Grocery shopping can result in bringing many types of waste into our home, but there ARE easy ways to do your weekly shop for less waste. Most Australians do a regular shop at the supermarket each week, and doing ALL our shopping at zero waste or bulk stores can be inconvenient and at times, very hard to do.
This week's war on waste challenge will help you navigate the supermarket, explore your options and reduce waste at the point of purchase, rather than dealing with it later at home.
Many of these tips will help you to reduce your landfill contributions as well as your recycling. If we can avoid it in the first place it means less time spent trying to figure out how to deal with unwanted packaging.
The Challenge is:
>Read through the tips,
>Decide on ONE action that appeals to you the most and will help you bring home less waste from the supermarket
>Set a reminder to make sure you do it at your next shop
(you can do this by writing a note where you usually write your shopping list or adding a reminder on your mobile phone)
Subscribe at the end of this post to access a free printable for a hanging door reminder (plus other useful stuff)
This has been so useful for me and I have one on the back door, one on the key hook (in case I walk to the shop) and one for the rearview mirror.
You can see I added chopsticks and bio doggy bags, you can add your own essentials.
Unfortunately, it’s pretty hard to be totally sustainable in a modern world, and we need to shop for groceries on a regular basis. This can bring loads of extra rubbish into the house simply through packaging. Today, we're going to go through some ideas on how you can start to make an impact on a weekly basis.
Bring Your Own Shopping Bags
At a basic level of waste avoidance, always BYO shopping bags.
We may intend to do this, but how often are you forgetting to pack them in your boot or carry some in your handbag?
If you aren’t already bringing your own bags, or regularly forget to bring them, then make this your first step. Hang them on your door, store them permanently in your boot, or even attach a note to your keys. There is even an app that can you help you remember - it's called Green Elephant and for 99 cents, it promises you'll never forget them again.
Reusable bags sold in supermarkets are not exactly as ecofriendly as we are led to believe. Did you know that green shopping bags needs to be used every week for a few years before they are truly green?
This is due to the impact of producing them and the materials. they are made of. In my experience, they have a limited life, and you might already have discovered that after time they begin to fall apart and develop holes and other wear and tear. If you're in Australia, it's handy to know that redcycle DO accept these in their recycle program so they won't have to end up in landfill.
Find a reliable way to always remember your reusable shopping bags rather than purchasing more at the checkout where you have little choice. It is easy to end up with an abundance of shopping bags but still not have one in your hand at the checkout.
If you have way too many green bags, go through your stash and separate any damaged ones for recycling, and create a "keep" and "donate" pile.
When you need to purchase new bags, consider buying cotton or natural fibre based materials, or try your hand at making a no sew bag from a favourite old t-shirt.
You may even be able to reuse a cardboard box from the store to pack your shopping, and sometimes I just load it all back into the trolley and then into the boot without any bags at all. (It really helps if you have baskets or boxes in your car).
Bring Your Own Reusable Produce Bags
Those tiny plastic produce bags might be convenient, but they are just another form of single-use plastic clogging up our bins, life and oceans.
I'm not a very judgemental person, BUT I have definitely caught myself judging people that get a produce bag for just one apple or one carrot, and find myself counting how many unnecessary bags were used for items already wrapped in plastic.
Again, natural materials, like this set of natural cotton produce bags, are best when selecting reusables, and avoid plastic based varieties if you can.
If you have a sewing machine, you could try making your own or even use a pillowcase instead. Large items really don't require a bag, however grapes, and items that tend to roll around or escape the trolley are best put in something.
If you already have a collection of these plastic bags at home, then continue to reuse them for shopping until they wear out. Biobags supplied with our compost caddy are useful too and completely compostable.
Waste Free Fresh Produce
For some reason, the big supermarkets do seem to have a lot more fresh produce packaged in plastic bags, cling wrap, or even worse, on foam trays.
One way to get around this is to look around for other grocery stores that have less packaging. If you have the time, a monthly or fortnightly trip to a local market can really help to avoid the overall waste.
Choose loose fruit and vegetables as much as you can, like apples, oranges, carrots and potatoes, which almost always have a packaged and unpackaged option.
