Turns out we like planning things, while drinking wine. Or do we just like drinking wine, and in our weakened state doing things like riding home from the UK or going for a year without oil seems far more sensible. Either way we approached this year in a ‘planned’ way. The idea was to try and source everything from as close as possible and not packaged in plastic. The conversation came up in February this year and we decided that we would do a warm up and gradually reduce things for 6 months prior to kicking off in October. Some things were easy to tackle. Sponges and oil based dishwashing detergent were replaced easily by washable cotton cloths and vegetable based washing up liquid decanted into a reusable container. Not using the car was also easier than expected. Don’t get me wrong it did take us a good few months to wean ourselves off it, we did have the cargo bike, we do have good PT and it is summer so it’s warm, generally dry and riding is more pleasant. But even with all these things taken as read it was still easier than we thought to ditch the use of the car.
Some stuff was more difficult such as convincing the fishmonger lady that it’s not actually that difficult to zero the scales with my Tupperware on them and then just put the fish directly into it, it’s not like we’re not going to wash it anyway. And no, picking it up in a plastic bag and then putting the plastic bag in the bin instead of giving to me is not the same as not using a plastic bag!
And some things that a) use oil based packaging and b) can be sourced locally turn out to be almost impossible in todays’ market. Coffee was one of the first ones that became obvious. It turns out that the nearest coffee that you can buy is northern NSW or Southern Queensland. Since our initial hope was to get things within 100miles these were both a bit out of the question. Now just to give some context, coffee is pretty big in our lives. Nikki once described travelling with me as a never ending coffee crawl and in my wedding vows I had to promise to bring her a coffee before speaking loudly.
So what to do, well initially my thought was that we could try and replace coffee with something, tea didn’t really cut it but I thought maybe a chai mix might work. I’m very pleased to say that I found a fantastic chai mix packaged in a beautiful glass jar and after a long conversation with the very helpful lady succeeded in making some excellent chai latte which could well have worked as a replacement. Sadly it was at this point that I realised whilst some of the spices could be sourced locally most of them and the tea itself was imported, considerably further than 100 miles in fact further than the coffee ever had. So at this point it’s coffee from Northern NSW.
But by far our biggest problem has been milk. When I was a kid I grew up on milk. Soft drinks never featured and juice just meant that somebody was coming over. No it was always milk that was the drink of choice for us as kids. The same is true of our kids. What is different though is I remember clearly my mom putting out the enamelled container with the empty bottles that would then get taken away and replaced with filled ones. My mom even tells me that there was even a local distribution centre pretty much at the bottom of our street where milk in bulk would be decanted into washed and cleaned bottles to be brought around by the milkman. I get that milk bottles (glass) are heavy, but what a beautifully cyclic system with little or no waste. So imagine my unhappiness when I discover that I have two options; Milk in plastic (albeit from Victoria) or milk in glass from Tasmania. There is actually one place that you can get local milk in glass but it is sufficient distance away from us that without a car, and drinking about 12 litres a week it’s not really feasible. I thought briefly about soy but not only does that also not come in glass but it is often imported.
It’s not just the fact that it’s messing with our plans; it’s the fact that it’s so completely counter-intuitive. How can it be cheaper to create new milk bottles rather than re-use ones that (saving breakage) can pretty much be used for ever? It’s sort of the same with beer, how can it not be cheaper to re-claim the used bottles, sterilise them and re-fill them? The answer really comes down to a plentiful supply of cheap oil and energy, but the real down side to this is when this cheap energy becomes not-so-cheap the systems of centralized distribution fall over!
At this point we’re still unhappily getting milk delivered by the milkman, sourced from western Victoria and not bought through the big supermarkets. I’m placating myself by cutting the bottoms out of the bottles and using them in my seed raising process (that’s another story). But the goal has got to be milk (and beer) in re-usable and re-used glass, from Victoria, and yes I get it will be more expensive but I’d happily pay more.
So here’s my new plan. I will start harassing our local health food shop, our local milkman and every health food shop that I pass. I will point out that bottled milk shipped from Tasmania, sells at a premium price in re-usable bottles so there is no question that there’s a profitable market here and that old idea that it’s something about not being able to sterilize the bottles is patently bollocks! I will also make a commitment to buy the milk that they get in if it’s Victorian and in re-usable glass bottles. I’m sure it’ll take some time, but it’s our buying practices that drive change and if enough people ask for something eventually someone will get wise!
