By Marianne Jordan founder of local plastic-free support group Ethical Fridays (@ethical_fridays on Instagram) and Winner of St Albans Mayor’s Pride Award “Environmentalist of the Year 2020”
Welcome to part 4 of the “How to go plastic free” guides – today looking at snacks and drinks. The previous blogs have looked at plastic-free kitchen, bathrooms and food shopping – and I hope you have found some helpful ideas to reduce your plastic footprint.
“Did you know there was plastic in your tea bag?”
After all that cleaning you have been doing with your new products, it’s time to sit down with a cup of tea and a biscuit. But wait! Did you know there is plastic inside tea bags? And biscuits are one of the hardest things to find plastic-free?
All types of snack: biscuits, sweets, bars, chocolates, crisps as well as supermarket pasties and sausage rolls are packaged in single-use, hard to recycle plastic. Takeaway coffee cups are lined with plastic and although soft drinks bottles are one of the most valuable plastics to recycle, a look at any beach clean survey will find them at the top of the list.
The big picture
At a global level, 42% of all the plastic produced in the world in 2015 was for single-use packaging and as packaging has such a short life, it represents almost half of the global total of waste plastic i.e. 141 million tonnes per year.
In the best case scenario, all this waste is going to landfill, but a recent survey by Surfers Against Sewage has found increasing amounts of litter are being found along the UK seashore and in city parks, 56% of this being from just 12 big brands.
See the full results of the 2020 Surfers Against Sewage #Return to Offender campaign.
So what can we do about it?
Apart from not buying plastic-wrapped items, when you spot some branded litter, snap a photo and tag the brand on social media asking why they are still using plastic packaging.
As mentioned above, many tea bags are glued together with plastic and although some bags are now plastic-free, the packaging often still contains plastic. More brands are becoming totally plastic-free, but how about taking the time to enjoy the ritual of making real tea and go zero waste at the same time by buying loose tea (Refill Pantry, Eat Wholefoods) and using a tea ball strainer, an infuser mug or go retro with a teapot.
You can also buy organic cotton reusable tea bags to fill yourself, so you always have a teabag at the ready. Eat Wholefoods sells 62 types of loose tea, from black teas to traditional medicinal herbals, so there is something for everyone and every occasion.
It’s not just the environment you need to be concerned about, your own body could be swilling with 11.6 billion bits of microplastics after brewing a tea bag at 95 deg C, a study published in New Scientist claims.
The Drink Tea Hub has a list with all the plastic-free tea brands out there, updated May 2020. Drink Tea Hub’s top 9 totally plastic free tea bags are:
- Hampstead Tea
- Abel & Cole English breakfast
- We Are Tea
- Brew Tea Company
- Good and Proper Tea
- Twist Teas and
- just added to list…PG Tips!
Yes you read that right, as of January 2020, the UK’s second most popular tea bag has gone totally plant-based with all its production, including bag and packaging. So now it can join the list of the above teas which are totally plastic-free.
Keep checking the Drink Tea Hub as more brands make the switch to plastic-free.
Plastic free Coffee
Plastic-free coffee is also widely available. Little’s instant coffee (Ocado, Waitrose, Sainsbury’s) comes in glass jars with aluminium lids, not even a plastic lining, so totally recyclable. They also taste really great, which is a bonus! Littles are still a family run business and offer lots of different flavours, including decaf.
For filter coffee, try Percol (most supermarkets) in compostable bags or buy beans or ground coffee from The Refill Pantry or Charlie’s Coffee Company. Coffee aficionados out there might like The Corby Coffee Roasting Company , which offers an online service of 12 different flavours, will roast coffee beans to order and send it out in brown paper packaging. Visit their website to find out how to keep your coffee at its best.
I hardly need to say bring your own coffee mug when out and about and support smaller businesses who offer fair trade coffee.
Biscuits to purchase
McVities sell 300 million packets in Britain every year – the equivalent of four packets for every person. But this only represent 16% of the total packets of biscuits sold in the UK! That is a lot of unrecyclable plastic! And who doesn’t love a biscuit with their tea (or coffee)?
If you are not up for baking, the best way to buy biscuits is loose at your local bakery. Ask for a paper bag, or once lockdown has passed, bring a lunchbox to put them straight into to be totally zero waste.
