aubergine curry thing (from Jack Monroe’s excellent book).

So I just about got there – but goodness, it’s not easy! This is also not a quick recipe to make – it’s good for bulk cooking, but for when I’m home at 9:30pm and shattered, it’s a lot easier to grab something convenient like bagged salad, pasta, or a ready meal – all of which involve plastic!

Over our lunch conversation we concluded that the only real way to create long-lasting change is to pressure the main supermarkets to get rid of or swap out some of the really unnecessary plastic packaging. Individuals changing their own behaviour will help, but not everyone is able to shop at delis and markets. Ultimately it’s almost impossible to function without plastic unless the supermarkets change their practices – as a case in point, the loo roll I picked up yesterday was, while recycled, still completely wrapped in plastic!

Over our plastic-free lunch, the team shared lots of creative and innovative ideas about how we might be able to reduce our plastic use in our personal lives. We shared knowledge about local veg stalls that use less plastic than the supermarkets and can even offer better prices. Someone suggested reusing the plastic bags used to wrap bread as sandwich bags, and pointed out that these can be rinsed and re-used many times. Kat explained that her mum is making her own wax wraps, which aren’t too complicated to make and are a fantastic reusable alternative to cling film. Molly also suggested the idea of staff getting together to bulk-buy some products, which can cut costs and also cut down on excess packaging. She also shared this great website with more great ideas:

We’re looking forward to sharing more plastic-free meals together as a team soon.

Happy #30DaysWild to you all!