Grocery shopping is something so routine and simple–it’s easy to just grab little plastic yogurt cups and microwave dinners. Creative thinking is needed to break out of your habits to shop in a more environmentally conscious way.
The first step is to think about reducing the amount of wasteful packaging in the items you buy. For example, opt for choices packaged in glass, paper, or aluminum instead of plastic. These materials are easier to recycle and healthier for you too!
Unfortunately, glass is more expensive than other packaging. Straus Family Creamery’s glass milk bottles have a $2 refund if you return the rinsed bottle to the grocery store.
Better yet, pick food that doesn’t have any packaging at all and bring your own organic, reusable produce (or this set) and shopping bags. Just make sure that any produce bags you buy have a tare weight label, so you don’t get charged for the weight of the bag. For items that can’t be logically stored in a produce bag, like meat or soup, bring glass containers in preparation. Large metal containers can also be used for meat (at the meat counter). In fact, some stores even give you discounts if you bring your own containers!
See if there are any bulk stores near you! Here’s a list of those in California by city. Sophie’s in love with her local bulk grocery store in San Francisco, called Rainbow Grocery. They have a wide array of organic fresh produce, dry goods, syrup, honey, oil, and personal care products– all in bulk! In small, rural towns like the one Emma lives in, it can be harder to find things in bulk, but if you hunt around, you can usually find stores that do food in bulk.
If you’re not big on grocery shopping, you can order groceries online. Look up your local Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) options. Sophie uses a Bay Area CSA called Farm Fresh (save $15 on your first order with the code SZPH5259), which delivers local, organic produce and other foods like dairy, meat, and grains to your home or office. When your next delivery is scheduled, you can put out the cardboard box you last order arrived in for them to reuse.
Emma has worked on two CSA farms in her town, Walla Walla, WA, and uses those connections to get fresh, local produce. Often if you connect with farmers in your area you can end up getting a lot of free or very cheap produce, because they are often happy to get rid of damaged or cosmetically imperfect produce.
Organic produce, although more expensive typically than conventional, is grown with fewer toxins and is therefore preferable from both health and environmental standpoints.
Imperfect Produce is another grocery delivery company that addresses the increased cost of organic produce. They deliver organic produce that is either in excess or cosmetically imperfect for 30-50% the grocery store cost.
Both Farm Fresh and Imperfect Produce companies allow you to customize your orders and skip them for free. They also tell you if an item comes in a package or clamshell and where it’s from.
Imperfect Produce is a great way to reduce food waste, which is a big problem in the US. Nationally, the US produces about 150,000 tons of food waste per day. A quarter of the water in the US and 4% of US oil are used for agriculture. Food waste happens largely in the field and in the grocery store, but proper storage and disposal of food at home matter too.
You can decrease your amount of food waste by using as much of the food as you can, like saving bones for stock or eating the fuzzy outside of the kiwi. Food scraps in landfills release methane, a gas that is at least 28 times more harmful to the environment than carbon.
So, when you’re left with only the inedible (organic) parts, add them to your compost bin. If you don’t have a space for a compost at your house or you rent and don’t want to stink up a yard that isn’t yours, you can look for services in your area that come collect green waste, or try a freezer compost bin and take it to a local community garden compost when it gets too full.
One of the big contributing factors to climate change with regard to food the production of meat. Beef, in particular is harmful to the environment, since it requires 28 times more land and 11 times more water than chicken. Compared to chicken and turkey, beef releases five times more emissions.
Reducing the amount of meat consumed, in favor of vegetarian protein sources like legumes and pulses, is critical to addressing climate change. Both of us were vegetarian for many years, but, for health reasons, we now eat meat. If meat is a necessary part of your diet, do your best to source organic, sustainably farmed, local meat.
Transportation of food is also a big contributor. If you don’t live somewhere with a strong agricultural sector, like Washington (Emma) or California (Sophie), there’s a good chance that most of your food has to travel a long way to reach you. Learn more about the environmental effects of transportation here.
On this same note, steer clear of tropical fruits that often have to be shipped internationally like bananas, pineapples, and papayas. Whenever possible, it’s important to buy food locally (like at a Farmer’s Market) because, not only does it have a higher nutrient content the fresher the food is, less carbon needs to be emitted for it to land on your plate.
The most zero waste option of them all is to grow your own food and raise your own livestock. Some foods can even be grown from food scraps, like potatoes, avocados, and lettuce! If you have a yard, plant a vegetable garden. If not, you can join a community garden near you.
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