Tips for zero waste food shopping.

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A recent disposable cup-free success!
  1. Keep a canvas/mesh bag on you for spontaneous shop visits. I’ve pretty much got my normal weekly food shop down without creating rubbish, but whenever I’m caught out it’s when I’m travelling or out and I remember I need something because I have no option but to take a plastic bag in the shop. You’re best off with one fabric bag on you for ’emergencies’ ūüôā
  2. Cloth for dry goods, mesh for produce. I made my own small drawstring bags to store food in when I go bulk shopping, but you don’t have to search hard online to buy them if you’re not craftily inclined. I use cloth (calico) bags for grains, nuts etc. because these products can be crumbly. Using mesh bags for produce is often helpful in markets and supermarkets however, because the checkout person needs to know what and how many items you have.
  3. If it looks impossible, ask anyway. This one is generally more effective the smaller the business (some large companies have annoying policies on stuff), but still. There may be plastic/paper bags laid out for you to use, but it wouldn’t hurt for you to ask ‘is it alright if I use my own bags?’ or ‘would you mind putting that in my own container please?’ I worked myself up to ask someone to put my smoothie in my own bottle a few weeks back (pictured above), and she was just like ‘yeah no problem!’ The worst that’ll happen is they’ll say no, so you have nothing to lose.
  4. Package-free first, recyclable second, and try to avoid plastic. This one’s pretty self-explanatory, but prioritise buying package-free items first, then settle for recyclable packaging (non-plastic) next. Cardboard and glass are widely recycled, but even if your council technically collects your plastic, most of it won’t be recycled and the rest will be down-cycled (turned into a less valuable type of plastic which’ll then go to landfill after use). Jars are great for repurposing too, so there’s that.
  5. Don’t beat yourself up. It’s taken me over a year to get to this point, and I still have to throw stuff in the bin more than I’d like. But it’s about being better than you were last month, last week, even yesterday. Small changes are far likelier to stick than doing it in one fell swoop (I’m reminding myself here, as much as telling you!)

A really useful app for finding package-free products is the Bulk app (now a website) created by B√©a Johnson of Zero Waste Home. You type in the area you want to search, then you have the option to pick the types of products you’re looking for (optional), and it shows you the locations on a map! I would encourage you to have a look if there’s anywhere near you.

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1 year on: LUSH shampoo bar

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I have been a little in love with LUSH¬†products for a few years now. When my liquid shampoo from them ran out in September last year, my thoughts turned straight to solid shampoo bars. I’d tried a combined shampoo and conditioner bar previously, and due to a mixture of my laziness and the conditioner in the bar, it turned into a sloppy gloop.

My experience this time around has been quite the opposite. I picked the ‘Jason and the Argon Oil’ bar- I’m going to be honest- just for the name, (I’m a sucker for a pun) but then I smelled it and I knew I definitely needed it in my life! I keep it in an aluminium tin, and rub it against my wet hand in the shower to build up a lather which I then massage into my scalp. Some people like to rub the bar directly onto their heads, but I prefer to use my hands so I can work it through my roots with my fingers.

Price:

I got mine in France, but I just checked the LUSH website and it sells for £6 in the UK. This is maybe double the price of conventional bottled shampoo in the supermarkets but surprise surprise, it lasts waaayyy longer!

Durability:

A year on from the purchase date, my bar is still 3/4 its original size. I always leave it out to dry after I shower before closing the tin and putting it away which helps it to last.

Verdict:

This bar smells great, lathers up well and does the job of leaving my hair clean. It is made from vegan-friendly, mostly natural ingredients which is good enough for me at the minute. I would purchase this bar again, but I am interested in forgoing shampoo altogether in the future, so we’ll see what happens when this runs out.

Zero waste in Kingsbridge and Totnes

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This is Dartmouth, but still ūüėõ (Credit to my sister, Naomi. Thanks!)

I got back from a family holiday to Kingsbridge in Devon last week. We stayed in some friends’ place which I’ve been to several summers in a row, but this time I have some things to say with my zero waste lenses to look from! Here are a few of my observations…

Charity shops here are on another level of awesome!¬†Kingsbridge is a small village with a small high street. And yet there were at least 6 charity shops to choose from. And Totnes (where we made a visit on one of the days of our trip) had an even longer high street choc-full of charity shops- like 15+! It’s my new favourite street on the planet. Not only was there frequency, but in general the quality and range of items that were stocked were extraordinary. I saw large sections of baby furniture and clothing, cookware and toys (and all the normal stuff) at amazing prices and in unbelievable condition. In this neck of the woods, charity shops can be relied upon to find consistent quality and range, unlike my usual London scavenges¬†which often end in disappointment, or having to really rummage for a gem amongst the rubbish. Although I didn’t buy anything I did marvel at all the opportunities. It seems that buying from and donating to charity shops is much more of a common practice.

