A whisper from the woods

Food For Thought, July 2024

Jul 8, 2024

Plastic Free July

The first edition of the Plastic Free July Campaign was held in 2011.

Natural to Australia, the campaign is now one of the most influential environmental campaigns in the world, with millions of people from all around the globe taking part each year.

Plastic is everywhere. Even if it’s not realistic to conceive a world without plastic, we can imagine one where plastic waste is well managed and single-use plastics have limited utilization.

 

Plastic Pollution: One Of Three Planetary Crises

The United Nations has named Biodiversity Loss, Climate Change, and Plastic Pollution, the Triple Planetary Crisis – and for good reason!

Even though it feels like plastics have been a part of our lives forever, that is not the case. The first synthetic plastic was produced in 1907, but it wasn’t until the 50s that plastic production started increasing at great speed. In the 1950s, global plastic production was at around 2 million tonnes a year. Today (2019), plastic production has increased to almost 460 million tonnes a year, a boost of 230%. Moreover, studies show that in the last two decades, plastic production more than doubled. 

The massive increase in plastic production was not matched by the development of waste management practices. This means a lot of the plastic produced is mismanaged ending up as an environmental pollutant and a hazard factor to both wildlife and humans.

A study by the OECD, from 2022, suggests that between one and two million tonnes of plastic enter the oceans annually.

The chart below indicated that around one-quarter of all plastic waste is mismanaged, which means it is not recycled, incinerated, or stored in sealed landfills, having a good chance of leaking out and becoming a plastic pollutant.

 

 

Another study from the OECD, this one from 2023, talks about the amount of plastic that is recycled. It is surprising to learn that only 9% of all plastic waste in the world is actually recycled.

 

 

Even if we were to cut plastic production by half, if waste management practices do not improve, we would still generate a considerable amount of waste, a chunk of which would wash out to the environment. As it is visible on the map below, poorer countries, where appropriate infrastructure is lacking the most, have higher amounts of mismanaged plastic waste.

 

 

Plastic pollution is more than an aesthetic problem. It threatens wildlife as well as our health.

Plastic is extremely stable and resistant, taking hundreds of years to degrade in the natural environment. There are countless reports of animals getting trapped in plastic waste or even ingesting it, often leading to casualties.

Moreover, plastic products that reach the ocean and other ecosystems are exposed to natural elements such as the sun, wave power, and the wind. These forces break down the material into smaller pieces, so small they are naked to the human eye. These super-resistant nano-particles have been found in every corner of the globe, from the highest mountain to the lowest trench. Scientists have found microplastics in the bloodstreams of both human and non-human animals, in municipality water systems, and in the air.

 

Food & Plastic: What Can We Do?

Plastics play a big role in the food industry. Most packaging used for food is designed to be single-use.

Single-use plastic bags were first commercialized in the 1970s. This means there was a time – a long time – when we did not make use of such materials.

While it is impossible to imagine our lives plastic-free (in the foreseeable future), we can certainly reduce the amount of single-use plastics we use. Starting with grocery-shopping. Here are a couple of ideas:

  • Carry reusable bags whenever you go grocery shopping. Most fresh produce can be bought without being wrapped in plastic.
  • Visit the “buy-in-bulk” section of your local store. More and more supermarkets are now allowing their customers to buy in bulk.
  • Carry your own reusable water bottle around. It will help you drink more water during the day and will prevent you from buying single-use plastic ones.
  • The same applies to plastic coffee cups and straws!
  • Refrain from using single-use food containers. Buy some reusable Tupperware; you can even buy oven-and-microwave-safe glass containers. Moreover, you can carry some reusable containers whenever you go out for dinner. Bring home any leftovers in your reusable box.

Fresh Potato and Orange Salad

Even though it is quite hard to avoid using plastics in our kitchens, it is not an impossible task.

Here is a salad recipe, perfectly fresh for the Summer weather and easy to put together without bringing any single-use plastics home.

 

Ingredients:

  • 10 small-sized potatos, chopped in similar sized chunks
  • 1 cup of quinoa, cooked
  • 1/3 of a red bell pepper, stripped
  • 1/3 cup of sunflower seeds, lightly roasted
  • 5 – 7 lettuce leaves
  • Juice and zest of one orange
  • 1/3 cup of olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp of apple cidre vinagre
  • 1/2 tsp of mustard
  • 1/4 tsp of garlic paste
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 bay leaf

Optional garnishes: roasted almonds; freshly picked physalis; freshly picked herbs like coriander, mint, or parsley

 

Preparation:

Cut the potatoes in similar sized pieces. Season them to taste (I used olive oil, salt, garlic powder, cracked black pepper, and turmeric). Toss to coat evenly and roast in the oven at 200 °C for 20 – 30 minutes or until soft inside. Once done, leave them to cool in the kitchen counter.

Meanwhile, cook the quinoa in 1.5 times as much water. Season with salt and add a bay leaf. Boil in a low heat until the water has evaporated. Transfer the cooked quinoa to a shallow plate to help it cool down.

Prepare the salad dressing: in a bowl combine the orange zest and juice, the mustard, garlic paste, olive oil, and vinagre. Set aside.

While the potatoes cool down, prepare the lettuce and the bell pepper.

Combine everything in a big bowl or serving dish. Generously dress the salad with the orange sauce and toss to combine.

 

I happen to have a gorgeous Physalis plant full with ripe fruit, so I picked some to garnish my salad.

This recipe was meant to be as plastic-free as possible, but if you wish to boost the protein content of this meal, consider adding some cubbed tofu, sauteed in a pan and coated with some of that tangy orange sauce. Or, you can add some home-cooked pulses like chickpeas, keeping the recipe plastic-free.

 

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