Friday, 9 September 2016

Life Without Plastic: A Zero Waste Experiment

This week is Zero Waste Week in the UK and in a totally winging it planned pledge I decided I was going to try and not eat any food that comes in plastic packaging. For five days. Doesn't sound that hard, right? Well I tried... And failed.

Why give up plastic? 

Last year I moved from an area where you could chuck pretty much anything recyclable in your household recycling bin, to a council where they would only accept plastic bottles. Which meant all the plastic packaging and wrappers that come with our food goes straight into the general waste.

There is also rather a lot of information out there about the bad things plastic is doing to our bodies and the environment. I'm not going to go into detail here, but a quick google search throws up a selection of scientific (and not so scientific) studies on the topic.

I haven't done a detailed analysis, but I reckon about 95 percent of what we throw into our general waste each week is plastic. Which feels, well, wrong. With the helpful push of Zero Waste Week, it was time to take action.

The rules

I tried to make it easy for myself, mainly because I hadn't planned this at all, and had not prepped or even really thought about how I was going to manage this for the week. I'd also made social plans that I didn't want to cancel. So the rules were as follows:

  • I couldn't buy or eat any food which came in plastic packaging.
  • Eating out was ok, as long as the food didn't come in a plastic container. So restaurant / cafe meals were in, but pre-packaged sandwiches were out.
  • Plastic bottles were excluded (as we can recycle them).

When I posted my pledge on Twitter, Rae Strauss, the lady behind Zero Waste Week commented that I'd picked a challenging one. I felt smug. Until I went to the supermarket for lunch.

A sea of plastic

When I look back, I realise I hadn't thought through exactly how much of the food we buy comes in plastic. I figured I'd follow my usual principles of trying to buy loose fruit and veg, and get the rest of my meals from tins and jars.

I walked into the supermarket and was faced with this:

More plastic...

 And it was only then that I realised how much of the food I love I wouldn't be eating this week.

How I tried to quit plastic (and failed)

I left that supermarket with two thoughts: I was going to be eating a lot of bananas, and would need to do a lot of cooking from scratch. Neither of which I have a problem with in principle, but I had a busy week ahead.

Fortunately we have a decent cafe at work, who have got used to the weird Sustainability Manager who insists on taking her lunch out on a proper plate instead of a plastic takeaway container. Normally I eat at the cafe once a week, tops. This week it was three days out of five, and on one of the other days I was at a work event. Yup, there was a lot of cheating going on.

Having informed my other half of our new culinary arrangements by text, I got home from work to be proudly presented with a black bean, vegetable and quinoa tagine (we were also on vegan day - I know, he puts up with a lot). Black beans - tin. Vegetables - loose or tinned. Quinoa - jar (kind of).

New rule:

  • Food which has been transferred from plastic bags to jars is ok.
Even stretching the rules, I know in my heart this is cheating. Over the course of the week I fail to keep my pledge in many small, yet significant ways.  I bake home-made biscuits, so I have a snack to eat at work (other than bananas) and despite using flour, sugar, oil and vanilla essence from paper bags and glass bottles, I fail when it comes to baking powder. Can you even buy baking powder that's not in a plastic container?

Our vegetable bag arrives half way through the week; a great big brown paper bag of fresh veggies, with not a scrap of plastic in sight. And it includes potatoes, the one carbohydrate that doesn't seem to come in plastic packaging. Winner.

By Friday I just really want some halloumi cheese to go with my salad. But ALL cheese comes in plastic. All of it. Maybe this is why zero waste gurus are often vegan? But there is salvation: wine (glass bottle) and chocolate (foil and cardboard wrapper). The. End.

Why we can't give up plastic

So I failed in my zero waste target. But the experiment really opening my eyes to the reality of zero waste living. And the reality is, that for the vast majority of us it is not achievable.

Yes, there are people who live this life, and I admire them for it. But most of the blogs I have come across are from US bloggers who live in cities or states where they have bulk-buy stores. I don't even know if there still are any similar stores in the UK (though I imagine there may be in London). And whether they stay open late enough to cater for people who have full-time, office based jobs.

For those of us who don't live in close proximity to Whole Foods or a cosy high street with a string of independent butchers, fishmongers and grocers, the reality is that we're reliant on supermarkets. And whilst supermakets continue to insist on packaging everything up in plastic, we will continue to fill our waste bins with these unsustainable waste products.

To end on a positive note, I have attuned my plastic-free eye to scout out the products you can buy at your local supermarket which do not have a scrap of plastic packaging. And there are small changes you can make to your shopping habits that will make a difference. But that is another blog, for another day.

Friday, 2 May 2014

The end of the line

So, my week of living below the line has finally come to an end. It's been a tough week, but I'm really pleased I did it. It's made me appreciate once again, how much we take for granted, and the physical and mental side-effects of living off an extremely low budget diet.

So what did I have for my first meal after LBTL? Well it was at a motorway service station so there wasn't a huge amount of choice. M&S had also run out of lemon.cheesecake which I was quite sad about. But here it is....


It tastes good - but cost more than the last five days worth of food put together. Which really makes you stop and think. 

Thank you to everyone who's sponsored me and the Hullion through the challenge - it's really made a huge difference and kept us going through the tough times! And I'll probably be back next year, with a different shop and different meals - by all for the same £1 a day budget.

