Is it possible to do a zero plastic weekly shop?

Ani Talwar·13 July 2020·5 min read
Is it possible to do a zero plastic weekly shop?
Bread? Check. Milk? Check. Drinks for club night? Check.

These are some of the typical items on a student weekly shopping list. Other popular features are cheese, pasta (can’t forget the pasta) mince, fruit and veg. Budgeting is something drilled into us when we start university and begin to receive that highly appreciated maintenance loan, but is sustainable shopping ever considered?

As an environmentalist, doing a sustainable weekly shop on my student budget would be brilliant, but after walking forty minutes to the supermarket, or driving to the nearest Tesco, or sitting through a bumpy bus ride, is it even possible to get everything on an average shopping list plastic free?

Online ordering

Ordering online, Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose all offer loose options for basic fruit and veg. However, Tesco and Asda deliver their loose fruit and veg in plastic bags, and Sainsbury’s do too, but to a lesser extent. If you want loose fruit and veg without the plastic , Waitrose seems to be the way to go, delivering its produce in compostable bags with instructions on how to go about recycling these.

Drinks are easier to buy plastic free as popular beverages like J2O come in glass bottles anyway and for meat and cheese, check out Morrison’s who accept home brought Tupperware at their counters. For bread there is always the fresh bakery in most supermarkets where you can take your own reusable bags to buy pastries and bread.

Foods like butter, flour and sugar (for those pancake day celebrations) can be found in paper packages, but not margarine so if you want a full plastic free shop, you might have to consider switching to butter!

Snacks, biscuits and crisps

However snacks are where it gets really difficult. realplasticfreesell crisps in cardboard boxes as well as energy snacks, but sadly no results were found when searching for biscuits on their plastic free shopping website. The first plastic free biscuit I could find was Holland & Barrett. So if Almond, Pumpkin and Flax seed cookies are what you’re after, then you’re in luck.

Now we’ve covered the bread, fruit, veg and snacks, there’s still milk, toiletries and ready meals that might feature on your weekly shop we have yet to find plastic free.

As for the toiletries, switching to soap bars will help you go plastic free, but for plastic free milk your best bet is trying independent smaller supermarket shops.

Lastly: the ready meals for those nights where there just isn’t enough time between lectures and wanting to greet the bed. Unfortunately most ready meals are packaged in lots of plastic but Waitrose has come through for us by introducing a home compostable ready meal container.

Everything plastic free

So there you have it: All the typical items on a weekly shop sourced plastic free! It is possible to get most of the things you’d want for a week without any plastic involved, but it does require making some changes to the usual things you’d pick (butter over margarine and cheese from the counter for example).

The biggest downside to this is that you can’t get all of these options from one supermarket. The basics like fruit and veg were available in quite a few places, but for a full shop including all the snacks and the dairy products you might need, unfortunately you’re looking at a weekly shop composed of several online and in person shopping trips. It’s also worth noting that these plastic free options are for the most common brought items and do not include diet specific requirements (eg gluten free/vegan) so whether it’s possible for everyone to manage a totally plastic free weekly shop might still be up for debate.