Did I mention that when we were Art students in the early seventies we were big on saving the planet – the generation that came a while after us during the Thatcher years seemed to completely ignore the topic and it became a spend, spend, spend world and consumerism was born in a big way.
One of the ways we tried to ‘save the planet’ was that we had an almost fully non-plastic kitchen. With all the recent discussion in the news of plastic waste I was reminded of our efforts back then and that it is not actually that hard to achieve it just takes a bit of adjustment.
We carefully selected our kitchen contents and only bought items of glass, wood, enamel, metal, china or pot. Looking back it is incredible that we managed a whole kitchen by today’s standards as most people have Tupperware, or plastic washing up bowls and formica counter tops not to mention all the groceries we buy and store in the kitchen that come packaged in plastics.
We lived in rented accommodation back then – a tiny 3 bedroom terraced house in Cheltenham just off the high street behind the Co-op on Grosvenor Terrace. Ours was the blue house – they were all painted a different colour. The living room was so small it didn’t even accommodate a 3 piece suite. The dining table was squashed in here in the corner as there was no dining room nor a dining kitchen.
The kitchen was in fact more like an old scullery down a passage at the back of the house which opened up in to a bit of a dismal yard with no rear access but at least we could hang a washing line out there. The windows in the kitchen were the original painted metal frames and the floor was made of those red clay tiles. The whole house was cold at times but even more so in the kitchen – there was no heating at all in any of the rooms and all we could afford then was a two bar electric fire for the living room. We just shivered in the other rooms and dived into bed quickly!
The bathroom was quite colourful a yellow toilet, pink basin and white bath – no doubt whatever the landlord could find going cheap at the time!
The only items in the kitchen, which was about 8′ x 6′, was an old gas cooker, a white pottery sink in the corner and the previous tenants had left a small wooden dresser on the back wall. There were no kitchen units or wall cupboards built-in or otherwise.
Being a handy kind of man OH set to and made a kitchen unit to fit next to the gas cooker from some MDF and old packing cases that we found – as you can imagine trying to cook when you have no horizontal surface to put anything on is near impossible. The unit didn’t have anything posh like doors it looked more like a bookcase with a work top on it – you would call it open shelving these days and you would be thought of as extremely modern. In those days you were thought of as a poor student! The work top was a huge slab of dark grey slate – about 3″ thick and 3′ long with a round hole in one end. We found it on some waste land and somehow using that old technique of rollers Egyptian style managed to roll it home and then called on friends to help lift it on top of the frame – whether any other resident that came after us ever got it out again would be another story! It was a brilliant place for putting down hot pans though!
We painted the dresser grey – it scrubbed up quite well. We also acquired a fridge at this point – our first ever, second or third hand of course. The door seal on the fridge and the wire shelving coated in plastic was one of the few things that had plastic and unavoidable.
We used enamel buckets and basins and a wire metal dish drainer. We had a dish mop and dish brush made of real bristle and wood – which you can still buy in some hardware stores. Our cooking utensils were wooden or metal – no plastic handles allowed.
For food storage we used the old-fashioned glass jars with ground stoppers and glass basins with a saucer on top to keep food and left overs safe and fresh in the fridge.
We had no Tupperware or plastic bowls. We only bought foods that were free from plastic wrappings, our vegetables were packed in paper bags and the cheese and butter wrapped in greaseproof paper. Sauces came in jars and most food items were free of any tamper proof shrink wrapped cellophane or plastic display trays. We used Stardrops for washing up and cleaning as this came in a glass bottle as did the milk.
The waste bin was one of those old style pails with a lid made of enamel. In fact we generated so little waste our old tin dustbin in the yard was rarely full of any rubbish – which is just as well as we had to carry it through the house to the front doorstep on bin day.
With all the discussions recently in the news about China and our plastic waste it is no bad thing that we should review our use of plastics especially the single use of plastics for packaging. Remembering our kitchen all those years ago and how some of the values we held then have fallen by the wayside a bit over the years I am mindful now in the light of the current plastics awareness that is sweeping the country that I must make an effort to reject plastic once again and challenge myself to having a non- plastic kitchen.
Of course it would be wrong to get rid of anything plastic by throwing it away better we hang on to it now for as long as possible and when we have to renew look for an alternative material, but we can avoid such things as squeezy sauce bottles opting for the glass ones instead or buying vegetables that are loose not prepackaged. Every small change will eventually make a difference. I possibly won’t be going back to a 3″ thick slate work top though!!