When it comes to low waste living, no category of your life is as wasteful as groceries. Unlike other categories, groceries have to be bought every month in order for you to live, since food and drink are necessities in life. Changing your buying habits when it comes to food is perhaps one of the hardest behavioral changes a person can make, and rightfully so. The amount of mainstream foods and drinks packaged in plastic are numerous, while the ones packaged sustainably are few and far between. This causes many people to become discouraged all together from pursuing a lower waste lifestyle, because at times it seems as though there is no possible way to shop sustainably and ethically at the grocery store.
As I’ve said before, my favorite quote about living sustainably goes like this: We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly. So it is okay if you are unable to get everything in sustainable packaging, what matters is you trying to limit the plastic you bring into your home. With that being said, here are some of my tips and tricks to shop for groceries low waste.
Tip #1: Glass and Aluminum Packaging
Glass and aluminum are great alternatives to plastic packaging because they are two resources that can be recycled over and over indefinitely and still retain their same molecular structures. A lot of foods come in jars and cans if you know where to look for them. One thing that I will point out however, is that sometimes you need to double check if the jar you just picked up is indeed glass. For some reason, a lot of companies that used to package in glass jars have taken a step backwards and are now packaging them in thicker plastic jars. Snapple is one brand that comes to mind when I talk about this, and it’s important to check since there is nothing worse than believing that you purchased a glass product and finding out that it was actually plastic all along.
Tip #2: Shop numerous stores and chains
This tip may not be feasible for everyone considering your situation, but it you are able to look for products at multiple stores, then I implore that you do. Different stores carry different products, so you may be able to find a lower waste option at another store that you may not typically shop at. Something I have noticed is that typically lower budget grocery stores actually tend to have more glass and aluminum packaged goods than say a Walmart.
Tip #3: The Shake Test
The shake test is exactly what it sounds like and is reserved for cardboard packaged goods. Most things in cardboard packages have the actual food product also packaged in plastic inside, but there are some that do not. In order to find out, you can shake the box and try to listen for the crinkling of plastic inside the box. For some things, this is easier than others.
Tip #4: Try New Brands
Humans are creatures of habit, and when we find something that we like, we tend to stick with it. However, if your current brand is more wasteful than its competitor, then perhaps it is time to switch over to the other side?
Tip #5: Sometimes Less Wasteful is Better than Nothing
Like I said in the beginning, food is a necessity, and going without when it comes to groceries is not something that I really recommend. So if all else fails and you can’t find something that is perfectly zero waste, then it is perfectly okay for you to just buy the less wasteful product instead of nothing. Maybe one brand is packaged in plastic, but it can be recycled. Maybe the value size gives you more product for less plastic than the normal size. It is all up to what you are comfortable with and also what your budget allows.
Tip #6: Perfection is an Illusion
This is one thing that I am still struggling with myself. I love to be a perfectionist and have all my ducks in a row, but there are some battles on this journey that I cannot pull out a total victory on. Unless you have access to a zero waste or bulk grocery store with no packaging, then there is no real way that you can be the perfect zero waste shopper.
It’s really important to remember that you are a human, you are alive, and therefore, you are going to create waste in your life and that is okay. We aren’t trying to become robots, we are just trying to minimize our impact in a hyper consumerist society that buys first and asks questions later.