Our first zero waste shopping trip of 2010

Filed in Blog by on February 1, 2010 34 Comments
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Mr and Little miss Green with their zero waste purchases

Mr and Little miss Green with their zero waste purchases

We went on our first shopping trip since our bin was emptied and it was an interesting experience.

I caught Mr Green at the checkout handing over his weekend bottle of wine. He’d made sure it had a real cork but it had a plastic seal around it and he’d forgotten that we had no longer have a way of disposing of them. He had to have the wine removed from his receipt and go and choose another one which had a screw top.

Meanwhile the milk Little Miss Green had picked up had one of those seals inside the lid that is made from a combination of plastic and foil, so that went back onto the shelf too as we don’t know how to get rid of them.

We went to our local post office which stocks milk in glass bottles from a local milkman but were informed they’d stopped selling it a couple of months ago.

Little Miss Green had a parsnip craving, as you do, and we could only find ones wrapped in plastic. We ventured into another small local store and found heaps of naked stuff in there – parsnips being one of them. Mr Green found milk with a plastic seal made from the same material as the tops instead of the composite ones and a bottle of wine with a screw top!

It was weird to feel like we were back at square one.

Last week these things would simply have been added to our minimal landfill pile. But with our goal for 2010 of not creating any landfill waste at all, we had to be extra vigilant when shopping. I don’t mind admitting it took us twice as long as usual AND we had to drive to find another shop.

What we discovered in the new shop was that the owner bakes organic bread, which she sells sans packaging. She told me if I ever needed a loaf to give her an hour’s notice and she would bake one fresh for me. What a result! I usually make my own, but there are times when I’m not organised enough to get that done, so it’s great to know there is a healthy and packaging-friendly loaf to be bought locally.

My challenge is finding a bag big enough to take with me to the shop to buy bread in. A regular bread bag is the wrong shape and size for a home cooked loaf. Paper bags from the farm shop aren’t big enoughΒ  and I don’t fancy bunging it into a cloth bag that has had other things in it like dirty cans. What is your suggestion? Do you buy naked bread? What do you take with you to pack it in or am I being too fussy?

Needless to say, we’ll now be patronising this store more often. We had been in there occasionally in the past, but I’ll be going there much more often. It’s no further to travel than our other local shop, it’s just in the opposite direction so we need to put this first new habit into place.

What about you? Has anything caught you out on the packaging front this week?

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 (34)

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  1. Hazel says:

    To be honest, I put the naked bread I buy straight in any clean-looking cloth bag, but this is more likely to be me being slovenly/lazy than you being fussy!
    I try to make as much bread as possible too (there’s a mill about 20 minutes away that sells mostly local (best I can do!) flour in bulk paper sacks, so we go every few months), but the Farmers Market bread stall sells things I haven’t learnt to make yet, like sourdough.
    You could buy/make a bag especially for bread. Before you panic, my idea of sewing a bag is to get a piece of fabric twice as deep as you want the bag, fold it in half and sew up the sides, then sew on handles (two long lengths of fabric doubled over). Or add handles to a pillow case. Or just use a pillow case and carry it like the American paper grocery sacks. :0) You might want to label it so it doesn’t end up back on a bed…
    Good luck in your challenge.

  2. John Costigane says:

    Unpackaged is the best choice for many items, including fresh, unsliced brown bread from the local bakers, Auld’s or Gregg’s. The latter have a large loaf which requires a home bag and the solid, overall crust proves impermeable to previous dry content.

    Milk is a challenge with label and seal waste outcomes. The only Zero Waste option is UHT Milk in Tetra Paks, a convenient local choice. I use both types but would not go fully UHT as taste is inferior.

  3. Karin says:

    Our milkman delivers our milk. It comes in glass bottles and is organic. He delivered in all the snowy weather although the postman and rubbish collectors did not come near us.

    I buy bread from the bakers and it is wrapped in a paper bag or tissue paper, so I’m happy to put it in my onya bag, although I don’t use that for loose veg or anything grubby. The paper can go on the compost heap if it can’t be used for anything else. I also make my own bread from time to time. It doesn’t take all that much time as you can do other things while it is proving. I tried pizza the other day and that is even quicker.

