DAYS 25 & 26 – ITALIAN INFLUENCE

This weekend, we’ve managed to prove that it is possible to smash the “plastic diet” which has come about due to the lack of plastic-free snack foods available.

We had a couple of days of near desperation this week: We ran low on chocolate, bread (we’ve been eating a lot of toast!) oat cakes and ooh bars. It was time to get cooking.

Lucky for me, my partner’s forte is baking amazing chocolate cakes. This was very much a part of how we ended up together – the way to a girl’s heart ‘n’ all that.

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The Italians know how to package biscuits without plastic!

We headed to the shops and he was somewhat overexcited at finding some biscuits packaged without plastic. They were Italian amaretti biscuits which were, like most biscuits in Italy are, in a lovely paper bag. They don’t need two layers of plastic packaging and a cardboard box to protect their precious biscuits. Maybe they don’t care about the odd crushed one, or maybe our layers of packaging are simply unnecessary?

So, the usual chocolate biscuit refrigerator cake recipe was adapted accordingly, using the amaretti biscuits instead of digestives and dates (from the bulk buy shop) instead of glace cherries. The result: much sweeter, but still decadent and delicious.

Sticking with the Italian theme, we opted for a rare takeout treat for dinner, of pizza from a local pub.  The great news was that like most takeaway pizza, they came in cardboard boxes with not a piece of plastic in sight. Takeaways have proven tricky so far (i.e. we haven’t had one during the Plastic Challenge ) as the fish and chip van serves up in polystyrene trays and the Indian restaurant packs its takeaways in plastic tubs (of which we have hundreds, but at least I’m making constant use of them particularly with all this bulk food buying).

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Takeaway pizza in a cardboard box – I was so hungry I forgot to take a photo until I was halfway through eating it!

We now have full tummies (hooray!) and to end this weekend of comfort food (induced by the referendum) my mum also baked a huge chocolate cake because she felt sorry for us. I think she’d read my Plastic Diet blog – Thanks Mum!

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Even more chocolate cake: Delicious!

Days 23 &24: EASY PEASY SNACKS & SPICES

Snack food has definitely been lacking in our lives this month as there’s been no reaching for a packet of crisps, a flapjack or my favourite; dark chocolate rice cakes.

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I took this photo on 31st May as I knew it would the last of my favourite snack for a while!

We’ve had to get a bit creative and make our own snack food and as I do not regard myself as either a good or enthusiastic cook; I like to keep things quick and easy. So far our snacks have revolved around two recipes: Oat cakes and Ooh bars, the latter are so called because the toddler says “ooh!” when he sees them (hooray someone likes my cooking!)

I’ve been using this simple BBC Good Food recipe for oat cakes. They’re great as savoury snacks with a bit of butter or cheese,  although I’m pretty certain they’d be amazing dunked in melted chocolate too.

The Ooh bar recipe is more freestyle: It involves mashing some ripe bananas (three or four), adding a few cups of oats, a handful of raisins and a couple of teaspoons of cinnamon. Mix together and keep adding oats until the mixture becomes like a dough, then dollop spoonfuls onto a baking tray/baking paper and cook for about 15-20 mins on a medium/high heat.

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Leave them to cool, say “ooh!” and enjoy

In terms of ingredients for both snacks, they’ve all been pretty easy to buy without single-use plastic: The oats are sold in a paper bag, I can buy raisins in bulk, butter comes in standard butter packs, but it wasn’t long before I ran out of cinnamon.

The bulk buy shop don’t do herbs and spices by the scoop, but after asking around it turned out that one of the local health food shops do. That was the problem very easily solved as I simply took my clean spice jar with me. 81p later, it was job done, easy peasy!

