Living for a week without plastic packaging

Going cold turkey (unpackaged of course)

20 October 2008 14:20  [Source: ICB]

Plastic packaging is either a blessing or a curse, generally depending on whether you can actually open the product without suffering varying degrees of injury. Although I am well aware that packaging is not just there to look pretty and does have several purposes including prolonging a product's shelf life, do we really need so much of it?

For my sins, I "volunteered" (or was coerced, in truth) to try and live for a week without using any food that is wrapped or packaged in plastic. To be honest, I thought it would be quite easy, but that was until I started thinking about everything I ate. Realization then dawned on me that many personal favorites would be off the menu - prawns, most meat, cheese, yogurt, pasta, to name but a few.

I dared not put my family through the challenge, either - the look on my husband and son's faces when I explained were enough to kill the thought stone dead.

Apparently, 11% of household waste in the UK is plastic. And according to UK-headquartered pressure group WasteOnline, UK households produce the equivalent of around 245 jumbo jets, by weight, every week in packaging waste.

It is a shame that there is such a severe lack of facilities here in the UK. The current recycling rate for plastic in the UK is a shocking 5%, with the rest going to landfill or for incineration.

But, the tide is turning and there is a definite trend now, both among consumers and retailers, to reduce the amount of packaging used.

The UK's Food & Drink Federation launched an initiative last year that includes objectives to reduce by 340,000 tonnes the level of packaging reaching households by 2010 compared with 2005, and to send zero food and packaging waste to landfill by 2015.


Breakfast was a disaster. On opening my healthy cardboard-packed cereal, I found my organic oats and dried fruit staring at me out of a plastic bag. Plus, my soy milk, sitting proudly on the kitchen counter in a cardboard carton, had a plastic top. So, toast it is. At least the bread was wrapped in waxed paper.

No work today and I need to go on a big food shopping spree for the dinner party I am hosting on Saturday evening. So, armed with my newly purchased hessian shopping bags (plastic bags are so out of fashion now), I headed off to the large out-of-town supermarket. I had not got past the fruit and vegetable aisles when I realized that this trip was doomed to failure. Many of the vegetables I need to buy are in plastic bags, with no unwrapped alternatives. I did manage, however, to buy some unwrapped carrots and parsnips, although I had to submit to a large plastic bag of potatoes and wrapped green beans. I had also forgotten that most meat is wrapped in plastic (obviously for its barrier properties), and that many staple foods I normally buy are now out of bounds. Margarine was out, but butter was OK (not so good for the heart, or my purse, for that matter - wonder if I can put it through expenses as it's work-related?) [No chance! - Editor].

Got home and went to make a coffee. But, although coffee is in a glass jar, it has a plastic lid. Had a green tea instead and found comfort in a bar of foil-wrapped chocolate.


Toast again for breakfast. Had a flash of inspiration and decided to drive to a local butcher to buy some fresh, and hopefully unwrapped, meat. All progressed to plan - chose some minced beef and a joint of pork for Sunday's roast dinner - until the butcher proceeded to place my purchases in (yes, you've guessed it): plastic bags! Obviously, paper ones are no good as they will disintegrate once the meat juices soak through - why did I not think of that before? Not wishing to explain my predicament, especially with a queue of people behind me, I meekly paid for my purchases and hot footed it back to the car.

The rest of the day was more of a success with a baked potato and (tinned) tuna for lunch, and I even managed to spoil myself with a piece of chocolate cake for dessert in the evening as it came out of a cardboard box - no cream, though!


Had a boiled egg this morning - out of a cardboard carton, of course. Went shopping again but still struggled to buy products with no plastic wrapping. Found yogurt packaged in cardboard pots, but they had plastic lids, so foiled again. And why do packets of gravy powder have to be wrapped in plastic too? Other paper-wrapped products, such as sugar, don't have plastic outer wrappers. Tried to cheat by taking a cauliflower out of its plastic bag. But, when I got to the checkout, the lady had to ring for a member of staff to go and retrieve it because the bag had the barcode on and couldn't be scanned without it. I'm getting fed up with this now.


No work today and I'm off to see my newborn grandson and help his mum. Toast again for breakfast, and a sandwich for lunch, with tuna once again. Had a baked potato for dinner but no cheese or coleslaw allowed so had to settle for that particularly British specialty - baked beans. Meals are starting to become a little boring.


I discovered scampi was allowed today because it is in a foil bag and also found cheese in cardboard boxes with no plastic in sight - what a relief! And, in a local supermarket, I came across yogurt in glass jars with foil lids - good thing they were on special offer this week as they are normally too expensive for my budget. These at least partly compensated for the salad items that I could not buy such as tomatoes, watercress, cucumbers, beetroot, and radishes. Why do we need cucumbers wrapped in plastic? The old-fashioned greengrocers (an extinct commodity in my local area) never used to sell plastic-wrapped fruit and vegetables.

And why do the supermarkets that offer loose fruit and vegetables, provide plastic bags for us to put them in? What's wrong with paper bags?


Last day off today. I'm meeting my mum for lunch as it's her birthday. Went to a picturesque country pub where I ordered a cheese ploughman's: cheese, crusty bread and salad. Luckily, I had no idea of what had been wrapped in plastic before being served on my plate and I had no desire to find out, either. What I couldn't see I wouldn't worry about.

Stopped on the way home to stock up on cat and dog food. I noticed that if I bought the cheaper multipacks, the tins were wrapped in plastic. I realize that this is probably for ease of handling, but surely the plastic is another cost? Why can't I just buy the same quantity of tins loose for the same price as the multipack?


Back to work today. Will be glad to give up the toast: I'm sick of it now. Went for a cup of soup at lunchtime as usual. No problem with the polystyrene (PS) cup, but forgot about the plastic lid. Never mind, I'll leave it off (probably contravening health and safety) and just hope and pray I don't tip it over my clothes, or somebody else's, as I make my way back upstairs in the lift and through several doors.

Had another baked potato for dinner. Felt relieved that this was now the end and decided to celebrate with a glass of wine. Thank goodness wine is still in glass bottles. In fact, forget the glass, pass a straw: oops, better not, it's plastic!

Save 30% on a subscription to ICIS Chemical Business

By: Elaine Burridge
+44 20 8652 3214

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

For the latest chemical news, data and analysis that directly impacts your business sign up for a free trial to ICIS news - the breaking online news service for the global chemical industry.

Get the facts and analysis behind the headlines from our market leading weekly magazine: sign up to a free trial to ICIS Chemical Business.

Printer Friendly