Reduce plastic food containers and packaging

Filed in Reduce by on May 15, 2009 18 Comments
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stainless steel reusable food containersMany zero waste enthusiasts take their own reusable containers, along with their reusable shopping bags, when they go shopping!

We use them at the butchers, deli counter, fish market and anywhere else where you can buy loose items.

Instead of a butcher double wrapping your purchases in plastic sheets and then putting them in a carrier bag, you can ask to have them put straight into your own container.

At deli counters, instead of the brittle plastic lidded containers for items like humous, sun dried tomatoes and all the other lovely things you can buy, use your own containers.

We even get cheese cut from a large block put into our own containers from our local shop.

This simple step has made a huge difference to the amount of rubbish we put into the landfill each week. If you feel self conscious or shy about asking, then why not telephone first to find out what the shop’s policy is? You might be pleasantly surprised!

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About the Author ()

I am a long time supporter of the Green and Sustainable lifestyle. After being caught in the Boscastle floods in 2004, our family begun a journey to respect and promote the importance of Earth's fragile ecosystem, that focussed on reducing waste. Inspired by the beauty and resourcefulness of this wonderful planet, I have published numerous magazine articles on green issues and the author of four books.

Comments (18)

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  1. John Costigane says:

    Hi Mrs Green,

    Containers have been the most useful tool in plastic packaging waste avoidance. Their reusable aspect is much better than the single use standard in supermarkets. Having used them for many months, return to the old ways is unthinkable.

  2. Mrs Green says:

    @John Costigane: Hi John, reusable containers have made a big difference to our waste too and there is no going back. Do you have any ideas where we can get nice stainless steel containers over here? I’m sure we had a thread on it at some point, but I can’t find it now!

  3. John Costigane says:

    .@Mrs Green: Hi Mrs Green, Stainless steel is a good option with the discarded ones easily recycled. Plastic containers are reusable so the waste issue can be deferred indefinitely. I have not come across any but will enquire at Entrading when I visit in the near future.

    On a separate note, The Green Party are promoting Zero Waste and tidal energy in the upcoming European Elections. With the expenses scandal in the headlines, this might be a good time to back their environmental agenda.

  4. Layla says:

    Love the pretty stainless steel containers in the pic!! 🙂

    I think there was a link to a company selling stainless steel containers at the ZeroWasteCheckout blog too.. (?) not sure where exactly they sell..?

    John, that’s interesting the Greens are promoting Zero Waste to whole of Europe!!
    /Then MAYBE Slovenia would go zero waste too!! Cause everything from EU is ‘sacred’ – sigh! Like people can’t think with their own head sometimes!/

    I do fret a bit that if zero waste would be ‘imposed’ with no previous education & inspiration, bad consequences could occur.. (like with the current tide of incinerators that came from essentially ‘green’ ideas to put less waste to landfills!) Hopefully those ideas will be well thought out & people will embrace them!
    (It’s important to prepare people for that though, like the thread with a lady called Lisa shows..)

    I do wish there were laws for refillable packaging (like percentage in Germany!) & that every shop was obligated to put stuff in your reusable container or cloth bag if you wish to!!

  5. Have just googled “stainless steel food tubs” and these were the first to come up. LINK


  6. Mrs Green says:

    Thanks for the link, Maisie. I had some of a similar looking product a few years ago and something weird happened to the lids. After just one wash (hand wash not dishwasher), they were no good. It was like they shrank, twisted and would not fit on for love nor money. So I’m wary of buying more. I can’t imagine what happened to the plastic so quickly, can you?

  7. John Costigane says:

    @Layla: I agree that imposing Zero Waste is of questionable value since there could be a negative reaction, giving us a bad name. It is far better to grow the trend and encourage positive actions which reward good behaviour. This is a slower process but more resilient.

    Layla, are you a Euro-sceptic? If so, you have many likeminds in the UK.

    The Greens should benefit from the anger against the 3 main parties, caused by expenses misuse.

  8. Layla says:

    @John Costigane:

    John, yes, I am a bit sceptic – don’t get me wrong, I am FOR united strong GREEN Europe – & some changes have been for the better!

    I love the Euro for convenience while travelling (& not having to calculate how much anything costs in Italy or Austria!) & I love the ease of travelling & international exchanges of students etc – some regulations have also been for the better..

    I am against stupidity, our government ditching some better regulations (regarding air emissions etc) to take European legislation ‘as is’ – and I’m DEFINITELY against people using ‘EU’ as an excuse to build incinerators!!

    In 1991, there was a proposal to regulate Slovenian waste and it DIDN’T include incinerators (our government paid 75.000$ for it!!) – it was all reduce reuse recycle & safely landfill the rest, then nothing really got done (or not much) & mysteriously then in 1998/2000 the plan ‘that was only possible with incinerators’ got accepted!! gosh knows why!!