    As to the wine, well there I’d allow myself a small amount of waste as it helps the cork growers to buy wine with a cork in it. I understand that screw tops on wine aren’t just putting their livelihoods at risk, but a lack of cork oaks in the Mediterranean could upset the balance of nature there and be bad for the environment. If Zero Waste is about improving the environment then buying wine with a screw top might not be the best buy. It seems the right choice isn’t always the obvious one and pros and cons need to be weighed.

  4. Grandma Green says:

    I regularly buy bread from our local farmers’ market. The lady always puts the naked loaf into a white paper bag and this nestles inside my onya or resackel bag. Sometimes the bread bag can be reused, but it can always be recycled or eventually composted so it won’t go to landfill.

  5. Chris says:

    I use very little milk so tend to buy dried milk from Lidl which comes in a tin with an aluminium inner seal. It tastes fine in cooking and I make up about 1/2 litre every couple of days and leave it in the fridge in a jug.
    I make my own bread ( well the bread maker does) so have no wrapper problems but have you thought about using a clean tea towel to cover it with until you get home?


  6. Stephanie says:

    @Hazel: I use a string bag for most of my purchases as they expand and expand and are absolutely fabulous. For things like beans or smaller items that fall through the holes, I have net bags. These I use instead of all the small plastic bags you have to get to buy small items like dried goods or a handful of tomatoes etc.

  7. marcy-mumumumumum on twitter says:

    use a clean pillowcase …just keep it for your bread

  8. Bread-I make my own bread each day and I bought a fabric bread bag from http://www.bobsredmill.com . It works really well and my bread wont get dried out.

    Produce bags etc-I found some net bags at the dollar store (4pk) that are originally meant for putting soccer equipment. I use them for all my produce. They are super light weight and im sure they weigh about the same as those nasty plastic ones. I can use them for any produce and almost any bulk food item. Rice is a whole other story. I still have yet to find a bag that will hold my rice. So I use a plastic bag for now and reuse it. Its really nice not having any plastic bags in my home.

    Milk-I have used dried milk before, and it does taste the same after its been in the fridge for a few hours. I have to admit I still use milk in the plastic jugs. But! I recycle them when done with them. We do not go through milk nearly as often anymore since my kids are older and prefer water or juice. I make my own almond milk and use this most the time because of my daughter being lactose intolerant.

  9. adomesticprincess says:

    I made my own cheap fabric bags for baked goods out of plain muslin fabric. Just label it for bread so it doesn’t get used for other things. You could also use a larger piece of muslin with the edges finished off by hemming or pinking sheers (to keep it from unraveling in the wash) to simply wrap your loaf of bread in. I use a bread machine often. Sometimes I simply mix in the machine and take out to hand shape to finish and bake in my regular oven. Super easy way to have fresh bread. To help keep my bread from drying out I will wrap the cooled bread in wax paper, or parchment-baking paper to store in ice box or freezer for a few days. Usually it never makes it to the ice box or freezer before its gone. Fresh bread is so good! πŸ™‚ Kathy in Portland, Oregon USA

  10. adomesticprincess says:

    I forgot to ad that I also use the waxed bags that come inside boxes of ready to eat breakfast cereal to store my bread and baked goods in as well. Kathy, Portland, Oregon

  11. Karen says:

    @adomesticprincess: . These bags are very good in the freezer and for sandwiches. However very few of them are now waxed as they were in the old days. They were good then to line cake tins in the oven.

  12. Alea says:

    What a wonderful, thought provoking post! Sound like you have discovered a treasure! I don’t think we have anything quite lack that in our area.

    I found some mesh laundry bags from my husband’s days in the Navy that I am now using to transport vegetables and fruits from the store. I second the idea of making a devoted cloth bread bag. You can turn it inside out and wash it and it would be ready for the next trip.

  13. LJayne says:

    Mrs G, how do you recycle the screw top on the wine?

    With the naked bread, you can buy bread bags from Lakeland that are also used to store the bread to keep it fresher so would have a dual purpose. As someone said further up, a pillowcase job would do just as well πŸ™‚ I have an old nappy bag where the inner lining finally went after years of carrying cloth. So I stripped it out, washed it and now I use it for storing bananas as it slows down their ripening process.

