Staying zero waste when you’re out and about is probably the most challenging part of living a waste-free lifestyle. Many people and companies do not realise the impact of waste on our environment, so I often get strange looks when I bring my own containers and questions when I refuse certain things. Although it is challenging when this happens, I try to explain why I’m choosing to shop this way. If it makes one person make a change in their lifestyle, then I take that as a little win. Even if you fail sometimes, know that you are putting an effort into reducing your carbon footprint and don’t beat yourself up for mishaps.
Buy Local and Buy Loose
I rarely shop at supermarkets anymore. I find their overuse of single-use packaging wasteful and unnecessary. Try and buy your fruit and vegetables loose. Supermarkets do cater this to a small extent, but independent stores and farmer’s markets are your best bets for loose produce. Do a bit of investigating and you will be surprised what you can find. Buy seasonal produce to reduce costs, and avoid using plastic produce bags – use brown paper bags which are often provided or bring your own. I use reusable produce bags which are really lightweight and handy to take around with you.
A lot of loose vegetables (e.g. spinach) come without packaging but are held together with an elastic band. Unfortunately, these are not easy to recycle. I am collecting them and when I have enough, I will try send them to the Royal Mail to recycle. You can also reuse them for loads of different things around the house.
I love berries, but often times I struggle to buy them plastic-free. If you have time and transport, go berry picking at a local farm with your own container. You can buy frozen berries at some supermarkets in recyclable soft plastics and you can recycle them in carrier bag recycling.
For the omnivores: I use my local butcher or fishmonger and give them my container to weigh my meat in. Just ask! Some supermarkets will support using your own container but it is shop dependent. I like shopping at butchers; it supports local stores and the meat is usually sourced locally. I always ask where my meat comes from and how the animals were reared.
Buy in Bulk
Bulk stores are popping up around the country where you can buy nuts, grains, pasta, dried fruit, cereal and loose-leaf tea without packaging. You can bring your own bags and containers to fill up. If you are London-based, Eco-Boost has a great list of where to buy certain items and Bulk Market UK just opened – I visited it last week and it’s fab! You can even refill your beer and wine at some places. Sometimes this requires you to buy a growler and refill it at the store, but it definitely reduces packaging.
TIPS FOR WASTE-FREE DAIRY:
- Go old school and get your milk delivered in reusable glass bottles. Check out Find Me A Milkman for one near you. You can also make your own milk from nuts or seeds but this definitely requires some effort.
- Try using your own container to buy cheese. Farmers markets are your best bet and locally made cheese is lovely.
- Butter usually comes foil or paper wrapped. Paper wrapped is better, but a lot of companies put a plastic lining in them so you need to shop around. This page has some ideas of options around the UK.
Always try to refuse straws: they wreak havoc on the environment, animals often ingest them and they litter our beaches. I always carry reusable cutlery and straws with me everywhere I go. I am not always successful; sometimes I receive a straw in my drink despite asking them not too, but most of the time people respect my wishes. Invest in silicon or stainless steel straws. Most come with a handy straw cleaning brush too!
Bring a reusable coffee cup for hot drinks and avoid takeaway coffee cups. Although technically recyclable, there are very few centres that actually process them so they generally end up in landfill. Larger chains may recycle them if you take them back to the store, but it is best to use your own and you normally get a discount for doing so. I always bring a reusable cup if going to food and drink festivals – it saves on the disposables and is much nicer than drinking out of plastic.
Disposable water bottles have a massive environmental impact. It’s easy to bring your own. Refill have a UK wide campaign to make it super easy to refill your water bottle. Feel awkward asking businesses? These are your water refill rights. I always carry a reusable water bottle with me. Kleen Kanteen make a fantastic water bottle made to last with a Strong as Steel Guarantee against manufacturer defects.
Finally, say no to the plastic bag! Always carry a reusable bag with you so you are never stuck without one – I always have one in my handbag. Once you are used to bringing your reusable bags, cutlery and water bottles with you, it will soon become habit and you won’t even think about it anymore.