Even as someone who works in sustainability it can be hard to live a sustainable life and there are always more things we can do to improve.
Currently I am doing a sustainability training course with the University of Edinburgh and part of the course involves a personal project, where you do something in your own life to be more sustainable. I found it a bit of a struggle to think to be honest. I already walk to work, have a renewable energy supplier and always look to save energy where I can. Food waste and packaging though was an area I thought I could improve and an area that I find really frustrating. I recently watched the TedX talk from Less Waste Laura where she laid out all the plastic milk bottles a family used in a year compared to what they could use with glass bottles, a tiny ball of foil. I mentioned this at the training session where someone made a comment about a local store that does glass milk, an “old fashioned greengrocer”. Worth an investigation I thought.
Fast forward a few weeks I am now getting milk and fruit juice in glass bottles from a local store that will take the bottles back for reuse. The majority of the fruit and veg is loose, if it is not then I don’t buy it out of principle. The produce is not really any more expensive than Tesco where I usually shop, but it is far better. No longer are the cooking apples the same size as regular ones, nor are cucumbers wrapped in plastic. I actually did a fruit comparison between the two stores to see the difference between supermarket and greengrocer nectarines.
The milk was a new experience for me. The fresh milk is not homogenised so has the classic cream at the top which I knew about but initially forgot resulting in a rather weird looking coffee. Also, it takes a bit more organisation to buy milk one pint at a time and it is more expensive, about £1.05 for a pint or 50p if it is short life milk. Supermarket milk is about 50p a pint, farmers get paid about 23p of that. I only discovered recently though that supermarkets make a loss selling milk. That is why it is never sold near the front door or else you could buy it and leave without buying anything else rather than walking past all the other things you could buy.
The extra expense is inconvenient but I tend to ration it more carefully and hopefully the extra cost is passed back to local suppliers. For those wondering what the point of this is, plastic is very energy intensive to make from oil and is hard to recycle. The quality drops each time meaning it can only be recycled a certain number of times. The glass bottles are washed and reused, if one breaks they can be fully recycled without a drop in quality. Glass is actually the easiest material to recycle.
A more obvious impact is how empty my recycling is. The majority of plastic waste I put in there is fruit and milk related. Like tubs for grapes, peaches, strawberries etc. My recycling is collected every two weeks and I barely have anything to go in it which certainly made me feel pretty good and means it is a lot easier to store. Anyone who lives in flat can surely relate to the issues of storage with plastic recycling. I also reuse a lot of items around the house which I’ll share in another post.
The other benefit is there is less food waste as I can always see what I am buying and choose the exact quantity or weight. It’s by no means a new enterprise, it’s how shops always used to be but my generation (I’m 26) never really experienced them so it is quite exciting to see seasonal produce and milk in glass bottles.
There will be a dilemma for some with the small increase in cost and I fully appreciate that. For those that can though, paying the extra to support local farmers, cutting down on waste and getting better produce is a “trade off” that is well worth it. I’m not finished my training course yet but for me it has certainly been worth it as one throwaway comment completely changed the way I shop and it so much more fun!