    I have our milk delivered from the milkman. It is organic and in bottles and like someone else said, he delivered every snowy day regardless πŸ™‚ This is just for the children. Our milk comes from Abel & Cole but they have the seals on the bottles πŸ™ Switching our milk to the milkman is an issue of cost though. I have to find a saving elsewhere as the milkman is significantly more expensive and we don’t have an endless pot of cash. I justify the children’s milk because Abel & Cole supply semi-skimmed unhomogenised and I don’t like the taste or texture of it for them.

  14. Mrs Green says:

    @Hazel: brilliant ideas, Hazel thanks. And how wonderful to have a local mill – that must be lovely. A pillowcase is a good idea πŸ˜‰

    @John Costigane: We don’t fancy UHT either as DH has it in coffee. I like the idea of using our local milkman.

    @Karin: Hi Karin, thanks for sharing your thoughts. It’s very difficult to weigh up the best options with everything. There doesn’t appear to be any one right answer…

    @Grandma Green: Maybe you could find me a big enough paper bag? This has been my challenge. The brown paper bags from my veg boxes aren’t big enough for a large loaf…

    @Chris: A clean tea towel might work, yes. I’m just trying to avoid strange looks in public – you’d think I’d be used to that by now, wouldn’t you!

    Stephanie and Marcy; more votes for the pillow case and the idea of net bags is good. I looked at the net bags from my Onya weigh, but they were too small too.

    @surviving and thriving on pennies: Those cloth bread bags look lovely, But I’ve just had some inspiration from the Bob’s red mill site – they show a canvas shopping tote which looks like an insulated bag I have at home. I used to put a plastic box inside it for LMGs lunch. I’m thinking it might be loaf shaped – so I’m going to hunt it down, clean it up and try it., Thank you!

    @adomesticprincess: Hi Kathy and Alea, great ideas – thank you. I DO have some muslin, perhaps I should be brave and get the sewing machine out!

    @LJayne: Hi Lesley, we put the screw tops in with the tins recycling. I’ll have a look on Lakeland – thank you! You’re also the second person to say about organic milk in glass bottles; I need to check this out as that would be wonderful if the price is competitive.

  15. Anjie says:

    I realise you see corks and plastic corks as being a problem. We never put them in the waste. We are keen gardeners and either type of cork is kept and used as ‘crocks’ in plant pots. I am still using some from years back which is useful as it is quite difficult to find broken flower pot crocks. We grow a lot of plants and shrubs in tubs. I must add that generally now we do buy screw topped wine.

  16. Layla says:

    WOW!! What an adventure!!

    It’s awesome that with a bit of ‘detective work’ you were able to buy truly zero waste!
    (Is it the same cost-wise, or different?)

    We have a dedicated washable cotton bag for bread (actually got it from a book club years ago!), the local bakery gave away washable cotton cloth bags years ago too, as new year’s gift or such? with their logo, though these are smaller and for one or two small loaves maybe. They are washable on high temperatures also.
    Dad stll gets paper bags or such, he actually likes having them to start the fire in furnace. /sigh/

    Everyone please take care that paper bags are clean if you put them into recycling, or talk to your local recycling facility about this.

    Overall, very impressed with actually finding zero waste stuff!!

  17. Mrs Green says:

    @Anjie: Hi Anjie – the corks are fine, it’s the seals on the top of the bottle that are the problem. I would probably chop the corks up and add them to the compost, but the seals remain the issue πŸ™‚

    @Layla: Layla, the cost seemed pretty much the same; I didn’t do a full comparison, but I didn’t keel over at the checkout! these washable cotton bags sound like the way to do and paper bags can be composted or fed to the worms if they can’t be recycled, so that’s good.

  18. Claire Brown says:

    ok, have to say it but – wow how do you find the time in your day to be sooooo careful, and that’s what it boils down to, – I use local butchers and farmers shop where possible, but had to go to sainsburys today, and with only 20 mins before school pick up i’ve got home with a mountain (compared to normal) of waste – Loo rolls – how do you get any that arn’t packed in plastic?
    – feeling very inadequate with my plastic wrappers on crisps, bread, muffins and childrens frozen food, (but feeling smug that my organic milk comes from the milkman!)

