Packaging from food is a huge contributor to a household’s waste – but it doesn’t have to be this way. Many items bought at the grocery store come in some form of packaging that is only used once before it ends up in the garbage can. With many households going to the grocery store once, or multiple times a week, it’s important to reduce the amount of waste produced. Looking at the garbage produced by what you bring home and finding ways to reduce the amount is the easiest way to make a lasting impact.
With that being said, here is my guide for a zero-waste trip to the grocery store:
1) Plan your trip to the store ahead of time. When you write out a list of the things you need from the grocery store, it allows you to bring the containers and bags you will need to purchase them and reduces the likelihood of impulse buys.
2) Use reusable jars. Many grocery stores have bulk sections and only offer plastic bags, bringing your own container will eliminate the need for the plastic bag! Check ahead of time if your store of choice allows you to bring your own container. Canadians have Bulk Barn, a bulk foods store with a reusable containers program you can read more about here.
3) Use cloth or canvas bags. Plastic bags offered at grocery stores are flimsy and designed for the one-time use of transporting your items to your house. Heavy-duty cloth and canvas bags are washable and will last much longer than any plastic bag from the grocery store.
4) Buy bread fresh from the bakery. You can bring your own solid cloth bag to contain the bread and avoid the plastic bag and bread tag normally found in the bread section. Many grocery stores have various sandwich buns and bagels (charged per item) free of packaging out on display – as long as the cashier can confirm the item in the cloth bag you can purchase them this way.
5) Use cloth bags for produce and various dry bulk items. By bringing your own reusable and washable bags to the store, you are discouraging the use of single-use packaging and are avoiding the use of plastic.
6) Refuse items based on packaging. This may be tough, however, the plastic bags, styrofoam trays, and plastic wrap will bring a lot of unnecessary garbage into your house which can be avoided. Purchasing choices send a message to manufacturers which can change their packaging.
7) Avoid the small items you don’t need. This includes: bread and milk tags, twist ties, and receipts. The small things add up and if they are avoidable – why get one each trip?
8) Shop at stores that support and accommodate zero waste initiatives. This can include local stores, butchers, and bulk stores that allow customers to bring their own containers or offer products with recylcable or compostable packaging. Look up stores and farmers markets near you and see what zero-waste alternative they accommodate and can offer to you ahead of time to plan your trip.
9) Keep reusable bags in your car. Everyone makes unplanned trips to the grocery store for an item or ten, keeping a reusable bag in your car will avoid the use of plastic bags at the checkout counter.
Currently, mainstream grocery stores are not designed for such conscious shopping and it may take a long time before big sustainability changes are made. With some planning and effort, everyone can reduce the waste they take home.