But hey, maybe I’m wrong! Maybe you’ve got a better plan! If so let us know cause I’m sick of having a problem with cows!
That sucks guys. We are very lucky in that we get our milk in glass locally (Nedlands in fact, http://www.sunnydaledairy.com.au/) and we return our glass bottles to the dairy. I would have thought Melbourne would have been right up there with that sort of thing. For us the harder thing is sourcing Goat Milk. We can get some local stuff but in winter it dries up and is often unpastuerised (terrible spelling) which isn’t a problem in itself but something the goats must eat reacts with the little fella’s system at times. We resort to getting it from one of the big supermarkets in UHT containers.
Glass is, at least, easily recyclable. So even if the bottles aren’t being re-used, I’d still see it as being a step up from plastic.
I remember in NZ when my dad used to wash out his flagon and take it to the pub to be filled up – maybe this could be reintroduced too
It’s a thought,but I think if I had to go to the pub for milk I’d probably just end up drinking a lot more, and not milk!
Whilst I can’t find where I read it, I’m pretty sure that I’ve read that when they went to glass bottles as opposed to re-filling peoples containers there was quite a drop in bacterial infection due to unclean containers and poor temperature on whatever delivered it to the pub. You would think that in this day and age that’s not such an issue though and certainly the idea of having like a local depot makes the supply more local and resilient.
Funny though a number of people have suggested that the solution to this problem is to basically do just that except direct to the farmer. I’m not sure I’d feel right about rocking up to the farm gate with a flagon though, and I’m quite a fan of pasteurisation !
Thanks for the comment.
We’re not quite that keen, but we do try to get as much as we can from farmer’s markets. Which includes the guy from Sunnydale dairies showing up with fresh milk and happily accepting the bottle back when you finish. But we don’t drink milk in quantity so we use a “heart milk” just because it’s more stable in the fridge (we use about 600ml of milk per week).
I’d think your plan should also allow for not grown locally (must have coffee!) if it just isn’t grown in your region and you can get ecologically sane / big corporation exempt lines of supply. Supporting local grinders that buy from ecologically sane local producers helps support an alternative to the super-markets. Oh, and get an http://www.dansdata.com/aeropress.htm.
Grats on cutting down on the car.
Yeh, i agree though I do think there is possibly an argument for the idea that if it can’t be grown in your region you should at least consider whether it can be replaced with something more appropriate. For example I’m still searching for a grain alternative to cous cous which doesn’t seem to exist locally. That’s part of the fun though, rediscovering food diversity.
I’m down with food diversity, the super-market industry has done terrible things to our expectations of what food looks like through standardisation.
I tend to think that non-staple, high value and low bulk products can afford a slightly wider net because they don’t have a large transport footprint. There was trade in coffee, tea and spices long before industrialisation became an issue. But of course that depends on what your motivation and values are.
Thanks for the post Paul.
I’m always curious if powdered milk is an option. Packaging could be reduce (BYO container to shops). I would also hazard a guess that shops throw away a lot of milk as waste, something which wouldn’t be as much of a problem with powdered milk. This combined with energy used to transport and refrigerate liquids might out way the cost of dehydrating milk.
I believe if you leave it overnight it also tastes very similar to milk.
Hmmm, okay, you can even buy powdered soy milk. ^_^
I think it’s a really interesting idea, though I would have to first overcome childhood memories of lumpy powdered milk whilst camping! The ease of storage and transport is certainly greatly increased without all the water. I had a brief look into this and couldn’t get any idea about the embodied energy that is required to ‘powder’ it but I did find some information that suggested that the nutritional benefit of powdered milk was the same as that of fresh. Whilst I can’t remember exactly, my memory is that I stopped looking when I found that I would need to buy 6-8 boxes or bags (plastic) a week to satisfy our milk needs and that the only place I could find powdered milk was at one of the big supermarkets.
It’s a really good idea though and I will keep my eyes out for bulk powdered milk.
Did a search for 20kg powdered milk and found the following.
Seems like commercial kitchens are the main users of this sort of thing. The the idea of having 160L of milk in a single 20kg purchase seems pretty cool.
Interesting that Rogers Foods list the standard packaging: “The standard pack is a lined, multi-walled paper sack, which provides a barrier to moisture and oxygen. The sacks are heat sealed top and bottom for maximum protection. No staples or metallic fasteners are used.”