  19. Hazel says:

    @Claire Brown: My branch of Sainsbury’s will recycle the loo roll plastic because it’s polythene. Just put in in their carrier bag recycling point. Impressively, you can’t contaminate these by putting in the wrong type of plastic as it’s sorted. They take all sorts of packaging, including the plastic wrappers you sometimes get around Weekend nwespaper supplements and magazines. Full details are on their website. HTH.
    @Mrs Green: I started getting organic milk in glass bottles delivered about 6 months ago. I didn’t realise they did it until I was chatting to a neighbour, and our milkman also made it to our village along country roads and lanes in the worst weather, when noone else did. He charges 65p/pint, which I thought was ok considering it is produced in Warwickshire, driven to Gloucestershire, processed and then delivered to my door before 6 am 3 days a week (in Oxfordshire). Not perfect, but as local as I can get until I persuade someone to share a pair of goats with me :o) And when I challenged the local council about their instructions for no foil in the recycling, they said I could If I collect it up into a big ball, so I’m very happy!

  20. LJayne says:

    @Claire, I sometimes use Sainsburys as described above but I also bulk buy my loo roll from Traidcraft. It comes in clearly marked 4 LDPE packaging which can be sent to a company called PolyPrint whom Mrs G has talked about on the site before.

  21. I buy my milk in glass bottles from the milkman also it is organic and cost 73p/pint. He also made it through on the snowy icy days when nothing else could.

    I also get the fresh fruit juices which are 95p/pint, but taste alot better than those in the supermarket. Iget Country Life butter from him which is cheaper than the supermarkets unless they have it on offer.

    Mrs G if you take a look at http://www.milkandmore.co.uk they will be able to sort you out with a milkman.

    I have a couple of lightweight cotton bags which i now use solely for storing my hm bread in. I’m another who bakes a loaf daily and makes other items as needed; dough is made overnight in bread machine then I bake off in the oven.

  22. I’m a net bag fan too – I have these and they are so expandable I can fit the equivalent of 4 carrier bags worth of shopping in one (best not to do that when you’re walking back from the shops though!)
    They’re in the sale at the mo for a bargain-ous Β£2 (and better colours than my ancient beige ones!). http://www.naturalcollection.com/products/boweevil/organic-cotton-reusable-string-bag/ I’ve a voucher to use up for the Natural Collection and nothing I need at the mo so if you’re interested in getting any I can order them for you.

  23. Sarah says:

    Make yourself a couple of Morsbags from a distinctive fabric and have them as dedicated bread bags?

  24. Jane says:

    I put the bags from my bread in with the plastic bag recycling at Sainsbury’s – when I have used pre-sliced bagged bread. Is it recycled or reused as energy from waste? I hope recycling comes first!

    My milk comes in glass bottles from the milkman – http://www.milkandmore.co.uk – as does some juice and a carton of smoothie. If you look at it price for price it is more expensive than the supermarket BUT he delivers in all weathers in his electric float and collects all the glass bottles back to be reused again and again. He can also deliver more food if necessary at short notice. Notice how the milk is never just inside the door at the supermarket – that is totally deliberate – in fact you will find basic essentials deliberately spread about so that there is more chance of getting you to buy other things you never intended as you look for them. So although the milk is cheaper by the pint – it may actually be costing you more.

    You don’t have to have a daily order – I only get milk from the milkman during the week – it makes it easy for visiting parents etc at the weekend and means that I can buy more in plastic bottles at the weekend if necessary or use up extra by making custard for pudding or some other favourite recipe using milk (bananas whizzed up in the blender is a great way to use up overripe bananas and milk for example).

  25. LJayne says:

    My milkman only delivers Mon, Weds, Fri anyway and I keep a couple of spare plastic bottles from old supermarket milk handy so that I can freeze any excess. Sometimes I adjust the next day’s order but often I don’t coz then I don’t have to think about doing it!

  26. Jane says:

    @LJayne: Yes, I find it easier to not have to change the milk order and to just have a whole collection of recipes for using up milk to hand and a carton in the freezer or cupboard or some powder for when you run out!

    Friends in France always seem to keep their fresh bread wrapped in a tea towel.

  27. Mrs Green says:

    @Claire Brown: Hi Claire, well we knew that this would be challenging, so we have prioritised time to shopping more carefully for a couple of months until we get used to things. At the moment, we know we can’t rush into the shop between other errands and it’s a choice we’re prepared to make.

