Frequently asked questions

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  I think my cousin inadvertently interviewed me via WhatsApp a few weeks ago with lots of questions about “going zero-waste”, so I figured it would be worthwhile to put up her questions- and my answers 🙂

1.How do you buy/ store your meat and fish?

  We try and buy our meat and fish in our own containers- we have never had a problem with our 2 go-to local butchers with putting raw meat in our own glass containers (they tare it first), however have had more difficulty at the Adelaide Central Markets. Fish has been an issue until recently when we discovered two fish mongers who would happily tare our containers with no hassle. We have had some success with buying bacon and ham/ other deli meats over the counter at Foodland and Coles, as well as the Adelaide Farmer’s Market. My plan B is always to ask if they can wrap our purchases in butcher’s paper first if they feel uncomfortable with taring (we compost the paper afterwards). We *have* been caught out at times and have accepted fish etc in plastic bags, a plastic wrapped chicken at the butcher (it was all they had). If this happens we try and wash the plastic in hot soapy water and leave to dry, and then drop it off at Coles (a supermarket chain) for soft plastics recycling.

I have bought roast pork from the Asian butcher as well- to save the hassle of explaining how to tare with a language barrier, I give him a piece of parchment paper  which he weighs the selected meat on, and then chops it up for us into our container. He is a true gem, always smiles and never asks questions 🙂

The beauty of having things in your own container is that 1) It’s a much more secure way to transport food in regards to leakage, etc 2) You can just store it as is in the fridge- again no leaks or awkward plastic bags to endure, 3) As all our glass containers are oven safe (depending on what it is/ the dish is) we can use the container to prepare and pop the whole thing in the oven 4) Nothing goes to landfill (duh) and 5) You don’t get stuck washing out an icky plastic bag so that you can (hopefully) recycle it (yuck).

2 It’s not hard then?

It is hard in a way, because we have all been brought up with the convenience of single-use plastic to store / buy things in- especially food. It does require persistence and commitment. To go back to the grass roots of the shopping experience is also interesting. To buy say, a cut of meat- I would sail into Coles, pick up a pre-packaged piece of meat and sail out without having to interact with anyone (hello, automated self- check outs). Nowadays- if I know I need meat I need to plan ahead, bring a container, chat to my butcher and ask how his injured hand is going- it brings back some of the niceties of food shopping. Also- if I have gone to the trouble of getting the meat in this way, I actually appreciate it more, I am also less likely to waste it or forget about it at the back of the fridge. Also- because it requires more effort- we definitely don’t eat meat as often as we used to, which is infinitely better for the environment.

3. What about when you buy cookies and biscuits?

I’ve learnt that I make awesome chocolate chip cookies 😉 We can buy biscuits from bakeries who sell them loose- we live walking distance from a Greek patisserie who sell amazing cookies! We do miss things like Tim Tams- I think our last packet ran out sometime in March, and amazingly we haven’t bought another one. We don’t believe in depriving ourselves too much, so every now and then we “treat ourselves” with something packaged as a reward for being otherwise pretty good- Tim Tams are a “sometimes” food in more ways than one 🙂

4. Or milk… Or juice?

We can’t buy milk in glass, or glass returnable bottles in South Australia. I’ve done my research! There was one company who used to many moons ago, but switched to plastic because of the high burden. We buy milk in cartons (always have), so that hasn’t changed. I actually don’t drink a lot of cow’s milk anyway, and I have been using home made almond milk more and more. We mainly use it to make lattes, and when recipes call for it. We can buy powdered milk in bulk, condensed milk comes in a can (I haven’t gotten around to making my own from powdered milk… yet!)

Juice is also a tricky one. We don’t own an industrial juicer (I can’t justify the cost and space for a single use item), and the amount of oranges you would have to juice to come up with 1 L of juice… It’s not cost effective. Because we have cut way back on soft drink consumption, it would be pretty cruel (especially to my partner) to abruptly cut off all juice as well. We buy orange juice in a plastic bottle (it gets recycled), things like apple juice can be bought in glass. When summer comes back we’ll be able to make watermelon juice with our ancient small juicer

5. Or sugar?

We can buy all sorts of sugar in bulk (including icing sugar!), or you can always buy it in a paper bag at the supermarket.

6. What about tea bags and coffee… Or chocolate- The world’s necessities?

We are slowly phasing out tea bags (we’re both big tea drinkers), but still have a lot to get through- we’re mainly using them for guests at the moment. They’re probably one of our biggest sources of landfill waste- plastic/ nylon tea bags, stapled to a plastic tag… We have individual tea infusers, a small 2-cup pot, and a larger 4-5 cup pot for more people. We discovered the “paper” bags that our coffee was coming in were actually lined with plastic! So we’re either going to just keep reusing the coffee bag, or buy it in our own jar- The last time we tried they weighed the coffee beans in a paper bag then poured it into our jar 😦 There are some brands of chocolate that package in paper and cardboard, larger amounts of foil can be recycled, or you can buy chocolate nibbly things from bulk bins.

