Shopping for a Single-use Plastic Free Week

This post was created in partnership with BRITA. Even the guy working on the fruit and veg stall I visited this week on the North End Road in Fulham knew (from his Instagram feed) the statistic that eight million tons of plastic waste enters the ocean each year, and that around seventy percent of rubbish currently in the sea is plastic. The stats on how much plastic fish (that we later eat!) digest just does not bare thinking about. I’ve been wanting to challenge myself to go single-use plastic free for a week for a while now (I say single use, as I’m one of those people who tries to re-use tubs and containers as much as possible!), so when the guys behind my parents’ fridge door water filter, BRITA got in touch to ask me to swap for good and cut down on my single-use plastic consumption, I set aside last week to go single-use plastic free (at least in the kitchen!) and this week, all of my blog posts will be dedicated to how I got on with the challenge.
Shopping for a Single-use Plastic Free Week #plasticfree
When I’m not producing recipes to photograph, which last week I was not, I usually try to test as may recipes as possible in the week. Sometimes these are tweaks of things I’m working on, sometimes these are my attempts to create something off a recipe title I’ve come up with, and a lot of the time I’m cooking recipes from other peoples books and blogs that peak my interest, either because there is a technique or flavour pairing in there I might want to use later. Last week, coming up with my shopping list in advance was very, very difficult, even though I was out for dinner once, and at my parents house another day, cutting the amount of weeknight meals I had to come up with to three. 

Going through recipes I needed to test or wanted to try, so many of them seemed to generate plastic. However, I managed to settle on three recipes, leaving just a lunchtime spare (which I do a lot to finish up odds and ends in the fridge, cutting down on food waste) and Monday nights supper, which I could come up with while I was shopping: a test for an easy courgette soup recipe I have coming up, a one-pan farro and tomato number from Smitten Kitchen Everyday, and a one pan merguez and crispy chickpea number with spices and summer veggies that I’ll be sharing later this week, which I came up with because I know my local butcher does fantastic merguez, and I always buy chickpeas in either cans or jars. Factoring in the need to top up on yogurt and berries to build my breakfast bowls, this is what my shopping list last week looked like (I have very well stocked cupboards!):

  1. Natural Yogurt (preferably organic)
  2. Milk (preferably semi-skimmed)
  3. Soft Fruit or Berries (to top my yogurt bowls)
  4. 210g Farro
  5. 255g Cherry Tomatoes
  6. Summer Veggies
  7. Fresh Basil
  8. 2 x Courgettes
  9. Can of Chickpeas
  10. 4 x Merguez Sausages 
  11. Meat or Fish for Dinner
  12. Eggs
Brita Fill and Go Bottle

As I said, I’m really excited to be partnering with BRITA on this campaign. My parents have always had BRITA filters at home (they really do make tap water taste better, especially in London where it is so treated with chemicals!) and before I got my own place where I now drink out of actual glasses (!) their fill&go active bottles have been my go to for drinking filtered water in shared accommodation and at the office. I’ve been taking mine shopping since with weather started heating up so that I stay hydrated as I walk everywhere in the sun. You can order your own here!

BRITA have been campaigning to reduce the amount of single-use plastic discarded with their #SwapForGood campaign since 2017. Plastic bottles (I’m a real culprit with this, especially with sparkling water – but more on this in Wednesdays post!) make up for 67% of household plastic recycling, and 5.5 million bottles go into regular rubbish. Using re-useable bottles and BRITA filters is an easy fix.

North End Road Market, Fulham #market #fulham #london #produce #cherries
Shopping with Brita's Fill & Go Bottle

The Challenge

First, because I knew that practically all of the fresh produce I usually pick up in Waitrose is wrapped in plastic, I headed to North End Road to the daily vegetable market there and for all of the independent, family run newsagents that usually have fresh fruit and vegetables – unwrapped – spilling out into the street. I got a pound of new season English cherries for £3 to eat with my breakfast yogurt, some beautifully bright cherry tomatoes for my farro bowl, courgettes for my soup test and some mini pointed red peppers to use in my tray bake. I knew all of the fresh herbs in the supermarket either came in plastic bags or in pots wrapped with plastic, and while the market does sell big bunches of herbs, basil is not well suited to this treatment so was not available. I made the split second decision to substitute with a giant bunch of fresh mint that smelt amazing for 69p, I think it should taste okay! A long term solution would be to grow my own.

