Ideas for avoiding plastic food packaging

After my two weeks of photographing our plastic waste it was clear that plastic food packaging made up the majority of it. This is the plastic that is the hardest to get away from. We don’t buy plastic things any more if there is an alternative in wood, metal, cloth or glass (which there almost always is) or use single use plastics like cups or cutlery but minimizing plastic food packaging is a tough challenge. The four food categories which are the hardest to buy without plastic in my opinion are:

  • meat
  • frozen food/vegetables 
  • organic vegetables
  • sauces
  • (dairy)

Below is a run through of the different categories and my thoughts around minimizing plastic in these areas:

Meat

We buy our meat either from a company called Gårdssällskapet that sells local organic meat or organic meat that is marked down because it is close to its best before date which both come in plastic packaging. The only way to avoid plastic packaging for meat is to buy it over the counter in your own container. Since we have a clear strategy around how we buy meat both for other environmental reasons along with animal welfare and frugal aspects this is an area where we will keep buying plastic packaging and will minimize in other areas. I have discussed our meat strategy more in my post: Frugal vs Low Impact food shopping.

Frozen food/vegetables

Frozen food comes in plastic packaging for the most part although there are some cardboard alternatives around which we try to buy. The food we buy frozen is vegetables/berries, some gluten free products like hamburger buns, meat, vegetarian alternatives to meat and occasionally ice cream. We will try to get around some of the plastic by growing our own food and buying more vegetables fresh when they are on sale and freezing them. Making my own ice cream out of coconut milk which was delicious with an occasional ice cream cone when out and about will probably remove the ice cream packaging. We will also more actively start picking our own berries and freezing them. I also have the ambition to making vegetable patties, falafel and meatballs from scratch in big batches and freezing them.

Organic vegetables

For some reason organic vegetables seem to be individually packaged in plastic more than other vegetables which you usually can buy unpackaged in bulk. This is quite annoying since I want to buy organic vegetables but without plastic packaging. I have set up a strategy for buying vegetables where I follow the clean fifteen and dirty dozen lists (follow the link to make sure you have the lastest list). This means that I usually buy vegetables from the clean fifteen list local if possible but not organic and in bulk and reserve my organic purchases (which might be packaged in plastic) for the vegetables on the dirty dozen list. I also actively try to avoid the vegetables that have plastic and choose those that I can buy in bulk and that are grown in Sweden or close to Sweden (both for the environment and because it is frugal). So during winter/early spring we eat fewer types of vegetables (a lot of cabbage and carrots) and have a lot more choice during summer/autumn.

Sauces

We buy a fair amount of sauces (who can live without sauce?!?) which is problematic because a lot of sauces are packaged in plastic. Our tactic is to buy in glass containers, make them ourselves or buy them in bulk. The sauces we have found in bulk are mayonnaise, sweet chili sauce, oyster sauce (which is also in glass) and soy sauce which we usually then pour into smaller glass containers that we store in the fridge. Some sauces like pesto, taco sauce, Dijon mustard, fish sauce or olive oil, coconut oil and butter are packaged in glass or in butters case paper. The ketchup I have actually made myself. What is left that we don’t buy in larger plastic packaging is pretty much bearnaise sauce, BBQ sauce and mustard.

As a last note: we don’t eat dairy products (except for butter) which could have been a hard area to minimize plastic since most dairy based products are packaged in plastic. If we would have eaten dairy some tips are:

  • buy the nicer cheeses over the counter in your own container
  • minimized consumption of “normal” cheeses which are almost always packaged in plastic
  • stick to products like milk, yoghurt, cream and sour cream that are packaged in cartons instead of plastic
  • buy larger yoghurt cartons and poured it in smaller glass containers if you want to bring it as a snack instead of buying smaller yoghurt packages

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