KINGSBRIDGE

Nicholson’s Emporium– this little shop in the middle of Fore St. (the high street) specialises in eco products among its homeware and gifts. I stepped into the back room to find Ecover products in large kegs that you could refill, as well as glass jars of spices behind the counter for bulk buying.

TOTNES

Green FibresРAt the top of Fore St. in Totnes (confusingly their high streets are named the same!) is this little shop that sells organic socks and underwear as well as a heap of staples for zero waste living. I personally picked up an aluminium tin to keep soap in, an organic cotton grocery bag, and two replacement heads for my Redecker washing up brush (I was about to give up hope of finding these in person and turn to the internet), but they had handkerchiefs, natural soaps, wooden toothbrushes and all sorts too!

If you’re ever in the area, check these out. Apologies for not taking pictures of these places, I’m terrible at remembering these things!

Teeth.

 

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Convention dental care is a disposable nightmare with plastic everywhere you look. What makes it even worse is that toothbrushes, toothpaste and floss need to be regularly replaced meaning tonnes of landfill. I used to think there was no way around this- we have to brush our teeth after all- but I have developed a pretty near zero waste routine that works for me and I thought I would share.

Firstly, there are many different approaches, enough to suit everyone’s needs and preferences. Alongside my solutions¬†I will list sources directing you to other alternatives¬†for dental hygeine that I don’t personally use, but that you might find helpful nonetheless. I know it’s a personal thing.

Toothbrush:

This bit is an easy swap-out. Instead of buying plastic toothbrushes, get your hands on a bamboo toothbrush. I started off with this one from the Environmental Toothbrush Co. which was really soft and was thick and sturdy and ergonomic to hold. It was nice for a first dabble into wooden toothbrushes but the bristles were non-biodegradable, so I switched to¬†Save Some Green. This toothbrush really is 100% biodegradable, and although it isn’t as luxurious, it uses less wood and does the job. I buy them online from their website in a pack of 12 which lasts around 3 years! I haven’t had to stick any of my past brushes in the compost yet because I save them to use for cleaning.

Toothpaste:

I’m nothing if not lazy haha so I picked the easiest toothpaste recipe I could find. 2¬†parts coconut oil to 1 part bicarbonate of soda (see here for recipe and demonstration video). I put a pea-sized amount on my toothbrush and brush as normal then rinse with water and spit. It does taste a little salty (due to the bicarb) and it doesn’t froth like traditional toothpaste, but I’m not a fan of mint anyway- if you are add peppermint oil- and within a week I was used to the taste and consistency.

When I saw my dentist in May, he asked if I used a fluoride tothpaste and I told him what I use. He said that my teeth were perfectly healthy and there was no decay in my mouth. He said that bicarbonate of soda was fine to use to brush my teeth but he did recommend fluoride toothpaste as it is good at protecting teeth from staining. Basically, the gist I got was that it’s down to what you eat and when which determines your liklihood to develop tooth decay or staining. As a healthy eater who only really drinks water, I’m dong half the job.

I also know that the act of brushing is the most important element of the process, regardless of what substance you use- if any at all! Sometimes if I run out of toothpaste or leave it somewhere I brush with a dry toothbrush, and whilst I wouldn’t do it everyday, my teeth are still clean and smooth. I also use natural soap such as Dr. Bronner’s or Living Naturally¬†occaisonally (wet the brush then rub it over the bar) which does the job too.

Floss:

I have to admit, I’ve never been a flosser. My teeth are on the gappy side so it’s not a massive problem, but in recent years I have been making an effort. Finding a plastic-free or vegan floss (some use silk) has been a bit of a challenge. I settled for now on a gum stimulator which I bought in a pharmacy (unfortunately came in plastic + cardboard). I run it in between my gums and teeth a few times a week at the moment, and when I feel it necessary.

This link will take you to an article by a vegan zero-waster analysing the options available to you if you do want a floss alternative.

