Easy, Eco-Friendly Swaps to Make at the Grocery Store (Part 2)

Easy, Eco-Friendly Swaps to Make at the Grocery Store (Part 2)

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Welcome to Part 2 of my grocery store series, which is meant to help you think about grocery shopping through an environmentally-friendly lens. (Click here to read Part 1.)

I try to shop with some generally accepted environmental best practices in mind:

  1. Use less plastic whenever possible
  2. Buy products in packaging that I know to be recyclable in my area
  3. Buy in bulk instead of individually-wrapped containers
  4. Stick to my list and not buy food that will end up going to waste

And, when possible,

5. Limit the amount of red meat we consume

Following these principles, here are some more easy swaps you can make while navigating the grocery store aisles.

Boxed Meals

This requires a bit of experience . . . as in, you’ve purchased the product before and you know how it’s packaged. In general, when buying boxed meals, I first check if it’s in a cardboard box (likely to be curbside recyclable). Then, I check if the food inside is in a plastic bag. Hm. The extra plastic is not what we’re looking for. It’s better if the food is “loose” inside the box. I’ve found some fish fillets and chicken patties to be packaged this way; that’s great. Then you can clean out the box, dry it, and send it for recycling. You may have to do some comparison shopping for awhile, but if you find a product that uses the least amount of packaging and tastes good, it’ll become an easy go-to item for you and take some of the guesswork out of shopping.

Pasta

Following on from above, pasta usually is really easy to buy because it’s sold in cardboard boxes and comes loose in the box! So, I recommend buying boxed pasta (not bagged). It’s even better if you can find solid cardboard boxes without the little cellophane windows in them (note: these are often NOT recyclable! You have to peel them off the box before dropping the box in the recycling bin).

Condiments

There are a lot of options available in stores, so in this category all you have to do is stop and think about what you’re reaching for on the shelf. Do you want ketchup in plastic squeeze bottles, or is there a glass bottle version instead (way easier to reuse and/or recycle)? Ditto for mustard, mayonnaise, and dressings (there are so many fun options to choose from in glass bottles!). If you use a lot of a particular condiment, buy bulk options so the product will last longer.

Soda and Beverages

Easy. Buy drinks in glass bottles, if available, or aluminum cans instead of plastic bottles (and be sure to rinse them and drop them in the recycling bin when you’re done). Buy a box of them instead of the kind that are strung together with plastic rings. We’ve all seen the pictures of birds and sea turtles trying to eat them . . . ugh.

Paper Products

As far as I’ve seen in stores, toilet paper and paper towels are all sold in plastic wrap. I started bypassing this aisle entirely and I now get bamboo-based paper products delivered to my door via Who Gives a Crap. The rolls are wrapped in paper and delivered in plastic-free boxes (they even use kraft tape, not plastic tape). We only get toilet paper three times a year now (as opposed to buying it weekly in the grocery store)—one box lasts a good long time. And the pre-arranged deliveries turned out to be a lifesaver during the Great Toilet Paper Shortage of 2020.

As far as tissues and napkins, see if you can make small tweaks in your home to use handkerchiefs and cloth napkins instead (or stockpile fast-food napkins instead of buying a whole new package of them).

Meat

Wow, this is a tough one so I saved it for last. Frankly, there aren’t a lot of good, simple options to reducing plastic waste with your meat. You could try bringing a reusable container to the butcher or deli counter to fill and ask them to tare the weight of your container so you only pay for the food and not the container weight . . . but many stores won’t do this due to health and safety regulations. Otherwise, most grocery-store meat will be sold on foam boards and plastic-wrapped.

While unpopular among meat lovers (myself included), the easiest solution is to just . . . eat less of it. That’s a personal choice! But it’s good for your carbon footprint and your heart, and there are plenty of great recipes out there with legumes, nuts, and beans acting as your proteins. Or you can try a recipe with canned meat, like tuna or corned beef hash (Spam, if you’re feeling brave). Another option is to buy frozen meat in bulk so it will last longer and use less overall packaging. Even if you have no interest in giving up meat entirely, perhaps you can try going meatless one day a week (“Meatless Mondays” are a big trend now) and go from there.

Anyone in the mood for a nice, hearty veggie soup?

About the author

Jennifer Bonnar is a Lake County resident, mom of a young son and daughter, and wife of fellow blogger Jason Lea. Her day job is in the publishing industry, in which she’s worked for 12 years. She graduated with a degree in journalism from Ohio University and earned her MBA from Lake Erie College. In her past life she worked in marketing at Cleveland Clinic and as an intern on the TV series “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.” Born in Pittsburgh, she receives regular razzing for her lack of interest in Cleveland sports. She loves to travel and keeps busy taking her kids to karate class, reading and writing whenever possible, and of course finding ways to live greener!

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