Whole Foods, Fulham #wholefoods
Seeds and Grains Bulk Buy at Whole Foods, Fulham #wholefoods #bulkbuy #seeds #grains

After a quick trip into Waitrose for the can of chickpeas and a box of eggs, I headed to Whole Foods. I know they’re excellent at recycling and using recycled plastics, but I think for the first time I noticed just how much single-use plastic things in a whole foods store were wrapped in! I need parmesan for the farro dish and while it was not only my list as I have a whole hunk in the fridge, I thought I’d see if it was possible to buy it without plastic wrapping; it was not. However, when I lived in Borough, I used to buy my cheese at Neal’s Yard Dairy. While my pre-portioned, cheese paper-wrapped hunks were also wrapped in plastic wrap, I’m sure they’d cut me a fresh piece, without plastic if I asked. I was, however, able to buy a jar of River Cottage’s organic yogurt (they’re big on sustainably too, and I’ve been wanted to try it for ages) in the fridge section. On the downside, Whole Foods was my one hope for milk in a carton or glass bottle that was not some sort of dairy substitute. It was the one item on my list I failed to buy.

Something I was excited about trying in Whole Foods which was totally new to me was the bulk buy section for seeds and grains, where you can measure out your own selection into paper bags. While it took me a moment to figure out, and it is hard to get an accurate measure with the scales provided being so far from the dispensers (and with no way to return grains to the top ones if you get too much!) I think this is a great way to cut down on the plastic bags things like this usually come in. However, I had to get short grain brown Italian rice instead of farro, as they did not have any (Waitrose sell farro, in a plastic bag!)

Parson's Nose, Parsons Green #butcher #sausages #parsonsgreen #london

Finally, to the butchers for some meat. I know I could have gone to the meat counter in any of the local supermarkets, or in Whole Foods, but I don’t go there enough and we should all be making an effort to support small independents. I picked out some so much better than supermarket quality sausages (we usually buy them as a treat!) and some Greek-marinated chicken fillets I thought would make a good protein in rice bowls for dinner.

What I Learnt

So, what did I learn from carrying out an entirely single-use plastic free food shop? First: shopping this way is a luxury most people won’t be able to manage, and this is a problem for the environment. First, it doubled the amount of time I usually spend going to Waitrose, as I went to the market, Whole Foods, Waitrose and the butchers. I write about food for a living so taking a load of time to source ingredients is normal for me, but most people have to fit their food shop into their precious evenings and weekends.

Secondly, I live in London. In Fulham, I have so many different places to shop within walking distance: a massive Waitrose, Whole Foods, a Tesco Local, a big Sainsbury’s and two local ones, a big and a small Co-op, North End Road Market, a fishmonger, Gail’s Bakery and one of London’s best loved butchers, Parson’s Nose. In order to do my single-use plastic free shop I hit up quite a few of these! Had I been back in Kent, this would have required quite a lot of driving about, and I don’t want to think about what impact that would have had on the environment!

Thirdly, plastic does serve a purpose. With everything together in my big French panier, with only paper bags to protect my cherry tomatoes and cherries, there was a fair bit of mushing and ruined produce on the way home where they were knocking with other things in the bag like my tin of chickpeas and jar of yogurt. Plastic is protective!

Moving onto the positives. Do you know that the biggest surprise to me was? A perusal of the Waitrose website tells me that my shop (sans milk) would have cost me £25.86. It actually cost me £24.43, and by sourcing my fresh ingredients from markets I managed to get a much better quality of meat than usual. I saved money. Okay, so in the long term I’d be adding a few more pennies on because by just buying the amount of rice I wanted, for example, I won’t be getting the financial benefit of a bulk buy (and my yogurt was way more expensive than usual, and I got half the size I usually get), and if I ate more meat things would quickly add up, but it is something to keep in mind. Shopping consciously, trying to cut down on your single-use plastic consumption need not cost you more money. While I need ingreidents for work so I can’t afford to limit myself, I will be making the effort going forward to cut down on my single-use plastic consumption by buying items where things like bulk buying don’t factor into the price.

On another note, if I’d picked up the fruit for my breakfast yogurt bowls at the supermarket, I would have just got what was on special offer. By hitting the market, I had a chance to look over all the produce, and shop more seasonally; I’m not as good at that as I should be. It’s cherry season, and that should be celebrated!

Finally, I was pleased how much people wanted to talk about what I was doing, and give me extra paper bags to pack the items from shops who only carried plastic. I discovered quickly that handing out plastic is the default; I had to be quick to ask for there to be no plastic before they packed my items. See above my note about protecting your items; it is a good idea to bring a big market bag and re-useable, light plastic containers to protect soft fruits and veggies in transit.

I spent some time storing up some Instagram Stories from my single-use plastic free shopping adventures last week so I’ll be putting those up today, so be sure to check them out! Also, be sure to check back on Wednesday where I’ll be sharing how I fared during the week with the challenge and sharing some single-use plastic free meal ideas, and on Friday for my single-use plastic free recipe for One Pan Merguez with Red Peppers & Crispy Chickpeas. Oh, and don’t forget to order your own fill&go bottle to try and cut down on the amount of single-use plastic bottles you buy when you’re out and about!

This is a sponsored post. To read my policy on sponsored posts, please click here.

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