Meat without plastic

The Problem

One of my biggest stumbling blocks has been how to buy meat without plastic.  Sausages, chops, name it, it comes wrapped the same way in every supermarket in the country.

Meat in plastic

In today’s world plastic is obligatory when you buy meat .

Whole chickens only come in plastic bags.  Fresh fish over the counter?  At New Word they offer a one-size fits all paper/plastic/foil laminate bag which is wholly non-recyclable and for most purchases more packaging that is needed. Independent butchers somewhat better in that If you buy something over the counter you at least avoid the polystyrene tray, but they still put the item in a plastic bag.  Of course they do, what other option do they have?

It is quite a price to pay every time I tuck into spaghetti bolognaise,  roast chicken or bbq steak.

PET meat tray

New World’s new recyclable PET meat tray will reduce the amount of waste going to landfill.

New World have improved the situation recently by being the first supermarket in the world to develop a recyclable PET meat tray.  It does feel a lot better being able to recycle the tray and only put the wrap in the rubbish, and this solution must already being having a positive effect on landfill volumes.  But, and there is a but, none of this thinking reduces the demand for plastic. It doesn’t challenge the need for plastic or encourage people seek alternatives. So I am trying to avoid all plastic meat packaging, recyclable or not.


The Alternative

I did some research and finally stumbled upon an alternative:  bring your own containers.  Why had I never thought of this before? Bring them to the supermarket, to the butcher.  Have them tare it on the scales, pop the item in.  Boom.  Just like that.  Now all you have to do is take that container home and pop it directly into the freezer.  Brilliant!

Much encouraged by this idea, I took myself off to Briscoes and invested in two Anchor-Hocking glass containers with airtight lids which, wonderfully, can be put in the freezer.

I have had success at New World in New Lynn where, after some discussions with this manager and that manager, I was allowed to purchase fish and have it placed directly into the container.  I was so happy about this, what a win!  However the meat they offer over the counter tends to be their expensive, top-of-the-range stuff rather than the mince, drumsticks and sausages that make up our standard shop.  So sadly on this occasion I was obliged to accept the standard packing options for the rest of the meat shopping.

Salmon is a rare treat!

Fish bought from New World, the chicken breasts from Clark’s Organic Butchery.

This has made me look further afield and to venture into butchers in the area.  So far I have been to The Aussie Butcher in New Lynn, Clark’s Organic Butchery in Glen Eden and even further away, Westmere Butchery in, well in Westmere.  I think there is likely to be a Mad Butcher out this way that I have not yet discovered.

I’m happy to report that all three accepted my glass containers.

Clark’s have a wonderful range, though I’m still smarting at the higher prices you pay for organic meat.  Moving to organic is something I’m considering, pending further research.  I have to say I do balk a little at the prices but I can’t deny their product is of the highest quality and no doubt is better for us and the planet.  I figure perhaps it would be better for our family if we ate a little less meat of better quality or had one or two vegetarian dinners each week so we better afford it, and I have to say I don’t have the family’s full support in this ‘reducing meat’ proposal so I’m not sure we’ll be making the shift just yet.   Clark’s also make their own bacon and while they vacuum package most of it they offered to let me know when they make it so I can go it and buy some plastic-free.

The Aussie Butcher offers most of their produce pre-packaged in the usual way, and only a small selection over the counter.  So less options here.

Westmere Butchery is a good middle ground, offering a fantastic selection of meats over the counter and, being non-organic, at a more moderate price, the only shame is that they are the furthest away!  Notwithstanding that, it is a wonderful shop which is always packed with customers irrespective of the day of the week.


I still have some challenges even with this new BYO container approach:

– So far I have only have two containers and as was evident today, this is not enough when buying meat for the week.

– The glass is surprisingly heavy.  Glass is great in many ways as it goes straight in the freezer, then you can easily sit the container in hot water in the sink to defrost but carrying two to the butcher and getting them filled was almost enough!  This is an annoyance, but I’m prepared to work with it

I can't fit this in a glass container.

