Going Bananas

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home grown fruit and vegetable

Going plastic packaging free for the whole of July is enough to ‘send us all bananas’. We’re referring here to the idiom of ‘going crazy’, given the many frustrations, (though the alternative meaning of ‘going wild with excitement’ also applies each time we find a solution to the issues we have faced). These emotions apply to a variety of food and drink items, including: tea bags, digestive biscuits, rice and fruit cordial; as well as fresh fruit and veg.

Take tea bags for example. An attempt was made to buy plastic free tea bags. Of course, tea leaves without any bags at all might be better, but that would require the purchase of different tea making equipment. So sticking to tea bags, a purchase was made of a cardboard box sporting the words ‘plastic free’ on the outside of the packet. However, on getting home and opening the box, it became apparent that inside the box, these plastic free tea bags were collectively wrapped in a plastic film, albeit a fully compostable bio plastic. That was a disappointment.

Digestive biscuits led to similar frustration. A packet of organic, locally made biscuits was purchased. The shop keepers and the happy shopper were unable to decipher the composition of the packaging. It looked and felt a bit like paper, so a risk was taken. However, on getting home with said packet, and consulting other members of the team, it was discovered that that too was wrapped in bio plastic – again fully compostable and recyclable, but that wasn’t the point. This was another disappointment, (though this frustration was somewhat compensated by the delicious taste of the organic biscuits).

Other experiences include the purchase of rice in a cardboard box, which also proved to have an inner plastic wrapper – the purists amongst us have put such purchasers on the shelf to keep until August. So at least we can be true to our ‘Plastic Free July’ quest, though really we are all hoping for more long term success stories that we can stick to in the long run.

On fruit cordial, a huge variety of interesting flavours are available in glass bottles. Great, that’s just the job we thought. However, we haven’t found any in concentrate form, as is the case for cordial bought in plastic bottles. The ratio of glass to plastic bottles needed seems to be in the ratio of something like 5:1, leaving us wondering whether this decision was really better for the environment, when the total environmental cost is taken into account. Some excitement on this one though. The bottles can be reused at a local zero waste store, and filled afresh with items such as cooking oil. Perhaps we should also try refilling with some home-made fruit cordial – there’s an idea …

So what about bananas themselves and other fresh fruit and veg. Well, it’s great to see that the plastic packaging of bananas, common in recent memory, have now disappeared from most supermarket shelves. So we can eat as many bananas as we like. We have also enjoyed home grown fruit and vegetables. We have a photograph of home grown items delivered in a re-usable cardboard box from a budding gardener. The produce included lettuce, sugar snaps, mangetout, spring onions and three strawberries. Yes, that’s right, three strawberries! With three diners, that meant one each. Home grown is a great way forward, but does seem to lead to a glut of some items and a shortage of others.

Figure 1. Vegetable wrapped in fruit.

Of course, alternative packaging is readily available for fruit and vegetables. One of the team brought theirs home in paper bags (photographic evidence of this also provided), whilst others of us already owned a number of re-usable cloth bags. Others have battled the problem of carrying their fruit and vegetables home in a ruck sack with no packaging at all, and found it somewhat bruised on arrival at home. More careful packaging sorted that one, though full marks for walking home to that team member.

By the middle of July, (as a result of bruised vegetables as well as other unpackaged items that didn’t last as long without their plastic protection etc.), one of our team members reported being hungry … really hungry. The same team member also noted that Plastic Free July is leading to a quite significant change in diet. This is applauded from an ethical point of view, but has led to concerns about the balance of nutritional value in the new diet as not all plants contain all of the amino acids necessary to produce peptides/proteins that play a vital role in our health and wellbeing.

Figure 2. Home-grown fruit and vegetable

Consequently, we have questioned the health benefits of all this plastic free food shopping. Of course, fresh is better in many ways, but many of us are finding that we are eating a smaller variety. For example, we are buying a whole melon and making that last a few days, rather than buying a greater variety of smaller quantities of fruit ready chopped. We’ve also had to sacrifice completely some of those superfoods, like blueberries, which only seem to be available in plastic packaging. All these experiences have led to the conclusion that only the most informed consumer can make good choices – and that said consumers also need to have plenty of time to do their research, to make their own biscuits, chop their own fruit, and/or grow their own veg.

So it’s been a month of mixed emotions. Discovering many new plastic free options has filled us wildly with excitement. Other experiences may have led to frustrations and disappointment. But at least we can still enjoy eating bananas!

Authors: Prof. Linda Hendry, Dr Savita Verma, Dr John Hardy, Prof. Maria Piacentini, Dr James Cronin, Dr Charlotte Hadley, Dr Matteo Saltalippi, Dr Alex Skandalis, Dr Alison Stowell.

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