I’m finding myself very envious of people who live in countries with bulk stores and widespread composting. Making progress in the kitchen is really really difficult in Ireland with all dried goods packaged in plastic and especially living in an apartment block with no compost service and a management agency that ignores me. But rather than feeling sorry for myself here is where I have made progress and what I’m finding difficult. If you are living in Ireland and have suggestions let me know!
Vegetables: Veggies are the easiest thing to buy zerowaste if you are careful. Supermarkets are the worst for packaging things unnecessarily but luckily there are loads of other stores and farmers markets that sell fruit and veg unpackaged. Even big supermarkets sell certain items loose. The things that I have trouble finding loose are: Spinach, lettuce, berries, cucumbers, sometimes tomatoes, and fresh herbs. I don’t have anywhere to grow these myself
Meat: I eat meat maybe 2-3 times a week usually when I’m out. There are some great butchers that will put your meat in glass tupperware, I recommend the Sandymount Butcher but I don’t live near there anymore. Go the first time when it’s quiet, explain why with a smile and hope for the best – be brave. The problem is that whole chickens do not fit in glass containers and a whole free range chicken is best value, tastier, and less wasteful. Tip: use the bones to make stock old school style and freeze. I use my stock to make ramen!
Dried Goods: Almost impossible to buy without plastic with the exception of flour (in paper) and oats (either in paper or from the Temple Bar farmers’ market). The Temple Bar farmers’ market also has dried fruit and some grains in paper packaging with a tiny plastic window which is better than full plastic. I haven’t found nuts anywhere loose. Dried herbs and spices are impossible to get unpackaged too but there are brands that use mostly glass containers. I am not the sweet toothed person in the house but fair trade dark chocolate has been known to make it to our kitchen on a regular basis. There’s no way to get that unpackaged that I know of either but it’s one of life’s small pleasures. Icecream is not unheard of in our freezer either and someday I will own an ice-cream maker to make dairy free ice-cream.
Tins: of beans, chickpeas, and tomatoes and recycled afterwards. I try to make hummus from scratch as often as I can but when time is of the essence I do buy it in plastic and usually feel really guilty. It’s literally my main junk food though I’m not a big sweet thing eater and I’m kicking the habit of eating hummus with potato crisps and have replaced them with zerowaste carrot sticks.
Dairy: I don’t eat a tonne of dairy. Sometimes I buy cheese from the cheesemongers shop or at the market and they put it in my jars. Other times I do buy it from the supermarket in plastic and ditto usually feel guilty. I don’t drink milk but I do drink unsweetened almond milk from tetra packs and rinse and recycle them. I’d like to save up to buy a really high powered blender so I could make my own, but the nuts would still come in plastic wrapping in Ireland unless I find somewhere to forage for hazelnuts.
Coffee and Tea: Again the Temple Bar farmers’ market is great for grinding coffee beans and putting them in the coffee canister I bring in. There are also brands that sell in brown paper bags even in large supermarket chains like Dunnes which is a more sustainable option than foil lined. You can buy tea loose in a few places in Dublin. For a non-caffeinated beverage I like making my own lemon and ginger tea or fennel seeds in my tea infuser.
Other Kitchen Items:
Storage containers: I picked up glass storage containers with plastic lids but they are wonderful for replacing throwaway cling film and foil to store things in the fridge and freezer.
Kitchen Paper: This was one of the first things I got rid of – reusable cloths are great and I don’t miss it or need it at all.
Dish Scrubber: wooden compostable with replaceable heads. I found these in the strangest of places – Article in the Powerscourt Centre. They also had wooden and natural fibre cleaning brushes and dusters for sale too. The garden shop in the Powerscourt centre entrance sells soap without packaging too that’s cheaper than other places.
Dish Washing Liquid: Ecover refillable from Supernatural Farmers’ Market. Since I moved to my new apartment we have a dishwasher so there is waste from the tablets but less water wastage – vicious choice of which is better but convenience takes first place while the PhD is being written up. I wish the tablets weren’t individually packaged in plastic.
Utensils and Kitchen ware: I use sustainably sourced wooden utensils and wooden chopping boards. I buy less kitchen ware but good quality and especially things that have long guarantees. Consider checking second hand stores if you need new things like plates etc. Oxfam has a home store on Francis Street. You can have lots of visual fun with mismatched antique plates just see Pinterest for inspiration.
Conclusions (because my PhD brain requires me to conclude things lately) :
Dried goods in plastic packaging and the inconvenience that farmers’ markets are only open at the weekends is my major blocker to progress at the moment. It’s also really disheartening to have no compost. In my last home when I got a compost bin I got this great visual satisfaction from producing so little waste and it motivated me to produce even less again. Now I feel terrible that all of these food scraps and compostable items are going straight to landfill. I’m exhausted finishing my PhD and I just don’t have the same drive and time to go that extra mile and ensure I always get to the Saturday markets when it’s my only day off all week. There are also certain things that just don’t exist without packaging in Ireland and I have to learn to live with that for the moment. I’m glad I made small steps to make good habits earlier and as soon as I finish my PhD I have big plans. I’m very excited about getting on a track (but can’t tell you about my plans yet) that will radically help my zerowaste progress. I think the important thing, and what I hope I can inspire you to do, is to make small changes steadily where you can while acknowledging that the right thing to do is sometimes the difficult one. If enough people start making these small sustainable decisions retailers will respond to the market and zerowaste shopping will become easier.
Main Image: from a frustrated TreeHugger review of a logically flawed freakonomics argument of why plastic packaging is unavoidable.