Italian Diary: food and sustainability observations from abroad

Italian Diary: food and sustainability observations from abroad


Written by our founder, Kate

Bryan and I had the chance to celebrate our 10 year wedding anniversary in Italy this summer. Other than the Sun & Swell snacks we brought for hike and adventure fuel, we leaned fully into enjoying Italian cuisine (as you do!). Throughout the trip, we could not resist observing and soaking up how Italians approach both food and plastic consumption. Passionate as we are about both eating real food and avoiding plastic where possible, we were excited to note the following differences.



It's no secret that Italy is known for its incredible cuisine. What I loved the most about eating there was how local all the food is. 

The very first restaurant we went to for lunch upon arrival summed up what it's like to eat in Italy.

We had lunch on a lovely patio in the coastal town of Vico Equense, where we could see pasta being hand-made in the kitchen. We asked the owner where the food comes from and she was happy to share. 100% of the pasta was made in-house. A majority of the produce was grown in her garden with the rest sourced from local farms. All of her fish, eggs, and chicken came from local fishermen and farmers. She didn't have any beef on the menu, even though tourists ask for it - because there isn't any that's local.

The freshness of the food came through with every bite. 



Naturally, I was curious to see how far ahead Italy was on reducing single-use plastic. My overall takeaway: while there was still a lot of single-use plastic, they were ahead of the US when it comes to reducing usage.


In Hotels:

Fewer single-use plastic water bottles and toiletries. The minibars and rooms that I saw had only glass or refillable water bottles, and all of the single-use toiletries I saw were in aluminum tubes.

Based on this article, it looks like the European Commission recently proposed a ban on all single-use toiletries in European hotels. 

Below is the glass water bottle from a hotel in Amalfi, and an aluminum mini tube of toothpaste from an AirBnB in Positano.

water bottletoothpaste


In the Airport: 

One noticeable difference in the airport to me, was that there was no single-use plastic cutlery - which I later learned from this article that the EU is banning single-use plastic plates and straws, among other things.

Below are two examples of cutlery I found: one compostable, one wooden.

sun and swellcompostable utensils


In the Grocery Store: 

Yes, in the grocery store there were still tons of snacks in single-use plastic. BUT there were also a lot of subtle sustainable swaps. For example, at this grocery store in Positano, the large Coca Cola bottle was a glass bottle, and the small Coca Cola cans were held together with cardboard instead of plastic. 

coca colacoca cola



I was impressed to see how so many packages had sustainability callouts about the packaging itself. I have no idea if this was driven by regulation or just a marketing decision, but even larger brands that aren't known for sustainability had major callouts. 

Here are some photos of skincare products from a pharmacy in Vico Equense - notice the Eucerin has a "Microplastics Free" icon on the front, and the Uriage bottle has a huge "-48% Plastic" callout on the front

sunscreensun screen


We left Italy full. Memories full of wonderful moments, bellies full of delicious food, and minds full of inspiration for a localized food chain and for the movement towards less plastic consumption. Italians, like Americans, are not perfect but every choice and swap is a step in the right direction!


Note: for those interested in the proposed EU-wide rules on packaging, read more about the European Green Deal here


Stock up on Apple Pie Bars for your next trip or adventure:


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