Have you seen this hashtag on your social media over the past two weeks? Personally I'm not keen on the assignment of moral value to food - "good" and "bad" - so I tend to take a different approach, one focussed on reducing the amount of junk in our environment, thereby deftly avoiding the tidal wave of judgement around food choice.
What does the phrase "Junk-free June" mean to you?
Do you feel you should jump on this diet-culture bandwagon of denial, and go a month without some of your favourite foods, simply because they are "unhealthy"? We eat for a lot of reasons. We eat to nourish - to provide the nutrients our bodies need to function and maintain our own achievable level of health. We eat as a social activity - sharing kai with friends and whānau, strengthening these nurturing support networks along the way. We also eat for pleasure - the rich taste and fudgey texture of a dark chocolate brownie, or the satisfying crunch of a perfectly deep-fried chip - and we eat for emotional reasons - to help us deal with difficult situations and feelings.
What's really important to remember is that all of these reasons are important and valid. As soon as we start viewing eating for pleasure or emotional eating as something we "shouldn't" be doing, we tend to weaponise any feelings of guilt we may experience around the foods we have chosen, and move further away from the capacity to eat intuitively, or to explore our emotions with genuine compassion. The amazing Louise Adams, Clinical Psychologist and passionate anti-diet warrior, has a blog article on her Untrapped website that talks about these behaviours as tools in your emotional self-care toolbox.
So, if we want to kick food guilt firmly into touch, what could we do to transform this judgement-laden hashtag into something more positive, and firmly anti-diet?
I've chosen to take a closer look at my buying habits, and make as many changes as I can to reduce the amount of plastic packaging I end up with. The banning of single-use plastic bags is a great start, but is only a tiny part of the problem. Now that that China has closed its doors to importing recyclable plastics from other countries, we are having to face up to the mountain of plastic packaging accumulating as a result of the removal of this processing option. Even so, recycling alone wouldn't have solved the issue, as many of the plastics classified as "recyclable" are not actually recycled, as the process is simply not economically viable. The development of circular systems that either return materials to the environment via composting, or that efficiently recover packaging materials to be used in new products, is the answer. New technologies have enabled the development of a wider range of compostable packaging, and many more companies are switching to these packaging products. The reality is that industry change of this magnitude is going to take some time, so what can we as consumers do in the interim, and how may this help accelerate the process?
I must admit, as I have become more aware of how much plastic packaging finds its way into my house - personal care products like shampoos, hand creams, lip balms; the food we eat; and household cleaning products - the more overwhelming the problem seemed. It started to feel like whatever effort I could make was so insignificant, as to make no difference at all. Nevertheless, I have been slowly working my way through my regular purchases, replacing the ones in plastic packaging with others in more environmentally friendly packages. It's a slow process, as I only replace a product when I have used the one I currently have - I don't want to create any more waste! It has also been a bit of an eye-opener; the number of companies moving to more environmentally sustainable practices is heartening.
Take Ethique for example. A Christchurch company with an amazing range of personal care products - shampoos, conditioners, face and body moisturisers, cleansers - as well as dog wash bars and laundry bars, all packaged in cardboard and paper. Think of the number of shampoo and conditioner bottles alone you can go through in a year, and you get an idea of the number of bottles they are keeping out of the landfill or recycling stream just with those two products. I have tried many of their products, and have settled on a shampoo, a conditioner, a facial cleanser/makeup remover, a moisturiser for day, a serum for night, and a face scrub. All of these products are bars, and even though they are a little pricier to buy initially, they last so much longer than the products I used to use, making them considerably cheaper. The moisturiser and serum both come as three smaller bars in each box - I've only just started on my second bar of each product, and I would have had the boxes for six months already! Big savings there. I have recently tried to find a packaging-free replacement for a leave-in hair conditioner, so I bought their Boost hair mask product, seen in the bottom right corner of the above image. I thought I'd try just wetting it in a little water and rubbing it through my wet hair (rather than using it as a single use hair treatment as directed), and it does the trick nicely! Sneaky...
As for body moisturising options, I have tried a couple of products from Ethique and Lush, but I seemed to use them fairly quickly, which made them a little pricey for my liking. However, I found some wonderful moisturising bars at Back to the Wild, another local company. Sonia makes all her products by hand, and will post them out to you for a small fee. I use her sweet 'n' spicy clove and orange moisturising bar for my hands (smells divine), and have bought an unscented bar to use on the rest of me after showering - it still has a very subtle and pleasant fragrance from the cacao butter and coconut oil, so won't overpower your perfume. These moisturising bars are incredible value, and come wrapped in little square of cotton fabric, fastened with a paper sticker. Back to the Wild also sells little aluminium storage tins that are great for keeping your moisturising bar in, and the 50 gram tin is the perfect size for the little Ethique face cream and face serum bars - seen in the image above. This is a real win, as there are currently no travel containers offered in the Ethique product range. I have even re-used two Body Shop plastic containers to put one of my Back to the Wild moisturising bars in (the yellow containers above), but it took a little use and the rounding of the edges for the bar to fit, so add a 100 gram tin to your Back to the Wild order for the perfect fit from the get-go.
Along with a large selection of other personal care products, you can also buy a range of zero-waste products from Back to the Wild, like bamboo toothbrushes, safety razors, dish scrubs made from coconut fibre, produce bags and cotton baby wipes - I'm buying a set of these as a zero-waste replacement for the cotton face pads (sold in a plastic bag) I buy at the supermarket, to use with my makeup remover.
Most lip balms come in plastic tubes, so I've bought myself some Burt's Bees lip balm in a little aluminium tin, with a view of figuring out how to make my own when I've finished the contents, and re-using the tin! Considering I seem to have a lip balm in every bag and jacket I own, this could save quite a few bits of plastic going to the landfill.
As for food packaging, it can be hard to avoid single-use plastics for many frequently-used products (I'm looking at you bread, milk, margarine and cream cheese). You can take re-usable produce bags to the supermarket and avoid buying pre-packaged fruit and vegetables; shop in bulk-bin stores with your own containers; go to a butcher and get your meat wrapped in paper; make your own yoghurt; bake your own bread, biscuits, muffins and cakes; and try limiting your non-perishable food items to mostly tinned foods. Some supermarkets will even allow you to take in your own containers to buy meat and fish from the deli and seafood counters, and I have found my local Indian takeaway very accommodating with this too. When preparing meals, cooking extra rice and freezing it in re-useable containers will save buying those quick-cook pouches. But the shift to minimal packaging will likely take more time and work, so just do what you can for now, and work in other measures as you can manage them. There are companies that have introduced compostable packaging for their food products, like Ceres Organics and Bostock Brothers, so hopefully more food manufacturers will jump on board.
If we as consumers can vote with our spending habits, and maybe support those companies who have made the shift (if we can afford to), that might push things along a little. You could even write to the makers of some of your favourite products to ask them what their plans are regarding packaging.
My next move will be making my own household cleaning products. In the meantime I've made a swap to a couple of products that I can refill at a store in town - surface cleaner and a toilet cleaner - and choosing more eco-friendly options of other products. In preparation for the home chemistry later, I've been compiling a list of websites with recipes and raw ingredients, so when I find the time to make that transition, I have all the necessary information close at hand.
It may seem like a tiny effort for such a huge problem, but any reduction is worth pursuing. It certainly makes you a more aware consumer, and like the awesome Instagram image at the top of this post says, you don't need to do zero waste perfectly, but if enough of us do it imperfectly, we will make a difference. Take that, junk-free June.