7. What are Bulk bins?

Bulk bins are basically large containers/ sacks/ gravity feeding contraptions filled with package free produce. Usual suspects like grains and beans, nuts, lollies, dried fruit. It’s all dependent on where you go in terms of what’s available, but it is a fun process to find new things in bulk, and also fun to see what other people find from all over the world! My favourite finds have been rice at asian grocers’, coconut roughs; wakamme; raw cacao powder and cacao nibs; icing sugar; agar agar and tofu. Others have been lucky enough to live in places with frozen food bulk bins- think frozen peas and berries! I also have a lead on a place that does nutritional yeast in bulk 🙂

8. What about Soy sauce?

Can be purchased in a glass bottle, Goodies and Grains sell tamari in bulk and you can bring your own bottle

9. Peanut butter?

Too easy- bring your own jar to places like Goodies and Grains, or Norwood Health Shop and grind your own. So much tastier, minus the extra chemicals and glue like consistency

10. What’s been the most difficult for you so far?

Crackers and chips- no bulk bin pretzel or rice cracker can replace the crunch of a good tortilla chip. Asian food is difficult- I’ll write a post on it later- but a lot of condiments come in plastic, particular kinds of rice and noodles.Yes we recycle *everything* but it’s not ideal at the end of the day, so we keep trying to find unpackaged options. Asian cuisine is the easiest, cheapest and healthiest “fast food” option for us at home, so it is our zero waste black hole currently. It’s not a static process though, and I have plans to make my own rice noodles and coconut milk (from coconut flakes bought in bulk). I don’t have any inclination to try and make rice vinegar or rice paper rolls though!

11. What’s wrong with microbeads? And how do you buy your shampoo etc

Microbeads are in a lot of body and facial cleansers and scrubs, they get washed down the drain and into our waterways. They are too small so escape all the filters in place, and fish ingest them instead of plankton. We eat fish so… Microbeads are on the menu for us. A lot of major companies still use microbeads and it’s a big problem, there are petitions out there calling to ban all microbeads. There are other companies who use all natural exfoliants, or you can easily make your own scrubs from oatmeal, coffee grounds and baking soda. I don’t have the heart to make my other half scrub his face with oatmeal yet, so he is using a natural exfoliant nowadays (instead of the Nivea/ Clean and Clear stuff that is filled with microbeads). I use solid shampoo bars from Lush (have been using them for about 3 years), but you can also buy shampoo in bulk from a lot of places. I still have lots of plastic bottled conditioner so still making my way through that. When that gets used up it will either be a solid bar, or conditioner in bulk.

Task #2: Go out and explore what your local options are in regards to bulk, unpackaged food. I will assure you that you *will* get excited about food again, and that you will start eating a bit healthier too (hopefully). They pop up in the most unexpected places- there is a small organics shop with bulk bins walking distance from my place! Also- the more you go out and explore and know what your options are, the more equipped you will be to tackle the next step- which is actually buying the stuff. You’ll need to work out how you’ll get it weighed (container tared, cotton bag, re-used paper bag, re-used plastic bag even?), how busy the place is, whether it is self serve etc.

Happy zero-wasting!

Lisa x

5 thoughts on “Frequently asked questions

  1. Loved this! I am counting the days until my tea bags are gone so I can invest in some bulk loose leaf tea. It makes tea feel so much more of a treat when I can steep it in my tea pot I bought in Japan Town, SF, and serve it to guests. I swear I’m going to buy an extra tea pot for my desk at work when the time comes!

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    1. We still have so many tea bags it’s crazy- we’re definitely tea people! Our small 2 cup pot has an in built infuser so it’s perfect for tea for one, and much easier to clean than those individual tea infusers!! It makes me feel fancy to have real tea in a real tea pot 🙂

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      1. I’ll take my tea pot over an infuser any day! It gives the leaves much more room to expand. I’ve been going through my old tea bags. At first, I thought they were expired because they were so bland. Then I realized that I just became used to better quality tea! Proof that it is worth investing in tea 🙂

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  2. I’m a Canadian of Vietnamese descent and am pretty happy to see I’m not the only one who wondered about Asian food and zero waste philosophy combination. I still want to cook Asian food as it is a way for me to express and live my culture, but it gets challenging when you are in a country where it is not a staple food.

    I remember going to the market in China and they would have large bins of tofu, eggs, noodles and all and you could actually just take whatever you needed.

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