Take Home Food, not Trash

Written by
Iryna Komazova
May 5, 2022

We buy food almost every day, as it is one of our basic needs. With the development of global retail, we have a bigger choice of products from all over the world with expanded shelf life in our supermarkets. But at the same time, the amount of waste generated has increased, as producers have to package food more to keep it fresh for longer. More than 60 per cent of municipal solid waste comprises packaging materials (from food and other items). 

At first glance it may seem you have little option, as plastic is everywhere you look. But by following our tips, you can easily produce less waste while doing your grocery shopping.

8 million tonnes of plastic are used for food and drink packaging in Europe annually

Buy What You Need

As you’re probably well aware by now, reducing the number of items we buy is our main aim when going zero waste. Here’s our advice on how you can apply this to your groceries:

  • Plan your shopping to avoid making impulsive purchases.
  • Don’t fall for promotions if you don’t really need what’s on offer.
  • Go shopping when you are not hungry. That way you won’t be misled by the yummy smells and treats around you!
  • Shop online and pick up your order. Supermarket staff gather your order, and you just come and take it home. In such a way, you save time walking along the shelves and protect yourself from buying unnecessary items in-store. Leave a comment when placing your order to explain that you don’t need excessive packaging and will bring your own tote bag to collect your goods.
Stick to the shopping list

No Packaging, Please

While most food is packaged, there are still opportunities to shop sustainably. You can buy fruit and vegetables, cereals, pasta, eggs, coffee, tea, spices, and even cheese, meat and ready-made food that produces no waste. In some countries it is easy to find these items packaging-free in supermarkets, though sometimes you’ll need to visit markets or zero waste shops. But once you’ve found them, how can you weigh and transport all these things back home? Use your own packaging:

  • Cloth bags. Cotton bags are perfect for bulk products and clean, dry fruits and vegetables. Bags that are made of waterproof cloth can be used for frozen products. Light coloured, transparent or mesh fabric will help cashiers to serve you faster (then they don’t need to open your bag to check what’s inside).
  • Plastic, metal or glass containers. Reuse containers that were previously food packaging, such as plastic tubs or glass jars with screw lids, or purchase new containers to buy cheese, meat, cakes and other ready-made food. You (or the shop’s employee) can tare the container on the scale before filling it. 
  • Silicone pouches. They are durable, lightweight and need less room in your shopping bag than containers. 
  • Even disposable bags that you already have can serve you several times over.
  • If you buy a few bananas or other large fruits/vegetables, you can put the sticker directly on them (weigh all fruit, then put a sticker on one of them and carry them loose).
Gather your own zero waste shopping kit

What to Do if You Can’t Avoid Packaging

At the farmers markets and small local shops, you have more chance of getting food without packaging than at chain stores. But sometimes we are limited in our grocery shopping options because of the modern pace of life. If you have no other option than buying packaged food, take advantage of one statement of wisdom: Waste is not waste until we waste it.

Here our old friend the waste hierarchy comes in again, you know what we’re talking about - reduce, reuse, recycle! As a first priority, buy food in packages that you can (and will) reuse further, such as jars and resealable containers. Next step, check what is recyclable in your area and choose food with packaging made from these materials. It could be metal, glass, paper, PET and HDPE bottles or other materials depending on your city. Find more recycling tips in our previous article.

One thing to bear in mind is that food can sometimes have a second, hidden layer of packaging. As a rule, you can find this indicated on the outer packaging (for example on tea, rice, biscuits, etc.). If there are no clues about hidden packaging, give it a shake or a squeeze – the rustling sound will hint if there’s a plastic bag inside. 

Coloured PET (like in the picture) is rarely recycled. Choose dairy products in clear PET or HDPE bottles instead

If the Packaging Cannot Be Recycled

We believe you can find anything without packaging or in eco-friendly packaging if you try hard enough. But the world isn’t ideal, and zero waste isn’t yet the norm. So, if the previous pieces of advice aren’t possible for you, you can try to at least buy big units. One large piece of packaging requires less material than several small ones. So one 1.5 l water bottle is better than six 250 ml bottles, one 2 kg bag of flour is better than two 1 kg bags, and so on. 

Apply this tip for products that can be stored for a long time and be careful to store them in the right environment. Because if the food spoils, your good intentions will have all gone to waste! 

One 1.5 l bottle requires less plastic than six 250 ml bottles 

General Tips for Sustainable Shopping 

To finish, here are some general tips to avoid excessive waste when going food shopping:

  • Buy local food. Food produced in your city or nearby needs less packaging and transportation in comparison to imported products, for example.
  • Support sustainable companies. By buying food from a producer with a strong environmental position you invest in its further development, helping them gain new markets, launch new product lines, etc.
  • Buy seasonal food. It doesn’t need so much energy and packaging to preserve its freshness.
  • Always take your shopping kit with you. Put several kits in different places so there’s always one at hand: by the door, in a backpack, in the car, etc.
Zero waste shopping is easy if you try

We’d be thrilled to know which of these tips you have already tried out. Share your sustainable shopping experience on social media and don’t forget to tag us!

Images credit - www.freepik.com.

Get the ultimate guide to sustainable grocery shopping! Learn how and where you can buy food that produces less waste.
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