5 things this Monday…

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  1. Going Zero Waste posted a really practical and detailed explanation of how to get zero waste takeaway food. The author is honest and realistic and her tone is so cheerful. I am super grateful for this article as it is something I definitely need to work harder at…
  2. I love it when The Simple Things post up snippets of their life- it’s a reminder to notice the beauty in the everyday. Here’s how making your own food and living waste-free can be gorgeous.
  3. I have decided not to buy any more new leather for environmental and ethical reasons, but eco-friendly and durable alternatives are difficult to come by. However, there are brilliant people inventing materials that perform similarly to leather, made from natural, plant-based sources!
  4. Zero Waste Home’s app for sourcing package-free products worldwide had to take a break due to funding and technological issues, but it’s back! This time you can access bulk locations from your phone or online which is even better. Definitely worth checking your local area as well as anywhere you might be visiting to find tried and tested zero waste shops.
  5. Ariana of Paris To Go has reviewed her year of washing her face and hair with solely water, and I have to say I’m inspired. She, like me, suffers with acne and her skin- after a period of adjustment- seems to have reacted really well. I can’t keep my eyes off her hair either, it just looks so healthy! I’m keeping this as something to work on in the future.

London discoveries #2: Cornercopia

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I took a walk through Brixton Village recently, as it had been quite a while since I’d last seen what was in there. I approached this plain-ish looking frontage and there were gorgeous multi-coloured handmade candles displayed outside. When I popped in I thought it was going to be a gift shop, but I spotted a selection of Redecker brushes (including my dish brush) and realised that this place has all sorts of plastic-free homeware!

I didn’t come away with anything on my trip, as I am trying not to buy impulsively, but I plan to revisit when I run out of bar soap, as well as to invest in a cast-iron pan and a plastic-free dustpan and brush during the summer.

Cast-iron pots and pans, brooms, kitchen utensils, and bar soaps to name but a few of their stock, Cornercopia is a must-visit if you are transitioning to more eco-friendly home equipment or setting yourself up for the first time. I would highly encourage checking this shop out if you’re based in South London (or even London, as it’s so close to Brixton tube station) because I saw things here ¬†I’ve only seen online previously, and shopping in store saves on the pollution and packaging created by delivery.

Cornercopia Homestore

Address:

Units 37-38, 2nd Avenue
Brixton Village
SW9 8PS

Website:

http://cornercopia.myshopify.com/

Opening hours:

Wednesday-Sunday 11-6

Food shopping part 2.

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My local bulk shop (Source)

Everything I don’t or can’t buy from the market on a Saturday, I get from my local bulk shop. In Rennes that means heading down to Scarab√©e Biocoop, which sells organic fruit and veg, a selection of jarred items, as well as dried goods in bulk. This is where I stock up on pasta, raisins, rice, oats, flour and nuts amongst other things.

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Again, the process begins with preparation. I already have my list (with the market items crossed off, I am left with items to buy from this place), so I get together my tote. I’ve owned this shopper for years and years and I like it because it’s strong and just big enough. Inside it I place my handmade canvas bags, mostly sacks with a few smaller drawstring pouches. I also like to bring another tote bag just in case I buy too much to carry in the one.

How this particular shop works is that they provide paper bags which you fill up to your desired amount from the bulk bins. You then weigh the bag on the scales and it prints a price sticker which you attach to the bag. At the till the cashier scans the sticker and you’re done! The only difference I make is using my own canvas bags instead of the paper ones. I made sure to pick lightweight canvas and to sew them as light as possible, as obviously I am adding weight to the food I buy which would increase the price.¬†My canvas sacks are brilliant at withstanding weight¬†and the stickers stick well, but peel off really easily too which is great for when I get home. Obviously the stickers are disposable and non-recyclable which is really annoying, but this is as close as I an get to zero waste shopping where I am.

At home I empty my grains into my glass bottles and jars, collected from previous market and supermarket trips, then put the canvas sacks back into the tote ready for the next week. I wash these bags as and when I feel like they need it (the same goes for the mesh grocery bags for the market).

Is it more expensive to be a vegan?

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A recent market haul

I am often told as I whip some nuts/dried fruit/a smoothie out of my bag to eat, “wow! How do you afford to eat like that all the time?” At first I thought wait a minute, how AM I doing this? Before becoming vegan or trying to buy food package free, I didn’t buy a fraction of the whole foods I now consume. I too would have looked at someone eating certain things and assumed they were rich (ha)! Here are a few observations on how I eat like I do on a student budget.