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Herbs & Spices by the scoop in my local health food shop

Talking of peas, after my lengthy discussion at the organic farm shop about their peas in a box, a large vat of petit pois by the scoop has appeared in their freezer! I was delighted to be able to confuse the lady on the till by presenting her with my own tub filled with peas (rather than the plastic bag provided) plus an identical tub for her to weigh so she could minus off the weight of the tub from the final price, as they do in the bulk buy store. She ended up talking about how much it weighed and that she’d take 2.4p off the price. I couldn’t be bothered to argue as I was just so peased (get it!) to have found them.

DAYS 18 & 19: THE PLASTIC DIET

The Plastic Challenge has made us realise that some things are near impossible to get hold of without single-use plastic packaging. So, I thought I’d share a few of the foodstuffs that we miss  – and if anyone has any suggestions of alternatives, I’m all ears!

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Home-made oat cakes are rather tasty!

BISCUITS: It’s impossible to buy biscuits without a plastic wrapper. Tunnocks bars have been suggested as they come in waxy paper, but they still have an outer plastic wrapping. Home-made is the only way, and to date I’ve made two successful batches of oat cakes. One day, I’ll get round to making something more adventurous…maybe… when I get time.

SAVOURY SNACKS: Crisps, rice cakes, crisp breads: they all come plastic wrapped. Oh, how we miss salty snacks. I’ve tried making some sweet potato crisps (finely sliced, cooked in olive oil with a sprinkling of salt) which were delicious, but a baking tray full created only a handful of crisps which were gone in about ten seconds, so without industrial cooking facilities, this one is a non-starter.

MARMITE: Glass jar but with a big un-recyclable plastic lid. Love it, but can’t have it.

COFFEE: My partner was thrilled to discover a packet of ground coffee in paper packaging only to discover when he opened it that it was plasticised on the inside. I’m unaffected by this one as I don’t drink coffee.

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I’m okay eating dark chocolate – 100g at a time!

MILK CHOCOLATE BARS: Again, I’m not bothered by this as I’m happy eating non plastic wrapped dark chocolate in large 100g bars, but the lack of big brand milk chocolate options is definitely difficult for others in the household!

PEANUT BUTTER & JAM: As mentioned in my previous post, the only brand of peanut butter I could find in a glass jar with metal lid has a sneaky plastic seal around it. We’ve not found any other options yet. In fact, we’ve also just bought a jar of big brand jam as there was no plastic seal, but I’ve not found a natural-sugars only alternative without plastic yet.

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Hummus in a glass jar – no plastic in sight!

HUMMUS: We used to get through a tub of hummus about every other day, but they come in little, single-use plastic tubs. I tried making my own, which is a bit of a hassle as we don’t have a food processor, but I think it tastes good. However, my toddler is less keen on mum’s home-made hummus and finally, I found hummus in a glass jar with metal lid. “Hooray!” I thought, but again, the toddler did not approve.

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I like the home-made hummus even if no one else does!

COUS COUS: The bulk buy shop might do pasta, rice, flour, dried fruit, muesli and all kinds of other things, but sadly, the only cous cous they have is in a plastic packet.

BERRIES: It seems near impossible to buy berries without their plastic punnet (which shops won’t re-use if you take your own container), but it’s not long to Pick Your Own season, so I’m hoping we’ll soon have strawberries! I’ve been substituting them with loose cherries and plums from the green grocer, but de-stoning these for the little one is a bit of a chore.

NAAN BREADS: We love a good, home-made curry but we’ve had to go without naan as we can only find them plastic wrapped. The good news though is that the bulk buy shop sells gram flour, so home-made onion bhajis, here we come!

YOGURT: I’ve only found one glass jar of yogurt being sold so far and it was “kefir” which is some special type of fermented milk and costs about 4 times the amount of normal yogurt. The problem of plastic yogurt pots can be solved with a yogurt maker which I am trying out right now (the first batch is in the fridge).

In conclusion: Frankly, this would be a far easier challenge for someone who loves baking (that’s not me if you’re wondering – I prefer eating to cooking), and if we’re to go single-use plastic free in the long term, we could really do with a vegetable patch to grow soft fruit, a food processor and maybe even a live-in chef?

