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Best Sustainable Practices for Grocery Shopping

July 30, 2019

By Lori Melton

Whether you love it or hate it, grocery shopping is a task most of us do on a pretty regular basis. Just like figuring out how to sort recyclables, it takes a little practice to learn how to stock up with food and other household items in a sustainable way. 

Don’t worry, though, if you follow these tips, you’ll be well on your way to protecting the planet as you fill up your fridge and check items off your grocery list.

Bring Your Own Bags/Avoid Plastic Bags

According to The World Counts, we use 5 trillion plastic bags each year worldwide, which translates to 160,000 bags a second and over 700 bags a year for every person on the planet. Sure, they’re durable, convenient, and lightweight. However, these single-use bags are contributing to the terrible plastic waste problem that is jamming landfills, polluting oceans and other bodies of water, and killing aquatic creatures.

To avoid compounding the problem, bring your own eco-friendly bags to the grocery store when you shop. Or, at the minimum, reuse the plastic bag from your last trip. Also, don’t use the plastic produce bags hanging by food bins to wrap vegetables and fruits. Earthwise makes heavy-duty, machine washable, reusable grocery totes and see-through produce bags that are wonderful alternatives to their single-use plastic counterparts.

Buy Local, Organic, and In-Season Foods

The farther food travels to make it to the grocery store, the bigger toll it takes on the environment. For instance, if strawberries aren’t in-season in your state, they are most likely flown in or trucked in from another state. Carbon emissions in transport can really add up. So, taking the time to look or and buy locally sourced, in-season foods will help protect the planet.

One of the best ways to ensure you’re buying local produce and other items is by shopping at the local farmer’s market. Once there, also be sure to ask if their fruits and veggies are locally grown, organic, and pesticide-free. Otherwise, check grocery store labels carefully and look for words like “organic,” “non-GMO Verified,” and “safe-catch.” If in doubt, you can always talk to the store manager to make sure you’re getting local, organic items.

Buy Less and Compost Scraps

Approximately 1.3 billion tons of food produced for people to consume each year is wasted, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Wasting food is costly (tallying over $680 billion annually in industrialized countries). Plus, the excess waste builds up in landfills and causes pollution. To help combat waste, be sure to buy only what you need at the store, eat or freeze leftovers, and compost food scraps to reduce waste and help fertilize the soil in your garden.

Furthermore, don’t go to the grocery store hungry, as it may prompt you to overbuy or make impulse purchases for things you don’t really need.

Buy in Bulk

While this tip may seem to contradict the previous one, if you buy frequently used items in bulk, it will save making multiple trips to the store. It will also reduce the amount of packaging and plastic you are using. At home, cook or use what you need and freeze any excess for a future meal. This practice will help reduce your carbon footprint –and buying in bulk usually saves money.

Choose Eco-Friendly Products

This suggestion seems like common sense. However, it may take a little bit of looking to find eco-friendly cleaning products, laundry detergent, hand soap, and other necessities. 

Items like bamboo kitchen utensils, natural foods like peas, beans, and lentils, stainless steel straws, and travel beverage tumblers are all great examples of inherently eco-friendly items. Buying and using these things, in many cases, will help reduce waste, conserve natural resources, or decrease the negative impact on the planet.