Think about the last time you went grocery shopping. Starting with the produce section, you probably ended up with several plastic bags that contained your potatoes, some fruit, the cauliflower you needed, and your onions.
Continuing to the meat and seafood area, you have more plastic and styrofoam. Even if you buy from the butcher or fishmonger, you have the waxed butcher paper that covers up the plastic bag the butcher or fishmonger puts the meat and seafood in.
By the time you leave the store, you likely have dozens of plastic bags containing your meats, vegetables, fruit, dried beans, cereals, pet products, and dairy items. It’s estimated that for the two to three trips consumers make to a store each week, it adds around 12 bags per trip to the waste stream. If your stores also use plastic shopping bags, that adds even more.
Do your part to reduce the amount of plastic waste. Here are the top products that help you reduce plastic waste when you’re grocery shopping.
#1 – Reusable Shopping Bags
Purchase reusable shopping bags. If possible, buy canvas shopping bags. Toss them into the washing machine after each shopping trip to ensure they’re sterilized. Insulated grocery bags can easily be sanitized with a disinfectant like bleach and water and wiped dry with a dishcloth.
If you haven’t heard of the heavy-duty Lotus Trolley Bag set, it’s worth a closer look. You get a bunch of mold and mildew-resistant, washable bags that hang inside the cart. As you shop, sort items using your preferred system of organization. You might want freezer items together and cleaners with bathroom items. Some of the bags are insulated for your frozen and refrigerated items. When you’re done shopping, lift the bags onto the belt where the cashier rings the things through and then hands it to the bagger to reload with those items.
Even better, skip the shopping bags and bring empty boxes. As you get an online order, save some boxes in your trunk area. When you do the grocery shopping, ask for all of the items to go back into your cart. You can put them in the boxes when you get back to your car. If you want, you can set the empty boxes into your cart and place groceries into them as you shop.
When you get to the register or go through self-checkout, place the items on the belt or ring them up from the box. Once the box is empty, things can go back into the box. Keep reusing these boxes for months and recycle them when they’re no longer sturdy.
#2 – Reusable Mesh Produce Bags
Instead of putting your produce into the plastic bags the store provides, purchase a set of reusable mesh produce bags. When you get to the store, place your produce in these bags. You can ask the cashier to remove the items at the register to get the exact weight.
Some bags come with labels that list their weight. When the produce is weighed in the bag, the cashier can account for the bag’s weight to ensure you’re not paying more than you should. With a set of these bags usually priced at less than $10, this is a wise investment to make.
When you’re done using the vegetables and fruits in the bag, they’re machine washable. Toss them into your laundry to have them clean and ready to use on your next shopping trip.
What if your grocery store wraps everything in plastic? Many stores do this in order to keep produce fresher during cross-country trips. Try shopping seasonally. Cabbage won’t be as readily available in the spring as it will in the fall. Try to buy what is locally grown at that time. If it’s local, it’s not going to be wrapped.
#3 – Bulk Containers
Check to see if there are bulk goods stores in your area. You may need to shop at a natural food store, or your grocery store may have a bulk section. This is the best way to shop for items like dried beans, grains, and spices.
Instead of getting a plastic bag, bring a refillable glass container with you. Some stores sell them to make it easier for you to get started. When you need something, bring the container and have the store weigh it. Fill it up and have the starting weight subtracted from the amount you purchased.
Not sure you want to carry glass jars? That’s okay. Grab some paper lunch bags. Fill those and transfer the items when you get home. You can reuse those paper lunch bags as much as you want. When they start to rip, compost them in the bin you use for flower gardens and trees.
#4 – Plastic Crates
While the ultimate goal is to reduce plastic use, you may find it helpful to get plastic milk crates and keep those in your trunk. They’ll last decades and can fit your groceries. Put them in the cart, fill them as you shop, and request that the groceries be put back into the crates when you’re at the cash register.
After a shopping trip, use soap and hot water to wash the plastic crate. Let it dry in the sun so that the UV rays destroy any remaining bacteria.
Other Tips That Help You Reduce Waste
Get to know some of the smaller businesses in your area. Instead of shopping for meat and seafood at the grocery store, visit local butchers and seafood shops. Ask them what they use for packaging. Ideally, you want a shop that uses butcher’s paper and skips a secondary plastic bag. Shop at farmers’ markets where plastic is less commonly used. If you shop at farmers’ markets, be sure to bring your own bags for produce and baked goods.
Buy in bulk when possible. As long as you know you’ll use it, bulk shopping is less expensive and saves on packaging. Instead of having several single-pound containers of ground turkey, you could get a larger five-pound package at a wholesale store and wrap it in freezer paper at home. You’ve avoided a lot of styrofoam or plastic trays and all the plastic film they’re covered in.
If you live in a participating area, look into Loop shopping. Loop is a program where you order your favorite groceries and household goods, and they’re delivered to your home in reusable packaging. When you’re out, place another order and the reusable packaging is picked up to be refilled. Loop is available with retailers like Kroger, Ulta, and Walgreens. If you don’t live near those stores, some of the items are available for online orders shipped to your address.
Be choosy when you’re selecting products. Is it worth saving 20 cents on a carton of milk if one that is slightly more expensive uses recycled plastic? It’s also better to avoid items that overuse plastics in their packaging. If you’re buying soap and find that it comes in a plastic bag, and then the bars are also wrapped in more plastic, it’s better to find a brand that’s more environmentally aware.
Finally, when you’re back home. Save clean, dry plastic bags for recycling. Your curbside hauler may not take them, but save them up and bring them to a plastics recycling bin. They’re often found at the entrance to grocery stores and retailers like Walmart. You can recycle cereal bags, plastic grocery bags, and more in these bins. Find these bins and other plastics recycling drop-off centers by visiting Recycle Nation and looking up your ZIP code.