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3 ways to "zero-waste" your grocery shopping

In our previous article about how to reduce your waste we mentioned that waste resulting from groceries and food shopping is usually the main source of individual waste. Have a think (or even a look at!) what’s in your bin at home: a high percentage will most likely be from food packaging, drinks cartons and food waste.

It’s too easy to think “this can be recycled so it’s fine to buy this". The sad reality is that recycling isn’t the environmental savior we like to think of it as. It uses huge amounts of energy to recycle and a surprisingly small amount from our recycling bins is actually recycled while a shocking 9% of plastic is recycled.

In this article we share fairly easy-to-implement tips to target your grocery waste, and reduce the amount of rubbish you send to landfill or recycling. If we’re committed to reducing our waste, we have to be committed to refusing certain things we may want – by rewarding food producers who package their foods responsibly, we send a clear message to the industry: go green or lose our business.

Think about where you shop

This is probably the most important tip in this article: by choosing the right retailer, you will find it much easier to reduce your grocery waste:

  • Look for zero waste shops near you. Formally confined to cosmopolitan areas, shops which prioritise low waste options are popping up in towns and cities of all sizes around the world. Search “zero-waste shop” on Google or on maps to see what’s near you.

  • Farmers market or greengrocers are great for low-waste fruit / veg;

  • If you eat meat, look for a local butchers or buy from the meat counter in the supermarket: you’ll often find higher quality meat and may even end up trying unusual cuts;

  • Look for shops which offer self-serve and weigh: some supermarkets and many smaller stores offer the option to choose your own fruit, veg and loose grains which are then placed in containers and bags and weighed. These are far more sustainable as they allow the use of your own containers.

It can help to shop at independent food shops: it’s always good to support local businesses and they are more likely to stock locally-sourced food and be flexible to meet your sustainable shopping habits

Use your own containers

Now you’ve identified zero-waste shops, groceries, butchers or supermarkets with self-serve, grab a container from home and fill it up!

  • Bread, fruit and veg: choose loose fruit, vegetables and bread rather than pre-packaged and use your own produce bags to carry them;

  • Loose nuts and grain: ditch plastic bags of rice or lentils; instead take containers for loose nuts, cereals and grains. Glass and metal containers are best - whether it’s a jam jar, Kilner jar or even a glass bottle, bring them along for your shop – they also look great on show in your kitchen. Make sure to ask the attendant to ‘tare’ your container so the weight of the container is removed when they price up your purchase - it can help to weigh these in advance and write it on the container. This container set has a range of sizes for different food types;

  • Meat: if you eat meat, bring a glass container to carry your goods home. These can also double up as a great marinating container if needed;

  • Take reusable bags to carry all your shopping home; bags made from natural fibres such as canvas, cotton or hemp are preferable to sturdy plastic 'bags for life' and can be washed after a few uses.

A helpful tip is to stash your containers and bags somewhere that suits your shopping habits so you don’t forget them next time you shop. There’s nothing worse than walking into the shop and realising you don’t have them - all too often resulting in you leaving empty-handed, or worse, buying unsustainably packaged food.

Pre-packaged foodIt’s usually preferable to choose loose, unpackaged food, but this isn’t always realistic.

  • When buying pre-packaged food, prioritise packaging made from glass, metal and paper as these can be easily recycled or are biodegradable;

  • If you have no choice to buy plastic packaging, only choose high-grade and avoid black plastic as this cannot be recycled at all.

Sustainability is a continual process of improvement; try to constantly evaluate if there is a sustainable swap you could make somewhere. For example coffee cups are an easy change to make: swap your disposable cup with a reusable rCups, we all have one in the Form office! If you’re a regular coffee drinker, it’ll quickly pay for itself with the discount most coffee chains give you for using a reusable cup.

It can be difficult at first to make these changes as it is less convenient than the supermarket sweep we normally end up doing. However by following these tips, you’ll find you are more mindful about the food you eat, you’ll try new things and you’ll end up eating higher quality ingredients and meals.

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