    Regarding toilet rolls, one of our readers has already mentioned that they are wrapped in polythene which can be recycled with carrier bags or sent to Poly print or GHS. (http://mzw.wpengine.com/articles/general/plastic-polythene-packaging/)

    Crisp packets you can send to the philippine Community Fund, (http://mzw.wpengine.com/2010/01/how-to-recycle-crisp-packets-bags-and-support-charity/)

    if you buy bread in polythene, rather than the fancy crinkly stuff, that can be recycled with polythene. Not sure about children’s frozen food; it depends on what you are buying, but things like fish fingers and pies often come in just cardboard boxes and foil – no plastic in sight …

    @Hazel: Hi Hazel, great news about the foil. I have a number for a milkman from my neighbour, so we’ll be seeing what he can offer us

    @maisie dalziel: Strangely nothing came up on the milkandmore site for me; but a neighbour has put me in touch with her milkman. I guess these databases are not always up to date…

    @nic @ nipitinthebud: that’s really kind nic, thank you – it’s not really net I’m after though, so I’ll pass on this one πŸ˜‰ Give it to a friend who insists on using plastic carrier bags πŸ˜€

    @Sarah: I like that idea, Sarah! Although I got stuck on the handles when I tried to make one once and gave up LOL!

    @Jane: great example about ‘cost’ Jane – you’re right, not many people pop into the supermarket and only came out with their intended purchases.

  28. I thought someone would mention the reusable big bags now sold by supermarkets. We had those in France long before the UK and everyone uses them. Almost no shops give plastic bags. Bread is never wrapped – unless sliced in the supermarket (which is awful) – and most people just carry it home like that. You can also buy a little pouch in most supermarkets, which contains a folded bag and fits in your handbag easily. I use mine all the time for on-the-spur-of-the-moment shopping.

  29. Mrs Green says:

    @Penny Peberdy: Hi penny, thanks for your comment. It sounds like you have some great resources for getting your shopping home. Nice to hear so little of your bread is wrapped; it’s pretty hard to get it unwrapped over here unless you visit a bakery – I would hazard a guess that most brits buy bread from a supermarket or convenience store.

  30. Diz says:

    our local milkie also delivers soya milk!

  31. Mrs Green says:

    @Diz: really? What sort of packaging does that come in?

  32. pixiecoo says:

    Here in South Australia non-recylable plastic bags in shops have been banned http://www.byobags.com.au/Home.mvc So unless you remember to bring your own bags it just all goes back into the trolley. I realise I’m talking to the converted here who probably all take their own bags anyway. However it’s amazing how everyone has adjusted.

  33. John Costigane says:

    For experienced enthusiasts, Zero Waste Alternatives are always good news. Two recent finds are for milk and coconut, the latter of note as it can end my growing collection of plastic seals and labels. Such recurring waste situations are a big target on the road to Zero.

    Cravendale, found in ASDA, supply 1l Tetra Paks for their filtered milk, which is slightly more expensive. Used with UHT, for liver soaking or all-milk drinks, the costs can be minimised. If Tetra Pak did blister packs as well, a bigger item would disappear. As other posters have said, the Paks are not collected for recycling countrywide, as yet. This situation should change as the waste reduction potential becomes more widely appreciated.

    Coconut, a personal favourite in baking, has always been difficult to find unpackaged, locally. Ian has a good source . Another, available across the country, is the fresh unprocessed nut. As with other food items, the taste is always better unprocessed. One challenging aspect is the inner kernel since the join, with the edible core is strong. Before grating, the outer part can be peeled off, using a standard vegetable peeler. My brother, Andy found a source of coconuts in Morrisons and the local store has them as well.

    Supermarkets feature in both items which is very welcome. Easter Eggs are now on sale. Like last year, Nestle and Cadbury provide Zero Waste options with Plastic-Free or Packaging-Free items.

  34. Mrs Green says:

    @pixiecoo: Hi Pixiecoo, welcome to the site and thanks for telling us about life in South Australia. I love how you say people have quickly adjusted and I think that is true. We DO adjust because we have to. I don’t really understand why any country is still using these bags…

    @John Costigane: Hi John, funny you mention Cravendale; we found that only this week in Sainsburys; I have a pack of it in the fridge and I notice it is supposed to last about 3 weeks before opening or something like that; so it’s useful to have around if you can’t get to the shop easily.
    Good to hear about the coconut – we tend to only find the real ones shrinkwrapped or dessicated in plastic, Our local bulk buy bin is no more due to lack of interest.

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