You’ve probably read it a thousand times: ditch plastic packaging and shop at a bulk store instead. That’s great and still a valuable tip, but what to do if you don’t have access to a bulk store?
It’s something I’ve struggled with a lot myself. When I started living a life that was better for the planet, my only focus was on plastic and waste. I would ride extra miles to visit the bulk store and I would buy non-organic produce if that meant it wasn’t wrapped in plastic. Basically, what I was doing was that I found one aspect of sustainability and focused on it.
Since a while, I’m finding a sustainable lifestyle which fits within my system. Plastic is still a huge concern for me and I try to reduce what I can, but I have re-evaluated what sustainable living looks like as a whole.
What I’m trying to get at is that when we talk about shopping in bulk or drinking tap water from refillable bottles, we understand that those are privileges. Sustainability is so much more than only avoiding plastic: even at the end of the day if you’re left with lots of packaging from food, remember there are so many other places you can make an impact! Shop second hand, use reusables, eat more plant based,…
Depending on where you live, it can be really frustrating having to buy your groceries in plastic and/or packaging when you’re trying to avoid it. But do not despair! Zero waste is not all or nothing. It doesn’t hinge on perfection. It hinges on everyone giving it their best! Do what you can, where you can, in your circumstances. So, if you’re in an area that doesn’t have many grocery stores, and certainly doesn’t have a health foods store with a bulk section, this article is for you!
1. Choose the lesser evil
When you’re shopping, choose the food that has the best packaging available to you. Choose the pasta in a cardboard box instead of a plastic bag. Look for items that come in a paper bag or a paper box without a plastic bag inside.
Buy a big box of snacks instead of individually wrapped granola bars. It might still have a plastic bag, but it’s less wasteful overall. Choose the least amount of packaging and the most natural ingredients you can find.
If everything is wrapped in plastic, choose the food that’s the most local. If it’s made or grown in your country, that means it produced less carbon in traveling to the store, and carbon is arguably a bigger environmental problem than plastic.
Buy things in aluminum cans instead of glass bottles or plastic packaging. Beans, soups, oils, sauces… Aluminum cans have the best chance of actually getting recycled and making it back on the shelf as the same type of item, and they take the least amount of energy to make. In fact, an aluminum can will be back on the shelf as a different can within 60 days.
2. Buy in large quantities
If you can’t buy in bulk, buy the largest quantity you can so that you waste less plastic wrappers. Look for restaurant supply stores or hotel suppliers in your area that will let you buy olive oil, rice, dish detergent, or toilet paper from them. Often it comes in larger bottles or paper bags or boxes, and it’ll be cheaper too.
3. Go plant based
Another way to live a more sustainable lifestyle is to cut down on your meat intake. Meat production creates a lot of greenhouse gases and uses a lot of energy and plastic packaging to get to your table. Try meatless Mondays or try cooking Vegan or Vegetarian a few times a week, and see how easy it is!
If you primarily shop in the produce section and supplement your fruits and veggies with a few essential grains and beans, you will reduce your kitchen waste an astounding amount.
But what about meat substitutes wrapped in plastic? I haven’t encountered many plastic free meat substitutes, but that’s not a problem for me at the moment. Why? The impact of the content of a product is most of the time more important than the packaging. I tend to beat myself up when I buy something that comes in a package.
BUT I also do believe in the 95/5% rule: what’s on the inside has a bigger impact! Living a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle, already reduces tons of carbon emissions, saves water and countless of animals. If suppliers & stores don’t offer veggie food plastic free, know that you’re already contributing a lot to our planet by not eating meat. Than that plastic wrapper seems a lot less worse!
Key take-away: don’t beat yourself up and do what you can. One day, I’m sure, vegan/veggie food will be the standard and will come in more recyclable or compostable packaging.
4. Use your voice
Write on the comment cards! Request a bulk section! Send mails! What you say matters, and if your friends start thinking the same way, and enough of you ask, the corporations and stores will start to hear you. It’s all about business, so if the demand is there, they’ll be forced to change. Power of the people, baby!