How to reduce your plastic waste (podcast)

Learn how small changes to the way you shop and the products you buy can significantly reduce your plastic waste. Without spending more money…

Scroll down for a full transcript.


Links / Show notes:

Regional zero-waste shopping guides by therubbishtrip.co.nz

http://therubbishtrip.co.nz/regional-shopping-guide/regional-zero-waste-shopping-guides/

The Source bulks foods online

https://thesourcebulkfoods.co.nz/

Reusable paper towels

https://ohnatural.co.nz/product/good-change-bamboo-reusable-eco-wipes/

EarthSmart paper wrapped toilet paper (available in supermarkets)

https://www.cottonsoft.co.nz/our-brands/earthsmart.html

PaknSave online shopping

https://www.paknsaveonline.co.nz/

Peakfresh produce bags

https://nz.iherb.com/pr/PEAKfresh-USA-Produce-Bags-Reusable-10-12-x-16-Bags-with-Twist-Ties/44160


Transcript:

Annah:
Hi, everyone. Welcome to The Good You Can Do podcast. Today’s episode is going to be all about how you could reduce your plastic waste at home. We’ve been working hard on this for the last year or probably longer than that now, and have had a couple of quick wins and little tips that we would just love to share with people, because it’s really not that difficult to significantly reduce the plastics that you produce in your house. It probably started with us when we decided to track our plastic waste for a week. Rather than shoving it in the bin, we collected it in a container on our back porch and at the end of the week, we laid out everything that we had collected. Eg. Single-use plastics that couldn’t be recycled.

Annah:
We laid it out on a picnic rug in our lounge, and stared at the horror that was before us.

Annah:
At the time we did not think we were massive contributors. We were already conscious of what we bought, but even then it was shocking just how much we produced in one week.

Andy:
There’s something special about actually laying it out flat in front of you. When you’re just putting it in the bin, it’s just easier to just keep squashing it, and squashing it, and squashing it in. Then you take it outside into your big rubbish bin and you don’t really think about it, but when it’s all laid out flat, single file out on the floor, the visual representation of that is just-

Annah:
It’s way more significant.

Andy:
It is. I think that’s the best place to start. What gets measured gets improved, as the Peter Drucker saying goes, so you won’t really be able to know how far you’ve come until you measure where you are at right now. So your very first step is to measure what you’re producing. Without changing anything, just live how you normally live for a week, and see what you’re producing.

Annah:
For us, we stood and stared at this pile of rubbish, and chip packets were a massive contributor. Our consumption of coconut milk products was probably pretty bad too. While the bottles are recyclable, the wrapper that comes on the brand that we use is not. That contributed a lot.

Andy:
Courier packages were a big one.

Annah:
That’s possibly more my fault.

Andy:
Bread packets were fairly prevalent as well.

Andy:
There was a lot of stuff, which we’ll go through in this episode. There were a lot of things which you were instantly like, “Right. We can get rid of that, that, that, that, just by changing slightly the way we shop.”

Annah:
Just changing a couple of habits that we just didn’t even realize were an issue, basically, and just, yeah, tweak them a bit.

Andy:
We’ll run through these ideas pretty quick-fire. Just to give you as much useful information as we can in a short period of time, because we know you’re probably busy people out there just trying to do little things you can to make a difference. In no particular order, the very first thing that you should do if you want to reduce your waste, is to have small, reusable, veggie bags.

Annah:
Yeah. The veggie… the produce department is possibly the easiest place to go plastic-free.

Annah:
You can do it overnight. Literally, you already have to take your reusable shopping bags in. If you just make sure that you have the bags, the veggie bags, shoved in those that you take with you to the supermarket…

Andy:
Those little, woven, drawstring-cotton bags.

Annah:
You can actually buy them as you walk into the supermarket. Most of the markets, I’ve seen them. So pick up a few the first time you want to do it, and then just scan the barcode at the end. Preference as to what they’re made out of is entirely up to you. They’re much of a muchness to me. Sometimes they get a little bit dirty, so then you throw them in the wash with your towels and things. It’s not hard to keep them there. I actually just, when ours are empty, I store them in our fridge because that’s where they get emptied, so I can collect them all in one place. Then I just grab them before I run out to the supermarket.

