When the packaging outweighs the product.

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I needed a mobile case for my new Samsung cellphone. My husband returned from shopping with this very nice phone glove which fits and showcases my phone perfectly. What’s not so perfect is the packaging (plastic and cardboard casing with a plastic hook) which weighs three times as much as the phone glove, 54 grams to be precise, as compared to the phone glove’s 18 grams. The packaging did include some information about the phone glove’s features, durability tests (apparently it has been drop tested to military standard) and short history of the company, Body Glove. Very little reading really, which could quite happily have fitted onto something far more size- appropriate considering the weight and dimensions of the actual item which it contained.

The casing was clearly designed for display; hung up as it was for viewing by its little plastic hook in Vodacom’s accessories section. I understand that companies need to showcase their products in a way that consumers can see what it is that they are buying, but surely they can do better than this? In a time when there is a groundswell of support for individuals and companies to refuse excess packaging, especially plastic, this just seems unnecessarily wasteful and makes me think that companies who use this kind of marketing are out of touch and irresponsible. I say: rather set the bar higher for yourselves and for other companies to follow, and consider the environment when it comes to packaging and promoting your products. Yes, items such as electronic devices and their accessories need to be well packaged for protection against damage; this too needs to be considered. However when it’s a single layer of flexible silicone to wear over your cellphone, surely a too-large, box-like casing containing a layer of plastic and another piece of loose moulded plastic and a plastic hook is excessive. Especially when the packaging weighs 3 times as much as the product. Something is just wrong with that picture. Maybe I should write a letter of complaint/ suggestion to Samsung. And Body Glove. And Vodacom. Where to begin…….. 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The history of plastic, and why it matters

 

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In my garden: Indigenous South African Clivias

 

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“We made it. We depend on it. We’re drowning in it”. This is the opening statement of an article on plastic in the June 2018 edition of National Geographic. The statistics, facts and figures come hard and fast, the kind of worrying information that we’ve become accustomed regarding the impact of plastic waste on our environment. “How did we get here? When did the dark side of the miracle of plastic first show itself?” is one of the questions raised. And it is significant that something once regarded as a ‘miracle”, a solution to many of our problems, is now demonized to the point that in 2013, scientists writing for Nature magazine declared that disposable plastic should be classified as a hazardous material.

The history of plastic matters because it reminds us of how our individual and global needs are often met by technology, and how plastic did and still does offer many vital and positive uses.

 

Laura Parker, who wrote the article, presents some interesting facts and background information. As far back as the 19th Century, we see the noble beginnings of plastic in its very early use in the form of a celluloid (derived from plant cellulose) billiard ball, designed as an alternative to the original billiard ball which at that stage was made of a scarce natural material: elephant ivory. Many years later there are untold numbers of ways in which plastic has featured in ours lives and influenced world events. World War 2 in the 20th Century was war on a whole new level, with the aid of nylon parachutes and lightweight airplane parts. Since then plastic has helped us to make great strides in areas as diverse as medicine and medical apparatus, travel by road, air and into outer space, and even the now-hated plastic water bottle, used to deliver clean drinking water to people in poor rural areas.

 

The Darker side of plastic crept in perhaps as more and more uses were discovered, and cheaper manufacturing processes were realised. In the early 20th Century the ”plastic revolution” took hold, as chemists discovered that they could create plastics even more cheaply and abundantly by using the waste gases emitted by petroleum oil refineries. It seemed that anything and everything could be made from plastic, with the added benefit that it was cheap to do so. A whole new world of possibilities had opened up and in 1955 a photograph in Life magazine appeared, titled ‘Throwaway Living’ featuring an American family celebrating the convenience of plastic cutlery, plates and cups. Single use plastics were already becoming a thing.

 

Quoting directly from the article: ” Six decades later, roughly 40 percent of the now more than 448 million tons of plastic produced every year is disposable, much of it used as packaging intended to be discarded within minutes after  purchase. Production has grown at such a breakneck pace that virtually half the plastic ever manufactured has been made in the past 15 years……The growth of plastic production has far outstripped the ability of waste management to keep up: that’s why the oceans are under assault. ”

 

It is important to note is that all plastics cannot be arbitrarily labelled as ‘bad”. In many of it’s forms it fills essential functions and continues to save lives daily. On a positive note it is worth remembering that the plastic waste issue is gaining attention and that genuine efforts are being made to address the problem by individuals, corporations and whole countries. May this move continue from strength to strength.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Buy in bulk, Re-use your packaging, Reduce waste

Spices, ground and whole
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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 a modern 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 Facebook page 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’s a gizmo in my pickles: the problem of hidden plastic

 

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In my garden: Bullrushes in seed

 

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.

