reducing waste :: groceries

Recently, a few friends have suggested I organize an information session or something similar to talk about ways to reduce waste. My initial response was, “Me? There are so many people who know way more about those issues than I do!” If you Google or search Instagram, you’ll find tons of “zero waste” blogs/feeds that are super informative. 

But. I'm very passionate about this issue, so maybe I'll definitely consider doing more... For now, I thought maybe I'd just share a bit more here on my blog about ways I try to reduce my own family’s household waste.

With that in mind, let's talk grocery shopping! Below is a picture of the groceries I bought in packaging on a recent trip to Safeway. Everything else was produce. I have a stash of washable organic cotton bags that I use for produce and bulk. I love that I can write the bulk number in a washable marker right on the bag and then it comes off in the wash. Most grocery stores (Whole Foods being the exception) won't/don't deduct the weight of the bag at checkout (the cloth is heavier than the disposable plastic bags stores provide) but sometimes they'll give you the 5 cents off per bag. I don't really do it for the money, but it's nice when they incentivize the behavior! 

Here's my rationale (or in some cases, excuses) for the waste I did purchase. I analyze this stuff constantly...to me it's not about aiming for "zero waste." It's about making informed choices as a consumer and using that power to maybe someday get manufacturing practices to change slightly.

1. Pasta. For some reason, pasta is rarely available in the bulk section. Occasionally I've found whole wheat macaroni at Whole Foods and tri-color rotini at Sprouts. But you can't count on it. So, I usually buy pasta in as much paper or cardboard packaging as possible (instead of in plastic bags). It's hard to find a box that's 100% recyclable, but most stores have pasta in boxes with just a tiny bit of plastic.

2. Alternative milk. I buy cow's milk in reusable glass bottles. I sometimes make nut milks at home. But as a family of 4, we go through a good amount of milk in coffee, cereal, etc. Tetra-pak (shown above, what many milks come in) is not at all a good choice. It's terribly difficult to recycle because it's a combination of plastic, aluminum and paper. Denver now has facilities to recycle it (as do most major U.S. cities), but it's questionable how many cartons are actually being captured and whether or not the material salvaged can really be used in any meaningful way. 

3. Bread. Thanks to my mom, I have an awesome recipe for homemade bread. I make it regularly. However, it's for white bread, and I have yet to delve into making my own wheat/grain bread. I need to learn. I like this Dave's bread because it's one of few on the market that doesn't have added sugar. Plus it has a good amount of protein per slice. The bags are recyclable; you can put them right in your curbside recycle bin if your city takes #4 plastics or you can return them to plastic bag recycling bins available in most grocery stores.

4. Tuna + Beans. Aluminum is one of the most sustainable forms of packaging. Cans contain more recycled content than plastic or glass containers. They are easily melted and reformed into more packaging. They're light to ship. If a type of product is available in aluminum I will chose that over glass or plastic 100% of the time. When I occasionally buy my kids juice, I buy pineapple juice that comes in cans.

5. Yogurt. This is the worst thing I buy! Even though I've started making yogurt at home, and my kids enjoy it, their favorite "special treat" at the store is a fancy yogurt. They love the novelty of it, I guess? I hate it. But I like making them happy, and yogurt is a lot better than many things they could pick, so I cave. I recycle the plastic...but that doesn't really make it much better.

6. Produce stickers and tags. Not much we can do about these unless the industry standards change. Even farmers' markets often have produce with stickers. I try to take the stickers off as soon as I get home so we don't accidentally compost them (on banana peels, avocado skin, etc.).

7. Tortillas. We eat a lot of tortillas. I really want to get a tortilla press and learn how to make my own, but in the meantime I reuse the resealable bags for storing food and produce.

8. Frozen peas. I mainly buy produce without packaging. But I like to keep peas in freezer for those times when there aren't any other vegetables in the house or I'm super tired or lazy. Also, who has time to shell peas? Excuses, I know.

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Other things I regularly buy with problematic packaging:

  • Cheese
  • Meat 
  • Fish
  • Tofu
  • Flax seeds
  • Dates
  • Potato chips
  • Berries
  • Wine

Foods we love but I try not to buy because of their packaging:

  • Clementines
  • Grapes
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Baby carrots
  • Rice cakes
  • Crackers

What about you? Do you think about the packaging on the foods you buy? What tips do you have to share?