Don’t have a zero waste grocery or bulk store nearby? Regular grocery stores are more accessible to most, but have a lot of excessive packaging and wasteful products. But don’t worry, you can still shop in a more eco-friendly way. Here’s our 10 easy tips for eco-friendly grocery shopping for families at regular grocery stores!
As a family, we go grocery shopping every week and stock up on everything we need for the following week. Firstly, we create a meal plan (super easy with Platejoy!) and use Google’s shopping list to keep us organized. It also helps ensure we don’t buy all the extras we don’t need.
Sadly there’s not a bulk store or zero waste grocery store accessible to everyone. I’m hopeful for the future and hopeful existing grocery stores will shift towards more zero waste shopping opportunities.
But don’t get discouraged! There are plenty of ways to grocery shop in more eco-friendly ways even without a zero waste or bulk store. We’ve put together 10 tips for eco-friendly grocery shopping for families or anyone actually!
Tips for Eco-friendly Grocery Shopping for Families
#1 Bring Your Own Bags
Okay, first the obvious, no-brainer one. The best way to do eco-friendly grocery shopping is to bring your own bags and containers. You’ll reduce your plastic waste consumption by quite a lot. Plus some grocery stores will even pay you a few cents for utilizing your own reusable bags.
I know everyone says they forget theirs all the time, but just make it part of the routine of getting ready to leave for the grocery store. You’ll form a habit eventually. I store our reusable bags right by the garage door so they are visible and less easy to forget. Or better yet keep them in your car!
Produce bags and reusable silicone bags are also helpful as replacements for plastic bags. Reusing glass containers is great too, but sometimes gets complicated. Some grocery stores aren’t set up for taring containers and subtracting the weight. So, I choose containers that weigh hardly anything if I’m going to use them.
I personally love using our large collapsible grocery bins as it’s WAY easier to throw everything into one large bag than multiple smaller canvas bags. It gets heavy, but let’s be honest, we all try to make one trip anyways!
Bonus Tip – If you do forget, see if the store has paper bags to use. Or just keep the plastic bags until the next time you shop and put them in the plastic bag recycling dropoff at the store. Or you can even reuse them for produce bags!
#2 Choose Alternative Packaging over Plastic Packaging
According to National Geographic, an astounding 91% of plastic isn’t actually recycled. This is why we need to minimize the plastic packaging we buy at the grocery store because even if it’s “recyclable” that doesn’t mean it will be recycled.
Both glass and aluminum cans can be endlessly recycled if cleaned and disposed of properly. As a family, we try to opt for grocery products in these materials.
Sometimes it’ll cost a little more and sometimes it’ll cost a little less. It depends on the brand and what you’re swapping to. A lot of times I found it will all balance out actually. Saved money on not buying the veggies wrapped in plastic, but paid a little more for the honey in a glass jar instead of a plastic bottle.
#3 Buy Larger Over Smaller, If Possible
So maybe the grocery item you need only comes in plastic. Well if you can, buy the largest size possible. One large jug is going to be less plastic waste than 3 smaller plastic jugs. It also usually saves you money in the long run!
Now this obviously only applies for items that won’t go bad before you use it all up! Check expiration dates and think about whether you’ll be able to use it all up before then.
Then make sure to clean it out and recycle the plastic properly. Or find a new way to reuse that plastic container!
#4 Buy Bulk Produce
Those bags of cutie oranges are tempting as it’s an easy grab and go, but opt for the loose oranges, so you don’t buy the plastic netting. By doing this, you’ll significantly reduce the amount of plastic you bring home.
Use your produce bags or reusable silicone bags to stock up and create your own bag of produce. It also lets you decide how many you actually need. Buying a pre-packaged bag locks you into a specific weight or quantity that you may not use all of before going bad.
To be honest, unless I’m actually buying a large quantity of produce, I don’t use individual bags. I’ll just put them in my reusable grocery bag. Seriously, two tomatoes don’t really need a bag and I’ll be washing them before eating them.
#5 Buy Ingredients Rather Than Pre-made Food
This is a big step towards more sustainable living! Many pre-made foods come in excessive packaging and I’ve found most of the time it’s not recyclable (think filmy plastic or styrofoam).
Buying ingredients (especially in bulk) to cook or bake items will significantly reduce the amount of packaging you get while shopping. Learn to make muffins or cookies or even homemade potato chips. We spend Sundays slowly cooking snacks, bread, and grab n’ go breakfast items for the week. It’s great family time and we get to enjoy delicious food!
You can even do this for sauces and spices, as well! Seriously, I felt a little foolish when I realized I was buying taco mix, but I actually had all the spices already at home to make it! No need for wasteful non-recyclable packaging and saves me some money too.
So focus on buying ingredients to reduce your waste and make your grocery shopping more eco-friendly.
