Tips on Reducing Plastic at the Supermarket

shopping bag

Lately, I’ve been blogging mostly about how to REDUCE plastic when shopping for food at supermarkets and green grocers. Here’s a quick summary of tips:

And if all else fails,

    • BUY THE LARGEST PACKAGE AVAILABLE. Skip the individual size packages. Instead buy the largest box or bottle possible. This cuts down on the amount of plastic needed for each product.

I will continue to share tips and practical advice on shopping for food with less plastic. I will also start to discuss how we can reduce the plastic involved with household cleaning and self-care products so visit again soon!

Refuse ~ Reduce ~ Reuse ~ Recycle

Buying Cheese with Less Packaging

Before I talk about plastic-free cheese, let’s take a moment to review why we should REFUSE plastic packaging, especially when it is on our food and drink, because it’s about more than just our environment. It’s about our health. Studies show that the phthalates in plastic packaging leach into food. These chemicals have been linked to health ailments ranging from asthma and allergies to early puberty and fertility issues brought on by hormone disruption. There is still debate about how much of these chemicals our body can absorb before they become dangerous toxins.

Here are a few articles if you’d like to read more:

One easy way to avoid plastic packaging on cheese is to BRING YOUR OWN CONTAINER to the deli at the supermarket. Ask the store clerk to weigh your container first and “zero” the scale before placing the cheese in your container. As usual, our deli of choice is the one at Alf Sunf (1,000 Items) in Asalah Square. They have always been very patient with our requests and willing to use the containers we bring. Every once in awhile a new clerk will start working at the deli and we have to repeat our request, sometimes explaining and assisting with the scale.

We don’t buy cheese unless we have our own container with us, but that wasn’t always the case. Most supermarkets offer cheese on a polystyrene tray wrapped in plastic. In the past, if we forgot our container, we would at least REFUSE the tray and ask only for the plastic, which at least meant a little less waste.

deli cheese

But we’re still working on replacing our reusable plastic containers with other materials so, yes, that cheese pictured above is in a plastic box. This solution may be better for the environment but not necessarily better for our health. Ideally, we’d store all our food in glass or stainless steel containers. Baby steps. Reducing the amount of plastic we use is definitely a process and not something we can accomplish overnight.

What steps are you taking to reduce the amount of plastic waste your household produces?

Refuse ~ Reduce ~ Reuse ~ Recycle

Shopping for Spices and Skipping the Plastic

If you enjoy cooking or baking as much as we do in our house, you probably purchase a variety of spices, which are usually sold in small plastic packages or in small glass jars. That used to mean that we would come home from the supermarket with numerous plastic packets of spices, some holding barely a tablespoon of spice. If we happened to shop in Sharm el Sheikh, we might purchase spices in glass jars (with plastic tops), some of which we managed to refill or reuse.

Spices, then, were high on our list of priorities for foodstuff we wanted to purchase package-free. We are lucky here in Dahab because there are several different shops in town that sell spices from bulk bags. But, of course, what we shoppers have to remember is to bring our own containers!

Our favorite shop to buy spices from is the spice/nut/candy shop directly next to Ralph’s German Bakery in Assalah Square. (I have no idea what the name of this shop is. Must ask the next time we are there!) When we started purchasing our spices in bulk, we brought along our own REUSABLE plastic boxes, like the ones pictured below.

spices (2)

Anise and ginger – two of the most-used spices in our house.

Then I came across a post in Dahab Gives and Wishes on Facebook where someone was offering three empty tea tins for free – so I grabbed them! They are perfect for filling up with spices and skipping ALL plastic. 🙂

spices (1)

This amount of cinnamon should last a couple of months.

This shop next to the bakery offers a variety of spices in bulk: cinnamon, ginger, anise, cardamom, cumin, coriander, pepper, and more! And, yes, like all of our plastic-free adventures, it sometimes involves some persistence on our part to REFUSE the plastic bags. But as we continue to visit this shop and request that they use our own containers, the shop keepers get more used to us and have an easier time dealing with the scale and boxes. So, as always, be patient in explaining your request and wear a smile on your face and most shopkeepers will be happy to fill your containers.

What spices do you use most in your kitchen? Are you willing to try buying spices in bulk? What would make this easier for you?

Refuse ~ Reduce ~ Reuse ~ Recycle

Bread Sticks and Other Baked Goods

Here’s an easy way to REDUCE your plastic footprint:

REFUSE to purchase bread products in plastic bags. Bring your own cotton bag or other container to the bakery and fill it with your favorite baked goods.

IMG_0977

We bring our own cotton bag to the bakery at the start of Mileel Street (behind Ibrahim’s veggie shop). There we can buy bread sticks, crackers, fitteer, and fino sandwich rolls – all without the plastic bags. The bread sticks and crackers are usually not bagged so it is easy to fill our bag with how much we want and then weigh and pay. Sometimes the fitteer and sandwich rolls are already in plastic bags. It just depends on our timing. But if the bread is already in plastic bags, we REFUSE to buy it and will return at another time to purchase the bread straight from the trays. (Just FYI, the bread sticks and crackers are bought by weight but the fitteer and sandwich rolls are bought by the piece.) And although we don’t usually buy them, I imagine you can also bring your own container to purchase the cookies and other sweets available at the bakery.