All in all, the lack of plastic-wrapped foodstuffs is having a fairly big impact on our eating habits, and it’s mostly snack food that’s taken the hit. Whilst that is no bad thing in many respects, I’m a “grazer” when it comes to eating so I’m spending quite a lot of time hungry because there are no easy snacks to reach for.  It turns out that the Plastic Challenge is actually a plastic diet!

DAYS 6 & 7 – SCRAMBLED EGGS AND SLS

DAY 6: So after the disappointment of my first try with bicarb shampoo, I had high hopes for eggs! It may sound a bit grim but I remember my mum using duck eggs to condition my hair as a child, so surely there must be something in this?

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Eggs and Lavender oil –  and yes, the glass bottle from my cupboard has a plastic cap.

There are a few references to egg shampoo around but here’s the one that I used. Essentially, all you do is crack an egg into a cup, whisk it up with a fork, then add a couple of drops of lavender essential oil. Take this into the shower with you, wet your hair and then pour it on. Rub the mixture into your scalp and leave for a couple of minutes, then rinse in coolish water to prevent scrambled eggs on your head!

MY VERDICT:

EGG SHAMPOO – I really, really wanted this to be the answer. I have long, fine hair which is prone to being greasy at the roots and a bit dry at the ends, so maybe I’m asking a lot of the humble egg?

I have to say that I definitely dislike the smell of raw egg, but the lavender oil did help. Also, pouring egg onto your head is actually quite difficult because it’s very runny, so I lost a lot of it down my back (urgh – cold slime!) But, I still had plenty left to apply to my hair, and after a couple of minutes rinsed it out in a slightly cooler-than-usual shower to prevent  any scrambling. The idea of the eggs cooking on your head in the shower sounds like a myth but I didn’t have the time or the inclination to test it out. The cool water was fine as it’s nearly summer and the bathroom is warm but I’m not so sure how pleasant this would be in the depths of winter.

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The view from above of egg-washed hair – not as bad as I thought!

After drying my hair, overall it felt, quite honestly, still a bit dirty and greasy. It looks okay, but I think it still feels a bit unwashed at the back once again.

DAY 7: SHAMPOO BARS & SLS:

I’ve had suggestions to use shampoo bars available from Lush, which I used to use during my teenage years of endless festivals and camping (no spillage!) It turns out that the reason you don’t see shampoo bars around other than in Lush shops is because they own the patent. Good for them; not so good for the environment as it turns out. According to their estimates the shampoo bars have saved around 30 million plastic bottles from heading to landfill. Imagine if the big players in the shampoo industry were doing this too!

Personally, I was reluctant to use Lush shampoo bars as they contain the dreaded Sodium Laureth Sulphate (SLS) which I have spent many years avoiding as it is allegedly a carcinogen. So I wrote to Lush asking if they plan a non-SLS version, which they don’t, however, they have said this: “please rest assured that the SLS we use is completely safe and we use less than half of the industry maximum level” and they went on to say that “any part of it that may be a carcinogen is removed.”

I’ve asked for a bit more information before I’m totally satisfied, so until then, next stop on the no-poo shampoo train is…ketchup!

 

DAY 4 -“NO POO”BICARB SHAMPOO

I like to have clean hair, but shampoo and conditioner come in plastic bottles. Many moons ago I washed my hair with soap at Glastonbury festival and remember a tangled dry mess on my head for many days afterwards. Surely, there must be something better for your hair than soap?

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Saying goodbye to my nice eco-friendly but plastic-wrapped bubbly shampoo!

First up to be investigated as a shampoo alternative is bicarbonate of soda, which I was super excited to find being sold in bulk. Not only am I using it as an ingredient for toothpaste, but it is meant to be a bit of a wonder-product for the household. It’s even supposed to be great for cleaning ovens (if I ever get round to trying that one, I will let you know the results!)

