I am nearly at the end of my 5 week away placement as part of my ministry training. The last two of these weeks has been spent in the Netherlands based in The Hague area but in fact travelling to a fair few places. Unlike in Germany I have eaten out more and indeed bought more food out too (whilst also being on the receiving end of lots of Surinamese home-cooked hospitality, although this has often been transported away in plastic). I feel I have had a more realistic exposure as to how easy it is to live here without plastic in terms of food shopping/drinking and have to say that overall I think it is as hard as it is living in the U.K. (maybe even harder, but this maybe because I don’t know the right places). In addition, I have to confess, there are times when I have had to buy food in plastic either because I haven’t known enough of the plans in advance to organise a plastic-free lunch or occasionally because I have wanted to try a delicacy that is typical of the Netherlands that is wrapped in plastic and have gone for it. And there was the odd chocolate too…
However, I can see that if you wanted to you could largely do well in the Netherlands if you lived here more permanently and planned ahead. In this sense it is very like the U.K. You just can’t as easily pick up food plastic free on the go as it feels like you could have in Germany (or for me in the U.K.). Here in the Netherlands it is all about planning ahead. That being said there are some things the Netherlands are doing better in than in some areas of the U.K.
Fresh Fruit and Veg
The markets throughout the Netherlands are a good source of non-plastic food (so long as you take a bag with you like in the U.K. – there is a plastic bag charge here too (yey!) ). I went round markets in The Hague and Rotterdam and can honestly say that there seems to be a greater variety of food available at these markets that is plastic free than the ones in Sheffield or Derby (maybe not other places in the U.K. though). I was particularly impressed with the choices of fruit that was plastic free (unlike in the supermarkets here which is basically coated in the stuff). I was also impressed to find in a random little shop in Amsterdam (in a tourist area too) blackberries and raspberries that were packaged in a way that was plastic free – the first I have ever seen other than ones picked straight off the fields.
Nuts and Spices
In Rotterdam market you could also do better at buying things like nuts and spices which you could purchase by weight and weren’t pre-wrapped in plastic. I really love this and really wish this was in the places I was living. We love our spices and nuts in the Maxwell house as both are just so useful for cooking with nuts being a helpful thing to nibble on so you don’t get hangry (we’ve all been there). I am going to see when I get back home over the next few weeks if I can find a similar stall somewhere in Derby as I suspect there must be I have just not found it yet!
One area that was actually relatively easy to do plastic free was grab a drink as a lot of the places I visited in the Netherlands (from small cafes by beaches to supermarkets in cities) offered water in glass although it was a bit more expensive. There was also milk in glass to grab which I loved and would like to see more of in the U.K. Like in Germany, recycling glass bottles and plastic was an option – with the nearest supermarket in Zoetermeer paying you for your recycling of these goods.
Furthermore in Gouda I spotted these bad boys…
This was a little independent shop but I have yet to see a shop in the U.K. with such a large selection of plastic free bottles at what looked like reasonable prices. This is the first offline choice of plastic free containers I have seen which seems to suggest in this area, at least in Gouda that the Netherlands is ahead!
Inside the Government
My placement here led me at one point to be inside a government building for a meeting. In the meeting room was this rather exciting machine:
Again it seems to suggest that in this area the Netherlands are striving forward with this being a “standard” bin throughout the conference rooms in the area we were in. It maybe a case of we were in the right building for this kind of level of recycling but I suspect not. The cups put out for us, although disposable, were already made of recyclable cardboard. Furthermore, the bin suggests they will also be recycled again. The only thing better would be to use porcelain cups but this is a good step forward. I know in the U.K. I have seen some bins in Universities and cities which separate trash to a similar level but never in a political setting that I have noticed (I will willingly be proved wrong on this one).
Generally eating on the go is a plastic nightmare in the Netherlands – grabbing a plastic free sandwich feels nearly impossible. However, sitting down eating out is similar to the U.K. Hard to regulate exactly how much plastic is used to make your meal but you are highly unlikely to end up with plastic on your table (in the Netherlands knives and forks generally came wrapped in paper or a napkin). This is a photo though of me and the lovely lady, Lucille, who has been hosting me eating out at a place that made pasta from scratch (which was stored in paper bags) – so here at least it was plastic free in terms of the pasta!
So, as I mentioned at the start, snacking plastic free has at times been challenging. Below is just one example of when it has been a case of choosing to try the local cuisine totally took over (and I may have had a few!). This is a ginger cake which both my supervisor and host have introduced me to as being classically “Netherlands”.
Overall I would love to shop in the Netherlands for fruit and veg as here they are definitely ahead of the U.K. in terms of variety – it would make our food choices more interesting at home if we had access to as much fruit and veg as is possible to buy on markets here. Being in the Netherlands has exposed me to both Dutch and Surinamese foods, some of which I hope to emulate when I get home. So watch this space to see if I can find the plastic free ingredients – Fingers crossed!!