Simple is not always the same as Easy, and I find this to be so as I go about my efforts to reduce waste, and my carbon footprint in general. I’m doing my bit to live simpler/ lighter/ less cluttered/ more focused, and this has been largely a hugely rewarding process, but it takes effort and perseverance. It’s a bit like detoxing: you have to go through some pain before you come out clean on the other side! I look forward to the time when Simpler becomes altogether Easier. For instance, as I try to be a conscious consumer, a weekly groceries shop at the mall is a challenge where I brace myself for an encounter with rows of overpackaged items on shelves, much of it in single use plastic. This will only really change when producers of goods and the retailers who display these goods make some major changes. And here in my Johannesburg home, where I am in a process of decluttering and have made good progress with clearing out shelves and cupboards, there have been unexpected obstacles. My husband, for instance, has proved to be surprisingly sentimental about letting go of some of his old stuff, including clothing that he literally never wears, and a set of golf clubs that hasn’t been used for about 10 years (he hates golf and is happy to admit it!)
And then sometimes the simplest, most effortless things are there right in front of you, for your enjoyment. If we open our eyes and ears, we may be rewarded for our efforts in the loveliest of ways, just by being receptive to the simple beauty that surrounds us. And very often it is that thing that we live with and so often take for granted. On that note I was inspired to write this mini-ode (that’s clearly not a real word) to my beloved pets one Saturday morning…..
Entry from my diary:13/10/2018-
Early on a Saturday morning, my first cup of tea of the day:
Annie may have the world’s biggest doggie eyes, as she peeps up at me with those big, dark, almond -shaped orbs from her cozy spot on her aqua -coloured doggie blanket; head tilted slightly sideways and resting on her little white outstretched paws.
Jasper positions himself next to me and proceeds to give himself a thorough cleaning, as only an agile kitty cat can do. Lying midway between his back and his right side, he licks with firm, head -rolling strokes his furry white tummy and chest, and then with a gentle sigh, rests for a moment before proceeding to paws, ears and other kitty bits.
Nude Foods in Zonnebloem, Cape Town is a bulk wholefoods store, offering a plastic-free shopping experience. They sell high quality wholefoods, fresh organic produce, home and body products, minus any wasteful packaging . In their own words: “Our bulk wholefoods, health foods, and earth-friendly products are all non-GMO, plastic-free and sold by weight. Our goal is to make plastic-free shopping easy and accessible to the everyday shopper, whilst supporting local suppliers and other waste reducing initiatives”. The process is simple: scoop out from their bulk bins into your reusable container, weigh, and pay. As well as the self-service bin section, they have pantry items, household products and choose-your-own organic veg. In the war on waste that is gaining traction here and elsewhere in the world, shopping experiences like this one comes not a moment too soon.
In Johannesburg I frequently shop at Food Lover’s Market (FLM) for bulk buy fresh produce, olive oil, and some of my dry goods such as seeds, nuts and dried and spices, ground and whole. In the words of FLM Stoneridge: “Shopping is as much about the experience as it is about the things you buy. Food Lover’s Market have taken this principle to heart, re-creating the ambience of an old-fashioned marketplace in amodern theatre-of-food setting. Visiting the stores truly is an experience like no other.’
While both Nude Foods and FLM offer unpackaged ware in self-serve bulk bins, there are some clear differences between the two. Nude Foods is very specifically a plastic-free grocery store, offering non-GMO, healthy and affordable wholefoods and earth-friendly body and home products, all sold by weight. They are also relatively new:their Facebookpage was created on 5 September 2017. May they go from strength to strength! By contrast, FLM is a franchised, well established retail outlet with many branches, and it offers a huge variety of mainstream, conventionally packaged foods including the ‘big brands’ that one sees in all the well known stores. Also, importantly, they do not actively supply reusable packaging, other than the refillable glass bottles at the bulk buy area which supplies olive oil. Many people shop at FLM no doubt not particularly to avoid wasteful packaging, but simply because it’s convenient for them and they can find their familiar big brand items there. (I’m referring to the FLM outlets which I frequent here in Johannesburg… I would love to know what other people experience elsewhere in the country)
I frequently find myself in the minority when I shop at FLM, with my reusable cloth drawstring bags and my containers which I wash out after use and reuse each time I shop from their deli section or fish counter. I’m not bothered by this though. Rather, I’m grateful that these options are open to me, even if it requires the effort of constant rinsing and reusing and of course having to carry various bits of packaging around with me when I shop. And if I fall short sometimes, or don’t find what I need in unpackaged, then packaged it is. I have realised that driving my car up and down looking for perfect Zero Waste solutions is a waste of my valuable time, not to mention the carbon waste emissions thanks to all the added driving. I’ve given up feeling guilty about the compromises, knowing that I will continue to do my bit as far as possible.
