How I reduced plastic in the food?
It took me 9 months to figure out how to replace all the products packaged in plastic I used to buy. Today, 95% of the food I buy does not have any plastic packaging. The remaining 5% would be, for example, a special traditional tea packaged with a plastic film around it.
Consuming plastic-free food has meant buying mostly unprocessed food, and therefore purchasing ingredients and then preparing them myself.
Plastic free solutions for the food:
- Vegetables and fruits: because my 0-plastic project was also about meaning, as a plus, I decided this year to buy vegetables/fruits produced locally and grown ecologically with gentle agricultural methods. During the winter season, buying local seasonable products means having very few options, but I decided it would be part of the experience. Eventually, I learned about the variety of seasonable products that grow in nearby regions.
- Cheese: replacing cheese packaged in plastic in supermarkets was very feasible. I started to always go to cheese mongers – better quality products and less plastic for the planet.
- Milk: you can find pasteurized milk packaged in cardboard in almost all supermarkets. However, a pack of 6 is packaged in a plastic film…
- Yogurts: in supermarkets, they are almost all packaged in plastic cups. Very few brands sell them in glass containers.
- Starchy food, lentils, seeds, dried fruits, and so forth: it took me a while to find a sustainable solution. Loose goods are accessible in many stores in Paris. However, before being displayed as loose goods, they are sometimes initially packaged in plastic bags – I asked store managers and they showed me how the food is packaged before being displayed. For me it sounded like handing off my plastic problem to the store. After several months, I found just two shops that sell loose goods not initially packaged in plastic: ‘Day by Day’ and ‘So Bio’.
- Condiment, sugar, oils, tea, coffee, etc.: there is always a plastic packaging alternative.
- Meat conservation: no need of freezing plastic bags, I used baking papers or bee wraps.
To have a plastic-free lifestyle, I totally changed my relationship with food, spending more time carefully selecting ingredients and then cooking them. All of this took me a considerable amount of time, but the reward was in the quality of the food I ate.
Also, I had to change some habits. I started to bring my own receptacle when buying fresh food and to always specify to merchants that I avoid the use of plastic. Indeed, even when I was trying hard to avoid plastic, there were some unexpected surprises along the way. For example, I ordered online strawberries from farmers and when I picked them up few days later, I realised that they were packed in a plastic box. Likewise, I ordered some olives along with other things in a market. I realised only afterwards that the olives were in a plastic bag. Plastic is everywhere, so it was important to habituate myself to always specify “please no plastic”.
Along the way, there were some frustrations, but I learned to turn them into creativity. Once, I was traveling and had no choice but to buy bread packaged in plastic. All stores around were closed already and it was that baguette or nothing. The place I was renting was a little far from the city and there were no coffees/restaurants around. So, no baguette meant no breakfast for the next morning. I was tempted to just buy that baguette, but then I thought: What about making pancakes instead?
The cosmetics journey: do it yourself?
After a year I managed to decrease by 70% my consumption of plastic
- I eliminated 40% of the cosmetics I used to buy
- I replaced 30% of the products by plastic-free alternatives
- I replaced 10% of the products by chemical-free but not plastic-free alternatives
- I kept 20% of the products I used to buy – because I haven’t yet found alternatives
At first, I thought I found the solution. I considered buying products from a famous “natural” brand that says it recycles its own plastic packaging when the client brings back the products to the store. Reading serious articles about the matter of closing the loop for plastic cosmetic bottles left me with doubts. I decided to walk away and look for other solutions.
I needed a shampoo and I didn’t know how to replace my favourite one. I went to ‘Sephora’ and once there I discussed with a seller. “Do you know any brand that packages its shampoo in a non-plastic recipient”. She said, “No I don’t know any. However, if you’re a green girl looking for green products you should make your own cosmetics”. “Making my own products, what do you mean?”. “Do it yourself (DIY). You should read blogs to learn how to do that.”
Learning more about this topic, I realised that the main motivation of some bloggers was to create natural and therefore chemical-free products. Are chemicals really bad for the body? I read the book of Rita Stiens ‘the truth about cosmetics’ (1) that tells about greenwashing in the beauty industry and gives a list and classification of chemicals used in cosmetics and the degree of risks they represent for the body. The book convinced me to stop using most cosmetics I used to buy and to start looking for natural alternatives.
Some stores aim to sell natural processed cosmetics. Some of them are plastic free – such as solid shampoos or other hygiene products – others are chemical but not plastic free. In total, I have been able to replace a few products I used to buy.
To solve both the plastic and chemical issues, I decided to learn how to make my own cosmetics. However, this adventure took me time: there were so many books, so many blogs and so many contradictory opinions. I needed to sort things out. There is no single recipe that can be applied to everyone. I needed to find the right ingredients that fit to my particular type of hair or skin.
Finally, I discovered ‘Aroma Zone’, the Alibaba cave for anyone interested in the ‘DIY’ concept. I was waiting for the end of the 2020 lockdown to go to this store and buy some ingredients to make my own cosmetics. Finally, the first Saturday morning right after the end of lockdown I went to ‘Aroma Zone’ boutique.
What a surprise. I thought I would be alone in the store, but it seemed like all the girls living in Paris where queuing there. Is it that famous? On the other hand, some of the ingredients I wanted were packaged in a plastic bag or bottle. I had been waiting for 2 months to come to the store. Plastic was there, again!
Nevertheless, I realised that the store’s concept was “DIY” and not “plastic avoidance”. They fairly allow women to create natural cosmetics with good quality products. That day in ‘Aroma Zone’, I bought the ingredients I needed most to make a few cosmetics. I thought at least I would learn how to make chemical free cosmetics and at the end they do have several zero-plastic alternatives.
Other products, the alternatives I did or didn’t find
- Households: There are plenty of green alternatives to classical households sold in supermarkets. Some contain less chemicals and are therefore less harmful for lungs and water. However, the ones I found were generally packaged in plastic. For the sake of the experience, I decided to start making myself some household liquids in order to use greener alternatives and less plastic packaging. As a result, I decreased the use of plastic for the household category by 60%. As a plus, I decreased the use of chemicals by 80%.
- Medicine: I don’t know if there is currently any alternative to products such as eye drops, antiseptics and many others. I asked some pharmacist, but they were not willing to have this long conversation with me.
- Electronics: When buying electronic devices, each component comes with a plastic film around it (strings, battery, screen…). To avoid plastic, the alternative could be to buy second-hand or repair.
- Other goods in general packaged in plastic: I tried to make the effort to always look for an equivalent good not packaged in plastic. It is feasible but it takes time to find alternatives.
- Other goods for long term use made in plastic:
I eliminated or decreased the use of some products made in plastic because the non-plastic alternative was easy to find and convenient to use (for example hangers).
I bought some goods made in plastic for long term use because the alternative was inconvenient or simply did not exist (for example swimming goggles).
My feedback after this experience and opinion on how to reduce plastic in our societies, is in Part I.
(1) Read book: ‘The truth about cosmetics’ by Rita Stiens