Welcome to Part 1 of what I hope will be an informative series of posts to help you think about grocery shopping through an environmentally-friendly lens. Shopping is hard!! First you have to carve out the time to do it, then you have to hunt high and low in the store for everything you need, when all you want to do is get in and out as quickly as possible . . . and there are so many choices it can be overwhelming, so you just grab for the first thing you see.
I really had to force myself to stop and think about what I was buying and if it was eco-friendly or not… and when I took a step back to consider what I was purchasing, I was shocked at how irresponsible I was being. So I set a few goals for my shopping, which align with some generally accepted environmental best practices:
- Use less plastic whenever possible
- Buy products in packaging that I know to be recyclable in my area
- Buy in bulk instead of individually-wrapped containers
- Stick to my list and not buy food that will end up going to waste
And, when possible,
- Limit the amount of red meat we consume
Following these principles, here are some of the easiest swaps you can make while navigating the grocery store aisles.
If your grocery store still carries paper milk cartons instead of plastic jugs, I recommend you purchase those. It reduces plastic waste and, if you’re like my parents, you can fill up the paper cartons with compostable material and store it away from the rest of your trash. Another option is to switch to soy or almond milk, which more often comes in paper cartons (and is better for sensitive stomachs, too).
If you’re a K-cup user, buy a refillable single serving pod cup and then stock up on coffee grounds in steel cans. Steel is one of the most recyclable materials out there and you can refill your pod again and again without using a K-cup only once and dumping it in the trash. Most grocery stores have their own special blends sold in steel cans, so there’s a lot of variety out there. And you get a lot more bang for your buck, too.
Buy fresh loaves and buns right at the bakery counter and ask the staff to wrap them in a paper bag for you instead of plastic. I estimate that last year we threw away about 60 plastic bread bags, and that doesn’t include hot dog and hamburger bun bags. And they’re super hard to recycle, so it’s best to avoid them as much as possible. Plus, you can order exactly what you need at the bakery, instead of buying a full bag of buns that you may not use.
Side note on what to do with bread tabs: My mother-in-law has collected plastic bread tabs for years and donated them to an awesome organization called Wheelchair Foundation. Sponsors in South Africa sell the bread tabs to a recycling program and donate the funds to provide wheelchairs to disabled people. Check them out!
Fruit and Veggies
This seems obvious, but many supermarkets now sell fruit and vegetables in conveniently packaged, ready-to-eat trays. Pretty much all of them are hard-to-recycle plastic. And you may not be able to eat it all before it goes bad! Take the eco-friendly route and buy your produce unpackaged from the bins and misting shelves. Bring your own reusable mesh bags to pack the goodies, if you’re able, to avoid the single-use plastic produce bags provided by the store. And take only what you think you’ll eat that week. Yeah, it takes a little more effort to wash and cut the veggies by yourself, but you can snack as you go without ruining your diet. Bonus points if you can frequent local farm stands and support local growers… especially for seasonal treats like apples and corn on the cob!
This is one of the first things I gave up when our family started the journey toward reducing our plastic waste. Kids’ fruit snack cups are not eco-friendly in the least. I either buy fresh fruit or I get out-of-season fruit in aluminum or tin cans (cheap and much more recyclable). The contents of 8-ounce cans can be poured right into a reusable lunch container for the same effect as a prepackaged fruit cup.
Do you have your own eco-friendly grocery story swaps? If so, please share in the comments and I may feature you in the sequel to this post!