This is Part Two of plastic free solutions that are simple, beautiful and very satisfying to implement, based on what works for me living in Amsterdam / the Netherlands. In Part One I wrote about replacements for the bathroom, and gave a brief overview of the plastic problem in stats. Here’s a few more to give us all a sense of urgency, get plastic dieting now!
Plastic Contamination is Widespread
- Sea salt around the world is contaminated with plastic pollution.
- Previous studies found plastics in the gut, in tap water around the world, and in flying insects.
- Microplastics are found to permeate the ocean’s deepest points, as much as 12.000m deep. One liter of water from the Mariana Trench contains thousands of tiny plastic pieces, according to new research.
- Globally, we go through something like half a trillion disposable cups each year, which are hardly ever recycled due to their polyethylene lining.
The Good News Section
- The first passenger flight free of single use plastics took off last month in Portugal, offering bamboo cutlery and compostable food containers.
- There is a hopeful initiative by Terracycle, working with brands like Procter & Gamble, Nestlé, PepsiCo and Unilever. The pilot for Loop will start this year, offering daily products in reusable containers, which will picked up from customers doorsteps for re-use.
- Many innovative materials are becoming available to replace plastic. For example, Ecovative has been growing mycelium as a replacement for plastic for years, particularly useful as a styrofoam replacement.
Meanwhile… what can you do to reduce the endless stream of plastic waste?
Vegetables & Fruits
Starting with the most known, and perhaps easiest solution. When buying your fruit and veg, bring your own bags. You can buy organic cotton bags online, for example at Bag-Again, Koop Eco, or Leven zonder afval. Or in store, for example at Ekoplaza. You can also make them yourself, bring a tote bag, your nutmilk bag, or other bags you have around the house.
Where to go shopping?
My friend orders her groceries at online supermarket Picnic, and has agreed with the store that items packed in plastic will be removed from her order – since this is not always visible online. In the Ekoplaza online shop you can add the tag Plastic Free, but you do need to order a decent amount. You can also try a few of your local supermarkets to see which offers the most plastic-free options. Albert Heijn is not a good destination, as almost everything is plastic wrapped. You can find a local street market, or try the fabulous Farmed Today, who offers rescued veg and fruit for a great price. They deliver an abundant box of food rescued from waste at your doorstep. In a carton box, so no plastic packaging. More pricy but organic plastic free options are plenty, for example Ekoplaza, Marqt, or Biolicious, and in Amsterdam the biological market at Noordermarkt on Saturdays.
Grains, Pasta, Nuts and Dried Fruits
The grains take a bit more effort, the Ekoplaza bulk food section is still a bit limited. They have more exotic options like dried figs, but no oats or rice for example. My favourite location is Delicious Food on the Westerstraat, a big variety of choices. They give a discount if you use your own bags, and have paper bags in the store, too. You can now also shop plastic free at Little Plant Pantry, on the Bosboom Toussaintstraat. You can even bring containers for spices! Leven zonder afval sells bulk foods online, in which case I’d prefer to buy a lot at once to reduce delivery cost and cardboard box use. Farmed Today has rescued grains and pasta in their collection as well.
Get a lovely cotton bread bag from Bag-Again or elsewhere, or make one from old fabric or an old pillowcase. It’s no problem to bring this to the bakery, the street market and to supermarkets – I have only tried Albert Heijn once and that was fine. At home, transfer your bread into a pre-used plastic bread bag to make sure it stays fresh. I usually freeze the other half in the bread bag.
Coffee & Tea
So yes, even tea bags that appear paper, contain plastic, I recently found out. Even worse, some double packaged tea bags in cafes are made of plastic altogether. Eek, what are they thinking? Let’s go back to the good old days when we used a simple tea filter ‘egg’. I prefer the more lazy version of the tea filter. You can also find it at Hema or Blokker, or get a cotton one for fine teas at Pit Pit.