There they were: lovely glass-packaged, tasty looking tidbits, all glossy and tempting in their see-through casing, just waiting to be opened up with that nice Pop which you hear when you first unscrew the metal top. I was unpleasantly surprised and slightly shocked to find a cheap looking piece of whitish plastic, all leggy and holey, looking a bit futuristic and not remotely related to food.
The jar of pickles was a gift from a thoughtful family member and I was very pleased to receive it. The very same company makes a delicious red pepper chutney which I buy often. I like the brand: made locally in South Africa, using nice simple packaging, and always in glass. Their products are available on many supermarket shelves, but they are not really one of the mainstream brands, retaining a bit of a ‘niche market’ feel. So I like to support them. The last thing I expected was to find this plastic gizmo thingy when I first unpopped the lid. It took me a few moments to realise what it was: a little mini-sieve that fits in the neck of the jar so that the brine or oil can be poured out, leaving the whole pickles behind. I fished the ungainly little thing out thinking, “well at least it may be recyclable”. But that’s not the point. I object because:
It adds nothing to my life: I have plenty of reusable metal sieves and strainers at home if I need help in separating solids from liquids. I appreciate that others might find this quite a handy little tool, but I do not. Especially not in plastic.
I should have been given the option as to whether to purchase this item or not. If the manufacturer had thought to include in their labeling, “For your convenience this item includes a plastic mini-sieve”, I could have made an informed decision. (OK, this situation was different in that it was a gift, which makes things a bit more tricky)
I am doing my best to reduce the amount of plastic that I bring home from the supermarket, and I do not appreciate unwelcome packaging surprises which now become my problem to dispose of.
But most of all, I am generally just tired of irresponsible food packaging. Surely the manufacturers could have done better in this case!!? …Could they not at least rather use a more sustainable source of material than plastic? What about a nice, once-off little metal sieve as a promotional item to offset and enhance their product? This could have gone a long way towards showcasing themselves as an environmentally and health conscious brand who are setting themselves apart from the plastic brigade. And especially for an extraneous, non-essential item like this one which a lot of people will end up throwing in the trash, intentionally or otherwise: rather create something more hard wearing and attractive, not just another cheap, forgettable piece of plastic.
It feels like high time for food companies to dig deep and really consider the environmental impact of what they are using to package and label their products. And at the end of the day to think about the impression that their choice of packaging may be creating of themselves as a brand. Hopefully in the near future we will see more legislation in place to rule out this kind of irresponsible food packaging. In the meantime, I’m off to enjoy a light lunch: cup of tea, tuna salad, and pickles 🙂
” It’s the action, not the fruit of the action, that’s important. You have to do the right thing. It may not be in your power, may not be in your time, that there’ll be any fruit. But that doesn’t mean you stop doing the right thing. You may never know what results come from your action. But if you do nothing, there will be no result..” _(Mahatma Gandhi)
In 2007 a woman called Beth Terry wrote a letter to her city council member in Oakland, California, opting for the banning of plastic bags from grocery stores and other retail outlets in her area. Since then she has to date turned out a total of 746 blog posts, all centered around ways to reduce the devastating effects of plastic pollution on our environment, with a strong emphasis on reducing our own individual plastic footprints. And her blog is just one aspect of her site myplasticfreelife.com, which is a comprehensive resource for plastic-free living. She makes the point that our actions matter. Our efforts count. Allowing ourselves to be overwhelmed into inaction does not help. Don’t be paralyzed by perfectionism; you will end up feeling discouraged and frustrated, believing that your efforts towards creating positive change are pointless. Read below to where she discusses this very issue:
The reality is that there is a lot of hidden plastic that we inadvertently consume every day simply by being alive in this modern age. If you ever eat in a restaurant, you consume plastic. If you buy anything from a store, you consume plastic… even if you buy it from a bulk bin. Because often, the foods in the bulk bins come shipped in great big plastic bags. And even if they weren’t, there was probably some plastic involved in growing the food in the first place. Organic farmers may have used plastic sheeting to keep out the weeds.
The idea of living a plastic-free life is not to become so perfect at avoiding plastic that you feel smug about yourself. Realizing just how unavoidable plastic is when you really trace back the life cycle of a product can wipe that smug grin off your face and provide a humbling perspective. Our personal actions DO make a difference, though. I know it can be tempting to say, “Oh, the problem is so big, I might as well give up.” Don’t.
Read the full post here, and take a moment to remind yourself that it’s perfectionism that is pointless, and it’s the action, the effort, that is important.