Featured Food Talk

Zero-Waste Living – Starting Simple, Starting Somewhere

January 27, 2020
Zero-waste-living- feature

I’m not great at many chores around the flat (a certain someone can confirm that) but the one thing that really brings me joy is unpacking the groceries. It’s a bit pathetic to admit but I like the comfort of having well stocked shelves, and the satisfaction of having a place for everything and everything in its place. But today it was a joyless task because I was riddled with guilt. It seemed like every second item I pulled out of our shopping bags contained some form of plastic in its packaging. I stared at it and felt like I had failed. Failed to uphold my pledge to reduce our plastic consumption, failed to make any difference at all. It’s times like this that I wonder what is the point of going out of my way to change my habits when almost every part of consumer life is literally wrapped in plastic.

This zero-waste living thing is hard. Really hard. It’s obviously possible, as evidenced by a few useful and trustworthy proponents I’ve heard of, but I think the aim of complete zero-waste zen is a bit impractical for our lifestyle right now. I’ve decided to be more pragmatic, do what I can, and not beat myself up for what I can’t. In the words of Anne-Marie Bonneau aka @zerowastechef, “We don’t need a handful of people doing zero-waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.” So with that sentiment in mind, I thought I would share some of the changes we have been making or attempting in order to reduce our waste and plastic consumption…

Freshly baked sourdough loaf in dutch oven

Zero-Waste Tip 1: Buying Loose Food

We still do our main grocery shop at the supermarket but I’ve been supplementing that with visits to our local bulk food store. Once every 2-3 months, I’ll walk over there (our closest store is The Source in Clapham Junction but there are more and more popping up all over London) with a long list and a bag laden with my own containers and jars. I’l’ stock up on pantry staples like barley and couscous, as well as kitchen products like washing up liquid.

Walking into the store for the first time was a little overwhelming; I didn’t know what they had, where everything was, or how I went about actually taking what I wanted. I was even a little embarrassed about bringing plastic containers into this plastic-free zone, even though it was far lighter and more practical than carrying heavy jars, but now I feel like a regular and it’s second nature! It is slightly more expensive than just buying the ordinary supermarket stuff but the products are often organic, and a bonus is you can take as much or as little as you need.

Well over half of the fruit and vegetables we buy are loose too. We’re lucky to have access to a large Sainsbury’s with a decent loose produce selection, as well as local greengrocers all within walking distance from our flat, but packaging seems unavoidable for some vegetables like beansprouts and kale. I’ve considered produce delivery services like Oddbox but find it hard to commit as I like to buy my vegetables according to what we plan to cook that week, not the other way round.

Where we have struggled the most is meat, fish and dairy; like most people, we are reducing our consumption because of the environmental impact from the way it’s produced and packaged. We won’t be giving it up entirely but when we do eat meat, will be eating as much of the animal as possible by buying lesser-favoured cuts, offal, or whole chickens and ducks to portion up and turn into many meals, and having smaller portions. This will seem unsatisfactory to some, but ultimately we still want to eat what we love and this conscious decision is what works for us right now. 

Selection of grains and pulses purchased from a bulk food store

Zero-Waste Tip 2: Reusable Containers, Jars, and Cutlery

There are two drawers in our kitchen which I am fairly sure a certain someone hates because they’re always a bit of a pain to shut, but I love them because they are home to our plastic containers and glass jars, almost of which are repurposed from food purchases. These are used on a daily basis to store leftovers from dinner, food that I’ve prepped for cooking later in the week, things for the freezer, lunches for the office… endless uses! It’s also meant we’ve been able to stop using cling film for over a year now.

You may have noticed that I mentioned plastic containers… yep, we still use these because one of the key aspects of reducing our waste is continuing to use what we have. Some of those are proper tupperware type things, others are large yoghurt tubs which are the perfect size for freezing single portion soups or curries! The only specific purchases I have made were two glass containers for my work lunches as I wasn’t keen on eating out of flimsy microwaved plastic containers anymore, and a reusable cup to carry my hot tea safely around the office. It may not seem like a big change but there’s something more satisfying about eating out of a glass vessel, with proper stainless steel cutlery which I also carry in my bag now.

Zero-Waste Tip 3: Making Bread, Pasta, Noodles

I love carbs and, as it turns out, love making carbs from scratch… particularly the holy trinity of bread, pasta, noodles. Those of you who follow me on Instagram will know all about my beloved sourdough starter, Beyonce. I started making ‘no knead bread’ in a dutch oven a few times before finally biting the bullet and embarking on my sourdough experiment. All it required was flour, water, a jar, and some patience – not much to lose. It was a bit slow to get going (do not create your starter in the coldest week of the year…) but I persevered and now Beyonce is a year old, as bubbly as ever, and I bake a loaf of bread every week! 

From here I decided to try my hand at pasta and noodles, aided by the pasta machine gifted to me by dear friends for my birthday. I watched countless Youtube tutorials in preparation, but as with the sourdough, the best way to learn was to just do it. I always want things to be perfect the first time so am prone to overthinking everything… which flour would be best, how big should the eggs be, how long should I knead for, was there such a thing as over-kneading?! When I finally worked up the courage to try it, I realised just how easy it is to do. Both only really require flour, eggs or water, and a lot of elbow grease which I have now even outsourced to my Kitchenaid, making it even more manageable. Not only do I love making bread, pasta and noodles, but it does mean there are three more things we don’t have to buy processed and in plastic!

Homemade ramen noodles

Zero-Waste Tip 4: Meal-Planning Every Week

I am a fastidious meal planner, mainly because I pretty much think about food whenever I have a spare moment. Meal-planning is important and useful for me because it reduces my stress levels and food waste. I like coming home after work and knowing exactly what I am cooking that evening, or even being able to prepare or pre-cook some dishes over the weekend to make my life easier during the week. Planning our meals also allows us to ‘multi-task’ ingredients, particularly meats and vegetables, to make sure we waste as little of it as possible. I’m also a big fan of the freezer for leftovers and batch meals. I always try to keep some homemade pasta or noodles, dumplings, and extra meats in the freezer for those emergency meals!

Zero-Waste Tip 5: Charity Shop Trawling

I’ve never had the patience or luck required for clothes shopping at charity or vintage shops, but I am much more enthusiastic when it comes to kitchen items. It’s not particularly good when you need a specific item at a specific time, but it’s always worth a browse as you can find some really decent quality stuff that might just need a good clean. A lot of our glassware is from our local charity shop – if you hunt a little, you’ll often find that they come in sets, and they’re so cheap you won’t be too heartbroken if they fall victim to the floor or an unforgiving kitchen bench. I’ve also managed score a few bargains with good quality old school baking dishes and even our wine rack!

Zero-Waste Tip 6: Small Bathroom Swaps

I don’t think we’ll ever go completely zero-waste or plastic-free in the bathroom department but we have made little changes where practical. One of the first changes to show I ‘did give a crap’ was switching to recycled paper loo roll, and bamboo tissues and paper towels from Who Gives a Crap, a company which make environmentally friendly products and donate half their profits to building toilets where they are needed! We now also use bar soap (we’d recommend Beco; great company and ethos), buy shampoo, conditioner, and hand soap by refilling repurposed bottles at bulk store, started using stainless steel safety or recyclable razors, bamboo toothbrushes and… I’m an Organicup convert!

Stack of recycled paper toilet paper from Who Gives a Crap company

Have you also made changes to move towards a zero-waste or low waste lifestyle? Feel free to share your tips and tricks!

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