I like to cook with fresh herbs but I don’t like it when they come boxed or wrapped in plastic film. I have two options: either I buy organic herbs and feel guilty about consuming an unnecessary, (potentially) unrecyclable piece of plastic, or, I am limited to mediocre varieties of flat leaf parsley or coriander from the otherwise good Turkish supermarket.
The herbs from local independent organic stores are superior in quality, have a stronger flavour, and last longer than herbs from the Turkish supermarket (which are often on their way out on the day of purchase). The organic herbs generally come from Kentish farms, relatively local to London. The unpackaged Turkish store herbs don’t have their country of origin on display but since the other produce stocked comes from far and wide, the herbs have most likely put in some serious food miles to get to my local supermarket.
Could it be that the plastic packaging preserves the organic herbs for longer? In theory, it should. Yet considering the organic herbs belong to a higher class of produce in the first place and haven’t undertaken an epic food-miles-journey, it’s more than possible that the ‘easier life’ they’ve enjoyed manifests itself in improved shelf-life and taste. These herbs will last around five days; I don’t require any plastic packaging to *extend their shelf-life any further.
I’ve noticed that it isn’t just my local organic store herbs that are afflicted by the plastic packaging plague. I’ve got a hunch it’s down to the herb farmers and/or suppliers who unthinkingly pack their produce in plastic because the organic food sector is booming and the issue of plastic-free food packaging is niche; as long as the herbs are organic, they’ll sell. I’ve been objecting to plastic-packaged herbs by not buying them – but how much difference can one consumer make? If I don’t vocally object to plastic-packaged herbs I have no chance of making the situation better or buying plastic-free herbs.
For practicality purposes, I can see why it would be advantageous to have herbs boxed in plastic in a chain supermarket environment. A sealed plastic box can have a label on it saying what it is and how much it costs. Many people can’t identify fresh herbs, perhaps because dried herbs are more widely used in domestic kitchens. Many British shoppers may also view fresh herbs as an extravagance compared to dried varieties, which they are more familiar with, and perhaps the plastic packaging makes what is essentially an over-priced (?) bundle of leaves look better value for money. Finally, if sealed in a plastic tray, the produce won’t be able to shed leaves on the floor and make a mess.
In an organic supermarket environment I would hope that procurement decisions are based on the whole lifecycle of the product including its environmental and health implications – not just what is most convenient or advantageous for the retailer. I want to buy herbs from the organic supermarket because they taste better and last longer (not because they are organic per se). At the same time, I am put off purchasing these herbs because they come ensconced in plastic. My concern is that fresh herbs – which enhance flavour but are by no means essential – cannot justify their waste legacy. I cannot accept that for my fleeting foodie pleasure a piece of plastic will have been created, that once discarded is destined for landfill or a toxic plume.
Having been silently objecting to plastic-packaged herbs in the organic local supermarkets for too long, it’s time to take action with an email request for plastic-free herbs. I’ll be contacting retailer and supplier directly and will keep you informed of any replies I receive.
Plastic trays used in herb packaging may be a relatively minor thing in the grand scheme of appalling food and plastic waste but if it eases my plastic-waste conscience it’s got to be worth a try.
National Zero Waste Week w/c 5th September aims to get us thinking more mindfully about the waste we generate. Participants wishing to raise awareness about reducing waste pledge to adopt a practical waste-reducing action throughout the campaign to keep more garbage out of landfill.
The theme of NZWK 2011 is zero waste when on the move. Many of us take care to avoid generating unnecessary or unrecyclable waste when at home, yet it takes organisational, zero-waste-prowess and dedication to go that step further by refusing to buy convenience foods (with their unrecyclable or single use trappings) when out and about.
For anyone who has already made an effort to reduce waste by recycling or composting taking part in NZWK is an opportunity to up the ante and push oneself to reduce waste sent to landfill even further. It’s a chance to go beyond personal comfort zones. It could mean pledging to be more assertive in shops when refusing carrier bags. For some it’s a pledge to bring a refillable cup to the coffee shop in order to avoid the waste generated by single use food and drinks packaging.
To mark NZWK 2011 I’ve pledged to use up the neglected foods in my kitchen cupboard. These are foods bought with the best of intentions for which I’ve previously lacked either the technical skill or imagination to transform into anything resembling a tasty meal. I’ll be reducing the amount of food purchased by using up what I already have, and when I am out and about shopping *I’m shopping zero waste style. This means I won’t be bringing home any plastic packs or films that I can’t recycle. When I’m out shopping, I’ll always buy loose and use my own containers and reusable bags.
I’m pushing myself to go further than ever before in my effort the amount of waste I send to landfill or incineration. Taking part in NZWW will provide me with ample opportunities to practice my refusing skills when out and about. More than anything, it will be a learning opportunity. I’ll research new recipes for the neglected foods and hopefully produce more palatable concoctions. I may even be inspired to adopt a zero waste lifestyle like Mrs G, the NZWK organiser.
Preparation for National Zero Waste Week
To get ready for NZWK I made an inventory of the food in my cupboards and freezer in order to identify the neglected foodstuffs. I’m embarrassed about my kitchen cupboards – disorganised and messy. The only reason I’m showing you is because it’s for NZWK.
Taking out the produce I was surprised by my heretofore unconsidered use of plastic sandwich bags to keep food from spilling over the shelves. I would never buy these now – how much one changes when awakened by the world of waste.
Food to use during National Zero Waste Week:
Basmati rice (always buy but never seem to use)
Cous cous (go through fads of wanting this)
Paxo stuffing (find out what vegetarian recipes there are to use with)
Dry soya mince (wasn’t nice last time I cooked it)
Sesame oil (make some Asian food and use sparingly)
Lentils and other pulses (attempt to make dahl)
Dregs of assorted cooking oil bottles
Wafer biscuits (unwanted gift – time to eat!)
Cinnamon, demarera sugar, icing sugar (make some kind of cake?)
Food to Give Away:
Turkish Croissants (bought by mistake and don’t really like)
Loose Green Tea (don’t like)
Food Chucked Out (Reluctantly):
Bag of horrible frozen spinach
Very old smoked salmon slices
Freezer burnt frozen Yorkshire puddings
Small portion of old vegetarian mince substitute
Udon noodles (too difficult to cook correctly)
Nepali packets of tea (enthusiastically brought back to the UK but ignored for 2 years)
Items Saved From Landfill:
Contents of unwanted food packets (food waste collection)
Plastic lids etc (I’m collecting for creative reuse)
Typical household recycling materials
Have you got any practical action ideas for National Zero Waste Week?
The Zero Waste Military Family switch from disposable tissues to good ‘ole fashioned handkerchiefs
Glass bottle garden border fail – am I supposed to want this in my garden?
Onya reusables including parachute reusable bags, as recommended by Stephen
Do you know of an urban drinking fountain? Participate in National Tap Water Week with Do the Green Thing
Waste management nerds – want to see a Materials Recovery Facility being built in time lapse photography? (thought not)