Meat products such as whole chickens or other roast cuts are still a challenge to buy without plastic.

– Glass containers are not the solution for all meat purchases: I don’t think I can get a container big enough to accommodate a whole chicken or a leg of pork or lamb.  I’d be happy for the meat to be wrapped in wax paper, then in plain paper as they used to once upon a time, but no-one does this these days.  So more work to do here.

So there you have it.  That is where I’m up to with buying meat without plastic.



Being clear about no plastic when shopping

Today was both exciting and frustrating.

It was exciting because today I put two new resolutions into action:  the first is to buy bread from the bakery to avoid  the plastic bags supermarket brands come in, and the second is to bring my own containers to the butcher and get them to put the meat directly in, neatly avoiding polystyrene trays and the cling film wrapping.  But both purchases had challenges.

Bread – going plastic free

We have been a Molenberg family for a long while, but since Molenberg don’t offer any alternative to plastic packaging, this had to change.  I made my first Baker’s Delight wholemeal loaf purchase last weekend.  They sliced it in their fancy slicer (‘sandwich slice please’) and were happy to wrap it in a paper bag, which I requested. In fact, I got the idea that a paper bags was the standard way of wrapping their bread.  Result!  It is very good bread to boot:  a lovely firm crust and soft inside, the family were hooked. And at only $4 for a sizable loaf it is also good value.  So when we used that last of the loaf at breakfast this morning, I put purchasing another loaf on my to do list for the day.

Today I requested the same wholemeal loaf and asked for it to be sliced, but kind of assumed it would come in paper and hence neglected to request a paper bag. And while I was busy eyeing up the twisty buns, the lady serving had efficiently sliced the loaf and popped it into a plastic bag. Gah!  I belatedly explained that I was aiming to avoid plastic upon which she immediately offered to swap the plastic bag for a paper one. When questioned, she admitted she would not reuse the bag for another customer, but instead would throw it away. When she realised this was not going to make for a happy customer either, she resolved the problem by slicing me another loaf and wrapping it in a paper bag with the promise that she would be able to sell the plastic-wrapped one to another customer.  She almost managed to put the loaf into a plastic carry bag too, but I stopped her in time.  All done with a smile I must add. Well done Baker’s Delight.

Meat – going plastic-free

Buying meat has been one of my bugbears: how do you avoid all that plastic packing?  And although New World has done a fantastic job in developing a completely recyclable meat tray, meat still comes with the inevitable cling wrap.  What to do?  I stumbled across the answer online: use freezable glass containers.  Pyrex does a ‘Heat & Store’ range which is freezer safe glass with plastic lids, and are available at Briscoes.  I went to Briscoes and ended up buying a couple of dishes made by the US company Anchor Hocking, who offer the same type product but with clear lids called TrueSeal Food Storage. And although the lids a plastic but I see this as saving many single-use plastics in its lifetime. I bought a couple of differing sizes to get me started.

Will these containers be the end to plastic-wrapped meat for our family?

Anchor Hocking TrueSeal Food Storage containers, purchased from Briscoes.

So I turn up to the Aussie Butcher with my glass container and explain my plastic-avoidance preference to the lady serving.  I ask for 10 sausages, and before I could stop her she has grabbed a plastic bag and headed out the back to get them.  I suspect she found my subsequent remonstrations confusing and almost laughable, so I quickly accepted the offered bag, popped it in the container and promised myself I’d do better next time. At least I avoided the polystyrene tray.

The cause of frustration in both of these interactions was all me:  I failed to adequately communicate my position and how I would like the product to be packaged.  I have to confess that this is in part due to a level of self-consciousness:  I’m aware I am bucking the trend, stepping away from what is considered to be normal, so I my requests did not come out as clearly as they should have.

I will get better at this. And the more I do it, the less self-conscious I will become.