Freeing up money

Being vegan and buying food loose means that, although I don’t consider myself to be missing out (on the contrary!), there are a lot of things I used to eat that I no longer do. Meat used to be the hardest thing for me to buy- it took up so much of my weekly budget, but I would only go about 2 days a week without having it for dinner. It was a must. Now that I don’t eat it, I can use all that money to buy other things. The same goes for sweets and takeaways. I kind of had a health revelation at the same time as going vegan and realised that little by little, the packet of Haribo here and the burger there were actually making a dent in my wallet (as well as obviously making me unhealthy). Every time I crave some sweets or chocolate now, I try and get my hands on some fruit. You can get so much more for your money!

One in one out

It is completely possible to spend the same amount of money or even less than before by trading in the things you’re indifferent to/don’t like/are unhealthy. It’s a question of deciding that you are going to make it work. I was a crisp-fiend before I discovered Zero Waste, but since I found bulk dried mango, raisins and nuts in my local shop, I haven’t looked back (much)! I swapped crisps and cheese at lunch for a smoothie and some dried fruit and nuts, I swapped chocolate cereal at breakfast for oats and fruit with nut milk. It all works out about the same because for every item I’ve introduced to my diet, something else has gone.

Myths

People seem to think being healthy is much more expensive than not. Whilst in certain ways I can understand their view-point, for me it was more that I didn’t know where to look. Fruit and vegetables can be very cheap; some of my favourite go-to meals include spiralized courgettes in place of pasta, and red pepper (one pepper per person). That rivals a ¬£5 McDonald’s meal any day! Also, natural whole grain food registers in the body to let the brain know that the stomach is full. The more processed a food is, the less the body will be able to detect whether you have eaten enough and the less you will absorb any nutrients. A burger may well be cheaper than a vegetable stew, but when you consider that the former option will be followed up with more cravings for snacks (hence more money spent), it is overall cheaper to just fill yourself up properly in the first place.

Priorities

I have been having so much fun experimenting with vegan meals over the last few months that I have noticed my spending increase. But I’ve also come to a new decision: not to police myself on the money I spend on good food. When I go shopping, I buy what I need for the week, but I don’t allocate a budget. It works out the same-ish usually anyway. I don’t want to deny myself the opportunity to go out later in the week for a few extras for a smoothie or some snacks. Now that I am reaping the benefits of being healthy, and having struggled with eating problems in the past, I am finally ready to give food the positive place it deserves in my mind and my wallet. Before food was just another thing I had to budget for, whereas now it comes before clothes and items. It’s what keeps me alive- I need to make sure it’s good and that I can have as much as I want!

Getting creative and changing my perspective have been key to making a success of this new way of eating, and have brought excitement and positivity back to food for me.

When Zero Waste is beautiful.

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Saturday farmers’ market

For a lot of people, when I tell them about my zero waste goals, their first reaction is to say ‘that must be difficult! I don’t think I could do that’. To be honest, I didn’t know it was possible either until I saw it done by others. But what you learn once you begin to change the way you live, is that there are unique rewards to living waste-free (or as close to that as you can manage).

Initially, the excitement of seeing your bin gradually become less and less full as you find waste-less alternatives is enough to keep you going, but eventually as you settle into it and there is not a lot left to modify, there has to be something else to motivate you. If it meant nothing more than choosing a (sometimes) harder and certainly non-conventional route, the Zero Waste movement would not have caught on like it has. The reason I have remained committed to it is because my life is simpler now, and although certain things require more effort, most aspects of my life are easier and more natural now. One of the great things about Zero Waste for me is that it is beautiful.

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Shopping in bulk is exciting for me, because unlike 6 months ago when I shopped at the supermarket for everything, I now frequent the local farmers’ market and a local organic cooperative shop for my groceries. I am so much healthier and I have developed an interest in experimenting with new foods and learning about the properties of fruit and veg. Today I passed a bulk container of quinoa and some purple potatoes in the shop, and I can’t wait to find a way to introduce them into my diet! My dinner plates are colourful and fresh and I bombard my family with pictures of them almost daily, (poor things!) because I can’t keep to myself how nice they look!

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3 apples in a homemade mesh bag

I store all my dried foods in glass jars and bottles rather than the plastic and tins I used to buy from the supermarket. It’s such a nice feeling to empty my bulk bags into the jars and display them in my kitchen. Also, two cashiers complimented me on my home-made mesh produce bags today, and one of them said I’d inspired her to make some of her own- this is what it’s all about!

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Homemade hummus in a jar

Good quality items¬†that serve a purpose mixed with fresh, healthy food. No plastic packaging or brands to spoil the view. It is a simple pleasure, and one that I wouldn’t have appreciated a year ago. But I can safely say it brings me enough satisfaction to want to continue to live this way wherever I go.