We deliberately chose to start off with one of the tougher challenges first, specifically to highlight that not all of these can be completed on the first try. And that’s ok. Making small improvements is the only way to tackle the challenges that are a step up. And, as a number of the challenges go hand-in-hand, working towards the more complex achievements means you get to claim some of the smaller badges along the way.
With that out of the way, we did give the challenge our best shot. Here is how we got on.
Neither of us are a morning people, which often leads to us leaving the house without breakfast, let alone a packed lunch. This can then lead to not-so-sustainable buys throughout the day. We knew we would have to get organised to tackle this challenge. We put together a meal plan for the week to make sure we only use ingredients that can be purchased without plastic packaging.
We took advantage of stores allow customers to bring their own containers and fill them as much as needed using the scales provided – we visited these to stock up on toiletries and dried foods like rice, pasta, lentils, oats and dried fruit. An examples of such shops in our area are Something Good and Buy the Kilo, but we’d encourage you to find your local equivalent.
We also stopped by our community centre as it happened to have a pop-up for a small local business following a similar philosophy. The shop owner makes her own eco-friendly cleaning products and toiletries and reuses old plastic bottles from the conventional store-bought items to give them a second life. You can bring back any bottles for her to use, regardless of whether you originally got them in her store.
Ready, set, go
Once the meal plan was in place, getting perishable ingredients was fairly straightforward. A lot of fruit and vegetables can already be bought without plastic packaging, so we did not struggle too much there – although admittedly it did narrow down the selection a little bit.
We normally eat a lot of meat-free alternatives, but as a lot of these come in plastic, we did have to buy meat to get a bit of variation on beans for my protein. This is one of the examples where one may need to weigh up the overall impact when thinking about the long-term effects. That being said, we were pleasantly surprised that we were able to bring our own tupperware to our regular store butcher/fresh fish counter and have them place the meat straight into this rather than adding extra packaging.
I would like to say that we suddenly became early birds and were making porridge for ourselves at the crack of dawn, but that’s probably a task for the future. Instead, a variation on the Skyrim style honey nut-treats became our saviour as a good on the go breakfast/snack option. We got the recipe directly out of the Elder Scrolls Cookbook, though you can find similar ones online.
One of the amazing discoveries we made during the week were beeswax wraps – an alternative to cling film that borders on magic in my eyes. The wraps mould easily thanks to the natural heat of one’s hands and can simply be washed with cold water afterwards, ready for reuse.
Aside from food, I’d like to give a shoutout to Who Gives a Crap who really saved the day when we ran out of toilet paper. The company supply toilet paper, tissues and paper towels wrapped only in recycled (and awesomely colourful) paper – and they donate 50% of their profit to build toilets in developing countries. That’s some seriously good karma you can get by a simple visit to the loo!
The stumbling points
Now that I went over the successes of the week, what caught us out? We did pretty well as far as groceries were concerned, but there were definitely areas we forgot.
Exhibit A; bin bags. While the contents of our bins did start looking a lot more natural, we still did put our rubbish in plastic bags at the end of the day. Tough one to get around, so stay tuned as we look into composting further down the line.
Next up, pens. Both of us work in an office environment, so avoiding these was essentially impossible. Of course, you can get ceramic or metal pens, but falling down the rabbit hole of examining all of the parts that form a pen and how to dispose of it could be a whole other post of it’s own, so I’ll leave it at that.
Finally, this last one’s purely on me; makeup. I’m not really one to wear a full-face of makeup, but I do use some, and admittedly some of it does come in plastic. You can argue that this is not really single-use – I do not chuck my mascara out after applying it once – but there’s definitely room for improvement in this area. On the other hand, I thought it was important not to toss aside everything I already have just because it’s in plastic packaging and go on a wild shopping spree to replace everything.
Using up what you already have and trying to find more sustainable replacements along the way is something pretty important in my book. I didn’t want to lose sight of what we’re trying to achieve with doing all this, after all. I think it’s important to use what I have at home rather than be completely swept up in buying the next “sustainable” thing (Spoiler: solid toothpaste tablets will most likely not become one of our staples).
Now that the week is up, will we go back to our “old ways” or will we stay this new and improved version of ourselves? I have somewhat alluded to this earlier in the post – we plan to continue to reduce our plastic where possible, but not avoid it all costs.
For example, during our challenge attempt, we got milk in glass bottles, however we will likely go back to buying this in plastic recyclable bottles again instead (gasp). Using glass bottles would have been a good way forward if we had a local milkman who reuses the bottles directly, but since we don’t go through large quantities of milk, we are not sure if swapping one recyclable material for other would necessarily be a true improvement.
Instead, we plan to focus on steps where the improvements are undeniable. We will definitely continue to use the beeswax wraps and get my dried food and cleaning products from the sustainable refill shops, since it’s an easy enough swap and makes for a quite fun shopping experience. As a bonus, researching which of these shops exist close to us actually made us feel more connected to our local community.
Going ahead, we hope to use up what I already have in my cupboards and then consider the most sustainable replacement once we’re done with the product. Hopefully, by making some of the simple swaps, reusing containers and thinking about what we buy a bit more in general, we can actually make tangible improvements to our consumption habits overall.