    I am thinking these are all lazy white men who don’t fancy recycling-?? & don’t have a clue about efficient housekeeping & using reusable containers etc? (But you are a white man who DOES go for Zero Waste so…?!!)
    I wish I could see our MPs etc using the reusable containers & doing their best to go zero waste, I really do!!
    Even some higher institutions don’t recycle, & it should really be in legislation!! (& they’d also save a lot of money doing it!!)

  9. John Costigane says:

    @Layla: Stupidity is universal, Layla, since incineration is seen as the great hope in many countries. There is a lot of money involved in these 25 year deals and no doubt ‘friendly’ contact between politicians and the waste industry, 2 bad lots.

    Good to see you visiting other countries. You might consider a visit to the UK to meet other likeminds? You have been such a good addition to our trend with your younger perspective. There are plenty of young people who follow Mrs Green and you could link with them too. The National Zero Waste Week in September will be a big event, judging by last year’s effort. You could be part of that.

    Containers will prove to be the future means of purchasing, as they were in older times. We all just have to keep the pressure up. After a full year’s use, I find them a superb Zero Waste tool.

  10. Anne says:

    I use reusable containers for shopping in Japan and find that I get extras added in for free. The shop owners APPRECIATE that we are saving them money in packaging. I bring a jar for coffee beans or rice, and always get a discount. So don’t be scared to bring your own container! Everyone wins!

  11. Mrs Green says:

    @Anne: Hi Anne, welcome to the site and thanks for your comment. How lovely that you get freebies for using your own containers! I haven’t experienced that myself. Inspiring idea though; I know that refills for cleaning products cost less, so that’;s a great incentive.

  12. Mrs Ingrid Ehrlich says:

    Tesco plastic tubs for the deli counter are sized so that they are not weighed. They won’t allow other odd containers, BUT… I wash and reuse them, and haven’t needed new ones for a long time. Neither have I taken new thin veg bags as I have a large fabric shopper stuffed with carriers, thin veg bags and deli containers. If you put a deli tub into a thin bag, it keeps the lid on and prevents greasy spills. As well as that, I re-use the nice clean plastic bags my butcher puts the meat in. It is wrapped in grease-proof first, so only the liver makes a mess. I haven’t bought plastic bags for 3 years.
    I get more potatoes than I want, in my organic veg box, as we are pasta and bread eaters. If at the end of the week, you boil the rest and mash them without additives, and then freeze it in a flattish cake, it can be used in small quantities for soups, toppings and potato cakes very easily. Also, every scrap of leftover bread can be left to dry in the pestle and then pounded up and kept in a jar. Mac cheese and cauli cheese are nicer with crumbs grilled on top, and they are useful for stuffings. You can also make Danish Apple Cake with crumbs and stewed apple. No food sneaks out of my kitchen except horrible fatty bits and chicken skin. Yuk!!

  13. Mrs Green says:

    @Mrs Ingrid Ehrlich: Hello INgrid, that is excellent information about Tesco’s – thank you! I was a bit put off that Tesco would not use our own tubs, but now you have offered a compromise situation for our readers 🙂 Great tips about the bread and potatoes too – Danish apple cake has to be the best incentive for keeping breadcrumbs on hand 😉

  14. I am very impressed, inspirational, if only everyone cared as much. Take no notice of the Ostrich people.
    TRY RE-USEABLE FRUIT AND VEG NETS FROM again & a-gain. Stop more plastic bags.

  15. Mrs Green says:

    @Phil Devereau: Hello Phil, welcome to the site and thanks for your comment. Yes, we promote the use of reusable nets and bags for fruit and vegetables; many of our readers use them – they are very convenient and can be popped in the wash if needed. It all helps to reduce plastic waste 🙂

  16. I think this is a great idea and have been *trying* to do this at my local grocery store for deli meat and cheese. I was always greeted with odd looks and sometimes the person waiting on me would flat out refuse to do it. So I wrote my grocery store an email saying how ridiculous this was and that they should be encouraging people to bring their own containers!
    I got a phone call a week or so later from the manager of the store, he was very polite and nice but simply told me that it was their policy not to allow outside containers for use in their stores as it poses a contamination threat. At the time, when he was telling me over the phone about it, it made sense from a corporate stand point. They don’t want people suing them if the home brought container happened to be dirty and then contaminated the meat inside.
    But it still bothered me, so, I called the local organic grocery store chain, Whole foods, and asked if I could bring in a container for meat. Their response, “sure, no problem!”. So, long story short, Kroger grocery stores here in the midwest usa just don’t “get it”. Whole foods does. Kroger has lost my deli and cheese business.
    Anyone else have any issues with stores not allowing this?

  17. Mrs Green says:

    @Barely Beautiful Girl: Ooooo, good for you on writing the emails! I’ve heard this excuse too, and we’ve had stores refuse us (so, like you I take my custom elsewhere) but if we think about it, even if you DID put something dirty onto their scales, everything else put on there afterwards is either on paper, plastic or into one of THEIR containers, so it’s a poor excuse with little thought behind it. Yay for Whole Foods!

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