How to shop plastic free: An introduction

Much like plastic itself, the plastic-free movement is going to be around for a long time.

Like most people last year, I was brutally shaken by Blue Planet II. I’d instantly wanted to throw out all of the unnecessary plastic in my house until I realised the cruel irony. At the same time, the commentary began filtering through to my Instagram feed, especially since I started liking Adriene Mishler’s point of view Keep Cup stories.

So instead of melting down, I swallowed my overwhelm, bought How to give up plastic: A guide to changing the world, one plastic bottle at a time, and felt anger, fear, sadness and empowerment all in equal measure.

This is a frightening problem on a huge scale, happening at breathtaking speed. It’s sparked a movement against ocean pollution, wildlife devastation, toxins, microplastics, and longer-term impacts we’re just beginning to understand. So this is my pledge to break free from plastic.

I’ve done without single-use carrier bags, plastic bottles and plastic cutlery for ages (the easiest places to start if you’re trying to reduce your single-use plastic). A takeaway coffee doesn’t happen unless I’ve remembered my reusable mug, and I never take straws (but admittedly need to get better at stopping one ending up in my drink before it’s too late).

But it’s time to do more. So as the new year rolled around, so did this resolution. This year, the husband and I are aiming to put it back if it comes in plastic, wherever possible. Our biggest hurdle? The supermarket.

Can you actually shop plastic free at the supermarket?

Don’t get any wild ideas – going plastic cold turkey probably isn’t going to happen. It’s not impossible, but this stuff is hard. 9 times out of 10, just when I start to feel smug, a seemingly passable product throws up a ‘Mixed material – not yet recycled’ klaxon. I weep at the reality that the shelves are just full of these curveballs, and make a mental note to never assume something in paper is actually only paper.

The first major thing to realise is shopping like this will take you away from the supermarket and into new territory. Think back to basics. Greengrocers, butchers, fishmongers, doorstep milk – where have you been all my life?

What we do already

Plastic-free(ish) greengrocery is coincidentally something we’ve done for a while. We’ve been devotees to Abel & Cole for about six years – originally because of the organic slant.

But happily, it means we’ve more or less managed to avoid wrapped fruit and veg for a while because Abel & Cole use minimal plastic in their fruit and veg boxes. Our carrots, potatoes, apples and oranges come happily together rolling around a cardboard box. Punnets and containers are generally cardboard or made from recycled materials. On reflection, this sort of shopping has undoubtedly had a huge effect on our plastic impact.

Rethinking your grocery shopping to be plastic-free

The supermarket is our ‘top-up’ shop after the Abel & Cole weekly delivery. Scouring the cupboards, fridge and freezer, I see there’s lots of work to be done and my heart sinks a bit.

All of the following needs a rethink: pasta, grains, cheese, salad, herbs, milk, dairy and any extra fruit and veg (nets of lemons, limes, garlic… Christ).

Then there’s the extras: loo roll, kitchen roll, cleaning products… But one thing’s for sure: we’ll be saying goodbye to frozen fruit and veg. Convenient as it is, the bags aren’t recyclable, and it’s something we can do without.

How do you do it?

Share your plastic-free wisdom with me! Helpful finds, swaps or resources you’ve used to help switch to a plastic-free pantry – stick them in the comments below.

I’ll be blogging our progress and sharing our discoveries along the way. Next up – we dip our toes into the new plastic-free shops in our local area.