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Plastic free baking ingredients © Kerri Major / WWF-Aus

Plastic free baking ingredients © Kerri Major / WWF-Aus

A plastic free baking adventure

09 Jul 2018

  • food production
  • sustainable living
  • plastic

By Kerri Major
Climate and Earth Hour Engagement Manager, WWF-Australia

Kerri Major runs WWF-Australia’s Earth Hour campaign and also develops strategies and programs for climate change, renewable energy, sustainable food, and innovation in conservation. In her spare time, she bakes.

I have an incurable baking habit. Some might call me an altruistic baker, but the delight is all mine. There is something soothing and mindful about having precisely measured quantities, a step-by-step method, and the thrilling risk of failure if you play fast and loose with the instructions. I get into a headspace that I call ‘the baking zone’. (I also have a ‘half-baked zone’, but that’s only during meetings on Fridays at 4 pm.)


I gladly accepted the challenge to bake for WWF-Australia’s staff morning tea during Plastic Free July – with the caveat that my cake had to be both heart-healthy AND plastic free.


I decided to make a gluten-free carrot cake with:


  • Olive oil, which is heart friendly
  • Grated carrots and apple
  • Low fat, Greek yoghurt frosting
  • And covered with heart friendly walnuts.

Opening up my pantry cupboard only made me realise that so much of what I buy is packaged in plastic. So I set off on my quest for plastic free ingredients. A quick internet search showed me that I could buy from bulk food stores and luckily there was one near the office. Win!


Plastic Free July at a bulk food store © Kerri Major / WWF-Aus  

During Plastic Free July, certain bulk food stores give a 10% discount to all customers who bring their own containers. Loaded with a bag full of my storage containers, my own paper bags, stickers, and a pen to label everything (imagine carrot cake if the salt and sugar got mixed up). I stepped into the store and was blown away by just how much you could buy in bulk. Even ground cinnamon.


There is a weighing machine and labelling station all set up so you can write down how much your containers weigh. And then the staff adds it all up for you when you’re done.


Bulk food store jars © Kerri Major / WWF-Aus

Now that I had most of the dry goods squared away, what about the fresh and dairy ingredients?


I took a trip to the supermarket, bringing my reusable bag that folds up so small it fits in my hand. (No bag rage for me!)


Loose carrots, buttermilk, eggs, olive oil, all came plastic free. Brown sugar, however, was all packaged in plastic. I opted for raw sugar in a paper bag instead and to boost the flavour, a teaspoon of molasses (from a glass jar).


Plastic free shopping basket © Kerri Major / WWF-Aus


And to my shock, I couldn’t find a single container of Greek yoghurt that wasn’t plastic. The only thing that came somewhat close was a tiny glass jar of coconut yoghurt, for the price of an arm and a leg. I skipped out on the coconut yoghurt (too runny to make frosting anyway), and opted for low fat cream cheese instead. The cream cheese came in a paper box and wrapped in foil on the inside.


Plastic yoghurt containers © Kerri Major / WWF-Aus


And then I came up against the problem of vanilla essence. I’d looked online beforehand, and thought I could buy vanilla essence in a glass bottle that had a metal lid. But upon reaching the aisle, I saw that nearly all the bottles were plastic, and of the few glass options, the lids and tops were encased in plastic. Really?! Anyway, I just had to make do.


Oh, and I forgot to buy apples at the shops. But the office fruit bowl didn’t disappoint.


Totalling up, the bill came to $27 (including the 10% discount) for the dry goods and $31 for the fresh produce and dairy. This wasn’t going to be a cheap cake.


Some of the items were definitely cheaper in bulk. The most expensive item was the gluten-free flour blend, which could have been cheaper if I made my own blend. Or I could opt to just bake with normal flour, which is very much cheaper and comes in a paper package.

My thoughts:


  • Going plastic free is not an all or nothing endeavour. Until plastic free packaging becomes the norm, it can be daunting to buy everything plastic free. You’ll have to be realistic about what you can buy, and do some research before you shop.
  • Every conscious choice that we make will help. By gradually changing the way we shop (and skipping the bag rage), being more mindful and willing to accept a little inconvenience, we’ll make strides towards lowering our plastic consumption.
  • Saving the planet and being environmentally conscious isn’t just for the rich. There can be cost savings too for certain products if you’re organised about your shopping.

And a picture of the end result.


Plastic free carrot cake by Kerri Major © Kerri Major / WWF-Aus


Do you think carrot cake baked without plastic packaged ingredients tastes better? All I can tell you is that within 10 minutes in the WWF office, every crumb was gone from the plate.




Here’s the summary of findings from my plastic free shopping expedition:


 Ingredient  Can I get it plastic free?  Is it cheaper?
 Gluten free flour  Yes – at a bulk foods store. Noooope. 3-4 times the price of a plastic bag of gluten free flour. Potentially cheaper if you make your own blend
Baking powder Yes – at a bulk foods store. Supermarkets sell it in cardboard boxes but without a plastic cap. Yes.
Baking soda Yes – at a bulk foods store. Yes.
Salt Yes – at a bulk foods store. Yes – if you're after posh, Himalayan salt.
Desiccated coconut Yes – at a bulk foods store. Yes.
Ground cinnamon Yes – at a bulk foods store. Yes.
Brown sugar Nope. Closest substitute is raw sugar and molasses. You can get rapadura, raw, or coconut sugar at a bulk foods store. You can make your own brown sugar with white sugar (from a paper package) and molasses. 
Icing sugar Yes – at a bulk foods store. Nope. Twice as expensive, but apparently the sugar was organic. 
Walnuts Yes – you can buy loose nuts from both the bulk foods store and mainstream supermarkets. Yes, for loose nuts, but not cheaper than the plastic one-kilo packets.
Greek yoghurt  No. Everything was in a plastic tub. Had to substitute with low fat cream cheese.

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