Items like cauliflower, pumpkin, celery and watermelon are often found cut in half and glad wrapped. A bit of meal planning, or sharing with friends and family might help you buy a whole item instead and avoid food wastage and plastics. Herbs and salad can be challenging, but not impossible.
If you are accumulating a lot of waste just from fresh produce, then this is a great area to focus on.
Don't forget, you can ask shop assistants for nude produce they hide at the back of the store.
Recently I contacted my local supermarket to say how much I loved shopping there but how disappointed I was at the plastic wrapped celery. They responded saying they would make some changes, which I'm really looking forward to seeing! If you're not happy with what you see, tell them! - The more people that ask for reduced packaging, the easier it will become.
Refill a Staple at a Bulk Shop
Please don't skip this bit because you don't live near a great bulk store.
There are still options!
Items like honey, peanut butter, flours, grains, legumes, pasta, herbs, oils, nuts, chocolates and so much more can be found either at supermarket bulk food areas (if you're lucky), health food shops, markets or specialty shops.
You might live near a chocolate shop, a tea or coffee store, a nut place or some other item that is straight from the maker and package free. If available, choose paper bags instead of plastic, or even better, bring your own container.
Go as slow as you need to with your swaps and start with one thing that is easy to find and is part of your regular diet.
Scan The Top and Bottom Shelves in the Supermarket
Products with great marketing are placed at eye level to help you see them first and of course to encourage you to buy them.
There is a lot of psychology behind product placement, store layout, and even your checkout experience, so go with a plan and stick to it. If you check the top, bottom and awkward hard to reach shelves you're likely to find more eco-friendly packaging like cardboard and paper, sometimes lower prices and still good quality items.
Pasta, flour, chocolate, rolled oats, salt and loads of other stuff can be purchased in boxes rather than plastic bags.
Choose the best option in terms of packaging and what you can easily recycle at home.
Skip the Multipacks, Deals and Freebies
Do you need 20 tiny bags of chips or biscuits?
You pay a premium for the company to bag them like this and end up buying a lot of plastic and air.
It is far better to buy a large pack and divide it up into reusable containers or snack bags and it really doesn't take a lot of time. One reason I hate shopping at Coles is that we seem to always end up with a multipack of something chosen by my daughter. We do indulge in plastic covered junk from time to time but at Coles, I feel it is in my face everywhere and extremely hard to avoid.
Two for one and other special deals, aren't always as great as they seem, and freebies often come with extra trash - or ARE trash. Cole's minis anyone?
Choose to Reuse
If you can't refuse the packaging, which let's face it, is pretty hard to do in the supermarket, then pick something you will reuse.
Glass storage jars, reusable tins and containers can be pretty handy for food storage, seed collecting, bulk shopping and even gifts or fun DIYs.
If you don't have a use for jars, I promise you that someone else does! Check if there is a local co-op, container swap group on facebook, a grow free cart, Opshop, community group or school that has practical uses for clean jars.
Make the Most of the Supermarket Delicatessan
Nearly every supermarket has a deli counter and many will accept BYO containers.
The paper used to wrap deli meats is non-recyclable as it is coated in plastic, but I still feel this is a better option than some packaging, especially foam trays.
More and more places are accepting customer containers, however there can be a hygiene issue, so just be aware each store will have their own policy or may simply refuse to do this. It can also vary depending on the staff working that day, AND if they know how to properly tare off the container.
I am having a lot of trouble finding a local butcher who is happy for me to bring my own containers, so I try to purchase at least some meats from the deli along with cheeses and cured meats.
SOFT PLASTIC PACKAGING
If you have read a few of my posts, you probably know I absolutely HATE collecting, storing and dropping off my soft plastics for recycling. The deposit bin is usually hidden, full or missing, plus I am forced to visit a location I wouldn't normally chose to go or shop. I'm not alone with this AND there are lots of people who don't even have access to soft plastics recycle bins anywhere near where they live.
I'm essentially pretty lazy, so when I shop I think pretty hard about how much hassle that packaging is going to cause me. If there is a way to avoid soft plastic, I'll take it!
This is a tough one if you choose it for your challenge, as it covers almost every product in the supermarket and can easily become overwhelming. There's nothing wrong with choosing one product or type of product to attack first, and I'd highly recommend doing just that.
