Happy Earth Day! Want to help the planet? Cut your plastic waste. The best place to start is the kitchen. Choose one of two of the following steps, get your new routine down pat and then choose more steps.
How to Shop
Cloth bulk bags and glass jars filled with staples from the bulk bins
1. Bring your own cloth shopping bags. Opt for natural fibers when you choose bags. Synthetic materials shed tiny plastic fibers in the washing machine. This plastic ends up in our rivers, lakes and oceans. You can buy cloth shopping bags pretty much everywhere today.
2. Bring your own cloth produce and bulk bags. You won’t want to stuff your reusable shopping bags with plastic produce and bulk bags. I sew very simple bags that last for years. If you don’t want to make your own bags, you can often find them at health food stores and food co-ops. You can also buy them online from various Etsy shops. Again, opt for natural fibers.
3. Bring your own glass jars. Get the weight of these before you fill them up at the bulk bins. At some stores, customer service will weigh them for you and mark the tare (i.e., weight) on them. Other stores set out scales and you weigh the jars yourself. The cashier will deduct the weight of the jar from the total weight when checking you out so you pay for the food only.
4. Make a shopping list and stick to it. With a shopping list in hand, you will not only avoid all those plastic-wrapped impulse buys at the front of the checkout, you’ll also know just how many bags and jars you’ll need to take with you shopping. A little bit of planning will help you eliminate a great deal of your waste.
5. Shop more frequently for less food. If you can do this, you’ll waste less food because you’ll have less perishable food on hand to go bad before you can eat it.
Where to Shop
Spring produce from the farmers' market, bought with cloth produce bags
6. Fill up at the bulk bins. Search for bulk stores worldwide at zerowastehome.com/app. Users can also submit stores not yet listed on this web-based app. Fill your reusable cloth bags, glass jars and other containers with staples like beans, rice, flour, oats, nuts, seeds, dried fruit and so on. Some bulk stores have an extensive selection that includes cleaning and personal care products and pet food.
7. Hit the farmers’ market. When you reduce your waste, you stop eating processed food—it’s almost always packaged in shiny plastic wrapping. At farmers' markets however, you’ll find fresh, seasonal, local, organic produce that you can usually buy unpackaged. Find your local market in the US through Local Harvest.
8. Shop at thrift stores and yard sales. Opt for second-hand kitchen wares (and other wares too) rather than new. New items require energy and raw materials to produce and they almost always feature at least some wasteful packaging.
What to Buy
9. Choose fresh, seasonal fruit and vegetables. The best food for you—seasonal vegetables and fruit—is also best for the environment and economy when you buy it locally. It travels fewer miles. You can find much of it unpackaged. More of your money stays in your local community.
10. Opt for foods lower on the food chain. Where I live, cheese almost always comes wrapped in plastic. Meat is often either wrapped in plastic or portioned out on foam trays wrapped in plastic. When you eat lower on the food chain you waste less packaging material (beans are often easy to find in bulk) and you reduce the amount of resources that go into producing food higher on the food chain. Meat requires much more water than vegetables, for example.
11. Buy milk in returnable glass bottles. I can buy milk from a few dairies that sell their milk in glass. Depending on where you live, your local dairy may deliver milk in glass bottles that it later picks up—just like the old days.
12. Buy loose bread in your own cloth bag. Many grocery stores and bakeries stock their loaves, rolls, bagels, pastries and so on, loose in a bin or display case. Put it in a cloth produce bag or hand your bag to the clerk to do that for you.
13. Drink loose-leaf tea. Fabric and mesh tea bags are often made of synthetic material (i.e., plastic). Landfill aside, you don’t want to eat or drink something after it has come into contact with hot plastic. When you heat food—or tea leaves—in plastic, nasty chemicals can leach into what you’re about to consume. Even paper tea bags may contain small amounts of plastic. And most tea bags—synthetic or paper—are individually wrapped, then stuffed into a box that is often wrapped in yet more plastic.
What Not to Buy
14. Cut out the processed food. Shop the perimeter of the grocery store, where you’ll find produce, dairy and the fish and meat counters. In the middle section—the aisles—you’ll find only processed food and products wrapped in plastic packaging (think snacks and sodas, cereal and energy bars, plastic-lined cans of vegetables and shelf-stable pickles). Cut the processed food and you’ve cut most of the plastic coming into—and out of—your kitchen.
15. Ban bottled water. According to The Story of Stuff website, Americans alone “buy more than half a million bottles of water per week. That enough to circle the globe more than 5 times.” Choose tap!
16. Skip the bottled beverages. If you drink more tap water, you’ll drink less soda, energy drinks and juice. Bottled beverages almost always come in plastic bottles and even when they are packaged in glass, they most always have big plastic lids that can’t go in the recycling bin. Not that recycling is the answer. It’s not. Reduction is.
17. Kick the K-cup. In 2014, Keurig alone sold nearly 10 billion coffee pod packs, and that number includes multi-packs, so the actual number of single pods is larger. Use a French press and ground coffee beans. Buy the beans in bulk and either have them ground at the store or grind them at home.