 

 

Homemade Crunchy Granola

In her efforts to help us reduce our plastic footprints, activist and author Beth Terry poses several questions that encourage us to reflect on the plastic trash that we “throw away”. One of those questions is: Which items can you replace with plastic-free or less-plastic alternatives?

One of the items that used to end up in my trash was the plastic bag that breakfast cereal comes packaged in. This was an obvious starting place for me to look for plastic-free alternatives, not just for the sake of the environment but also for the sake of my wallet! My preferred breakfast cereal is granola (similar to muesli) and the tastiest cereals are always the imported – and expensive – brands. Since there were no plastic-free alternatives on the market, it was time to make my own granola. That’s exactly what I’ve been doing for several years now. And as I’ve learned about more plastic-free alternatives as far as the ingredients go, I can now create a completely plastic-free granola!

I can’t share an exact recipe with you, but here is a list of what went into the batch of granola I made today:

Whole meal flour (purchased in a paper sack)

Oatmeal (purchased in a metal tin that can be recycled)

Dried Coconut Flakes (purchased in my own container from the bulk bags)

Walnuts (purchased in my own container from the bulk bags)

Sesame Seeds (purchased in my own container from the bulk bags)

Cinnamon (purchased in my own container from the bulk bags)

Butter (purchased in my own container)

Molasses (comes in a glass jar, can be recycled)

Vanilla Oil (purchased in a small glass bottle from a local spice shop)

Dried Apricots and Raisins (purchased in my own container from the bulk bags)

Basically, I mix all the dry ingredients except for the fruit together in a large bowl. I use about a cup each of the flour, oatmeal, and coconut and about a ½ cup each of the nuts and seeds. I melt the butter and molasses together, add a few drops of vanilla oil, and then pour the melted butter over the dry ingredients and mix together. 

All of the ingredients mixed together.

All of the ingredients mixed together.

Next I spread the mixture on a tray and bake until crisp and golden brown. (Today I baked the granola for a bit too long so it’s extra dark and crispy!) 

Baked granola on a tray mixed with dried fruit.

Baked granola on a tray mixed with dried fruit.

Once it’s cooled down, I mix in the dried fruit and then store in containers. Delicious with milk or yogurt for breakfast…or covered with a chocolate sauce for a healthy dessert. 🙂

Enough granola for a couple of weeks!

Enough granola for a couple of weeks!

Not only is my granola plastic-free and less expensive, it’s also tastier than any packaged cereal. Win-win-win! (The plastic jar that I’m using here for storage originally contained honey and I am REUSING it. I need more large glass jars!)

If you’re interested in preparing your own granola or breakfast cereals, simply search the Internet for recipes. There are tons of tempting recipes available out there! 

Refuse ~ Reduce ~ Reuse ~ Recycle

Bring your own container for take-away!

koshary

Who doesn’t love koshary?! I know I do! But I REFUSE to buy koshary from the street carts because the pasta and rice are usually already packed in a disposable plastic container. Instead we buy koshary for take-away from the Mix Restaurant on the corner of Fanar Street, across from Leila’s Bakery. A delicious, nutritious, and plastic-free meal!

Buying Butter without Packaging

butter

Egyptian butter is often sold in either plastic bags or on polystyrene trays with plastic wrap. You’ll usually find this butter in the big freezers or refrigerated deli counters. Imported butter is also available wrapped in waxed or foiled paper. 

Fortunately for us here in Dahab, it’s also very easy to buy butter without any packaging! Simply bring your own container and ask the deli clerk for the amount of butter, in fractions of kilos, that you would like to buy. He’ll weigh your container first and then add the butter that you’ve asked for. When you are ready to check-out, the deli clerk will confirm with the cashier how much butter he has given you. Buying butter in your own container allows you not only to reduce waste, but also to choose the exact amount of butter you’d like since the clerk will be cutting off smaller pieces from a large block of butter. Buy a lot and keep it in your own freezer or purchase just a small amount. It’s up to you!

REFUSING to buy butter in its usual packaging takes some practice – and some planning! As usual, we recommend the deli at the 1,000 Items (Alf Sunf) supermarket located in Asalah Square. The clerks there are friendly and are now used to us bringing our own containers. Friends of mine have also reported that El Wekala supermarket, next to Ibrahim’s veggie shop in the square, are also open and easy-going about customers bringing their own containers.

(If you’re wondering what’s so bad about the polystyrene trays, read this.)

Have you purchased butter using your own container? Did you find the clerks helpful or did you run into any problems? Or are you willing to try this on your next shopping trip?

Refuse ~ Reduce ~ Reuse ~ Recycle