Go Green

Waste Less at the Grocery Store

By Paige Charland, Co-op Marketing Specialist

Brought to you by the August 2016 edition of the Natural Buzz monthly newsletter.

With the green movement becoming more and more important, it is much easier to waste less at home. Many materials are recyclable, meal prepping is increasingly popular, and alternatives to typical energy consumption are slowly getting cheaper. But have you ever thought about your carbon footprint away from home? What kind of waste are you creating when you’re out running errands? Just shopping at a grocery store can produce an excess of waste; plastic or paper bags are used to hold your groceries, you use plastic bags to protect your produce, and many of the products you purchase have excessive packaging (example: toothpaste is already in a container, why does it need a cardboard box?). Fortunately, there is also a multitude of ways to reduce your waste at the grocery store, and this list can help you get started.

Reusable grocery bags. Reusable grocery bags can be found just about anywhere – you’re local store sells them, you can purchase them online, or you can repurpose old T-shirts into bags. They are a great way to save on wasting materials. Instead of six or seven plastic or paper bags that eventually get thrown out and end up in a landfill, you use about four or five bags that can be reused every shopping trip. They’re bigger, have sturdier handles, and most are machine-washable. The Co-op sells a variety of reusable shopping bags, many of which can be found right at the checkout.

Reusable bulk containers. The Co-op is very well known for its bulk section – we have a variety of nuts, rice, grains, beans, flours, herbs, spices, teas, and more available to choose from. Buying bulk in and of itself reduces waste because you can purchase much larger quantities in a single container, or buy only a small amount of what you need without worrying that leftovers will go to waste. Many people use plastic produce bags or plastic containers to gather their bulk items, but did you know you can bring in your own containers from home? You can reuse any container you like (granted that you properly washed it before hand). All you have to do is get your container weighed at the check-out before you fill it up to make sure we don’t charge you for the weight of the container. I personally will often save glass peanut butter jars or pickle jars and use them to purchase oats, rice, and coffee. You can definitely reuse plastic containers to fill up at the bulk station, but make sure whatever you’re using is BPA-free and safe for reuse. If you’re concerned about whether or not your plastic is safe for reuse, trying using glass instead. It’s sturdier and easier to clean.

Using Tupperware containers from home for Hot bar/Salad bar. The Hot Bar and Salad Bar at the Co-op are popular destinations, and many other grocery stores have their own version. The Co-op provides recyclable containers for your use and also biodegradable clamshell containers as a less harmful option. But just like the bulk section of the Co-op, you are free to bring in containers from home! Grab some Tupperware or pyrex, get it weighed at the checkout, and feel free to fill it up with delicious foods from our bars. Again, I would recommend using glass or a plastic you know is safe for reuse. By just reusing grocery bags and bringing in your own containers for bulk and the Hot Bar, you’re already going home with barely any trash!

Reusable produce bags. Produce bags are another source of excess waste. The produce itself is washed daily, but many are concerned about germs they may pick up at the registers, especially if they plan on eating the skin of the fruit or veggie. Fortunately, reusable produce bags now exist, and there are many different types for your choosing. You can try mesh, canvas, cloth, and more! And just like your larger grocery bags, they are very easy to wash. If you use a produce bag with a thicker material, consider also getting it weighed at the checkout to make sure you aren’t charged for the weight of the bag.

Buying products with less packaging. As I mentioned before, there are a lot of products out there that use excessive packaging. Certain brands are often more guilty than others, so try purchasing brands that make an effort to reduce their packaging. Buy toothpastes supplied without a box, bread without the internal plastic slip, whole fruits and veggies instead of prepackaged ones, full jugs of water instead of plastic wrapped six packs, etc. The list is quite long. Many products make use of outer cardboard casing when it’s really not needed, such as cereal, supplements, and even canned goods. Sometimes avoiding purchasing these products isn’t enough, or can be tricky if there are no alternatives. Try writing a letter to the company to let them know you noticed they used excessive packaging. If enough of us speak up, maybe the company will consider reducing their waste.

These are just a few ways to reduce your waste the next time you grocery shop. There are numerous other ways to cut down on waste, such as bringing our own coffee travel mug, buying fresh instead of frozen, choosing reusable materials over single use (try cloth napkins!), and more. Implementing just a couple of these options in your life will make a huge difference in the grand scheme of waste and help to reduce our carbon footprint as a whole.