Andy:
Fruits and vegetables seem to store really well in them. Better than plastic, those single use plastic bags. Even the compostable ones that you see in some supermarkets now, your fruit gets a little bit-

Andy:
Yeah, it’s like there’s some condensation in there which seems to fit the fruit. These bags will actually breathe a bit, and you’ll find stuff will last a bit longer.

Annah:
Yeah. So they’re really great, real easy, but instantly it’s the best place to go plastic-free. Berries, and cucumbers, and lettuce seem to be your biggest hurdles. We purposefully buy cucumbers that don’t come in plastic. I avoid berries when possible, or get the ones that come in recycled packaging. The lettuce, yeah, you can always buy an iceberg lettuce that’s not in plastic, and might look prettier in the plastic bag, but you actually probably get more lettuce and it’s often cheaper when you buy it not in the plastic.

Andy:
Those bags of spinach which come in single use plastic, you’re just paying for the packaging there. There are these other kinds of fresh berries you can buy, which I’ll link to in the show notes, but you can actually just buy your normal unwrapped spinach or iceberg lettuce at the supermarket, come home, put it in one of these green bags and it’ll keep for a very, very long time in your fridge. So there are options. The main reason the supermarket puts this stuff into single use plastic is so that it lasts longer.

Andy:
But you can buy the stuff that’s unwrapped and actually wrap it at home to make it last longer, and just reuse the bags that you’re doing that with.

Annah:
The other tip is to leave the plastic at the supermarket. Grapes are my number one contributor for this. I take a bunch of grapes out of a plastic bag and put it in my own bag. It’s surprising how often, if you’re buying the last couple of bunches of grapes that’s in the bin, how many plastic bags are actually left there. People don’t want to take the plastic home. Leave it at the supermarket. They will therefore eventually have to relay that to their producers.

Andy:
Just a small way of protesting, I guess.

Andy:
To say, “Hey, just don’t. Stop throwing this plastic at us.” Another one on the plastic front is like with blueberries and sometimes tomatoes, if you can’t get them in cardboard boxes, is to look at what number they’re in. If the plastic is a number one or a two… so if you look on the bottom of the box, there’ll be a little number inside a triangle, inside a little recycling logo. If that number is a one or a two, that can be recycled and reused in New Zealand. If it’s a three, four, five, six, seven, it can’t. You can put it in your recycling bin, but at this stage we don’t have facilities to actually recycle that in New Zealand, which means it’s getting shipped overseas.

Annah:
And who knows what’s happening? You think you’re possibly doing good by recycling a number five, but it’s actually probably just going in the dump in someone else’s country.

Andy:
If you really have to buy plastic, get the number one or two, but the other thing is just to say “no”, like you don’t have to have grapes all the time, you don’t have to have the things wrapped in plastic all the time. You can just choose to cook something else. There are so many vegetables and so many fruits that you can buy in a supermarket that are locally grown, and don’t come wrapped in plastic. There’s so much to eat without diving into getting more single use plastic waste in your trolley.

Annah:
I was really reluctant to buy the cucumbers that didn’t come in plastic. Technically, I don’t think… most people don’t eat the skin on those ones. I thought the kids wouldn’t like it. So I was reluctant, but I did, and I stuck with it. The other day, someone gave them some of the cucumber that is wrapped in plastic. I think it’s called the telegraph cucumbers. Neither of them ate it, because it had the skin on. They didn’t like it. They didn’t like the flavor. I was impressed that even my children… because the other one wasn’t even an option to give them. It’s just what they’re used to. They started eating what I gave them every day, and slowly but surely I can change their flavor preference.

Andy:
As you move further through the supermarket, if you’re there in person, there are a couple of other little quick wins that you’ll find along the way. There are little things, like there’s a type of toilet paper you can buy now that’s wrapped in paper, which is a recyclable outside covering. I’ll link to that in the show notes. Make sure you’re buying cans, not Tetra Paks. Tetra Paks, some people think are recyclable, but they’re not in New Zealand. So try and avoid them, and try and buy cans. If you’re going to buy a coconut milk, try and get it in a can, and maybe you water it down at home or mix your own type to use.

