By: Kait Spielmaker
Part 3: Navigating The Grocery Store
Food packaging is one of the toughest obstacles to overcome when going zero waste. As much as I would love to be my own Martha Stewart, our kitchen is smaller than your average cubicle. I also work and go to school full-time, which poses a challenge for the part of me that wants to spend all day making my own bread and yogurt. So I have to rely on my local grocery options.
I’m fortunate to live in a big city with an abundance of grocery stores and farmers markets. Over the last few months, I have adopted many mason jars and reusable plastic containers to use in the bulk section at Sprouts or when I hit the Phoenix Public Market on Saturday mornings. They’ll even weigh them for you in advance and deduct that amount at checkout, so you only pay for the product, not your containers. Buying in bulk has become my new best friend. My coffee beans, grains, produce, nuts, cooking supplies like flour, and even honey now come to my apartment without the plastic packaging.
This is great progress, but I’m not perfect. I bought one of those plastic packs of lettuce yesterday. Even if you have found a way to get a product using a non-plastic substitute, sometimes convenience wins. These little setbacks are going to happen and it’s easy to feel frustrated. Try not to be too hard on yourself. Sometimes you will be too tired or too busy to take lettuce home and cut it up for lunch tomorrow. It’s ok. The goal is to swap as much plastic for reusables as possible, and every month I’m learning new life hacks and pro tips. It isn’t about being perfect. This journey is about making a conscious effort to be better for your future self and the future of those around you. If every person could commit to omitting even a small portion of their plastic consumption, it would have a monumental impact.
Tips For Greening Your Grocery Trip
Whether you reside in a big city or small town, you can cut down your plastic packaging at the grocery store.
- Buy in bulk when possible (coffee, flour, etc.) or the biggest containers available. This way you’re buying less frequently and creating less waste.
- DON’T PUT YOUR PRODUCE IN PLASTIC BAGS OR BUY PREPACKAGED PRODUCE. You can purchase six cotton produce bags on Amazon for $15 and they’re 100% reusable.
As a disclaimer, these ideas are not unique. There are tons of articles and blogs on zero waste and finding ways to live more efficiently. Everyone does it their own way; this is my way. I research for recipes and low-waste tips to fit into my routine. There are websites like Litterless that list all the zero-waste grocery stores by state.
Do your own research for things that are best suited for you. This rapidly growing waste problem can only be solved when people come together, learn from one another, and ultimately grow into a new lifestyle together.
Let Your Voice Be Heard
If you have a grocery store that you love (for me it’s Trader Joe’s) that’s not being responsible, tell them. I used to shop primarily at Trader Joe’s because their selection is, in my opinion, unmatched. But when I decided to make the switch to minimal waste, Trader Joe’s became basically impossible because of their packaging. I wrote to them and told them I was disappointed in their packaging and indifference toward their impact. Within two months, they released a statement saying they were phasing out all their plastic packaging over the next year and committing to a more conscious way of doing business. I know that my strongly worded email wasn’t what made them change, but I like to think it helped.
Essentials For Going Waste-Free (Or Close To It) At The Grocery Store
- Reusable grocery bags
- Produce bags
- Reusable plastic or glass containers for grains, coffee, nuts, flour, granola, etc.
Find previous articles in this series by following the links below:
Kait is a Michigan native who relocated to Phoenix and is the administrative coordinator at Green Living Magazine. She is an avid hiker and is working on her master’s degree in Sustainable Tourism at Arizona State University.
Photo by Kait Spielmaker