Living without packaging
At the start of this year, our family decided that we were going to attempt to live package-free. We’ve been thinking and talking about this for a while and as New Year approached, the timing seemed appropriate.
We gave ourselves January to transition, with the agreement that from February 1st we would not buy any food or other household items in packages, unless absolutely necessary.
Why we decided to go package-free
Over the years, it seems like more and more things we buy come in packages. It’s so wasteful, and also diminishes choice. Why do I have to buy fixed quantities of things – often larger quantities than I want or need?
So much packaging gets thrown away every week. We kid ourselves that it’s ok because some gets “recycled”. Where does that stuff even go? How much energy does it take to pick up the recycling bins from outside our house, transport them, melt down all that plastic and then re-form it into another product of lesser quality?
And anyway, lots of packaging cannot even be recycled! All the plastic bags and wraps and styrofoam and foil and so on just go into a hole in the ground, which we euphemistically call “landfill”. As if the land was empty before and we are doing it a favour by filling it up. It wasn’t. That land doesn’t need filling! But it’s out of sight, out of mind.
It had been bothering us for some time that we were throwing out so much garbage each week. Surely there had to be a better way?
Composting: How we began to shift our habits
When we moved from Dorchester to London last June, we began composting. To our shame, we hadn’t been doing that at our old house. As well as creating lots of yummy nutritious food for the vegetables in our garden, it was amazing to see how much less garbage we were throwing out each week!
And at the same time, it made us all the more aware of the garbage that we were throwing out. Why was it that all this plastic packaging was being used just once and then discarded? Was all this stuff only fit to be used once?
We throw stuff away and then we forget about it. But where is this magical place called “away”?
Sure, it’s convenient to do things this way. But convenient for whom? It’s certainly not more convenient for the planet. It’s not more convenient for our grandchildren. All that plastic thrown into huge holes in the ground and into our oceans is slowly suffocating Mother Earth.
If we can’t compost it, we shouldn’t be throwing it “away”!
Staying away from evil supermarkets
Another event that conspired to push us into this move to living package free was the Loblaw’s bread scandal.
For non-Canadians, Loblaw’s, the largest Canadian food retailer, recently admitted to bread price-fixing scheme spanning more than 14 years. As it was, we were not big fans of Loblaw’s, but there’s not much choice, as every grocery store seems to be owned by them! They own 22 different grocery store brands – not much choice or competition there! Their CEO, Galen Weston, whose family owns 47% of the company, is the third richest person in Canada, and yet baulks at paying his employees a living wage, saying that paying them $15 an hour would be bad for business.
Once we were #freefromloblaws, it soon became clear that we could no longer buy all the groceries that we needed on a weekly basis under one roof. Since we were now committed to going to multiple places to buy our groceries, it made sense to use this opportunity to completely re-consider what food we were buying and eating.
A bonus benefit of eating package free
Not only is going package free good for our planet, it’s good for our bodies.
Much of the food that one buys in packages is processed. It’s artificial, it’s in some sense one step removed from actually being “food”. It’s easier, it’s more convenient than making your own meals from scratch. But at what cost?
Living package free has forced us – which is not a bad thing! – to be more conscious of what we are eating. No more turning to a packet of pasta or box of soup for a quick lunch because it’s quick and easy.
Instead, we are eating more actual food.
How it’s going so far
For now, a couple of weeks in, we are doing just fine. It’s the honeymoon period, of course, and we are still enjoying the novelty of it all.
And we still have some packages left in the refrigerator and the freezer and stashed in the basement. But at some point, those things will run out, and then reality will hit…
I’m already dreading having to make our own ketchup, baked beans, ice cream… We’ve already tried making almond milk, which is one thing we’ve not been able to find package-free.
We’ve tried four batches of almond milk and they have all been varying degrees of gross. Not only that, it won’t even stay together or look like milk.
We bought some reusable produce bags online so that we don’t have to use the silly thin single-use plastic bags that all grocery stores have. But they shrunk in the dryer and are now unusably small.
How realistic is it to live a zero waste lifestyle?
Living package free involves lots of driving around to different places to buy our groceries! We are lucky that we have the time to do this. One of us is on maternity leave and the other has the flexibility to choose his working hours. Not everyone is as fortunate as us.
We’re also lucky that we can afford to do this. Counterintuitively, we often have to pay a large premium for buying food that comes package-free. Harmony Milk, for example, which comes in glass bottles that are washed and reused, costs several times more than packaged organic milk. But on the plus side, it tastes delicious! And is not homogenized, which is kinda cool too.
There are still some things we haven’t been able to buy without packaging, so we’re starting to make them at home ourselves. Along the way, we’ve already found cool new local shops and fallen in love again with old favourites like Lyn-Dys and Angelo’s.
We’ve started having On The Move Organics deliver groceries to us and buying beer from London Brewing Co-op. I’m not sure why we ever got beer from anywhere else! But I don’t know what we’re going to do about other types of alcohol… Maybe this is a good opportunity to drink less booze, too?!
What does the future hold?
We are just getting started on our package free journey! It’s been very encouraging to hear lots of positive comments from stores that we take our own containers to, as well as from friends and from friends we don’t yet know.
Before starting out, we posted on Facebook asking for tips, and got over 60 comments, some of them very detailed and helpful!
We are certainly not the first people to think of this idea. There are some excellent resources out there! We are indebted to Bea Johnson’s manual “The Zero Waste Home” and the recipes of Wellness Mama. And we’re inspired that many cities now have entire package free grocery stores – such as Nu Grocery in Ottawa, and Epicerie Loco and Méga Vrac in Montreal.
Kara is going to university in September and will have much less time then. So we have about half a year to figure out where to buy various foods package free, and how to make the remaining things at home! And also to learn what we can do without – and, perhaps, where we can relax our self-imposed rules a little.
This summer will be interesting – what do we need to can, freeze, etc? An exciting by-product of this project is that it is helping us to eat more local, to be more conscious about where our food is coming from, what is seasonal and what is not.
Our learning journey
We are realistic that being completely package-free may not be sustainable in the long run for our household, given the competing demands of living a good life with three young children too. Clearly there is an environmental cost to driving to all these different stores each week, too, as well as an opportunity cost.
But at least on this journey we will see what we might be able to do, and maybe we will find a “new normal” that works for us.
Starting this package free journey has made me think that maybe it’s not just about looking at food, but at life in general. Wouldn’t you like to live a life that’s less packaged and processed and plastic? Maybe you have to work a little bit harder for it but it’s more real in the end.
We’ll sure learn some things along the way about food and much more, and I’m sure we’ll have some fun and adventures!
Who knows, maybe we will find some others to share this journey with us, too 🙂