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Wednesday, 28 February 2018

The Blue Planet Effect

I’m loving the Blue Planet Effect. Never before has plastic packaging had so much attention.
But I’m noticing that people are sometimes deciding to ditch single use plastic in favour of other forms of single use packaging, which can be more carbon intensive to produce. Paper, glass, and compostable packaging are undoubtedly less damaging to the ocean.  But all packaging comes with its own issues.

Plastic has become a popular packaging because it is lightweight, which reduces the carbon footprint of transportation.  Plastic is cheap, which helps keep prices low.  Plastic is waterproof (until it rips!) so helps with deliveries that could otherwise be spoiled by rain. Some advocates of plastic say it helps to reduce food waste. For example, plastic packaging (of the airtight kind) can help prevent oxidation which leads to discolouration of foods such as meat or avocados.  It is said that cucumbers are wrapped because it slows down the rot, making them last 10 days longer (as long as you don't open the plastic, I guess).  As I read on one pro-plastic website:

"Try as we might, we will always create some waste. In the end,
 which would we rather create – a little bit of plastic waste or a lot of food waste?"

They've got a point, of course, but we won't mention the tonnes of wonky cucumbers that get wasted because they are not the right size and shape to go through the packaging machine.

Another advantage of plastic is its recyclability. Unlike paper and card which can only be recycled up to 5 or 6 times before the fibres become too short to be usable, plastic can be recycled over and over again.  For food grade plastic, we can't say that it is infinitely recyclable like aluminium or glass, because a tiny fraction of the inside of the plastic is scraped off and disposed of to ensure the resultant rPET (recycled Plastic) is clean. However, it is more recyclable than paper and card.  

Furthermore, a paper bag has a carbon footprint of approximately 16 times that of a plastic bag yet probably doesn't last as long.  It seems like we can't win, doesn't it?

The big problem with plastic really is almost the same as the advantages.  It is lightweight and cheap. Because it is lightweight and cheap it is hard to ensure that transporting used plastic for recycling is economically viable.  It needs to be crushed and baled in order to get rid of the air before it is transported.  Because it is cheap, not many organisations that produce waste plastic value it enough to  have the space for a baler and to store enough bales for it to be viably transported.

Because it is lightweight it is easily blown about by the wind.  So even if you do put your used plastic into a bin, if the bin is not well designed the plastic can find its way out again.





The real way forward is to ditch those things you can do without altogether by switching to reusables.  Here are my top 5 easy switches:

·      Straws …either refuse or get a reusable, dishwasher-proof stainless steel straw. 

Metal straws with cleaning brushes


·      Bags… you can buy or make lightweight reusable net bags for your fruit and veg and reusable shopping bags are plentiful and equally easy to make your own.  In my local butchers we have no problem taking our own tubs to buy our meat and we can reuse our egg boxes too. 

Net veg bags from Onya
·      A reusable water bottle will save you money and be kinder on your health as well as the planet. We know the downside of fizzy drinks, and don’t be fooled by flavoured waters, milkshakes or fruit juices as they can be just as bad or worse. Bottled water has a carbon footprint 1000 times greater than tap water in a reusable bottle.

My refillable water bottle comes with me everywhere.
 It has saved me a lot of money over the years.
·      Cling film – it is a nightmare to use anyway, so swap for a lidded container or a plate that fits over the top of the bowl.  Clean tea towels are also a good thing to cover food with as they prevent the food from drying out, keep off any flies and (most*) other creatures.  Unlike cling film, though, a tea towel will stop the food from sweating. I also invested in some reusable silicone baking sheet and this sometimes does the job of lining things that I might previously have lined with cling film, like for making fridge cake in a loaf tin.  I also invested in a couple of packs of Bees Wrap which I find very handy.  It rinses really easily and I have been using mine for a couple of years now and it still looks like new.
Various alternatives I use in place of cling film.
·      Takeaway coffee – break that habit and you would save a fortune, but if you really can’t then make your savings bit by bit with a reusable coffee cup. Many outlets now offer money off your coffee if you bring your own cup.

If I don't have my coffee cup with me I don't get coffee
 unless it is in a proper cup!
If you are not quite ready for reusables yet, you can still do your bit by making sure you recycle all the plastic packaging you can.  In the UK we recycle 58% of our plastic bottles. That means that a whopping 42% get discarded in the general waste and in the hedges and ditches of our countryside.  