Andy:
Let’s jump to where you’ll see the biggest wins in your shopping, which is when you start to buy things in bulk and buy things online. This is where the real gains can be achieved. We’ve spent a lot of time trying different outlets for sourcing bulk food that’s coming in as little packaging as possible. The most common ones people use are Good For, or The Source or there’s another site called Real Food Direct, or Bin Inn as an option which has been around for a long time in a number of parts of New Zealand. By far and away, we’ve found the best one is-

Annah:
The Source. (https://thesourcebulkfoods.co.nz/)

Annah:
Good For, we just found quite expensive and their packaging costs, in terms of they charge you to pack your goods, was quite steep unfortunately. Bin Inn, I’m not actually sure that they do online shopping. I do sometimes buy bulk there, but Real Food Direct was really great. I did really appreciate what they were doing, except that they put huge labels on the bags that they sent us, and these labels were not compostable or recyclable, so they went in the bin.

Annah:
I’m talking like A5-size labels. They were really ginormous for the packet that it came in. The Source has definitely been the best for us. There’s a couple in Auckland, there’s one in Taupo. We live in Wellington, they ship it to us. If you spend over $100, they ship it free and they don’t charge for packaging, in terms of them packing it in the store. They’ve been really good. Everything has just come in a bag, handwritten on. There’s no labels.

Andy:
In a paper bag. That can be composted. This is for things like oats and nuts, and lentils and-

Annah:
Pasta.

Andy:
… dry goods, basically.

Annah:
Chips, dried fruit, anything that you can think of.

Andy:
Chocolate. Granola, spices, all manner of coconut sugar. Cocoa, things like that. Anything.

Annah:
Anything that you bake with.

Andy:
Yeah.

Annah:
Yeah, all your base staple food items that aren’t fresh, basically.

Andy:
We would shop from there once a month?

Annah:
Yeah, probably.

Andy:
Do a really big order. Then whatever we don’t store in our pantry is stored inside the paper bags that it comes in, but in a big tub. In a big closed tub with a lid, which we store underneath our stairs. They’re almost like a spare pantry or a larder type situation, but doesn’t take up much space in reality. You’re talking one small storage container. If you’re interested in getting into that, I’ll put a link to The Source in the show notes, but that’s where you can have a really, really big one. The other one is just buying online through your normal suppliers like PAK’n SAVE.

Andy:
You’ve found PAK’n SAVE have actually been-

Annah:
They’ve been really receptive to when I have asked, like at the end of your shop. I do a click and collect, the very end, they say, “Please write a note.” I just ask them not to use plastic, and they have been really receptive, they don’t put anything in plastic. Occasionally, I might get one or two things where they’ve substituted something that I’ve asked for, for something else, and I ended up getting plastic that I didn’t really want, but it’s very minimal. Even that has really helped. I was really impressed that they were willing to listen to their requests, because it does make it harder for them to measure things.

Annah:
Yeah, it does make it harder for them to not have it in a plastic bag, but they just gave it to me loose in a box.

Andy:
That was cool, when you turn up to pick up the box, and there’s no plastic in it.

Andy:
And you’ve got a whole lot of food there. It’s really, really nice. So, appreciate PAK’n SAVE doing that. That’s very, very cool. We’re going to close off with a few more, just quick-fire wins, of things that have made a big, big difference for us. These are a little bit all over the place, but it could be really useful to you. Number one is just to make a decision to just avoid Glad wrap. We just don’t use it in our house. If we’ve got leftovers, we put them into a Tupperware type container. We do use plastic, but it’s reusable. We just have a really good collection of reusable containers, or use glass jars and put those in the fridge.

Annah:
We’ve literally just gotten those glass jars from buying coconut yogurt in a glass jar and reusing it. So we haven’t actually had to buy any jars for our pantry, which is really cool.