 

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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 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eco options: start with what you already know

 

In my garden: Apple Blossoms

Don’t get complicated.

I imagine that most people reading my blog share some of my interests and concerns about the health of the planet, and individual personal health as well. Just as I care about my own health and well being, I care about the health and well being of the environment that nurtures and supports me. Enjoying life and remaining optimistic is a priority too, otherwise what’s the point of it all! We know that as consumers our choices have impact, and if we care about the environment, we will want our choices not to add to current problems.

 

Yet we can’t always have exactly what we want. In a perfect world I would have nutritious, wholesome foods and healthy non-toxic self care and household products, all responsibly produced and packaged, and locally made to reduce the problem of travel distances and the accompanying carbon footprint. Everything I use and eat would be from natural origin, from sustainable resources, incur no harm to animals, and be created in an environment where fair labour practice is upheld.

Even your bulk buy, unpackaged purchases might raise some questions for you, depending on your key issues: “What carbon footprint did it leave to get to the bulk bins? Is it a natural product? Is it cruelty free? What are the working conditions of the farmers/workers who helped bring it to the store? Is it locally sourced/ packaged?” And realistically, let’s not forget “What is the cost of this and can I even afford it?” The list can go on and it gets overwhelming (speaking from experience!) when you are looking for a seamless, perfect scenario and if you expect yourself to have all the answers.

I can recall occasions, even very recently, where I have stood in the shopping aisle staring at huge, catering sized jars of pickles thinking “yes, I know it’s less packaging in the long run, but how long is THAT going to sit opened and partially eaten in the fridge at home?” and “these retail priced boxes of Epsom Salts are packaged in cardboard, whereas my usual cheaper wholesaler sells hers in single use plastic, so which is the better choice?”

And that’s just at the supermarket!

At home you notice (again) that your kitchen cupboards are rife with tired looking plastic food containers, many with lids long lost at some birthday picnic or office canteen, and you wonder if you should just replace the whole lot. But you’re not sure because you don’t know if recycling an item in order to replace it is the Green thing to do. This link tells you about using plastic for food from a personal health point of view.

 

So to get back to the title of this post: what things do you already know and have at your disposal? What exists in your home, in your cupboards and closets and in your fridge, that is already working for you and/ or you could make better use of ? I have found that by starting with what you already have and know, you are more likely to want to continue. Here are some suggestions: Continue reading

Clearing out the clutter (and other undesirables): it’s all about choices.

 

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In my garden: Butterfly Bush and yellow daisies

 

Henry Thoreau evidently didn’t like clutter. Here is a quote from him written around the year 1845, which in itself is interesting for me. The quest for simplicity in the Western World was clearly an issue as far back as 170 years ago!

Our life is frittered away by detail. An honest man has hardly need to count more than his ten fingers, or in extreme cases he may add his ten toes, and lump the rest. Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand; instead of a million, count half a dozen, and keep your accounts on your thumb nail.

 

My own reasons for changing to a more natural way is described in my About page. And further along to June 2017 since reading Bea Johnson‘s  book, Zero Waste Home, I have been inspired to read more on environmental issues and to explore different ways to simplify and to try harder…for my health, my home, the environment.

 

The book points to some critical issues:

Much of the world’s natural resources are under threat, yet as consumers we continue to buy and use petroleum based products, such as plastics, cleaning fluids and pesticides instead of looking for less harmful and preferably natural alternatives where possible. Research tells us that “the manufacture of plastic, as well as its destruction by incineration, pollutes air, land and water and exposes workers to toxic chemicals, including carcinogens.” (Quoted from). And looking around, we see that household incomes and world economies are in crisis, yet we continue to make poor choices regarding how we spend our money. All over the world people are struggling with health issues ranging from poor nutrition (in many countries there simply isn’t enough to eat, an issue which requires attention outside of this particular post), to cancers, auto-immune problems and other chronic and life threatening conditions, yet we continue to buy unwholesome, processed foods and also to bring toxic cleaning and personal products into our homes.

