October Climate Challenge: Zero (or Near) Waste Grocery Shopping

After a long hiatus, we are back! At our last meeting we decided to expand our focus from legislation on Beacon Hill (still happening) to include monthly climate challenges. These challenges are things we can do in our daily lives to reduce our footprint and tread a bit more gently on the earth.

This month’s challenge: striving for zero waste grocery shopping.

As with anything in life, this challenge is about the journey – not about achieving perfection. It will take all of us doing as much as we can to reduce our footprint, rather than a few of us achieving zero waste nirvana.

With that in mind, the challenge is this:

Make your grocery shopping experience as close to ‘zero waste’ as you can.

Here are some ideas and resources to help you get started.

  1. In case you missed it, bring your own bags (although I’m sure most of you already do this). For me, the challenge isn’t about purchasing the bags, it is having them in my car when I go to the store!

    And, fun fact – it takes 3.8 liters of water to produce a paper grocery bag – so that option doesn’t make me feel better!

    Some tips to help you remember your bags:
    • After unpacking, PUT THE BAGS BACK! (I fall down on this one frequently, but seems to be the best option!)BAGS should be the first item on your grocery list. Invest in a couple of small, stashable bags that you keep in your purse, or attached to your keyring. (Bag Podz – https://www.thegrommet.com/products/bagpodz-reusable-bag-set-5-pack, for example). Put the bags under your keys after unloading. Then in the morning, return them to the car.
    • Set a reminder on your phone.
  2. Don’t use produce bags. I’m not sure when this became the ‘norm’, but I no longer reach for a plastic bag for my produce. I have a few cloth bags for produce or bulk items (my favorite: Earth Junky with tare on the tag – available on Amazon – I know, I know! Some other options are listed at the end of this post).

    I use them for green beans, brussels sprouts, mushrooms, etc. Even the ‘compostable’ bags do not degrade in a backyard compost pile – they really require industrial grade composting.
  3. Don’t buy produce wrapped in plastic. This is one that is really annoying – I want to buy cauliflower, but the store only has cauliflower wrapped in plastic – or worse, wrapped in plastic on a Styrofoam tray!

    I have stopped buying produce in plastic – no baby greens, baby carrots or baby spinach. Regular greens and spinach work fine. Or, we grow our own!

    Another solution is to buy produce from a Farmer’s Market, although the season is almost over. Some other options are listed at the end of the post.
  4. Take an inventory of other things you buy that come single-use packaging: cereal, rice, nuts, pasta, yogurt, cheese, soda, seltzer, cleaners, detergent, fabric softener…I was shocked when I realized how much waste I purchase everytime I go to the store. Just noticing the amount of plastic helped me reduce plastic consumption.

    Some ideas to replace the plastic packaging (start with one or two):
    • buy bulk rice, nuts, pasta (use a bulk bag for re-usable packaging)
    • consider making homemade cereal (granola, kasha) using bulk purchased items
    • buy yogurt in larger containers to reduce waste (or make your own)
    • make homemade bread
    • look for alternatives to detergent. We’ve started using Eco-Nuts – so far, so good. AND they act like a fabric softener too!
    • use bar soap, instead of liquid soap. There is bar hand soap, shampoo, and dishwashing (sink) soap. Get a few soap dishes, et voila!
    • Buy cheese, lunchmeat, meat that is not wrapped in plastic.
  5. If you have to purchase an item with packaging and it is not perishable, buy the largest size. A big bag of rice, for example, can be stored and will last for a long time. Having a single package to recycle is better than lots of small bags.

Want to take it to the next level?

Here are some tips to reduce your waste even more, without having a zero waste grocery store nearby: https://bit.ly/2nwZHCD

For even more awareness of how you can cut down your waste, check out this post about doing a waste audit: https://bit.ly/2mLn7E4

Additional Resources:

reusable produce bags

packagefreeshop.com – a great resource for product replacements/alternatives that minimize the impact on the environment. Products range from home/living to beauty/health.

Eartheasy.com – a store dedicated to selling sustainable products with low impact packaging. They plant a tree for every order. Products range from home/health to gardening and outdoor living.

Trashisfortossers.com – a blog dedicated to reducing your carbon footprint. Lots of good information on a wide range of topics.

Goingzerowaste.com – a blog dedicated to helping folks start eliminating waste from their lifestyles.

Tendercrop Farm – 108 High Road, Newbury. Produce and locally produced meat, breads, cheeses. Most produce is not sold in plastic.

The Natural Grocer – 334 High Street, Newburyport. 100% organic produce sourced from local farms. Bulk grains, nuts, seeds, dried fruits.

The Organic Rainbow – 267 Rantoul Street, Beverly. Locally produced products – meat, cheese, milk. Bulk items available to order.

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