Trying to reduce plastic waste while buying groceries? These factors can make it harder

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.

Sometimes the plastic bags of fruits and veggies are all that’s available.()

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.

We’ve reused ice-cream boxes to store household items like batteries, until we have enough to send off to a recycling program.()

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.

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