Andy:
We have a lot of leftovers that we deal with. So there’s a lot of opportunities to use Glad wrap, but if you just… basically, not to make it part of your routine, then you can very quickly, pretty much eradicate that. Other little one is trying to avoid bags within bags. This is sometimes quite hard with kids’ food in particular, but there’s no need to be perfect here, but that it’s just a matter of making the decision not to buy little bags of potato chips that are a 12-pack of little bags inside one big bag. If you need to, you can buy one big bag of potato chips and just put them into little Glad Seal reusable bags. At least those bags are reusable plastic that you can use again, and again, and again.

Annah:
Yeah, and lunchboxes, kids’ lunchboxes, and everyone’s lunchboxes these days, it’s hard to find one without sections, actually. If you can get one that is air tight, and when it’s divided, it keeps the food just as fresh as if you put it in Glad wrap. I know growing up, my lunchboxes had Glad wrap in them because your lunch box was just one big container. But now, that is not the case. Pretty much every store, even the supermarkets, sell lunchboxes that have dividers and little containers within them. Yeah. It’s just shove the chips just straight in there.

Andy:
The other quick ones are reusable paper towels. This has been a big one for us. I’ll put a link to these in the show notes as well. Basically, rather than buying a set of paper towels which come wrapped in a plastic wrap, these are just literally reusable paper towels. You buy them in a pack. They come in a cardboard box, and then you can use them like a cloth around your kitchen, and then wash them.

Andy:
And reuse them again, and again, and again, and that’d been fantastic. Compossible chip bags. We haven’t quite shaken our potato chip habit, but we do at least buy… if you can afford them, buy the proper crisps, compostable chip bags, which is it’s still some level of waste, but at least it’s compostable and it’ll break down a lot quicker than single use plastic.

Annah:
Bars of soap have been really good. I was very reluctant to go down this track, but actually I’m really enjoying using a bar of soap instead of a bodywash. It doesn’t have to be the $40, very perfect bar of soap. Just any standard one will do. It’s a massive reduction in plastic, and don’t forget, for washing your dog too, I’ve actually found a bar of soap way easier because you can really get the soap on there, on the dog’s fur. That really, really helps. Yeah.

Andy:
Last but not least, it’s just that this is something I had to learn, is that buying in bulk actually does make a big difference. If you buy your rice in a five or ten-kg plastic bag, it doesn’t look like it would, but it still saves a lot of plastic compared to buying it a little 500-gram packet like you see in a supermarket. So for things like rice, dog food, potatoes, sugar, oats, buy as much as you can at any one time. There are stores that you can visit like Davis Trading and places like Moore Wilson’s where you can do this, but you can also do it online as well.

Andy:
Look for those opportunities and grab them, your big bags of potatoes, and jump on those when you can. It’s a simple decision, which those big packets can save around a third of the actual plastic involved in the packaging. So, not to be sneezed at. Last one that we didn’t mention earlier on, is one that a lot of people will already be doing, but that’s to regularly go to your local veggie markets on a Saturday or a Sunday morning. They do make such a big difference. It’s a good experience. It’s a good place to take the kids, and you’ll save a heck of a lot of plastic just by going to those as well.

Andy:
If you are on that train, keep it up. If not, go and check it out. They’re a good, fun place to explore. I will put a link to a very incredible website called therubbishtrip.co.nz. This is a site that has been put together with resources showing zero-waste shopping locations all throughout the country. You can go to it, you can look up your part of the country, and they’ll provide you with a list of places where you can buy… bulk [inaudible 00:19:07] type stores, places where you can take your own containers and they’ll refill those for you, bakeries where you can buy unpackaged bread, where the local farmer’s markets are.

Andy:
So if you’re new to an area, this could be incredibly useful. Places which will really encourage you to have reusable coffees, anything you could think of, fill your own beer kind of stores. This place lists them, tells you where to go, and tells you what they offer. I’ll put a link to that as well. This is definitely an episode where it’s worth checking out the show notes. If you haven’t got access to that through your app, you can just go to goodyoucando.com, and you’ll find the episode and the list of results there. Thank you everyone for tuning in. We’ve enjoyed sharing those tips and ideas with you, and we wish you the best of luck on your journey to reduce your plastic waste.

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