 

It seems clear to me that if our consumer habits directly affect our environment, our economy and our health, and that if we wish to see change for the better, then we need to ‘Be the Change’. One way to do this is to be aware that shopping is voting, and that we have the power to change our shopping habits and make better choices about what we bring in to our homes. Also, we can try to improve our efforts at home homes, such as looking beyond recycling if possible. Consider whether you might be wasting food being unnecessarily, or throwing out out items of clothing that could be repaired and reused, or go to a charity, instead of to landfill. Do we throw out used cooking or washing water that could rather go to our garden or indoor plants? Do we favour reusing glass pickle jars for food storage rather than buying more plastic? (See my post here on how to freeze in glass). And can we make better choices regarding our cleaning and personal products: either by purchasing eco-friendly products, or even making our own with simple, basic, affordable ingredients?

 

I have listed below some “key areas”, issues that are close to my head and my heart as I work at living with the intention of keeping things natural, simple, affordable and as “uncluttered” as possible: Continue reading

Plastic Free July, and beyond.

 

Why is plastic getting a bad press, and should we consider reducing our plastic consumption and even cut it out of our lives where possible? Personally I have been trying to do just that over the past few months, starting with my signing of this petition along with millions of others who signed the pledge to reduce their plastic usage.

The pledge reads: “I pledge to avoid single-use plastic, to reuse or recycle the plastic that I do use, to educate others about plastic waste, and to take Citizen Muscle actions to make plastic a thing of the past. ”

Over a number of years I have become more aware of the problems that plastics create for our environment, and when I read about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, I became particularly alarmed. The facts are sobering and depressing and leave no doubt that environmentally, and in terms of  its effects on human health, plastic is a growing disaster. As stated in Life Without Plastic

“Most plastics are made from petroleum or natural gas, non-renewable resources extracted and processed using energy-intensive techniques that destroy fragile ecosystems. The manufacture of plastic, as well as its destruction by incineration, pollutes air, land and water and exposes workers to toxic chemicals, including carcinogens.”

 

In choosing to take a pragmatic approach to managing my own plastic consumption, I have compiled a simple list of ten points:

  1. Carry a few reusable bags with you and say No to the supermarket’s plastic carrier bags. This is one of the easiest ways to get started and to motivate yourself to do more.
  2. If you REALLY NEED to purchase a juice/soda/water refreshment while you’re out on your travels, buy the tinned version, not the plastic bottle or cup. And forego the plastic straw!
  3. Buy wine in glass bottles with real cork stoppers or metal caps, rather than the plastic sack version. Some brands are available in 1.5L bottles, from Johannesburg’s Makro and other outlets.
  4. Buy from farmers markets whenever possible. Here you have the best chance of buying fresh produce without stickers on the fruit and veg, and of being able to make use of your own packaging.
  5. Return plastic packaging wherever possible, for instance return yoghurt tubs and egg trays to vendors at farmers markets if you have bought from them previously.
  6. Buy from roadside vendors. In Johannesburg there are a lot of people selling good quality fruit and veg at the roadside. I buy from those who carry unpackaged stock or who use cardboard/paper packaging only.
  7. Stop buying the branded plastic-packaged, ready sliced loaves of bread from the supermarket. Rather buy an unpackaged loaf from the bakery section, ask the assistant for a paper bag or use you own, and cut the loaf into slices when you get home. This saves plastic and money…far cheaper.
  8. Buy cheese from the cheese counter/deli section at the supermarket. Ask them to cut, weigh and price a piece for you, and wrap it in brown paper or your own packaging.
  9. Buy from bulk bins wherever possible, preferably using reusable packaging or your previously used plastic packaging from home.
  10. Buy Big. For instance, I use large amounts of white vinegar in the home (more about that in a later post). I have started buying it in 5L plastic containers rather than in the 750ml containers that I used to buy.  This saves plastic, because far less plastic goes into making one 5L container as opposed to several small containers. And saves money, cos it’s just cheaper that way.

 

Here is my week’s shop from Food Lover’s Market in Parkmeadows last week. 100% my own reused packaging from home. NO supermarket’s plastic at all, including the cheese and frozen fish.

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And here is their stock of bulk spices and dried herbs, where you can dispense what you need and  they will weigh and price for you. They also have large vats of  plain and flavoured olive oils where you can refill your own container.

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So, how are you managing to cut back on your use of plastic this July? I would love to hear your suggestions, success stories, even your failures and frustrations, especially if you’re a South African going Greener ♄

It’s worth remembering that:

the best way to reduce plastic in our lives is to refuse it in the first place