How to start going green when grocery shopping: packaged goods and everything else (part 5)

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.

Let’s continue our thought exercise from the last few posts. Imagine you’re in a grocery store, and you’ve done your produce and veggie shopping, your meat shopping, your dairy shopping, and you’ve gone through the frozen section.

Time to go through all the “dry” goods in the store! This includes the baked goods, cereal aisles, spices, baking supplies, etc.

So much of what we buy in a grocery store comes in plastic

Considering the array of items we’re grouping together, here, I’m going to try to just encourage you to try thinking actively about what you buy normally, much in the same way I just described when it comes to frozen foods. A lot of the dry goods we buy come packaged in plastic (even cereal comes in those plastic bags, inside the box, and those bags aren’t recyclable), which means that a lot of our dry good purchases come with plastic waste.

Sadly, I don’t have a lot to offer at the moment, here, because I think much of this plastic waste is unavoidable in most major supermarket chains.


However, here are some things to consider or look out for as you continue to try to go green:

  • There are zero-waste or reduced waste grocery stores in the US (and in the world) that offer other ways of getting your food — if you find one of those chains, try shopping there for a change and see if you like it! Their availability will vary by region, so check out Literless’ Where to Shop index to see if you have a grocery store near you.
  • If you can’t find a reduced waste grocery store, try to buy the items you can from the bulk sections, which allow you to buy things like nuts, granola, and cereal by weight. Several chains (including major ones like Whole Foods and Fred Meyer’s) will have these, and these sections enable you to bring and use your own containers, which reduce the total quantity of package wasted in getting food to your house. Just make sure you know the weight of your container (or be willing to pay for its weight, too)!
  • Buy items according to their packaging and organic status where bulk or reduced-waste options aren’t available. Prioritize things packaged in glass or cardboard instead of plastic.


As examples for what I mean in some of the above bullets: I personally no longer buy cereal, but I will buy oatmeal, since I can buy it in bulk or in cardboard without plastic; I buy items that come in glass bottles over plastic whenever possible; I sometimes (rarely) buy bread at the store, but to avoid I’ve learned that it’s actually stupidly easy to make your own that tastes great (and costs a gazillion times less than what it costs in the store).

Another piece of advice I can give is to buy items according to your need for them.

This may seem obvious, but think about it: how often have you bought something over the last few months that you really wanted to use, but ended up using it maybe once and then forgot about it? For what it’s worth, I’m guilty of it, too.

A quick-and-dirty summary of my advice is this: every time you pick up a food product that comes in some sort of package, ask yourself if the packaging can be recycled, if you can make it yourself, or if you need it, keeping in mind that all of those answers involve the balance thing I said above.


Parting thoughts

I’m not going to go into the non-food items you can buy at grocery stores for this installment, in part because this series has become a massive behemoth, and in part because I can probably address those things better individually.

All said, I think the most important takeaway I can offer for all the information given is that there are always a myriad of ways you can do better than you are already to reduce your footprint. Fundamentally, that doesn’t have to be a bad thing, and you don’t need to panic. You also don’t need to feel like you have to go to one extreme or another (caring or not caring).

Meaningful change takes time and consistency.

If you’re just starting out, don’t overwhelm yourself. Instead, focus on what you feel you can do and really do it — all the time.  What I do now in my life would’ve felt impossible even two years ago, and at that point I already cared a lot about cutting down my footprint. If I had tried to do what I’m doing now back then, there’s a good chance I would’ve slipped up and then regressed.

That said, don’t forget to continue honestly challenging yourself to find small ways to be better. What that looks like to you is different from what it looks like to me in my life, and that’s okay.

Everyone has a different path when it comes to being a better version of themselves. Just make sure you don’t stop along the way on yours.

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