Next, where can you source your teas? You can look for a local herb store. Then, of course Simon Lévelt has so many wonderful options. They told me that the inside of their paper bags is made of cellulose from banana plant leaves, and 100% compostable. Delicious Food has a number of nice tea blends on offer and Leven Zonder Afval has a bunch of different teas. Pit Pit has a large range, which comes in small PET bottles. They told me this is a sustainable option as PET is 100% recyclable. PET is still an oil derived plastic product, so it’s up to you to decide. For the coffee lovers, you can buy ground coffee at Simon Lévelt and bring your own container. You can also buy coffee beans from bulk containers at Ekoplaza or Delicious Food and grind them at home.
Whether you drink cow milk, oat milk, or soy milk, it mostly comes in Tetra pack cartons. These cartons are made of a kind of laminated paper, containing polyethylene and aluminium foil. They also come with a plastic top. Tetra packs can be downcycled, the material broken down and reused, but this seems to be an energy intensive process. Besides, in 2017, their global recycling rate was only 25%. According to this blog the majority of paper they use is not from sustainably managed forests, even though they mention a goals of 100% use of sustainably harvested wood at some point. But, do we really need to cut down any precious trees to pack our milks and yoghurts?
The obvious alternative is glass bottles, but these are not yet available. So the best solution really is to make your own plant based milk, which is surprisingly easy and fast! There are plenty of recipes online. In short, for oatmilk, you rinse the oats and soak them for 6 hours or overnight. You can then use a nutmilk bag to strain the oats. I personally don’t have a blender, so do without. Add a date or fig cut into bits for natural sweetness, or a little honey, cinnamon and vanilla to taste. And you’re done! You can keep it for 3-5 days in the fridge, in a pre-used glass bottle (I prefer a juice bottle with a wide top). I use the nutmilk bag from Bionootje, which is made from hemp. Hemp is a naturally anti-bacterial and sustainable material, as its grows much faster then the water intensive cotton. From the oats that remain after straining you can bake some delicious oat cookies.
Sauces, Jams & Spreads
Pick the glass or aluminium container over the plastic one whenever possible. Also take note of the lid, and go for aluminium not plastic. Aluminium is energy intensive to create but apparently an infinitely recyclable material. Of course if you enjoy kitchen projects, there are many delicious spreads you can make at home with little effort. The popular humus can be made in 5 mins, larger batches can be kept in the freezer. You can find variations on spreads at O She Glows and I am also a big fan of One Green Planet.
On the Go
Take Away Food
Take away food is a disaster when it comes to packaging. A first and simple thing to do is to request in the notes of your order, or in the restaurant, to leave out any plastic cutlery and napkins. If you have any favourite local restaurants where you order, you can go there with your own (plastic free) tupperware set, or clean containers from your last order. And then you’ll need a spork, if eating on the go. It’s a spoon, it’s a fork. You can even find a bamboo version here, so you are always prepared for a meal. Perhaps get a bamboo straw too, for good measure.
Bring Your Own Mug
Paper and plastic cups has been my biggest frustration, observing the mind boggling amount of paper cups that are used on a daily basis is hard to comprehend. The ‘paper cup’ was only invented 30 years ago, and by now we go through something like half a trillion disposable cups each year (about seventy cups for every person on the planet). The problem is that generally they can’t be recycled because the cups are lined with polyethylene. It is possible if you can control the chain, as TU Delft is showing, but this is usually not the case. In the UK for example, 2.5 billion cups are used annually and 99,75% of paper cups is currently not being recycled.
Bring your own mug, is of course the solution! There are plenty of brands with beautiful cups. I have tried and loved KeepCup, which allows you to design your own glass or polypropylene cup. I also like ecoffee, which makes cups with natural fibre, corn starch and resin. (However I do keep losing the drinking hole lid from my ecoffee cup). Both cups are BPA, BPS and phthalate free. Either way, there are many, and it won’t be hard to find a cup you like.
Finally, props to Kay who wrote an Ultimate guide on Zero Waste in Amsterdam, in case you want more inspiration. And, now I am curious what solutions work best for you?