How can you avoid plastic waste at the grocery store? It sounds like an impossible feat. After all, from the containers that hold our blueberries, to pretty much the entire frozen food aisle, to single-use checkout bags—the supermarket is positively brimming with plastic.
Of course for anyone trying to reduce their plastic waste this can be incredibly frustrating. I mean what’s a girl gotta do to get some plastic-free blueberries? The answer is find a farmer’s market or drive out to the farm and pick them herself, which unfortunately isn’t accessible for most people.
Now before I dive into some low-waste shopping tips, I want to remind you that you don’t need to feel guilty for buying groceries packaged in plastic. Reducing plastic waste is just one small piece of reducing emissions, and as consumers we have little control over how necessities, like our food, are packaged. Even if you can’t take any of the below actions, I encourage you to contact your local government representatives and grocery stores expressing your concern about single-use plastics and request that they develop a solution.
And without further adieu, here are some tips for reducing your plastic-waste at the supermarket!
How to Avoid Plastic at the Grocery Store
1. Bring your own reusable bags instead of using plastic
Plastic bags can’t be recycled in most municipal recycling programs. They have to be taken to special pick up points, often found in Targets or other supermarkets. But ultimately, only about one percent of plastic bags are recycled. This means the rest of the approximately 5 trillion plastic bags that are used globally each year, end up in the ocean or landfill.
An incredibly easy way to reduce this number is to bring your own reusable bags. If you have trouble remembering to bring them, try keeping a few in your car or in your purse at all times.
2. Stop using plastic produce bags
Just like plastic grocery bags, the plastic film you use to hold carrots or potatoes can’t be recycled in most curbside bins. Avoid using it altogether by bringing your own mesh bags, or simply not bagging them at all. You’ll likely wash them when you get home anyways, so it’s not a huge deal if they’re sitting in your cart “naked.”
3. Buy loose produce when possible
Instead of gravitating towards pre-packaged produce, consider buying the same produce in loose form.
For example, could you pick out five individual apples instead of buying a bag? Could you buy a bunch of spinach instead of a box? Of course, sometimes the packaged version makes more sense. Say you need watermelon, but you’re just feeding yourself. You could get the full unpackaged watermelon, or you could get a small container of pre-cut watermelon.
The former you likely won’t finish and will end up throwing away, the latter you’ll likely finish, but of course it comes with plastic. One way you produce food waste, the other you produce plastic waste. I personally prioritize reducing food waste over plastic waste, so I’d go for the pre-cut. If you prioritize reducing plastic waste you may do the opposite. Neither choice is wrong as long as you’re being intentional about your purchase.
4. Look for reusable or cardboard snack containers
If you examine the snack aisle closely you’ll see that a variety of snacks come in two forms—bagged or boxed. For example, M&Ms. You can get them in a rectangle pouch, or a rectangle box. The box is recyclable, the pouch isn’t. Another example, nuts. You can often find them in bags, boxes, or tins. Again, the bags aren’t recyclable, but the boxes may be, and the tin you can likely reuse for other things.
5. Buy popcorn kernels in bulk
Pre-packaged popcorn is incredibly convenient, so I forgive you if you find this to be a tough swap to make, however making your own popcorn can prevent quite a bit of packaging waste. Just picture your standard box of Orville Redenbacher’s. There’s the box, then inside there are individual bags, which are non-recyclable, and then those bags are wrapped in a plastic film that is also, you guessed it, non-recyclable. With kernels you just get one layer of packaging.
Plus you can adjust your popcorn portions depending on how many you’re feeding (or how hungry you are). This also helps prevent food waste, which is another win for the environment.
6. Opt for canned beverages instead of bottled
Aluminum is infinitely recyclable whereas plastic can only be recycled about one to two times before it’s no longer usable. Something to keep in mind when walking down the soft drink aisle.
7. Look for eggs packaged in compostable materials
Instead of plastic or styrofoam egg containers, look for molded fiber. It is typically grey-ish in color, and has a paper or cardboard-like texture. This material is recyclable and compostable, making it a much more sustainable alternative to its plastic-based competitors.
8. If you need bottled water, try to buy in bulk instead of in individual bottles
Sometimes bottled water is necessary if you live in area that doesn’t have potable drinking water. If this is the case, opt for large gallons of water that can be poured into cups or reusable bottles. This at least uses less plastic than individual water bottles.
9. Buy bar soap wrapped in paper instead of bottled
When shopping for hand or body soap consider buying it in bar form. Look for bars packaged in paper, such as Dr. Bronner’s bar soap. This helps you avoid the plastic waste created by a soap bottle.
10. Buy boxed pasta instead of bagged
The plastic used to package bagged pasta is not recyclable. The boxes are though. Just make sure to remove the plastic window.
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