Pandemic and Packaging

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As Plastic-Free July looms on the horizon, perhaps it is time consider one of the little-discussed ‘victims’ of the current COVID-19 pandemic.

For well over 20 years I have worked on reducing the packaging that comes into our home.  I take my own containers to buy dry goods (flour, nuts etc) from bulk bins.  I have been able to take my own bottles to the local Co-op to get them refilled with apple cider vinegar, tamari and olive oil.  The local IGA supermarket and butcher accepted my own containers for meat, fish and deli items including sun-dried tomatoes, olives and feta cheese.

However, everything changed as COVID-19 arrived.  I can still buy dry goods in my own jars as long as they are scrupulously clean and have no remnants of previous contents.  We eat very little meat so I have not been to the butcher since the pandemic began.  Neither the Co-op or IGA are accepting containers to refill at the moment.  Will this change back when things settle down?  Will it become the new normal and the years of action on single-use packaging be unravelled by one virus?  Only time will tell.

These changes have forced me to reconsider my shopping habits.  The item which has been impacted most significantly is olive oil.  I used to take a litre bottle to the Co-op for it to be refilled but now I am obliged to buy a new 750ml glass bottle for $2.95 each time I wish to buy the local, organic olive oil.

This bottle will simply be refilled from the drum of olive oil as required now.  No more bottles.

2020-05-19 01

We use a significant amount of olive oil so my interest was piqued when I saw a sponsored post on Facebook from Nuggety Creek Olives.  After a bit of reading I discovered that I could buy a 20 litre drum of olive oil for $180.00 delivered to my door.  The extra virgin olive oil is produced from olives grown without chemicals and I believe the farm is currently being audited for organic certification.

The Nuggety Creek olive oil arrived safely and is now stored in a cool, dry cupboard.  I even made a drip catcher from an old dip container and a piece of wire salvaged from the shed.

2020-05-19 02

20 litres may sound like a lot of oil but I will be sharing it with at least 3 friends.  Thinking outside the box has allowed me to continue to minimise the packaging that we generate.

Bottles filled and ready for distribution to friends.

2020-05-19 03

I have not bought any of the other items I mentioned as yet but my next project is to look into a bulk source of olives.  While I understand that all foodstuffs must come in some sort of packaging or container, unless you produce it yourself, I am keen to buy in larger quantities, and therefore, minimise the impact.

Have you considered changing your shopping habits since the pandemic began?  Would community bulk-buying be an option for at least some products?

Going Shopping & Gluten-Free Muesli

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As many of you would be aware, I buy most of my dry goods from the bulk bins at Simply Good.  This means I can buy as much or as little of an item as want with no packaging and no waste.  This is a topic dear to my heart and one which is being encouraged during ‘Plastic-Free July’.  I use re-usable mesh bags for things like dried fruit, seeds and nuts and reuse paper bags for flours and almond meal.  Once I get home they are decanted into storage jars.

Storage jars
These are the ingredients I use to make my gluten-free muesli.  You can adjust the quantities to suit yourself.

3 cups coconut
3 cups pumpkin seeds
3 cups sunflower seeds
3 cups almonds (roughly chopped) – I use the food processor
2 cups sultanas
2 cups flaxseed meal
1/4 cup cinnamon

Combine all ingredients thoroughly.

Gluten-free muesli
I store my mix in a large airtight container.

Muesli container
To serve – I use 1/4 cup of muesli and add 1 dessertspoon each of chia seeds and psyllium husk.  I usually add 1 apple (grated) and 1 kiwifruit (chopped) plus a spoonful of plain yoghurt.  It makes a delicious and satisfying breakfast.

Bulk Buying

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Buying in bulk does not need to be restricted to food items.  We recently bought a ute-load of mushroom compost which was delivered right by the gate near the vegetable garden.  There are several local mushroom farms not far from where we live so we usually take the ute and pick up several ‘trays’ of compost.  The trays are rectangular plastic bags in which the mushrooms are grown.

2013-05-29 01Buying in bulk worked for us this time as we needed a large quantity while we are establishing several raised garden beds at once.  There were no plastic bags to dispose of in the rubbish.  Even accounting for the delivery, I think it worked out more expensive than our normal source.  However, the convenience needed to be considered this time.

On balance, I do not think we will want or need to buy this amount again.  We will go back to buying 6 – 10 trays whenever we want to replenish the beds.

What do you buy in bulk?  Have you reviewed whether it is the best option?

