Recent research on seabirds shows that waste lost to the environment was in someone’s hands at some point. Logically then, simple behaviour changes can reduce our impact on seabirds and other species.
Bringing our own reusables is an effective strategy for reducing the amount of waste in the environment, so it’s worth me covering the basics to give ‘newbies’ some confidence and direction, and ‘oldhands’ encouragement to keep it up.
My first tip is to keep your reusables everywhere you need them, like the boot of the car, the glove box, your handbag or backpack.
Bring your own bags
Plastic bags are everywhere – clothes stores, grocery stores, bookstores – they are constantly in our face! Unbelievably Australians throw away more than 7,000 plastic bags a minute.
The key here is to get in the habit of saying “no bag thanks” and having your reusable bag handy or being prepared to carry your purchase. I find my handbag is usually good enough.
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking a paper bag is okay to use once and then throw away. It may not have the end of use problems that plastic bags do, but paper bags still use a lot of resources during production.
If you are like me you have probably kept a large number of plastic bags over the years to reuse. Some people use them as bin liners or dog poo bags, or you could keep one in your sports bag for dirty laundry or wet things. Even so, I bet that you will never get to the bottom of your bag bag. Some IGA, Coles or Woolworths supermarkets have bins for recycling shopping bags, so you can take them there. If your supermarket does not have a recycling bin, make sure you ask them to get one. Also, check to see if they recycle other soft plastics. Currently, there are no soft plastic recycling collection points in Gippsland. Use this locator to find your nearest collection point. Do not put plastic bags into your home recycling.
There is another category of plastic bag that is sometimes forgotten about – the supermarket produce bag. I have received a lot of positive interest about my reusable produce bags, and rightly so because they are a simple way to reduce your reliance on single use plastic bags. They are versatile, easy to wash, so light they don’t need to be weighed, and so compact they can be carried with you all the time. You will feel good about making this change.
Why stop there? Reusable cloth bags can be used for buying and storing bread, bulk foods, bi-carb soda and anything else you can get unpackaged. You can even use things like a pillowcase for collecting your bread. The best thing about all these bags, is that they can be made at home from old clothing and spare materials. That’s what I have been doing since committing to not using plastic bags.
Bring your own containers
You can bring clean containers from home to collect your meat, fish, cheese and other items from the deli. I have used tupperware, plastic takeaway containers (that I reuse), and glass containers with good lids. You can also use metal containers and jars.
Be prepared for your request to be a challenge for customer service staff who have never been asked to use a container from home before. In my experience, once they get over the surprise of being asked to do something different, they will happily figure it out for you. You might have to tell them how to do it though, especially in supermarkets. My advice is to show your container as soon as you make eye contact and give a quick explanation because they are quick off the mark with grabbing those plastic bags or gloves, and will sometimes toss the bag in the bin if you don’t want to use it.
The assistant should place your container on the scale and press TARE before adding the food so that you only pay for the weight of the food. Most assistants ask me if I want the price label attached to my container; if you are not keen on cleaning them off then ask for it to be partially stuck to the edge of the container.
No doubt you will hear somewhere along the way that using your own containers is unhygienic or against health regulations. This is not the case, there is no law in Victoria against using your own containers (including for doggy bags at restaurants and cafes). However, they may choose to refuse your container under their own policies. There is also no law requiring disposable gloves be worn, or be disposed of after each serving. If gloves are not worn it’s best they use utensils.
I have found a butcher, a fishmonger, and a deli that are very welcoming and accommodating. To avoid using disposable gloves or bags when filling my container they use tongs, spoons, just their clean hands, or the lid of my container to collect my ham as it is being shaved which is then tipped into my container.
It will be a bit nerve wracking when you first use your own containers but stay strong and keep at it. You’ll be proud of yourself in the end.
Glass jars and bottles are reuseable containers that are perfect for collecting dried herbs, spices, salts, tea, oils, detergents, vinegar, and even takeaway drinks like juice and coffee, or food like icecream and dim sims! The uses are only limited by your imagination. The process for weighing your goods is the same as for meat and deli purchases. If you are going to bring a bottle to refill with a product you should know how many millilitres the bottle holds so that you can pay accordingly.
My key tip for using your own containers is to plan ahead and know what you want to buy so you can bring an appropriate container. Weekly meal planning is also a good way to reduce food waste.
Bring your own cup
Paper coffee cups aren’t only made of paper, most are lined with a coating of polyethylene, a type of plastic and it is estimated that one million coffee cups are thrown away every minute! Reusable cups are best – and I bet you have one already so it won’t be an additional investment. If not, you could use a jar with a lid. These days there are also glass Keepcups and collapsable silicone ones that don’t take up much room. Most coffee shops will have had people use Keepcups” target=”_blank”>Keepcups before so you won’t need to feel shy about this behaviour change.
Bring your own water bottle
I don’t buy bottled water. Apart from the plastic pollution problem, it takes 7L of water and 1L of oil to manufacture a 1L plastic bottle of water, and who knows how far it has had to travel to get to you. These points really make it a ridiculous choice. Overall, tap water has 1% the environmental impact of bottled water.
Choosing tap water over other drinks when out and about is also important for reducing waste. It’s a good idea to get in the habit of having a stainless steel or glass water bottle handy at all times. Or you could slow down, sit down and order something like a freshly squeezed juice – just make sure you refuse the straw.
Bring your own cutlery and straw
I made cutlery wraps for each family member to keep their cutlery and straw in their handbag, school bag, or car so that we never need to use plastic disposable ones. We haven’t needed to use them a lot but the kids think they are cool. You don’t need to make a wrap like this, just keep some cutlery” target=”_blank”>cutlery and a straw nearby.
So your challenge is to try one of these five things that you haven’t been doing already, take a picture and put it on my Facebook page or Instagram. Tell me how your experience was and please use the hastags #bringyourowngippsland and #gippslandunwrapped. It is a great way to connect with each other and share our experiences as well as make it easier for others to find places that welcome #bringyourowngippsland. I can’t wait to see all your pictures!
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