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.


25 thoughts

  1. I love your blog, my goal for the year is to significantly reduce our packaging waste and it is proving to be quite a challenge! I am yet to go along to the butcher with my own containers, but I intend to. Plastic takeaway containers are my secret weapon, I use them over and over for all sorts of things in the freezer, fridge and cupboard, even for my soapmaking ingredients. And when they die they can be recycled. Keep up the good work 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. As I’ve mentioned before I have been told absolutely not possible at local supermarket. Local butcher is fine. Today I bought a roast chicken from SM deli, chook was put into foil hot bag and it is usual practice they then double bag into a plastic bag. I said no plastic bag please and eventually got the chook just in the foil hot bag. Got to the register and before going through I said “no plastic bag please” but was ignored and chook went straight into a carry bag. I did comment that I had asked for no plastic bag but seeing as he had already contaminated one just to leave the chook in that (I can at least use it to prove bread dough in). Chook was removed from plastic bag and bag was thrown into the rubbish. Better training and awareness is needed so staff can understand that people have different needs and requests and how to manage and deal with these requests. Just keep on chipping away!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. We grow and butcher all our own meat and poultry (and eggs, dairy and most fruit’n veg). I cant find any better option than single use plastic for freezing meat and it bothers me. I can usually reuse the vacuum bags for salami/smallgoods but the meat cuts are the problem. Any suggestions.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve spoken to a few people about this problem and none of us have been able to solve it yet. I was told by a small producer that this is an issue for many producers selling their meat because they also hate the plastic. She said there was a small producers conference in July where the topic would be discussed. Hopefully there will be some solutions come out of this. I will definitely be sharing when I figure something out!


    2. We have the same problem. Purchased our first pug last February and my husband butchered it. We made blood puddings, sausages, bacon and more – but the wrapping for the freezer used huge amounts of plastic bags. Second pig arriving next month and am busy searching for alternatves for wrapping – any and all ideas welcomed.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I know some people who are giving their butcher biodegradable plastic bags but I don’t know which ones they are using. You just have to make sure they are biodegradable and not just degradable. If you live in a council area which collects compostable kitchen material this would be a good option because those bags only really break down in commercial facilities, not home compost systems. There are some reusable plastic freezer bags which are basically zip lock bags but your butcher may not wish to use them after the first use and they may not have sizes big enough. Here is a link to them


  4. Am trying to find an alternative too. As I have a small freezer, using tupperware us out of the question as they would use up too much space.

    Am thinking of trying to make my own resusable washable bags. Maybe using some material that has a plastic type of backing. Then I could turn them inside out to wash/clean/disinfect.

    What are people’s thoughts on this?

    Liked by 1 person

  5. My first experience of taking my container to the butcher was last week. I first asked the girl behind the counter if she was able to put the meat in my container. She said yes no problem she would just have to tear the weight. Tick! And I then got distracted by my toddler and then realised the 2kg of chicken and 2kg mince I had asked for all went into separate 2 x 1 kg plastic bags and was then put into my containers, without any tareing. I didn’t say anything at the time. I realised I need to be more explicit at the start of the conversation, as I had assumed we were on the same page. Since then I have asked at local Woolies and was told a flat no. I asked a butcher yesterday and they said yes but they have to use plastic to get meat out with. I got meat today from local butcher who was happy to use container but also wanted to use plastic. After reading this blog next time I will ask if butcher can just use hands or tongs or another option, and explain my container intentions and hopes. Progress! Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Hi there waste-free warroirs!
    Regarding trying to source meat without plastics, I have come to realise it as a necessary evil where most suppliers are concerned in order to be able to provide a quality product. This is the general reply wherever I have tried!
    That said, I thoufht I would then just get as much of the cut of meat I could fir in the plastic bag. Today I asked for 3kg of chicken breast at a deli in one of the major supermarkets. Lo and behold, she went into the back fridge and produced a pre-packed plastic bag of the requested item. I am assuming this is how it is transported and then unpacked from this to be displayed.
    I figured, well I could just order it like this for now until I come up with some better plan. Hope this gives you ‘food’ for thought and hopefully I haven’t ‘ruffled any feathers’. ☺

    Liked by 1 person

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