Written by Mary Katherine Glen
To be honest, I buy some of my groceries with packaging these days. In high school it was easy to write [my] blog as a “perfect” plastic-free website because I lived with my parents and I didn’t pay for any of my ingredients. Now I make minimum wage so I have to shop at No Frills.
I avoid waste when I can but I buy regular dairy since the stuff in glass bottles is 5+ times more expensive. I also don’t buy in bulk very often because I look for clearance items at No Frills most of the time. If I want to go to Bulk Barn it’s a farther drive and I don’t have gas money. When I’m older I can be more conscious about what I buy but right now I don’t have the money or time to shop at multiple grocery stores.
This is actually an informative experience because it’s showing me how being a “perfect” zero waster is inaccessible to a lot of people. I’m simply too poor. We need more solutions to deal with waste that don’t require average people to bankrupt themselves.
Why should I have to pay extra money out of my meager paycheck to compensate for the fact that corporations manufacture enormously vast quantities of waste? Why aren’t they held accountable for that? Maybe they could hire some engineers to design new materials and downsize their packaging. Or maybe they could give grants to poor municipalities to build composting facilities. If you have any more ideas along those lines please leave them in the comments! I am curious to hear what other people think about this.
That said, here are some ways that I save time and money these days—and sometimes manage to cut down on waste.
Time-Saving Tips for Students (or Anyone)
Make pancake batter and store it in your fridge
I was a baker in one of the kitchens I worked in, and I learned that some batters can be made ahead and stored for a week or even 10 days. So I make pancake batter, store it in empty yogurt containers in my fridge, and fry up pancakes quickly on busy mornings. Yogurt containers are plastic but I like to repurpose what I can. There is yogurt from a biodynamic farm sold in returnable glass jars in Guelph, but it’s $6 which is too expensive for a student budget. So I buy the $2 plastic quarts and reuse the containers. They are actually really handy not just in the kitchen but in general. I will write a post about that sometime.
Make a big batch of oatmeal and store it in your fridge
If you reheat oatmeal in a pot with a bit of water, you can get it back to the same consistency as hot oatmeal. You can do this in the microwave too. I like doing this in the morning because its faster than cooking oatmeal from scratch. It takes about the same amount of time as making a packet of instant oatmeal.
Soup is a great thing to bring on the go (if you have a way to heat it up)
There are a couple microwaves on campus, so I bring soup from home in a jar and heat it up and eat it here. I like simple blended vegetable soups because they’re easy and quick to make and they help me up my vegetable intake. I’ll post an easy vegetable soup recipe next.
Hardboiled eggs are another great thing to eat
Eggs are super cheap and if you make a big batch of hardboiled eggs then you can have them ready to go from your fridge. At some farmers’ markets, you can give empty egg cartons to egg vendors and they can reuse them. I’m able to do that in Guelph, but I’m not sure about other places. In some places this isn’t allowed because it’s not considered sanitary. If this isn’t allowed at your farmers’ market, egg containers are compostable and recyclable.
Cook a pound of of dry beans in a large pot and freeze them in containers for use in individual recipes
I wrote a post about how to cook black beans a few years ago. Cooking times vary from bean to bean, but the cooking process is basically the same for most beans: soak, drain, add to a pot with water, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer. Before you remove the beans from the heat, take out a spoonful of beans and check them for tenderness. Wait for the beans to cool then transfer them to jars or containers of your choice.
Leave at least an inch of headspace, especially if you’re using glass! Food expands when it freezes and glass jars can explode in your freezer. Transfer the containers of beans to the freezer and thaw as needed for refried beans, hummus or whatever you want to make with them! Making a big batch doesn’t save as much time as eating canned beans, but the significant cost savings make it worth it to do this. A pound of typical dry beans (chickpeas, pintos, etc.) costs no more than $2.50. So when I cook a pound of dry beans, I get probably the equivalent of four to five cans for the price of one! Even if you consider the cost of electricity/gas for your stove and water, this saves money.
Last point: I add a strip (1-2 inches) of kombu seaweed to the soaking water and cook the beans with that same strip of seaweed as well. This seriously works to make the beans more digestible.
Carry fruit with you
This sounds like pretty straightforward and simple advice, but I’m serious. If you have fruit with you, you’ll be less likely to make an expensive packaged vending machine impulse buy of candy or chips. Sometimes if I’ve been studying for a while, I get bored and I just want to eat something for the sake of it. Eating out of boredom is a bad habit, but eating fruit is generally pretty harmless.
If you buy cheese, shredded cheese is more expensive and has more packaging
A brick of cheese is packaged in plastic too but it’s less plastic and its cheaper for the same amount of cheese. I like to buy cheese on sale then shred and freeze it.
Mary Katherine Glen graduated from the University of Guelph with a degree in Environmental Governance and is now enrolled in a post-graduate certificate program in waste management at Fleming College.
This post first appeared on Plastic-Free Chef.