One of my big goals for 2019 has been to reduce the amount of single-use plastics I get use, as well as ultimately reducing the amount of waste we produce as a household in general. But there is one big problem which has been playing on my mind for some time now – free from foods tend to be seriously packaged.
And to make matters worse, I’m in two minds as to whether this is a good thing or not.
The good, the bad, and the ugly
On the plus side, it’s certainly more reassuring to have gluten free food in sealed packaging. This eliminated some of the worry about cross contamination and makes the food a lot safer for someone like myself, with coeliac disease.
There’s also the fact I am the only coeliac in the house, so sometimes having a box of cakes, packaged in twos, makes life easier. That way, for example, I won’t open a four-pack of cakes, eat one, and then found the rest have gone stale. I can simply pluck an individually-wrapped cake from my box, eat it, and know the rest will be fresh when I want them.
But as someone trying to cut down the amount of plastic they use, this also poses a big ethical dilemma in my head. Even when we think we’re doing the right thing and recycling, as we saw on the BBC War on Plastic programme last week. Often the waste we think we’re sending off to be recycled is being dumped in countries like Malaysia and is not properly processed.
I’m sure every coeliac watching that programme last week felt a pang of guilt when both a M&S ‘Made Without Wheat’ tub was pulled from the vast mound of dumped plastic waste, which will be either left to (extremely slowly) rot, or worse burned, causing even more damage to the environment and nearby communities.
So what can we as gluten free consumers do? Clearly the excessive plastic packaging has its reasons and we need to find viable solutions to this that don’t compromise our own health in the process. There has to be a balance which fits both sides.
The worst plastic offenders
I don't want to name names at this stage, though in time I would like to contact some free from brands individually to ask what they are going to do to improve their efforts. However, there are a few things that REALLY bug me when it comes to excessive packaging:
- Polystyrene bases on gluten free pizzas. Most brands have cut this out now, bar a few. Polystyrene can't be put out with my kerbside recycling. And if all the other brands either a) don't need it or b) use cardboard instead, why do we still need polystyrene bases?
- Individual trays within trays. If we're going to have trays of individually-wrapped cakes, do they have to be sat in an even bigger tray, within a plastic box? Can we not cut down on some of that packaging?
- Black plastic trays. I've been really pleased to see some meat brands swapping their black plastic trays to clear or coloured plastics. Black plastic is the only one which cannot be recycled in my local collections. So why are so many ready meals still using them!?
- Plastic packaging on fruit and veg. Ok I know it's not specifically free from but this really does my nut. Even more so when, for example, they bag up individual peppers and put them in a plastic bag in the yellow sticker bin. WHY!?
I’m not the only one worrying about plastic use
I briefly discussed this topic on my Instagram stories because it’s something I’ve been thinking about for a long time now. So I was really relieved to see lots of people agreeing that free from foods are definitely over-packaged. Some of the comments I had were:
"I think it's got more plastic to hide the smaller potions/sizes of food."
"I think it's for cross contamination but it's also OTT many times."
"100% overkill on the plastic! Way too much unnecessary packaging on gluten free food."
"Totally agree and sadly being gluten free, single-use plastic seems unavoidable."
"Totally true, things like cookies are packaged in boxes, plastic trays AND cellophane wrapping."
"A lot of the packaging isn't recyclable which sucks when you want to do your bit."
"Why do gluten free biscuits come wrapped in packs of 2? My biscuit tin is full of wrappers!"
"Yes, they probably need some plastic but some seem to be triple packaged which is crazy."
"If it's because they cover 'cross contamination' to overkill then it definitely needs addressing."
It goes on and on, but I wanted to share some of the above to show exactly how many people agree!
What can we do to cut down on plastic?
We can all do our bit to reduce our plastic consumption, gluten free or not. So three things I will be trying – and reporting back on – are as follows:
- Make more things from scratch. There are many simple food swaps we can do, gluten free or not. Picking out unpackaged fruit and veg, taking in tubs for fresh meat and fish products, and making free from foods such as bread, cakes, biscuits and cereal bars from scratch. That way I can package and freeze them in re-useable containers and there will be less plastic waste.
- Take a re-useable water bottle and coffee cup with me. I have already started doing this and it makes me actively think about the efforts I am making. Most shops have no hesitation in filling bottles with tap water and the more we ask, the more commonplace this will become. I was also kindly gifted a metal straw from The Metal Straw Co and I take it EVERYWHERE!
- Trying to seek out plastic free free-from brands. There are certainly a small but growing number. And to make life a bit easier, that leads me on to my next section…
Plastic free gluten free brands
So you want to try some new gluten free brands who don’t use lots of plastic packaging? Then why not give some of these a go and support those doing a good job. None of these are sponsored or endorsed, they are just brands I either love or I have been recommended.
- Jubel Beer. Not only is it my favourite beer EVER but they come in recyclable glass bottles and their labels are completely plastic free. As if I couldn't love them any more!
- Hunter & Gather. Their avocado oil mayonnaise range is to die for and all in recyclable jars. I also have started taking their collagen peptides which come in biodegradable packaging - a change from most heavily packaged protein products!
- Two Farmers Crisps. I was recommended these as apparently their packaging is completely compostable. It looks like you can buy their stuff online.
- Barilla pasta. Okay, there is a tiny plastic window in their cardboard boxes but apart from this, this gluten free pasta comes in a box so there's not non-recyclable bags to chuck in the bin.
- Snact. Another one that was recommended to me - it looks like Snact make their treats from fruit and veg which would have otherwise of been wasted. Plus their packaging is compostable.
- Anandas Foods. I've raved about their gluten free and vegan wagon wheels before, but they are also wrapped in foil and cardboard - both recyclable. Definitely try them if you haven't before!
- Ko.Co Brownies. I was happily munching away on the yummy brownies I was sent from Ko.Co Brownies when I noticed not only are they gluten free but also plastic free! Their wrappers are actually mad from tree sap, how cool is that!?
Generally speaking in the supermarket, there's a lot of plastic on the free from shelves. But I'd LOVE to hear of any brands with plastic free packaging! Drop me a comment below or an email and I can add the best ones to this list!
What will you be doing?
I'd love to know what you're doing to reduce your plastic consumption as a gluten free consumer. Can you share any tips or brand recommendations? Drop a comment at the bottom of this post or come join my Facebook group and share your top tips in there. I'll be adding more brands to this as and when I find any good ones so bookmark this post and come check back!