Have you ever gotten that wild hair and decided, today is the day I go green at the grocery store? No, just me? Eco friendly grocery shopping for beginners takes a bit of planning so slow down one hot minute.
I’ve been taking my reusable shopping bags and reusable produce bags to the grocery store for years, I mean years. When I finally decided to bring a reusable silicone bag for my deli meat, I thought I had hit rockstar status.
I mean I figured I was doing awesome so one day, I decided I would be super mindful and conscious of my purchases to see how easy it was.
Turns out, it’s a lot harder than I thought it would be.
Before we get started, overall, I opt for certified organic versions of most things (from food to personal care and in-between) because they are better for you and better for the planet.
Having said that, budget is always a priority so my suggestion is, if organic fits in your budget, that’s great, if it doesn’t, don’t beat yourself up – you can always just focus on the items that are most import.
I think the best way to prepare yourself, is to think of the grocery store by department and what you buy in each.
The Produce Section
Before we get into product packaging, let’s start with how the produce is grown. Organically grown produce is better for the environment.
Certified organic produce means, no harmful chemicals are used, crop rotation is employed, no GMO’s are used, organic seeds are used, etc. Click here to learn which organic fruits and veggies I purchase.
I swapped out plastic bags for reusable produce bags and that makes a big difference. Rather than bagged lettuces, kale, spinach, collard greens, etc., I opt for unbagged and wash it at home.
For things like bananas, melons, even avocados, they really don’t need a bag.
Opt for whole items rather than pre-cut. You’ll save money and packaging. Why spend $3.99/lb for cut watermelon when you can spend $3.99 for a whole watermelon with no packaging waste?
RELATED: Not All Produce Needs a Bag
What About Packaged Produce
The struggle comes when the item I want is only pre-packaged. In these cases, I’ve had to alter my list or my meal a bit.
I made the decision (at least with produce) to only buy if it’s packaged in a recyclable or compostable container (no plastic or mesh) and when that’s not an option, I find a substitute.
For instance, I was at the store and had brussels sprouts on my list. They were only packaged in a mesh bag. That week we had broccoli instead.
The one exception I do make is on berries, grapes, and cherries. Berries simply do not come loose (at least not in any grocery store near me). They only come in a plastic clamshell. Similar story with grapes and cherries.
I try my best but hey, even I can’t refuse good berries, cherries and grapes. Nobody’s perfect!
Eco Friendly Option to Prepackaged Produce
With produce, another option is to simply grow your own. I have tried my hand at strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries and have had ZERO luck.
If gardening isn’t your thing, you could opt to try out a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture).
RELATED: Benefits of Joining a CSA
The Meat Section
Going green in the meat section is going to be a bit more challenging unless your store has a good butcher section.
Most meat is packaged on a foam platter wrapped with plastic wrap.
If you have Publix grocery stores nearby (I’m sure there are others, that’s just one of our local grocery stores), you can recycle that foam platter at their drop off bin. The plastic wrap needs to go in the trash.
RELATED: How to Dispose of Styrofoam
Another option is to switch to a home delivery service like Butcher Box. All the meat is vacuum sealed in plastic so there will still be waste but it eliminates the issue with foam platters.
The Dairy Section
Most dairy is packaged in plastic, either #1, #2 or #5. #1 and #2 are most easily recycled, #5 takes more effort. This is where being mindful comes in, if you have the choice of a #1 or a #5 container, opt for #1.
Milk/Cream – these are typically plastic bottles (#1 or #2) and more easily recycled. When you can, opt for plastic bottles instead of the cartons as the cartons are not easily recyclable. They are coated in wax so do not go in with cardboard. Of course, if available, glass is the best option.
Fun tip – you can put bread bag tags inside the milk jug – they are recyclable.
Butter – It comes in both foil or paper wraps as well as plastic tubs. Most likely, those plastic tubs are #5’s and will wind up in the trash. Foil or paper wraps take up less space in the trash so I’d opt for those.
Sour Cream and Cottage Cheese – comes in both squeeze tubes (cottage cheese does not) and plastic tubs. Plastic tubs are harder to recycle (#5) but can be reused. Squees tubes aren’t recyclable or reusable. The foil top may be recycled with aluminum cans (check with your facility). Opt for larger tubs as there’s less packaging overall.
Yogurt – comes in both plastic tubs and squeeze tubes. Plastic tubs are harder to recycle (#5) but can be reused. Squees tubes aren’t recyclable or reusable. The foil top may be recycled with aluminum cans (check with your facility). Opt for larger tubs as there’s less packaging overall.
Eggs – I think the best option is to choose cardboard cartons over plastic or foam. Cardboard is more easily recycling.
I’m sure I missed a few items but you get the gist. Take a minute and look at the containers because most are plastic, check those recycling numbers.
We need to weigh convenience and sustainability.
The Interior Section of the Grocery Store
This is probably the hardest area for eco friendly grocery shopping for beginners.
There are any number of types of packaging available. A few tips:
- choose steel cans over plastic
- choose glass over plastic
- buy chips in large quantities and portion down instead of snack packs
- homemade cookies always taste better and have less packaging
- buy from bulk bins if you are able
- if the packaging is plastic and there isn’t another option, choose the plastic that’s most easily recyclable
- can you switch brands for more eco-friendly packaging
I wanted to share on packaging example with you. Like many people, I do buy quite a bit of packaged goods from Amazon.
Last time I bought cacao nibs, rather than choosing the foil lined resealable pouch, I opted for the plastic containers. Why?
The plastic containers are reusable and recyclable, the foiled lined resealable pouch is not.
In all departments of the grocery store, there are items that are closing in on the expiration of there best buy date. If it’s an item on your shopping list or you can work it into your menu, grab it so it doesn’t go to waste.
Share this eco friendly grocery shopping for beginners blog post with anyone you know who is looking to reduce waste or be a little ‘greener’.