Saturday, 17 November 2012

Packaging gone mad ~ refuse (say No!) reduce re-use & recycle

Most of our household rubbish is packaging, which I consider to be a crime against nature, and also against our intelligence.  We can do much better than this.  Why do we have so much packaging, especially, why do we have so much PLASTIC packaging?  Not only is much of it unnecessary and but also the continuing use of so much plastic is completely mad: it places an unacceptable burden on our environment and ultimately on us, the consumers who occupy that environment.  Let's be clear about this: any separation of ourselves and our environment is artificial - we do in fact occupy it.  Do we want to live in a rubbish dump?  No?  Well then, we need to take responsibility for it!

Part of the answer is to say No (thank you) to packaging in the first instance where possible, and also to recognise the potential for re-use in some of it, and so reduce at least in part our society's rampant consumption of packaging products, which is what I outline here.

The proliferation of packaging, especially the plastic variety, is a fairly recent phenomena, as can be seen in this photograph taken in the 1960s - not a shred of plastic is in sight:

At that time our milk was delivered to the gate in glass bottles - which were collected on a daily basis and re-used, and as school children we collected the aluminium tops for school fund-raising projects.  Our bread, which was also delivered to the gate, wasn't wrapped at all.  This photograph shows how true this was!  Our milkman resented the placement of the delivery box which was a short distance up the drive and the row of bottles reflected his feelings most eloquently! 

In recent months I've attempted to rid my shopping of plastics and to reduce the amount of packaging accumulated.  Refusing plastic shopping bags has been one tactic, and it's a start, but I've become uncomfortably aware that plastic packaging and / or components are present in very nearly all consumer goods and with food items in particular.  Next time you go shopping you might like to count the number of items which are not packed in plastic and are entirely plastic-free.  My own tally is woefully small.

Packaging is big business, and storage containers are part of that.  For the storage of food my own preference is for glass, stainless steel and china / ceramics, which can be relied on to pose no threat to our health.  The environmental hazard of plastics is huge, and I'm sure that in the future it will be seen to have compromised our health as well, possibly for generations to come.  However, since we do have so much plastic, most of which we get whether we like it or not, it makes sense re-use those containers where they fit the purpose well. 

I re-use everything I can until it really is completely useless, so while I abhor plastic packaging some of the good quality sort can be very useful.  Sometimes I even buy such things second hand:

I can pick up six of these plastic ice cream containers for $2 at a corner store which sells it by the scoop in cones.  These 5 litre containers are the standard size for shop display cabinets.  They are useful for all kinds of things.  We bake all our own bread so they are useful for the large amount of flour that we like to have to hand.  The lids fit well which makes them good for food storage:

Space in our pantry is very limited so they also make good storage containers for various foods in smallish packets or bags which would otherwise take up valuable shelf space.  Spot the leopard-print shelf liner!  Not my choice but it makes me smile!

We have even used them for rising the bread dough (on occasions when we are rising it more than once).  They are relatively airtight, which saves the dough from draughts, and don't transmit cold in the way glass, metal and china do, and are just the right size to take dough for two loaves each.

I use the lids like trays for easy food storage in the freezer. 
These slide into snap-lock bags which seal them nicely.  In the photo below these greens have been lightly steamed and placed in portions onto the lid in before the whole thing is put into the freezer.  Portions can later be added directly to stews, curries, or to a steamer to eat as is.

Plastic snap-lock bags can be washed with the washing up, rinsed, and pegged out to dry on the clothes line.  With a little care and effort they can be re-used many times.  In my opinion they should be safe for food storage as long as they are discarded before getting visibly worn.

Those empty flour and sugar bags can be put to good use:
Five kilo bags of flour and three kilo bags of sugar are commonly packed in sturdy, double-thickness paper bags.  Fold the top back and you have an excellent rubbish bag for your kitchen waste, or for the storage for your potatoes once they are dug.  The crumpled newsprint in this one was put there was on its way to the compost heap.  It was later torn up, soaked in water and added to the compost heap where it rotted down along with garden rubbish.

Old newspapers or newsprint and even advertising brochures can be used to make handy containers
I've given details of how to fold these shapes in an earlier article:

Walnut shells make good fire kindling and can go on to the fire in this:

A little box for clipped sewing threads and shreds of material can be a useful thing to have on the table when sewing:

A used lunch wrapper can be used to make a little packet for left over scraps:

Oh those glass jars:  
Do think carefully before you throw these out!  If they have pop-top lids they can be re-used many times for jam and preserves.  I've written about how to do this in my popular article

Pop-tops have a distinctive little dome or button in the centre of the lid which looks like this:

Even those jars which don't have pop-top lids can be re-used for other sorts of storage.  Your local charity shop may take them so if you can't find a use for them yourself, consider giving these people a call.  Beyond that, at least glass is fully recyclable, and will be taken by bottle banks or the local recycling collection.  In places where these services are provided there is NO EXCUSE for tossing them into rubbish collections destined for land-fills.

Many plastics as well as metals and papers can now be recycled, which is good, but do bear in mind that recycling itself is energy intensive, both in transportation and in re-manufacturing.  The small steps outlined above go some way to mitigating waste and unnecessary energy consumption.  

This article is a companion to the previous one:
Related news article on the Stuff website:
My other articles about housekeeping and shopping can be found by clicking on the link below:

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