Two Weeks Of (Trying To) Avoid Single Use Plastic
For the last two weeks of August, it has been quiet here in the Frugasaurus household. Mr. Frugasaurus has been putting his new laptop lifestyle to good use, and spent two weeks watching his grandmother’s dog while she travelled to visit family.
After the delightful recent surge of sustainability and zero-waste themed blog posts, I gave myself the challenge of trying to avoid single use plastic for the two weeks Mr. Frugasaurus was away. As with so many things, I did not go into this expecting a perfect score.
It was also made easier for me by the fact that this was only a two week challenge. Our pantry and freezer was full of food, and the deadline made anything more bearable. If I had wanted, I could have spent the two weeks just eating out of the pantry, and I would technically have “won” the challenge.
But that didn’t really seem in the spirit of the challenge itself, where the intent was to try to create awareness of just how ubiquitous single use plastic is.
The first week
During the first week of the challenge, I fell into what I commonly refer to as my strange obsession with cleaning out the cupboards.
Whenever Mr. Frugasaurus is away for any extended period of time, I will go to town on the fridge and pantry, trying to use up any odds and ends and half-eaten jars of what-even-is-this? hiding at the very back of the fridge.
So the first half of the week was a success simply because I didn’t go to the shop, I had plenty of food at home.
However, from the backlog of foodstuffs, I created piles of plastic waste just from eating up food, rinsing it and throwing it in the recycling bin. There was a bag of raisins I emptied, that large bag of rice we buy in bulk, half a package of tortillas I finished, a bottle of chocolate sauce I finished after Mr. Frugasaurus taught me how to make iced coffee mocha at home with oatmilk…
You get the idea.
Despite not buying any new single use plastic, I still made a lot of waste because so much of our food came in plastic.
As luck would have it, Trondheim hosted a farmers market the very same weekend after Mr. Frugasaurus left me to fend for myself. I called up my good friend M. who also wanted to go, and we met up downtown.
Funny thing about plastic is… it’s all over our produce aisle. There are no less than three different grocery stores in close proximity to where we live, and in none of them am I able to get plastic free carros, bell peppers or beet roots.
I am a fan of bell peppers and beet roots, but carrots is the kind of thing we always have in the fridge? I mean, who doesn’t like carrots? They lend a hint of sweetness and moisture to homebaked bread, take off the tangy top notes of a tomato sauce, are great, crunchy carriers of dip-to-mouth and just an all round fantastic vegetable.
I was craving carrots, and I was depending on the farmers market to provide for me.
You win some, you lose some
To my joy and relief, the farmers market had not one but two stalls selling vegetables, almost all of which was without plastic. I stocked up on carrots, yellow beets, the cutest little cauliflowers you ever saw and even a couple different types of turnips/kohlrabi, (sorry, I have no idea if they even have a specific name in English). I even splurged on a crumbly scone with raisins and walnuts. Because you have to support the local businesses… right?
After the farmers market, M and I went down to the ethical/fairtrade shop. I needed raisins for the office and wanted to see if they sold them plastic free (they did!).
We also ended up buying a pack of tofu because we wanted to try a recipe for steamed buns with barbequed tofu and pickled onion. This was the first piece of plastic I bought since the beginning of the challenge – maybe I need to learn how to make tofu from different kinds of beans?
And then we went on a mushroom trip with our fantastic Polish friends. If you’re not aware, it is a stereotype that Polish people love mushrooms and forage extensively – and it is an invaluable help to have someone so knowledgeable on your team when you hunt for something as potentially dangerous as mushroom. Respect fungi – they’ve been on this planet a whole lot longer than we have and know how to defend themselves!
The second week
Again, I am far from perfect. I used a lot of rice making myself one of those microwaveable neck heaters for muscle knots leading to tension headaches (to which I am prone), and had to buy a new bag. Filling the neck comforter with brown rice or eco rice in small 1 kg paper boxes would have been beyond expensive, so I went with our regular cheap-as-chips large ass 5 kg (11 lbs) bag which costs a pittance (around $5) and lasts us months.
Other than that, I kept trying to live on what we had in the house and stuff I could buy either in paper or lose weight from the grocery store. I found turnips, potatoes, sweet potatoes, lemons and oranges. I experimented with simple Norwegian dishes like soups and stews heavy on root veg. I was lazy with the cooking and usually didn’t bring lunch to work, so for the most time I enjoyed oats at work with salt, cinnamon and raisins.
All the comforts of home
With the yellow beets, I made pesto from a recipe M taught me (boil or steam beets, peel, whizz up in food processor with oil, garlic, pine nuts or toasted almonds and salt and pepper) and enjoyed that on my homemade bread for breakfast every morning.
I threw my sourdough starter out again for the nth time as I always seem to manage to get mold on it, even when I change the jar regularly. This batch never did get proper bubbly either. I will master you sourdough… one day!
(I retried almost immediately after writing this post. This post from Zero-Waste Chef made me hopeful again. Mastering sourdough was on my 5-year list that I wrote three years ago – I will not give up yet!)
Breaking from the challenge
By the end of the second week, I was heading to the store with the knowledge that Mr. Frugasaurus would be home soon. I stocked up on cheese, butter and sour cream in anticipation of his return, all of which are packed in plastic tubs or bags.
I also… shamefully… fell for the temptation to buy some Vill (wild) dark chocolate covered blueberry jelly balls. One of the things I really missed from when I was more strict on trying to be vegan/plant based was that the only chocolate I could find most of the time were whole bars in one shape or form. Sometimes they were bars with great flavours but still – a woman wants chocolate in a more bite-sized confectionary shape once in a while, you know?
These babies are available with either blueberry or raspberry jelly inside and are completely vegan. They were launched earlier this year and are… dark chocolate crack in a bag. I kid you not. I love these things and they have quickly made their way to the top as my favourite candy.
The only problem is… of course, that the bag is single-use plastic.
I am sorry earth, I am sorry fish. I was weak to temptation but they were delicious.
Takeaways from the challenge
Two weeks is too short a time to truly attempt a zero-waste lifestyle. It was easy to stay on track (most of the time), because there was a set deadline.
Certain vegetables were just impossible to find without plastic in the supermarket and were not available at the farmers market, these included sweet peppers, cucumbers and smaller leafy greens like salad, rocket and spinach.
Even without a farmers market, I could get things like kohlrabi, potatoes, cabbage, onions, apples, pears, melons, mango, oranges, lemons, limes, ginger and tomatoes from my local grocer. Flour and grains were typically available in paper bags or cardboard boxes, which I considered ok as long as the paper didn’t have plastic/aluminium or chemical lining on the inside. Seeds were more of a hit and miss, with some shops carrying them in plastic bags and others in cardboard boxes.
What I missed the most were actually leafy greens. There were a few different types of kale at the farmers market. I didn’t purchase them but probably should have, as I was missing something green in my diet, but all the grocery shops had them in little plastic bags.
I think for sure there are parts of this we could incorporate into our regular grocery run to try to reduce our plastic consumption. I have also been toying with the idea of making little notes saying something along the line of “I came to purchase *insert name of produce* but couldn’t find any that wasn’t wrapped in plastic”, in the hope of helping nudge grocery shops back towards a less plastic obsessed world.
Of course, this was all made a lot easier because this was August and peak vegetable season. if I had done this experiment again in April/March, I am sure it would have been a whole lot more challenging!