Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.
This quote from Arthur Ashe is a great way to approach sustainable living. Everybody starts their sustainability journey from somewhere different, depending on what catches their interest. People move on from this point as they learn more and feel capable of change. Eating meat may contribute more to climate change than a plant based diet, but that doesn’t mean the efforts of meat eaters to be sustainable in other areas of their life should be dismissed. The extent of the plastic pollution problem is staggering and requires broad-scale lifestyle change as well as a more responsible approach to managing the lifecycle of plastic. The more of us that reduce our reliance on single use plastic the better.
If you want to reduce your single-use plastic footprint, you can bring clean containers from home to collect your meat, fish, cheese and other items from the deli. When it comes to the type of container to use, use what you have already. You might have been a Tupperware enthusiast in the past, or maybe you couldn’t bring yourself to throw away plastic takeaway containers. You might have been saving jars, or have some glass or stainless steel containers with good lids in the cupboards. It doesn’t really matter as long as it’s clean and won’t leak. Yes, it is tempting to buy beautiful plastic free containers but if you already have options, you will just be adding to the problem of consumption and waste. When the plastic containers you already have need replacing, make a more sustainable choice by looking for secondhand or choosing glass or stainless steel.
If you’ve mustered up the courage to visit your butcher with a cooler bag and containers, be prepared for your request to be a challenge for 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. Some are even full of praise, but unfortunately there might be a few who refuse.
If they agree to use your container you might have to tell them how to do it. My advice is to show your container as soon as you make eye contact and give a quick explanation. Staff are often quick off the mark with grabbing plastic bags or gloves, and will sometimes toss them in the bin if they’ve grabbed it before you can say you don’t want it.
Different places have different scales but generally, 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 it off, 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). I’ve had this confirmed by the Department of Health and Human Services. However, staff 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 several butchers, a fish vendor, and 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.
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.
If you find that you are constantly refused, don’t be despondent because you planted a seed. You made someone think a little more and maybe this will lead to even bigger change when that person is ready.
For a little more encouragement, here is a Facebook Live video I filmed whilst at the butcher.