“The back-up option is to buy a large box of broken biscuits from Milk’n’More..”
Online there is very little choice. For those who eat dairy, try the Foxcombe Bakehouse based in Devon They make 8 varieties of biscuits as well as 8 types of bars and 3 Victoria sponge cakes, all packed in plastic-free packaging. You can order online their afternoon tea box, biscuit box, cake box or snack box. Also look out for these when out and about, especially in the West Country. Sorry vegans, nothing here for you.
The only other plastic-free biscuit I have found is Huntley & Palmers Bakehouse Classics in Plastic Free Packaging, which consists of a large tin with 4 types of dairy-free biscuits wrapped in Nature-Flow plastic free wrap. A total of 48 biscuits – Caramel Crumble, Syrup Crunch, Choc Chip Cookie and Fruit Shortbread. Search online for stockists. Note: Contains palm oil NOT certified by RSPO. The back-up option is to buy large box of broken biscuits from Milk & More; the internal bag can be cleaned then recycled with carrier bags.
For any biscuit wrappers you currently have in your house (or rescue from work), they can be recycled at a biscuit wrapper Terracycle recycling point. There are none currently in St Albans or Harpenden, so come on local businesses and organisations, who is willing to host one? The nearest ones are Bishop’s Hatfield Girls’ School in Hatfield or a private address in Kimpton. Terracycle process this plastic into park benches etc. By no means the perfect solution, but better than landfill.
Terracyle also collect things like contact lens cases (at Boots St Albans and London Colney; Paul Adler Optometrists, Abbey Avenue) and other hard to recycle items.
Alternatively, how about swapping to your biscuits for other crunchy snacks – salted nuts, wasabi peas, roasted chili and lime fava beans, Bombay mix, Japanese rice crackers, trail mix, apple rings, dried mango, or chocolate covered nuts, all available from The Refill Pantry or Eat Wholefoods market stall? They also sell popping corn, which can be popped in the microwave.
Biscuits to bake
For those who love baking, there are lots of cookie, biscuit and cake recipes which use vegetable oil instead of butter, so you can make totally zero waste goodies using sunflower oil from the Refill Pantry or Eat Whole Foods. (See previous guide for more on butter.) Cakes and muffins freeze really well, I make large batches then take out a couple of sugar-free muffins from the freezer each day for the kids’ after school snack. You can buy baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and sugar as refills, as well as spices, tapioca flour, flax seeds and chocolate chips. If you can’t get to the Refill Pantry or Eat Whole Foods, try www.Realfoods.co.uk, their own brand packaging is compostable and they sell choc drops and brown sugar, which is hard to find plastic-free.
Check out these biscuit recipes which use oil instead of butter
Digestive biscuits – Recipe from A Virtual Vegan. For a more Rich Tea type of biscuit, use white flour and cut the amount of salt by half.
Gingerbread cutout cookies from The Post Punk Kitchen (chop up chunks of a Divine chocolate bar if The Refill Pantry has run out of chocolate chips!) Molasses can be bought in a jar or use some treacle from a tin.
Marbled banana bread from Vegan Richa.
Or if you’d like to know how to substitute oil for butter in any recipe, check out this handy guide.
Smarties are plastic free, otherwise buy a bar of Divine, Seed & Bean, Tony’s Chocolonely, Montezuma, Raw Halo, Ombar or Green & Blacks chocolate (check individual ranges, not all will be plastic-free). A lot of the small hand-made chocolate companies are also plastic-free eg Rebel Chocolate, Conscious Chocolate, iChoc, Vivani.
Did you know all the big brand chewing gums are made of plastic? Yes, the bit you chew, not just the wrapper! So you might want to try Chewsy plastic-free plant-based gum, available online in 4 different flavours.
Pick’n’mix counters can be found in Wilko’s, Notcutt’s Garden Centre, The Sweet Emporium (Hatfield Galleria) and at cinemas, although these may not be in use during the current restrictions.
In the meantime you can buy pick’n’mix online, such as:
- Neary’s Sweets supply only plastic-free and vegan sweets and chocolates. 450g, 1kg, 1.9kg card boxes, 5kg brown paper bags (perfect for parties/weddings), 200g compostable bags. Fizzy and gummy sweets, palm-oil free mix, fudge, white and milk choc buttons, boiled sweets mix (rhubarb & custard, pear drops etc).
