A few weeks ago I took part in the National Cleanup Day in Malta. In one morning, more than 1300 people at different locations all over the Maltese islands picked up a whopping 2200 bags of garbage, of which more than 25% constituted plastic waste.
Inspired by this cleanup and the undiminishing stream of news about microplastics being found in our food and drinking water sources, I wanted to try for myself if it is possible to live a plastic free life in Malta. On October 1st I started a month long experiment: an attempt to live without single-use plastics (plastic bottles, packaging, wrappers, Tetra-Pak, etc.), together with my husband Chris and with my colleagues at Friends of the Earth Malta.
We started preparing in the weeks before, making a list of things we use and for which we would need to find a plastic free alternative, and places from where to get these things, asking for help online and visiting different supermarkets and shops to see what they have on offer.
Veggies & fruit
This was the easiest step for us, as we already tried to avoid plastic packaging around vegetables and fruit as much as possible. We bring our own shopping bags, and have reusable cloth produce bags that are handy for smaller fruits and veggies, such as tomatoes. We normally buy from our local greengrocer or for organic veggies we go to Hames Sensi in Fgura, our nearest organic shop. I’ve never had a problem upon refusing plastic bags, and I’m sure your local greengrocer will quickly get used to your quirky behaviour :)
Grains and pasta
It took some running up and down the supermarket aisles and exasperation at the tiny plastic windows in most grain packaging, but actually there is quite a good selection of grains and pasta available in the supermarket. I’ve found different types of pasta, rice and couscous packed just in cardboard.
Examples of plastic free grains & pasta found at PAVI in Qormi
The health food section at PAVI in Qormi has a pretty wide selection of bulk products that they sell by weight from large containers. I found oats, quinoa and barley, which are bought in bulk paper bags by the store. I brought my own reusable cloth bags and the shop assistant was happy to use those and fill them for me. Their standard however is to fill single use plastic bags, a bit of a missed chance with the set up they have.
Using cloth bags to fill from bulk containers
Nuts, seeds, legumes & dried fruit
In the same section they also sell other bulk products, such as dried beans (lentils, chickpeas, black beans, split peas, etc), dried fruits (raisins, dates, apricots, etc.), seeds (pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, linseed, chia seed, etc.), and a variety of nuts (raw nuts such as cashews and brazil nuts, but also spicy nut mixes for snacking).
Chickpeas, oats, coconut, sunflower seeds, linseeds, cashews, cacao nibs and raising bought in bulk (from PAVI health food store and Theobroma - Raw Cacao Collective)
Coffee & tea
A category of its own in my books :) For coffee I went to my favourite little coffee shop in Ħamrun: C&M Borg (you can follow your nose to find it!). They have a nice selection of coffee beans (including an organic & fair trade variety) and can grind it for you then and there. The shop owner was happy to put my freshly ground coffee directly in the glass jars I had brought for the purpose. They also sell spices and nuts in bulk. For tea we’ve been drinking a lot of fresh mint tea as we have some prolific growing mint in the garden (and it’s delicious), but there are also boxes of tea that are just cardboard.
Dairy & eggs
For a while now we’ve been ordering some products from Barbuto, a company bringing organic Sicilian produce to Malta. We like to buy their eggs, which come in recyclable cardboard cartons, and yoghurt, which is my favourite so far available in Malta and comes in glass jars, which have also been put to good (re)use to hold nuts and seeds that I’ve bought in bulk. We’re buying cheese from one of our neighbourhood shops and bring our own container and ask them to place it directly in there. So far, so good, but I have a feeling this will be easier to do in a small shop, I think they might not allow it in a larger supermarket. In terms of milk we usually go for plant-based milks (oat, rice, coconut) but this has proven to be one of the more difficult things to replace as they all come in plastic lined Tetra Pak. Now that I have found a good place to buy oats in bulk, I’m going to try to make my own oat milk. I will report back about my experiences with that later this month!
Organic eggs in recycled cardboard cartons from Barbuto
Bread & crackers (and cookies!)
