Happy New Year Everyone! I hope celebrations were fun, safe and happy.
Since it is the time of year when resolutions are a thing, James and I have decided to challenge ourselves to Zero Waste Grocery Shopping. What does that mean? That means that when we shop for food, everything we buy either has no packaging or recyclable packaging, nothing goes in the trash.
According to Mother Earth Living, food packaging makes up 40 percent of all plastic produced. And that does not include plastic bags. Considering those bags, however, in the United States, 100 billion plastic bags are used per year and only 1 percent are properly recycled. Those bags are made from 12 million barrels of oil.
James and I are already pretty good at the grocery store. We bring our own shopping bags, we buy a lot of food in bulk, and a couple months ago we bought a set of mesh produce bags that are really great. We also make an effort to bring our own containers for the bulk aisle and not use plastic bags. It’s working out pretty well but we are not at zero waste.
In deciding to commit to zero waste, it means we might not be able to buy some items we rely on, we might need to find a different brand, do without, or make our own from scratch. James has decided that if we find we can’t buy certain products, he is going to write to the company and tell them about it.
Our first foray to the grocery store will be later this week. I don’t expect we will manage zero waste our first time out. It is going to be a process, but we are committed to figuring it out and making it work.
Will you join us in our Zero Waste Grocery Shopping Challenge?
If the challenge of Zero Waste Grocery Shopping seems overwhelming, here are some strategies to help you get started:
- Bring your own bags. Probably everyone knows this one already and brings at least a few bags to carry groceries home in. But consider expanding bring-your-own-bag to include produce and bulk items.
- Say no the the receipt. How often do you actually look at your grocery receipt afterwards? And if it has coupons on the back of it, how often do you really use any of them? Most receipts are printed on thermal paper that has BPA in it so saying no to a receipt will make less waste and save you from BPA exposure. Of course, you need to say no BEFORE the cashier prints the receipt. In 2018 the food co-op where we shop began asking if we want the receipt and not just printing it off automatically. We say no, and haven’t regretted it once.
- Choose for the long term. There will be items like pasta sauce or salad dressing that you can’t buy in bulk. Choose larger containers, preferably glass, which will use less packaging overall because you will be buying fewer smaller jars. Even better, consider making your own sauces and dressings. Be sure you recycle the container when it is empty or wash it out and reuse it for bulk aisle purchases.
- Pay attention to the little things. Plastic berry containers, bags of lettuce, plastic mesh potato and onion bags, twist ties, rubber bands. Buy your produce loose and use a mesh produce bag to contain them. If your grocery store does not sell produce loose, talk to the produce manager and ask them to. If they say no way, consider joining a CSA for your produce or shop at the farmer’s market. As for the twist ties and rubber bands, if you really can’t escape them, reuse them.
- Buy in bulk as much as you can. Bring your own jars and bags. Bulk items like beans and lentils are so much cheaper than buying cans. Also, if there is something you buy and use a lot of, check and see if you can get a unit discount. For instance, James and I make our own soymilk, bread, and peanut butter and eat a lot of oatmeal. Soybeans, flour, peanuts and oats arrive at our food co-op in huge 30 – 50 pound paper bags. We get a 10% discount for buying the entire bag. Saves money and packaging and the paper bags are 100% recyclable and also work well as weed barriers in the garden.
Zero Waste Grocery shopping is a huge challenge, I am well aware. I’ve been working on it for a long time and I shop at places that encourage it and don’t think I am weird for asking whether the bulk stickers they have for writing down tare and PLU numbers are recyclable. I sometimes buy something swathed in plastic because it is more convenient and I want it and I can’t be bothered that day to consider an alternative or go without. It’s hard.
But we aren’t aiming for perfection here. We are all on a journey and even when we want to make changes it takes time. Maybe you don’t make it to Zero Waste in 2019 but reduce your grocery shopping waste by 50%. That’s huge! Start small and go from there. If you don’t already bring your own grocery bags every time you shop, begin with that. If that is second nature for you, then up your game to produce bags and bulk containers.
Once you commit to Zero Waste Grocery Shopping and start paying attention, you will find a natural progression toward waste reduction. Are you up for the challenge?
If you have any of your own tips and tricks for Zero Waste Grocery Shopping, please share!