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Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Not So Plastic Free July

So how was your plastic free July?

Mine was by no means plastic free.  We probably had almost as much plastic in July than we've accumulated during the rest of the year.

It started with a party - Senior Daughter's 21st birthday with around 120 guests enjoying the sunshine in our garden and partying through the night.  I did aim to minimise the amount of plastic by making the food simple and tasty from local ingredients that I could buy without packaging.  However, it was a bit of a fail! I think all would agree the party was a success (just the plastic-free bit was the failure).

Although we pre-ordered a large quantity of bread rolls from Sainsbury's for collection on the day, we didn't make any attempt to negotiate having these packaging free, so we had our 120 hot dog rolls and 120 burger baps all in packs of four or six.  We also bought five French sticks and these came wrapped in a plastic sleeve.  Looking back, it really shows that it is all about organisation and if I had made the time I could probably have found a source of rolls that were not all packaged.

There was another bit of plastic we couldn't avoid.  I ordered sausages and burgers from my local butcher - to be packed into my own reusable tubs, avoiding the need for any plastic bags.  They are always excellent quality and the advantage of buying fresh meant that any we had left over would be put into the freezer to keep us going for the summer.  The sausages involved no plastic at all, but the burgers all have a thin circle of plastic in between each burger.  This makes it easier for storage purposes and when you freeze them you can easily separate the exact number of burgers you want to take out of the freezer.  I also found out, though, that the plastic discs are necessary in order for the burgers to come out of the machine that shapes and presses them. So I couldn't go plastic free.  However, I know from experience that when I serve these burgers nothing ever gets wasted because they are so good.
The burgers we had left after the party went into the freezer to be cooked from frozen as needed.
I took three of these cake boxes to the butchers and then picked them up on
 the day of the party filled with burgers, hence minimal packaging. 

All of the accompanying salads were entirely plastic free as I bought pasta, rice, bulgar wheat, and couscous in my own tubs from the SESI refill service.  Although SESI no longer have their shop on the Cowley Road, you can still order on line for home delivery in the area, so I arranged with them that I would leave my tubs with them one day when I had a meeting near by and then pick them up a few days later when I was passing by again.

All of the vegetables that went into the salad were ordered from Cultivate Online and I picked up my delivery at the community shop in Bladon on my way back from work.

We managed to ensure all desserts were plastic free.  I made an array of cakes and served a big bowl of strawberries.  The strawberries were from Millets Farm pick-your-own and I took my own containers to  transfer them into and they happily took back the plastic tubs for picking in order to rinse and reuse.

Eggs are 20p per 1/2 dozen cheaper if you refill
 your own egg boxes at my local butcher
For my cakes, I bulk buy flour from FWP Matthews flour mill in Shipton under Wychwood.  I get sugar and cocoa power in bulk from SESI in my reusable tubs and I take my own egg boxes to refill at the butchers.  Butter comes packed in paper or foil in most retail outlets.

More plastic, though… It is very hard to buy cheese that isn't wrapped in plastic, even when you buy whole cheeses like we did for the party.  However, I've learnt that there's less packaging and less waste by buying larger pieces but limiting the different kinds of cheese.  My standard offering is Oxford Blue, a Cheddar and a Brie and that's it.

The one thing I always make sure to avoid is plastic (or paper) plates, plastic cups, and plastic cutlery.  We have a large box of party glasses, which I've had for 25 years and very few ever get broken.  If we need more than this we 'hire' them from Waitrose.  This is a free service and a few other retail outlets also do free glass hire.  It really doesn't take long to wash them up - which I usually have to do before and after!

I borrow extra serving dishes and plates from family and I will say I had to do a mid-way through the evening wash-up of some cutlery and bowls.  But I always find that someone offers to help, so it doesn't take long and means there's less clearing up later.  I hate seeing people clearing up after parties and throwing everything away.  I'm going to be bold now and say it… it is just lazy.  Let other people help and have fun while you are doing it, but don't try to avoid it with plastic substitutes.

I think the most important way to reduce waste at parties is to make good, fresh, simple food from local ingredients.  None of the food we made was wasted.  We shared out some of the leftover rolls and froze the rest for use at cricket tea the following week.  We shared out the small amount of salads for various family members to have as packed lunch on the Monday and we froze the leftover sausages and burgers.  By sticking to a simple menu - i.e. burgers and sausages and avoiding high risk foods such as cold meats it is very easy to ensure that you don't have food waste.  How to decide on quantity?  I had 120 guests so I allowed 1 burger and 1 sausage each.  Not everyone will eat one of each but because they were bought fresh we knew we could just freeze what we didn't use.  The meat came out of the fridge in batches to be cooked and then more was cooked as and when stocks ran low. If you try to introduce added complications such as more meat options then that's when things get wasted as I usually see that people cook too much in an attempt to make sure there's enough of everything for everyone.  You don't need to do that!  Your guests are not all going to have everything.

Keep it simple, keep it fresh and top up as you go is the way to a great zero waste party. Enjoy!


Rae said...

Considering you catered for that many people I think you did a phenomenal job and it just goes to show that with some foresight and planning you can make a great party a minimal waste celebration. Thanks for sharing all your tips.

Anna Pitt said...

Thanks, Rae, for the encouragement. You are right. It does show that we don't nee to create a whole lot of waste to have a whole lot of fun!