Many of us have been taught since childhood to reuse and recycle where possible.
A whopping 87 per cent of Australians believe recycling at home is the right thing to do, according to a 2022 report — and for items that can’t go in council-provided yellow bins, more people each year are paying to send off household items to recycling organisations.
But for some, our recycling efforts feel futile after the recent news that REDCycle allegedly stockpile soft plastics from supermarkets.
So if there is no easy solution to recycle our plastics, how easy is it to just buy less plastic in the first place?
Three ABC reporters tried to do just that with their weekly grocery shop — and found it’s challenging for a range of reasons.
Conor Byrne, four-person household, Darwin, NT
There’s no reasonable way I can reduce plastic waste further in the weekly grocery shop.
Even when I try to buy loose fruit and veg, it’s often out of stock. I’m also forced to buy poly netting bags. Loose items are sometimes more expensive.
Having a young family and living in a humid climate, it’s a big ask to shop around for produce not wrapped in plastic. I could spend a day cycling to the various shops that might sell loose items.
But by the time the kids get in and out of the bike several times, and then use their pester power to demand more plastic crap they see at the check-out, and then the meal ingredient we need isn’t available or isn’t up to standard at the final store — it’s a waste of everyone’s valuable time.
We have a small house and live in a tropical environment, so buying in bulk isn’t feasible. We’ve no garden, or time, to grow our own.
It’s very difficult to buy less plastic. We are beholden to whatever our food comes wrapped in by the big supermarkets or the corner store.
Since the suspension of RedCycle, there is no other soft plastic collection in the NT. I’ve been hoarding all the washed and dried soft plastics in bags in a cupboard in our tiny utility room (I’m up to four bags now), hoping a solution will be found.
I do the same with PVC, bottle pumps, blister packs from medications, pens, shoes, clothes, and textiles.
When there is enough to justify the cost, I mail it — at my expense — to a waste stream down south such as Terracycle, Banish or Upparel.
I feel that’s my obligation. But time, space, money, and patience are running low.
Other things we do:
- The four Cs: bring your own cutlery, crockery, containers, and cotton bags everywhere, especially kids’ parties and markets.
- Plastic “zip” pouches are reused for freezing homemade soup.
- Glass bottles are used for chilling water, emergency water storage, or to grow aquatic house plants.
- I’ve switched to leaf tea for fear of plastic in tea bags.
Conor Byrne is a features reporter with ABC Darwin.
Tahnee Jash, one-person household, western Sydney, NSW
As someone who lives in a one-person household, I thought it would be easy to manage the number of soft plastics I was bringing home. It’s not as straightforward as I thought.
The first thing I did, which was the easiest change to make, was not buying pre-packaged salads or veggies. That encouraged me to make another change, which was buying whole veggies instead of ones cut in half – like pumpkin.
One of benefits of living in western Sydney is access to fresh fruit and veggies from local farmers.
On my way home from the beach one day I decided to buy from a local farmer selling fruit on the side of the road. It was cheaper to buy a whole tray, so I was left with way more food than I needed. I had to give some away to my family to avoid any waste.
Most weeks though, I find buying frozen fruits and veggies is better for my wallet and last me more than a week. But of course, they come in plastic.
The other challenge is buying meat. The only meat I really eat is chicken and I like it pre-marinated to save me time when cooking.
My options are limited at the smaller deli or butcher compared with the pre-packaged options at the supermarket.
The other challenge I was fighting with was cost.
Take small cans of corn as an example: If I buy four individual tins, they cost $1.40 each. But if I buy a pack of four (exact same product and brand) it costs 95 cents per can. The catch is, the four-pack comes wrapped in plastic.
One way I’ve heard people combat soft plastics is shopping at whole food stores where you bring your own containers and fill them up.
It’s a concept I love after Marie Kondo-ing my pantry with matching containers. but there’s not many whole food stores where I live.
Really thinking more consciously at my weekly grocery shop, opened my eyes to how much soft plastic I was taking home.
We’re all feeling the pressure of price hikes on our grocery bills and some of us just don’t have the luxury of paying a little bit more at the cash register to buy the non-plastic option.
Tahnee Jash is a reporter with ABC Everyday.
Jodie Hamilton, three-person household, Port Lincoln, SA
I have two boys — an eating machine 15-year-old and an 11-year-old — so my soft plastics are mostly from food to fill them up: Sweet and savoury biscuits, meat tray seals and cling wrap, and packaging from grocery items.
I mostly shop from the larger supermarket chains to keep the costs down, and take advantage of reward points. As a full time worker, it is also convenient time-wise to grocery shop at one location after work.
Port Lincoln has other options for plastic free shopping — three market gardens and a specialty fruit and veg shop.
They all have beautifully fresh and tasty seasonal produce, but time constraints and my budget mean I rarely shop at them, despite the far better products available there.
There is also a small bring-your-own container or paper bag whole food store that is plastic free — but it also comes at a higher price.
My boys have grown up with recycling a key to our household chores and being conscious of the waste we create.
We cash in our soft drink and cans in the container deposit scheme, we recycle cardboard and paper in the council bin, and our meat offcuts are treats for our dog.
We dig our vegetable and fruit scraps into a patch of dirt near our lemon tree we call the “surprise garden”. So far we’ve harvested two pumpkins, lots of tomatoes, and various herbs without really planting anything on purpose.
Not being able to recycle soft plastics, though, has had an impact on my shopping.
It feels a little unsettling to be tying off and binning our soft plastics, instead of saving them to return to the supermarket.
To counter this landfill I’ve tried not to buy so many plastic-wrapped foods — but some are hard to avoid, like cheeses and meats that will otherwise spoil.
I have made some changes recently. I’ve been buying Lebanese cucumbers because they don’t have a plastic wrap, and I have netting bags for my fruit and veg, which I invariably leave in the car.
A quick price check discovered the loose fruit was cheaper per kilogram than packaged, and doing so brought me a saving.
I’ve also tried to make time to cook homemade biscuits and cakes rather than buy from the store. At least the ingredient packaging is paper-based and recyclable.
Jodie Hamilton is a features reporter at ABC Port Lincoln.
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