The Simple Stuff

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Sometimes we can get overwhelmed by concepts, goals and methods which cause us to lose sight of our original intention.  This can also be true when the very thing we are seeking is simplicity.

So it is time to take a step back, re-evaluate and take care of the really basic things that can make a difference.

You do not need a cupboard full of the latest fancy cleaning products with a different one for every job.  I have cleaned the majority of my bathroom, kitchen and laundry for a number of years using nothing more than bicarb and vinegar.  The only inconvenience is the method of applying the products and it can be a bit messy to use.

I found this recipe a couple of days ago for a home-made ‘cream cleanser’ based on bicarb.

1 cup bicarb soda
4 tablespoons dishwashing liquid
1 tablespoon eucalyptus oil

Mix all ingredients together to form a ‘Gumption-style’ paste.

Use to clean sinks, baths and basins by rubbing a paste over the surface and rinse clean with fresh water.  You can spray with vinegar for added effect.  As always, test surface to ensure it is OK to use.

I made this yesterday and have stored it in a glass jar as the original recipe cast doubt on whether the eucalyptus oil would react with plastic.

I have used this to clean my bathroom basin today which is now sparkling.  I also tried it to see if it would remove the permanent marker that I had used to label some bulk food buckets.  It was perfect and left the bucket as new so that I was able to re-label it.

I will definitely be using this paste in future rather than a container of bicarb and bottle of vinegar.

On another note, we went shopping today to stock up on bulk dry goods at Simply Good.  It is almost 5 months since we last went there so my plan to stock up has certainly worked.  I spent just over $200 and while that seems a lot, I plan to make this last for 6 months.  I buy all of our flour, bread flour, baking goods, dried fruit and nuts, spices, cereal and beans there.

We also called in to the Co-op in Maleny and one of the things I planned to buy was shampoo.  I have bought it from the bulk containers there, however, the brand I bought is no longer available so I was left with a dilemma.  My choices were from a 1 litre container (hardly bulk), no SLS and Fairtrade but imported from USA or I could buy a 1 litre bottle of organic, SLS free shampoo made in Australia but meant that I would be acquiring a new 1 litre bottle on a regular basis.  I also bought another bottle of the body wash that we use and noticed that it actually said “Hair and Body Wash”.  We can buy this in 2 litre containers so less packaging and I can now have 1 less bottle in my bathroom and we will use the same liquid to wash ourselves from top to toe.

What tips do you have to simplify things and get back to basics?

Buy Food – Not Pretty Packaging

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Today I want to share something that is one of my passions – reducing packaging.

For several years I have tried to minimise the amount of packaging that comes into our home and one way I do it is by buying dry goods from ‘bulk bins’ and re-using my own bags.  Here is all you need to get started.

2011-04-09 01The Duke and I set off this morning with 3 calico carry bags and a pile of recycled paper bags.  Most of these have been re-used many times and some are well over 5 years old.  Paper bags do have a limited life but will last well if you take care of them.  When they finally can be used no more mine find their way to the compost bin.

We buy most of our dry goods at Simply Good.  It is a locally-owned small business at Morayfield, QLD with another shop at Alderley, a suburb of Brisbane.  The Morayfield store is about 40km from us so we tend to shop about once every 3 months.  I appreciate the fact that the shop is open ‘traditional’ hours – 9am to 5pm Monday – Friday and 9am to 12pm on Saturday.  This means that their staff are not expected to work long and unreasonable hours that keep them away from their family.

I try to keep a reasonable level of stock in our pantry so today we stocked up on brown sugar, brown rice, sultanas, raisins, psyllium husk, pepitas, sunflower seeds, kidney beans, red lentils, icing sugar, rolled oats, mixed spice, bicarb soda, plain flour (white), plain flour (wholemeal) and bread flour.  Total cost $139.  This is what it looked like when we got home.

2011-04-09 02Individual bags unpacked.

2011-04-09 03So The Duke and I set to work to put it all away in the storage containers.  So it now looks like this.

2011-04-09 04Here are some of the containers that I use to store bulk quantities of various items.

2011-04-09 05One paper bag reached the end of its life today but other than that all of the calico and paper bags are now folded up and put away ready to be used again.  The only packaging that came into the house was the 2 large plastic bags which hold 5kg of flour each and one extra plastic bag.  These are re-used to hold things in the freezer.  Sadly, the plastic bag I had to get from the shop was because I had under-estimated how many bags I needed.  Grabbing a handful from m stash proved to be insufficient.  I will do better next time.