Live Below the Line - snack attack!

I feel like I have spent pretty much all my non-working, waking hours this week cooking! That's the thing when you only have a £1 a day - it doesn't just have to cover 3 meals a day, but all your snacks in between. I'm used to cooking my breakfasts, lunches and dinners, but tend to rely on fruit, dried fruit/nuts and cereal bars for snacks. Not this week...

In addition, despite eating monster portions at meals, they just haven't been keeping me full for long enough, so snacks have been vital to try and keep me going.

So, here are some of the snacks I've been having this week:

First up, lemon biscuits. Well, kind of biscuits...really noticed the lack of butter and sugar in these. They were quite nice fresh out of the oven, but not so great a few days later.

I made some split pea dip out of leftover dahl on Tuesday (extra ginger and some olive oil) which was delicious. The salt crackers were ok, but not quite crunchy enough (poor bake!). The second batch I baked on Wednesday were much better and helped get my salt intake up a bit.

These may be the winner! After I had my windfall of bananas on Wednesday night, I then needed to work out how to use all the battered bananas....the answer - banana cakes! With a heavily adapted recipe as had no baking powder, sugar or much fat. But I bunged some lemon curd in and they didn't turn out too bad - a nice treat to end the week.

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Mmmm rice pudding...

One of the hardest things about budgeting for my Live Below the Line challenge was giving up my morning porridge. So one of of key reasons for including milk in my budget (although its had many other uses this week!) was so I could make rice pudding for breakfast. 

What I didn't realise was quite how much milk rice pudding uses - I mean, there's hardly any rice in it! And of course most recipes use full-fat milk and involve a host of other tasty ingredients such as cream, nutmeg and (most importantly) sugar - all of which I don't have.

But I gave it a go anyway - here's my rice pudding, made with half skimmed milk, half water and with a few generous spoons of lemon curd stirred through instead of sugar:

I appreciate that looks rather like a fried egg, but you get the idea.

Anyway, the best part about it that it was delicious! Pretty creamy even with the low fat content. And super-easy to make on the hob (despite a boiling-over disaster). So if you fancy a lower fat version of this classic pudding try experimenting! Though I think if I had the choice I'd replace the lemon curd with honey...mmmmmm.

Don't forget - still time to sponsor us here! 

Live Below the Line - dinner 4

There's no getting away from it - trying to make the most of what few ingredients you have takes time - I didn't get round to eating this lot til 10pm! But it was pretty good and actually felt like a proper meal rather than rice and veg...

Lasagne LBTL style ( homemade attempted pasta, nettles and tomato/mixed veg layers, white sauce and breadcrumb topping), roast (tinned) potatoes and foraged dandelion leaf salad.

Two more days to go - this week is dragging...

Live Below the Line - jackpot!

So what did I spend my last 30p on? Well this lot...

I happened to walk into Asda at exactly the right moment to grab these bargains - I've never seen this good reductions in London supermarkets before but it couldn't have come at a better time. One bag of bashed bananas, one bag of satsumas and a leek and potato soup mix to bolster my diminishing supplies!

I just wish I could send some to the Hullian :o(

Live Below the Line - the half way point

Well, we're almost half way through our week of living on £1 a day, and already feeling the effects of our restricted diet. I think we're both struggling to engage our brains fully at work and whilst I haven't been feeling that hungry, I also haven't been feeling, well full...or satisfied by what I've been eating, apart from my excellent curry dinner on day 2. I'm no nutritionist, but I wonder if this has something to do with the lack of fat in our diets. We also both have really dry mouths - all the time. I had put this down to the cold I'm still suffering with, but I think it may also be something to do with just drinking water - and perhaps, lack of salt/sugar to balance this fluid intake.

I have to admit to hitting a bit of a wall yesterday evening, after abandoning my session at the climbing wall after I came over rather dizzy. Still felt pretty light-headed on the walk home and sent a melancholic text to the Hullion, bemoaning the lack of cheesecake in my £1 a day diet. Suspecting that I actually needed a) food, and b) salt, I fried up a quick snack of rice-dal balls, with a healthy sprinkling of salt as a pre-dinner snack. Heaven. And it gave me some much-needed energy to make dinner, which was this:

Baked bean and veg pot, tasty rice (I.e. with added stock) and veg. I admit it doesn't look that exciting. And it is basically beans-on-rice-with-a-bit-of-veg.  But it was quick to make and filled a hole!

I feel I must make an apology for the quality of the photos on these blogs - unfortunately as it tends to be dark when I've finished cooking, the lighting isn't great and I don't have the energy to get out my proper camera, upload and edit the photos. So they're just quick phone snaps! But you get the idea of what we're eating...

Incidentally, here's a pic of the Hullian's baking efforts yesterday afternoon:

Impressive, huh? Though the yummy looking cake was sadly not made from ingredients in his £5 shop - it's to flog to his work colleagues to raise some pennies for LBTL. Talking of raising funds, a bit thank you to the generous cake-mad members of my team for raising more than £43 by buying my baked goodies. And well done me for resisting both chocolate buttercream and carrot cake (not together I hasten to add). 

Well, on with another day - I'm counting the hours until this evening, when I get to spend my final 30p!