By Carin Clegg, Paediatric Dietitian
As a dietitian I am excited by Plastic Free July. Eating a diet without having any form of plastic packaging can be a challenge but it can definitely be a healthier one which means our food supply will be more sustainable for future generations.
Most of us have already swapped our single use shopping bags, coffee cups and drink bottles for reusable ones and are not forgetting them so often now which is fantastic.
I believe the next step after this is to avoid plastic packaged fruit and vegetables. It has been quite a while since I have bought produce in a net, plastic wrapped and even used a plastic bag. I simply refuse, go without and buy something else instead. The most environmentally friendly bags are cloth bags made from pre-loved material such as sheets or clothes as this prevents these items going to land fill and avoids the manufacture of more new stuff and the carbon footprint associated.
Before I built up my supply of cloth bags I reused the standard plastic ones so at least they got a few more uses before they broke. I find that the reusable plastic net bags sold now are not made to last as one of my plastic net bags is starting to break after only 1 year. Another reason I like to use cloth bags is because it makes my shopping trip bright and colourful, almost fun. Some of the fabrics I use bring back fond memories and it helps me put more care in about what I buy and be mindful during the shopping experience.
I love hand selecting my fruit and vegetables, even getting the ones people are less likely to buy, cracked carrots, scrapped zucchinis and funny shaped produce so there is even less wastage. I have always grown up eating plenty of fruit and vegetables and I know that is because we always had so many around all the time.
Using unique bags can also help get kids involved in the shopping process especially if they have their own set. It keeps their busy fingers out of trouble and makes them feel they part of meal times. With their curiosity it is great for kids to explore and learn about fruit and vegetables- learning when they are ripe, how to care for them- do you put it in the fruit bowl or fridge or is it time for the freezer? Feeling the texture, weight, firmness and aroma at different ripening stages is important learn to eat a wide range of fruit and vegetables as they grow.
Fruit and vegetables are packed full of vitamins, minerals, anti-oxidants and fibre and are powerfully protective against chronic conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer. They help keep our bowel motions soft and regular, unlock and give us energy, support our immune system, brain function and good mental health.
Out of the essential food groups, fruit and vegetables have the most variety in colours, textures, sizes, shapes and tastes and all these qualities change if they are cooked in different ways and change throughout the chewing and eating process. With so much to learn to enjoy, continuing to teach our kids to eat fruit and vegetables as they grow will set them up with healthy habits for life.
I recommend having at least 2 sets of re-usable shopping bags in the household or car so that they are not forgotten. Sticky notes can also be helpful placed in the ideal location to help you remember and get into the habit of taking your bags.
If you are wanting to continue to reduce your single use plastic you can also use cloth bread bags and buy your bread from the bakery. Linen is the best fabric to use but if you just have cotton simply place your bread, cloth and all, in a bread box or container to avoid it drying out. Even if you do forget your bread bag you can also take back your bread tags and twist ties to the bakery for reuse and use the bread bag as your bin liner or place in the Redcycle bins.
Then if you are super keen to keep up your plastic free goal, taking jars and containers to the whole food shop, butcher, deli, fish shop and take-aways is the next step. Trashless take-away is a great website to find a store near you that promotes taking your own container.
To get more involved in your community you can join Boomerang Bags to help make reusable cloth shopping bags for your community. No sewing experience is needed as there are plenty of non-sewing jobs and people are always willing to show you how it is done.
Over the next few months to years you will notice a huge change in the amount of landfill waste in your household bin, find your family’s eating to be more fresh and wholesome and I bet you will feel very proud indeed!