Pandemic and Packaging


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?

Edible & Spreadable


What do you spread on your sandwiches?  Butter, margarine, something else or nothing at all?

I used to buy margarine without giving it a great deal of thought, however, about 18 years ago I changed to spreadable butter that I make myself.  My reasons are several:

  • Eliminate non-recyclable waste (margarine containers)
  • Health benefits (margarine is simply a chemical cocktail)
  • Easier to spread than pure butter
  • Know exactly what the ingredients are

2012-07-15 01This is the recipe.


500g butter
250ml oil
150ml water
3 tablespoons skim milk powder

2012-07-15 02Allow the butter to soften but not melt.  Beat butter using a mixer or food processor.  Combine the other ingredients in a jug and stir well to dissolve the milk powder.  Gradually add the mixture to the butter while continuing to beat.  Beat for another 1 – 2 minutes until white and creamy.  Spoon into containers and refrigerate.  This made almost 1500ml so it is really quite economical.  Actual costings would depend on the type of oil that you use.

2012-07-15 03I generally keep one container in the refrigerator and freeze the rest because we do not use a lot of butter and it will go mouldy/rancid if stored for long periods in the refrigerator.  I use Pyrex glass containers as they can be put in the freezer and I am constantly trying to minimise the amount of plastic that I use for storing food.

2012-07-15 04This mixture can be used instead of butter in cooking and baking.  The only exception I make is pastry as I prefer to use ‘real’ butter for that.

The type of oil you use is entirely up to you.  I choose to use locally grown and produced organic olive oil which I buy in bulk at the Co-op in Maleny.  Olive oil does have a distinctive flavour so you may prefer something more bland such as rice-bran oil.  I do not consider canola oil as an option as most of the commercial crop is genetically-modified and I prefer not to use foods that contain GM products.

This is not a totally zero-waste exercise but it is certainly better than all of the margarine containers that you would otherwise use.  I take my glass bottle to be refilled with oil.  The butter wrapper is used to grease baking trays or line cake tins and then goes into the compost.  I buy skim milk powder from Aldi in a 1 kg non-recyclable bag, however, I have recently discovered that I can buy this in bulk from Simply Good so will be doing that in the future.