13 May 2017

Veg without plastic

Fresh vegetables in a recycled cardboard box, with no plastic packaging. That is so obviously the right way to buy vegetables, but it is difficult to achieve in practice. It's all too easy to get vegetables along with everything else from the supermarket, but the quantity of plastic involved is becoming distinctly worrying, and the supermarkets don't care about the effect on the environment, only shelf life and marketing targets.

Last Saturday I set out to see if I could buy the week's vegetables without any plastic. I looked at the market stalls but got put off by the pound-a-bowl business, and decided to shop at the International Supermarket on the High Street. They are probably even less interested in being 'green' than Sainsbury's are, but (for different reasons) hardly anything is packaged. Most of their fruit and veg is displayed in the boxes it came in, inside and outside the shop. There are stacks of plastic bags but you don't have to use them. I cycled there (green transport!) and my shopping bike has a large box attached to the handlebars, plenty big enough to carry everything.

The selection of vegetables and salad ingredients in the Turkish-run shop is impressive, with many varieties that you wouldn't get in the big supermarkets: yellow courgettes, purple-and-white streaked aubergines and also white ones, long thin peppers in various colours, and lots more. Mostly the quality is good, although it's not consistent the way Sainsbury's is, but that just means choosing what is good and maybe trying something new, rather than deciding what to buy beforehand.

You collect purchases in a basket and most things can just go straight in, but it was impossible to avoid plastic altogether. Some things came with plastic packaging: celery is in a polythene bag, fresh chives come in cellophane and cooked beetroot is (unavoidably) shrink-wrapped. It didn't seem practical to get loose French beans so I took a polythene bag for those. I brought a used carrier bag with me for potatoes, so as not to push my luck at the checkout, also a big Sainsburys 'bag for life' to carry everything home.

I didn't entirely succeed in my plastic-free shopping mission. I underestimated how much would fit on the bike, so we needed to buy a few things from our local shops during the week. The comparative cost? About the same as Sainsbury's. And the actual saving on plastic bags? Sainsbury's often offer a choice between packaged and loose vegetables, and most of the things I bought could have been loose - so probably less than I expected.