We have been baking our own bread on and off for some years. We have a breadmaking machine at home and it is actually so easy to make your own bread on a day to day basis. Once you get the hang of it you put all the ingredients together in less than 5 minutes, and if you use the timer, the bread will bake overnight and you wake up with the wonderful smell of freshly baked bread in the morning! Flour is easily found in paper bags. It is however also perfectly possible to buy fresh bread from a baker by bringing your own bag or using a paper bag. I love to have a crackers as a snack with some hummus or cheese. This proved to be a tricky one! All crackers seemed to come in multiple layers of plastic packaging. I finally managed to find one brand that is just packaged in paper: Wasa whole grain crackers (found at PAVI in Qormi).
Wasa crackers wrapped in paper
Of course at some point during the week we craved for a snack, so I cooked up a plastic free cookie recipe, with wholemeal flour, oats, cacao powder, cacao nibs, cashews, coconut flakes, sugar and coconut oil (you can find the full recipe below).
This is a tricky one in Malta. Tap water is technically drinkable, but not very palatable. We normally use a Brita filter (activated charcoal filter that removes chlorine and reduces the hardness of the water), but the filter has to be changed once a month, and is made of plastic, and comes in plastic packaging. Alternatives are getting large 19L water bottles delivered at home, and although they are made of hard plastic and are reused, they still come with a disposable plastic cover. What would be the best is getting a reverse osmosis tap installed at home, but seeing as we rent, this is not really an option for us. We’re going to accept the small amount of plastic waste, and stick with our Brita for now.
We are using solid shampoo (mine is coconut based and comes from Lush, and Chris got one with mint and green tea from our local Soap Cafe in Sliema). We’re using a bar soap for washing bodies and hands. We bought bamboo toothbrushes from Bam & Boo, which are made of bamboo and are packaged in compostable packaging. Unfortunately they do have to use nylon for the actual brushes, as in their words “the only 100% biodegradable option is pig hair, which is a very controversial material” (https://thebamandboo.com/pages/faq). Another difficult one was toilet paper, although it is paper in itself (and thus no problem) it seems to always come in plastic packaging! After some searching I managed to find an ecological brand that has compostable packaging. I just tore up the first packaging and added it to our compost heap, and am curious how long it will take to break down. Most household cleaning we do with simple vinegar and baking soda, which can be found in glass bottles and cardboard boxes respectively. We always use Earth Friendly dishwashing and laundry liquid from Core Green, and we have been informed that we can take them to be refilled once they’re empty, so although the containers are still plastic, they are hardwearing and will be reused. There are some other personal care products that we still need find an alternative for, such as toothpaste. In the coming weeks I am planning to try to source some ingredients to experiment with making some of my own personal care products from bulk products.
Toilet paper wrapped in compostable packaging
I never expected this experiment to go perfectly, at least not immediately. One week in, I’ve made a few mistakes, such as forgetting to tell a bartender to omit a straw in my drink, and ordering a bottle of water at a restaurant only then to realise they serve in plastic bottles and not in glass as in most establishments.
Our plastic waste from week 1: 2 straws, 1 plastic water bottle, 1 cap of bouillon powder and 1 plastic wrapper of cheese (gifted by friends who were not yet aware of our experiment :))
I am looking forward to trying out new things next week and would love to hear your thoughts, and whether you have any tips or questions! Thanks for reading!
Plastic free cookies
- 200g wholemeal flour
- 200g oats
- 150 ml coconut oil
- 100g desiccated coconut
- 150g sugar
- 2 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp salt
- 3 tbsp linseed (ground up in coffee grinder)
- 3 tbsp cashews (chopped roughly)
- 6 tbsp cacao powder
- 4 tbsp cacao nibs
- 1 vanilla pod
- ½ - 1 cup water
Mix all the dry ingredients together. Melt the coconut oil in a double boiler (au bain marie). Mix the coconut oil in, and add water until reaching a thick, doughy consistency. Make small balls and press flat on a baking tray lined with a baking sheet (or even better, a reusable baking mat). Bake at 175 C for 10-15 minutes.