There has been a lot of talk about the Chinese ban on waste form other countries. Switching to brands using recycled packaging helps to keep the value of recycled plastic high and this will help the UK companies that recycle plastic. Higher demand means higher prices and that comes from brands that use recycled plastic in their bottles getting good sales and those that don't losing market share. We can all help with that by checking out the packaging of what we buy.  Many years ago Coca Cola did an experiment to see if a 100% recycled bottle was a viable option.  It was, but we are not recycling enough of our plastic to meet the demand for 100% recycled so they opted for 25% recycled content.

Switching to compostable packaging helps too but only if you then put it on your compost! Compostable packaging breaks down in a home compost or industrial compost facility, but it won't break down in anaerobic digestion and it will take many years to break down in Landfill.  I decided back in 2015 that I wouldn't buy snacks like crisps, cakes, biscuits or nuts unless they are in compostable packaging, which I do then take home with me for my compost.  Making that decision has, I am sure done me a lot of favours, as I usually take some nuts and dried fruit from home in a small container when I am travelling about and otherwise, I just wait until my next proper meal.  I think my waistline thanks me for that decision on a regular basis!

* Neither cling film nor a tea towel will deter a mouse.  It will just chew right through it to get to the tasty offerings beneath :)

Friday, 26 January 2018

Book Review

101 Ways to Live Cleaner and Greener for Free  December 2016
Author Anna Pitt,
Illustrated by Toni Lebusque
Publisher: Green Lanes Publishing 2012
172 pages ISBN  978-09574637-0-7

The author aims to make us more aware of environmental actions in our homes that we could do something about. It also gives, as the title promises, 101 tips on small, free and often very simple things we could do to reduce our environmental impact. The author explains her definitions of ‘clean and green’ as avoiding pollution and waste and caring for the planet.
Sections in this book look at reducing food waste; saving water, energy and fuel; recycling; reusing. All sections have science facts, maths number-crunching and tips; the latter presented using cartoon illustrations and humour.

We learn about gases and toxic leachate liquid produced at landfill sites and about food waste processing sites. The maths includes how much CO2 emissions are reduced when food waste is diverted from landfill and the financial savings to families.

Alongside ‘carbon footprint’ which people are generally familiar with, we learn about the ‘water footprint of avoidable food waste’.  ‘Embedded water footprint’ is the amount of water needed to produce 1 lb of food - beef tops the lot with 6810 litres per lb, goat with 480 litres and potatoes 450 litres.
Fossil fuels, biodiesel from crops and our increasing carbon footprint are clearly explained.
Saving energy, we learn, can be as simple as not leaving phone chargers plugged in all night and it ‘is estimated that up to 40% of the energy we consume is actually wasted’ (p.53).

My favourite everyday kitchen tip was number 27 - use a measuring jug when adding water to the kettle so you only heat the water you need.

The chatty style of this book will appeal to older teens and young adults. It can help families starting their journey to reduce their environmental impact. It is practical, easy to read book with handy tips.


Alona Sheridan

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

No Waste Within

A new campaign is being launched by Zoe Morrison of Ecothrifty Living blog and Emma Dawson of The Food Brood to highlight the issue of food that gets wasted during food photography sessions and to champion a movement of food bloggers, food stylists and photographers who refuse to waste food.

I first read about the waste that goes on within the food writing industry in Shane Jordan's book, Food Waste Philosophy. When I was writing my own book, Leftover Pie, there was no way I was going to allow that to happen. Before my first photo shoot session I said to the food stylist that all of the food was going to be eaten. I am very glad that I found people to work with who care as much as I do about food. Part of the planning that day involved planning what we could eat when, everything was cooked according to the recipes as they are in the book and the tweaking and rearranging that did get done was with strict instructions that the food would still be edible and yummy! and Oh   ...boy! There was a lot of tweaking and rearranging.  I had no idea how long it would take to get the perfect amount of pickle to run down the side of the jar!
Most of the photos on my blogs, both here and on Leftoverpie.co.uk are photos I snap while cooking everyday food that my family are about to eat.  But stories I was told as we were getting the perfect picture of my scones were horrifying. Leonie's fridge and freezer were packed full of f ood she had rescued from photo shoots.  I even took some kale  home with me. She said it would take her weeks to get through all the kale she had rescued so I felt obliged to help out.

I  know this is a much needed campaign and it is great to see it being well supported by food bloggers across the UK. Please do share it widely.  And join in with the hashtag #nowastewithin.

I am always surprised when people ask me if we ate the 'Leftover Pie.' Of course we ate it!

Here is my pledge...

“I promise that no food waste was created by the development, cooking, styling and photographing of this recipe and that, where it wasn’t possible for me to enjoy it myself, I have redistributed, repurposed, retained or recycled the food.”