Believe it or not, it can be pretty challenging for even the more advanced and savvy eco-friendly shopper to figure out ways to continue to reduce their carbon footprint. While it can be pretty easy going green in certain places of your life (like personal care products and household cleaning products), it starts to get a lot more difficult to address less obvious areas that we don’t even realize are wasteful.
We all have blind spots when it comes to our consumption habits, and it can take a lot of time before we have a reason to even begin to see where and how they exist.
This is all too apparent when it comes to grocery shopping, especially because there are competing, equally strong messages when it comes to buying sustenance. Unfortunately, the “be healthy, buy the healthy things!” and “save the planet! consume consciously!” missions don’t always align when it comes to each’s fad of the week.
In fact, once I started actively thinking about my food buying habits, I started noticing a lot of areas where I could improve.
So, with that said, let’s try a thought exercise. Imagine you’re entering a grocery store:
Oftentimes, grocery stores open into the produce section, so let’s start there.
Think about what you normally pick up in this area. If you grab fresh fruits and veggies, how many of the items that you buy are organic? How do you bundle them up — do you use those thin, basically single-use plastic bags, paper, or your own? If you use what’s provided, what do you do with those bags once you get home and finish using the stuff inside them?
If you’re picking up fresh produce, that’s great! If you’re not already going organic, but want to reduce your carbon footprint1 a bit, consider making the switch: ignoring all the potential concerns associated with pesticide toxicity, on average, organic food typically requires 30-50% less energy to produce, and that includes the fact that it requires 33% more human labor (source).2Another thing to try to consider when picking up your fresh food is its location. Sometimes, it’s unavoidable that you have to get produce from other parts of the world (I could be wrong, but I imagine Alaska isn’t exactly home to the world’s most fertile land year-round), but if you can, you should try to buy things closer to home. The reason for this is simple: the closer you are to the place where the produce grew, the less energy it took to get the produce into your hands. Super simplistically, buying local means lower carbon emissions. Easy win!
Lastly, if you’re already being a mindful plastic user by avoiding single-use plastic utensils, plates, drinkware, etc, you should also be trying to avoid pre-packaged produce and using those flimsy produce bags that you pull off the roll whenever possible.
More often than not, the pre-pack bags and the ones you pull off are technically recyclable, but a lot of recycling facilities aren’t actually equipped to process that type of plastic. If you are already recycling those bags, please check with your local recycling facility to make sure that they support that process!
Some stores offer paper bags, which I will always use (even for wet produce) if it’s available and I don’t have another option on hand. However, your BEST option (and a really, really easy “just got cleaner” win) is to buy reusable produce bags!
I personally cannot recommend these enough, but please keep in mind how they’re fabricated: ideally, you should look to buy ones that are either explicitly made from recycled plastics or from a natural, biodegradable material like cotton. Polyester is a synthetic material that, unless specified otherwise, takes forever to degrade.3
Want to see my suggestions? I’ve added a couple of links to reusable produce bags!*
1 I can post more information in a separate article later, but for the purposes of this post you can take "carbon footprint" to mean
“the total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions caused directly and indirectly by an individual, organization, event or product”
Basically: the amount of carbon dioxide emissions for which you are responsible, either directly or indirectly. Carbon Dioxide is the chief cause of global warming
2 Incidentally, it's because of the additional labor that organic is more expensive. A lot of people I know are reluctant to make the switch because of what feels like prohibitive cost differences, but, for what it's worth, buying organic food encourages positive farming changes and theoretically increases labor opportunities for the future!
3 My Googling seems to indicate that it takes anywhere from 20-200 years for synthetic fabrics to degrade under normal conditions. If you're interested, there's a research paper titled "Biodegradability and Biodegradation of Polyesters" that evaluates the rate of degradation of polyesters that are designed to biodegrade.
* The product links are not sponsored, I've just done my own searching and believe these are some good options. I may get recompense if you buy from these links, though. Maybe. To be honest, I'm not exactly sure how it works.