#6 Find the Bulk Sections
Many grocery stores will have some type of bulk section in the stores. This goes beyond the nuts and trail mixes! Check your bakery sections for bulk baked goods like rolls, bagels, and even doughnuts. There’s usually something that isn’t pre-wrapped in plastic. Some stores have bulk coffee sections now too!
Again, I recommend using a light weight bag or reusable silicone bag for these if you don’t want to deal with the weight subtraction.
#7 Ask The Person Behind the Counter
Maybe you want to buy that deli meat or cheese behind the counter, so you don’t buy plastic wrapped foods. Don’t be afraid to ask the counter attendant if they can put it in your own container. Here’s a quick handy phrase I’ve prewritten for you!
“Hi, I was looking to buy some of the _________ , but I’m trying to minimize my plastic waste consumption. Can you put it in my container instead of wrapping it in plastic?
You could even try this at the bakery to see if they have any unwrapped bread loaves!
I bet you’ll find most stores are accommodating and the worst they can do is say no and you decide not to buy it. Or you do buy it because it’s something you need. It’s all a balance.
It is also usually cheaper to buy your deli meat and cheese this way instead of buying the prepackaged ones. Plus you know it is fresh this way!
#8 Shop In Season and Local
Shopping for in season produce and local products is important. It can help reduce long distance transportation and also helps your local economy. Some grocery stores will have a local section for items where there’s local produce sold. Otherwise, just know what produce is in season, and don’t buy the out of season produce. Besides, out of season produce is usually way more expensive!
You can also look up some local or regional brands for other items beyond produce. For example, there’s an Italian sausage made by a local brand and sold at some of our grocery stores. It is delicious and doesn’t have to travel far. A great way to help reduce our footprint. Try looking for honey, meats, dairy items and more.
Or you can opt to buy your produce at a local Farmer’s Market and skip this all together!
Bonus Tip – If you like having some out of season fruit, buy it in bulk when it’s in season. Then chop it up and freeze it for later.
#9 Buy Less, and Only Buy What You Need
Food waste is a huge problem and contributes majorly to greenhouse emissions hurting our environment. Buying less and only buying what you need is a mindset shift for some families. It’s hard to not impulse buy or just buy too much because it’s packaged a certain way. I’m a sucker for sales, but I resist buying something just because it’s on sale if I don’t need it.
When shopping, ask yourself if you and your family will eat ALL of this. If in doubt, just buy less of it. You can still buy it if you’re going to use it, just consider how much you actually need and err on the side of less.
Now this is not saying you can’t have a grocery stock at home. We still have a pantry with backups and extras in it, so that we are hardly without something. However, they are items with long shelf lives like pasta, sauces, canned beans, and other items that we know we will use and don’t buy more of until our stock is low.
Buying less and only what you need also usually means you’re saving some money. By buying only what you need, you don’t spend money on unused groceries that go bad.
Bonus Tip – We’re not perfect at guessing how much food to buy either, so we compost our food waste. This is the proper way to dispose of it unlike in landfills where it contributes to greenhouse gas emissions. I highly recommend composting for families, if possible!
#10 Use the Self-Checkout – It’s Not That Difficult
With the Covid pandemic, I really didn’t want anyone’s hands touching my groceries more than needed. So I started using the self-checkout even when I had a cart full of groceries. I found it was way less stressful for my eco-friendly grocery shopping too!
Here’s why I recommend using the self-checkout:
- I didn’t have to stop a cashier from putting my groceries into plastic bags. Or apologize when they already put some in plastic and ask them to take it out.
- If I run out of reusable bags, I can just put the grocery item back in my cart until we get to the car.
- I can weigh my own produce. No one needs to touch them and I can do it without a produce bag if I forget it. No need to grab a plastic bag.
- I can put it all in one or two large bags without questions on keeping items separated. The cold items aren’t going to really get that much warmer beside a non-cold item.
Yes, you have to do it yourself, but it’s fairly easy and there’s always an attendant nearby to help if needed. It’s been less stressful in the long run for our family!
Bonus Tip – Reuse & Repurpose
Inevitably, you will likely have something from grocery shopping that isn’t recyclable. Something like a yogurt container can make a good paint cup or temporary pot for a seedling. Get creative on ways to reuse and repurpose your items before disposing of them properly. Don’t forget to clean and recycle the containers when you’re done if they are recyclable.
Hope these eco-friendly grocery shopping tips help you!
Fair warning, eco-friendly grocery shopping can take a little longer at first! However, after you find plastic-free products and brands you like and know where all the produce and bulk is, it goes way faster! Make sure to check out some of our other Sustainable Living posts for more ideas on how to leave a little footprint on our world!
Hope these tips for eco-friendly grocery shopping are helpful for families and individuals! We’ve found it makes a significant impact on our sustainable living lifestyle. Let us know what you think in the comments below!
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