Bathroom and cleaning aisles are absolutely full of chemical concoctions and hard to recycle packaging. It's not the typical thing we think of when we refer to groceries, but it does make up a huge dollar proportion of many people's shopping bill.
At our place, we have got to a stage where we rarely head down these aisles, yet they used to be essential for us.
I'll be sharing some DIY Green cleaning recipes that will not only help you have a healthier home, but will reduce your supermarket acquired trash.
Any bathroom products you may have replaced or substituted in the previous challenge post on bathroom waste will hopefully already be having an impact on your weekly or monthly shop towards low waste. If you had another bathroom or laundry product in mind, then go for it!
A Brief Word on Frozen Foods
Ahh, convenience in a box...or bag, tray, bowl, foil...or more.
There is such a variety of frozen food packaging AND the irritating thing is, until we open it, it can be a bit of a mystery. It brings us back to the plastic multi pack problem, as well as what can easily be recycled in your home.
Most frozen food can be bought fresh or made at home and will seriously taste a thousand times better.
You can freeze some of your own fruit and vegetables as well as convenience foods like soup, pasta and so much more. If frozen food packaging is filling your bins, then making a swap will help cut your trash and your taste buds will thank you.
If it's too hard to make it, then really look closely and see if you can't make a brand swap for less packaging.
It's easy to get caught out with sneaky packaging that you can't see until you get home and open it, and this certainly isn't limited to frozen foods.
For example, I bought a selection of cheeses in a cardboard box with some plastic wrap. BUT when I opened it, there was a hidden polystyrene tray inside which is a material I make it my business to avoid even more than plastic.
I really hate this, but when it happens, I make a mental note to avoid that particular product again, and sometimes the entire brand.
I also bought about ten jars of cinnamon that was on sale and when I got home, discovered the lids don't come off and there is absolutely no way to reuse them. (this is pretty common with those salt and pepper grinders too and they claim it is a food safety reason which I think is ridiculous).
Oh and I found out the corn chips in paper packaging are plastic lined, the soap bars are individually wrapped in plastic inside the cardboard....the list goes on. I bet you have a few stories yourself on misleading packets and assumptions.
Make a note of the ones to avoid and compare notes with your friends if you can.
At the end of your weekly shop, the inevitable question is Would you like your receipt?
Ask what happens if you say no. Does it go in the bin? Or do they not even print it?
Some stores I've been to, offer an electronic receipt (although they aren't grocery stores, wouldn't this be great?)
If you can say no to the receipt, AND they don't print it, that is fabulous and you're immediately preventing some useless landfill as the paper they are printed on is not recyclable.
Grocery Shopping Online For Less Waste
When my daughter was born I relied heavily on a weekly supermarket delivery or click and collect for our groceries.
I hated the amount of bags we got, but we needed to eat and I needed to try and stay sane.
So, if you do rely on delivered supplies, for whatever reason, some stores have begun to work on reducing plastic bags, so always ask what their policy is and see if they can work with you for a solution that results in less waste. (this challenge is not about making life difficult or inconvenient, so don't force yourself to make changes that are just not going to work for your lifestyle)
We live within walking distance from a supermarket, butcher, baker and health food store and in my perfect imaginary world, I'd like to do more shopping on foot. The amount we need and time constraints makes this a little difficult, including dragging a kid, a scooter and a dog. Part of me is very tempted to just bring the wheelbarrow but I have a feeling it won't fit through all the doors.
At the moment I'm trialling a toilet paper delivery from Who Gives a Crap which comes in recyclable (and super cute) packaging and a seasonal fruit and veg box. This will give us some staple items and then I can do a weekend bakery visit, a mid week butcher trip and a brief supermarket shop for the remainder.
For beauty, toiletries and zero waste or plastic free essentials, my two favourite online stores are Biome Ecostore and Flora & Fauna .
Recently I ordered 4kgs of my favourite grey water safe dishwashing powder which was delivered for free and will last us about 2-3 years of daily use.
If you're really strapped for time, think about getting a fresh produce box delivered weekly or fortnightly. Many services offer local, seasonal produce packaged in a cardboard box.
Best of luck with your next grocery shop, and have fun warring against waste!
What do you find the most challenging when buying groceries? AND more importantly, which area in the list do you plan to tackle first?
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