As bicarb has such wonderful cleaning properties it seems hardly surprising that it’s been suggested as an alternative to the usual plastic-bottled shampoo. So, I thought I’d give it a go. There are instructions for using bicarb as shampoo on this blog. Essentially, you add a little water to your bicarb of soda to make a paste and then rub it into your hair and rinse.

MY VERDICT:

BICARBONATE OF SODA SHAMPOO – It’s a bit awkward decanting the powder into your hand whilst in the shower; I was worried I was going to either get it all wet or drop the whole lot. I managed to create a paste without spillage and added a few splashes of water (not too much or else it washes away), then scrubbed it into my scalp and hair.

It definitely wasn’t as satisfying as the usual lovely smelling, creamy lather of shampoo bubbles, but I  repeated as suggested, (although in hind sight, not as many times as per the instructions) and finally, rinsed thoroughly and dried it.

It seems that I should have applied and rinsed the bicarb shampoo a few more times as I didn’t reach the “squeaky clean, shiny hair” that was described. Apparently, the more you use it, the less you need.

Once dried, the front of my hair looked good and clean but the back and underneath still felt greasy.  So,  I’m not entirely convinced by this one yet, although it’s likely that I was too frugal with my application. I will give bicarb shampoo a few more goes but next up on the “no-poo shampoo” list, I’ll be trying out egg!

Day 2 – SALTY TOOTHPASTE

HOME-MADE TOOTHPASTE:

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Like most people, I want to start the day with lovely fresh breath and I have used eco-toothpaste to do the job for many years. But I’ve been unable to find toothpaste in anything other than plastic tubes. They are recyclable, but that’s not the point of this challenge, so even though I have a perfectly good and tasty stash of toothpaste staring at me in the bathroom, I’ve ventured into the realms of a home-made, no plastic version.

Actually, it  turns out that toothpaste is incredibly quick and easy to make: it’s literally just coconut oil and bicarbonate of soda mixed together with peppermint oil for that minty fresh taste. The recipe I used is here.

Bicarbonate of soda is a well-known ingredient of many commercially available toothpastes and allegedly helps to remove stains and restore the mouth’s pH balance. Combine that with coconut oil, which is said to have antibacterial, antimicrobial and antifungal properties (the ancient Indian technique of swishing coconut oil around your mouth or oil pulling has been shown to reduce plaque and gum disease) and this all sounds like a good recipe for fresh-breath to me.

Sadly, our bicarb from the back of the cupboard is in an overly-sturdy plastic pot and has already been around for a number of years (and no doubt will be here for a few hundred more). I remember being annoyed about this over-packaging at the time but lack of choice is one of the joys of shopping local.  I’m sure I have bought bicarb of soda previously in a cardboard box, although it would have had a plastic bag inside it, I’m sure.

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MY VERDICT: Home-made bicarb toothpaste tastes pretty foul! There’s no getting away from it. Imagine putting a teaspoon of salt in your mouth and scrubbing, although I have to say that my teeth do feel super clean and the aftertaste is coconutty, so it’s not entirely unpleasant. I didn’t use peppermint extract as I didn’t have any, so maybe this would help (if I can find it being sold in a glass bottle).

I can cope with a bit of saltiness twice a day but I must sort out storage. I mixed the toothpaste in a glass ramekin but it needs a lid and as the coconut oil is fat, I don’t want to store it in plastic due to the leaching, nasty chemicals. What I need right now is a small glass jar. Until I find one, a little piece of foil will have to do (which I’ll recycle afterwards of course!)

***UPDATE*** 3/6/16

Hooray! I have found a local shop that sells unpackaged bicarbonate of soda, and here’s the proof in an old (but clean) takeaway tub:

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If you were wondering – it didn’t cost 4p – that relates to the weight of the tub which they minus off the price of the goods.