Four Ways to Buy Sustainable, Plastic-Free Groceries

Four Ways to Buy Sustainable, Plastic-Free Groceries

Trying to live a more eco-friendly life? Consider this:

The United Nations recognizes Plastic pollution a “planetary crisis,” and yet food corporations continue to use single-use plastic packaging almost exclusively.

Plastic food packaging clogs up landfills and waterways. In fact, food packaging contributes almost half of all solid municipal waste worldwide and makes up an even greater percent domestically. So short of running away to a compound in the woods and growing all of our own food off the grid, how can ethical consumers reduce single-use plastics? Actually, a few basic changes can make a significant impact.

With the following four simple shopping tips, anyone can make a difference by reducing their plastic consumption.

1. Come Prepared

 Buying food with minimal plastic use requires more packaging options than just your standard reusable grocery bags. Make sure to also bring options such as lightweight produce bags for fruit and veggies, wax wraps for meat and deli, reusable mesh bulk bags for dry goods. Some sturdy home food-storage options, like silicone, aren’t ideal for grocery shopping as items are often priced by weight, but plenty of sustainable packaging options are still out there. For example, recyclable paper bags make a great packaging alternative for bulk items like grains, nuts, and pasta. In addition, stylish cotton mesh produce bags can easily replace the plastic produce bags available in stores as they are durable, reusable, and washable. Wax wraps can be useful for cheeses, cold cuts, fish, and meat, and any of the above options can work well for baked goods.  

2. Find Eco-Friendly Retailers

Some markets make shopping green easier than others. For example, we’ve talked about the benefits of patronizing farmer’s markets before, but it bears repeating here. Due to the direct line between grower and consumer, farmer’s markets often allow for more flexibility in packaging than a corporate-owned supermarket. Bring your own reusable bags, just like you would at any typical grocery store, and enjoy all the farm-fresh and artisan products your community has to offer! If farmer’s markets alone don’t provide all your needs, be sure to look for stores with a wide selection of bulk goods and that offer services like butchery on site as they will likely be able to accommodate special packaging requests. Alternatively, you might find a zero-waste grocery store near you or online that provides minimal, recyclable, or reusable packaging as a rule.

3. Ask Your local Grocer

Store employees can be a great resource while adjusting the way you shop. Try asking the bakers, butchers, cheesemongers, and so on at your local grocery store about plastic-free alternatives like cheesecloth, wax paper, or brown paper bags rather than defaulting to plastic. Even stores that can’t (or won’t) purchase such alternatives, often will work with the packaging you provide, if asked. What’s more, plastic-free packaging could become the standard at your favorite supermarket, if enough customers request the change, resulting in an even larger environmental impact. Just one more reason for conscious consumers to connect with decision makers about sustainable packaging.


4. Shop the Perimeter

You may have heard this advice about healthy eating, but it works for reducing plastic use too. Most grocery stores organize their wares with whole and bulk items against the walls, surrounding areas isles of processed packaged goods - where you’ll find most of the plastic packaging. Shopping the periphery usually means buying produce, meat, deli, dairy, and bakery items, which (as explained above) can generally be wrapped in your preferred packaging upon request.

Bonus: buying from behind the counter generally provides fresher, and less expensive, food than the pre-packaged options out on display.

Protecting the earth doesn’t have to be complicated drudge-work. By taking fairly basic steps like these, all of us can reduce plastic consumption, become conscious consumers, and make a difference while buying the fresh, delicious foods we need for a happier, healthier, more eco-friendly lifestyle.