- Vegan Candy Company 200g, 500g and 1kg paper bags of sweets, including the plastic-free mix. Gelatine-style sweets (cola bottles, fizzy dinosaurs, mermaids etc) fudge, nougat, coconut ice, marshmallows, chocolate buttons, chocolate raisins, bonbons, pineapple cubes, flying saucers.
- Innocent Sweets Co. 850g or 1350g card boxes of pick ‘n’ mix, one off or set up a monthly subscription. Choose you own selection of 4 from a big variety eg jelly dogs, apple belts, candy necklace, peach hearts etc.
- Guilt-free Sweet Shop Compostable pouches or glass jars of sweets e.g fudge, Turkish delight, aniseed balls, mint imperials, Millions and all the usual chewy sweets.
If any of your colleagues still eat crisps in plastic (not you, obviously), be sure to collect the packets to recycle at a Terracyle collection point. Some local schools collect them, or there are boxes at the Herts County Council offices: County Hall (Hertford), Farnham House (Stevenage), Apsley 2 (Hemel Hempstead), The Mundells (Welwyn Garden City). See: https://www.hertfordshire.gov.uk/about-the-council/news/news-archive/recycle-your-crisp-packets
For those who love savoury snacks, there are all the crunchy items from a refill shop, or for something a bit more substantial try Pieminister vegan patties or pies in plastic-free packaging (Sainsbury’s, Ocado) . There are lots of choices for a fresh pasty or sausage roll in a paper bag.
“Vegans don’t despair”
Vegans don’t despair, Simmons do a mushroom roll and Thai vegetable pasty and Greggs has a range of things:
Greggs are also encouraging people to go zero waste and bring their own lunch bag, as they charge 5p for paper carrier bags. West Cornwall Pasties are also served with just a paper bag.
Don’t forget tins and jar as sources of snacks: go Mediterranean with a spread of tinned stuffed vine leaves, artichokes, aubergines in tomato sauce, spicy bean salad and gigantes beans with jars of roasted peppers, olives, grilled aubergine with some crusty bread from a bakery. Or for takeaways, try fish and chips wrapped in paper (eg Ridgeway) or find food served in cardboard boxes eg Nonno’s Pizza or Great Northern Pub serves all their takeaways in card boxes (greasy card cannot be recycled but can be composted.)
Cheese and crackers
Just because you’ve given up dairy and plastic, does not mean you need to miss out on cheese and crackers. Here are my family’s favourite recipes for a sliceable, gratable cheese made from cashews with a Mexican flavour and a super quick and easy cracker recipe.
- Vegan Taco Cheese by Julie Hasson: If you have got a blender and can make a white sauce, you can make this cheese, it’s really that easy. Cashews, spices and tapioca flour you can buy from Eat Wholefoods, vegan lactic acid powder (for that cheesy tang) and carrageenan powder (to set it solid) you will need to buy online eg https://www.specialingredients.co.uk . They both come in recyclable plastic tubs, but the amount of plastic you will save and the quality of the vegan cheese will be worth it.
- Our favourite cracker recipe is from Elephantasitc Vegan, who has a range of cracker recipes. Try adding different spices or seeds to change up the flavours, we love fennel and cumin seed crackers. They are super quick to make and really crunchy and flavoursome. Be sure to roll them thin enough, no-one likes soggy crackers! (See previous article for plastic-free crispbreads and where to buy dairy cheese.)
The final guide will cover plastic free things on your desk, and gifts.
Single Use Plastics – let’s talk!
Sustainable St Albans July 30th Open Meeting via Zoom
Register your free place on Eventbrite click here for more info and to register
At Sustainable St Albans we’d like to invite you to join us on Thursday 30 July at 7:30pm for our next Open Meeting. Its focus will be on discussing plastic consumption during the month of July and more broadly during #Lockdown.
The end of July marks the end of Plastic Free July, a global movement helping millions of people be part of the solution to plastic pollution.
We would love to hear your opinions on plastic-related questions; gain a bit of an insight into how people have been reducing their own plastic consumption; and hear your views on the plastic pollution crisis we are all facing.