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Plastic Waste at the Grocery Store — How to Avoid It


Going plastic-free at the grocery store might be easier than you think.

Every grocery store is not created equal. Some people have access to quality natural stores that feature a bulk section, curate local produce, and even cater to a zero-waste lifestyle. That is not the case for all of us. So whether you are shopping at Costco, another big grocery store retailer, or even the tiniest local hole-in-the-wall, check out these tips for keeping your next grocery store trip completely plastic-free.

Choose Glass, Paper Or Metal At The Store

As much as possible, try to avoid buying foods or drinks that come in plastic packaging. A good rule of thumb is to avoid the middle aisles altogetherthat is where a lot of processed foods come in plastic packaging. Stick to the produce area and the outer perimeter of the grocery store to choose fresher foods that are available without single-use plastic.

If you have to buy packaged food, try to limit the packing to sustainable materials that can be recycled or composted. These include glass, paper, and/or metal (aluminum cans count, too). Paper can be composted, while glass and metal can be recycled infinitely, making them more sustainable alternatives than plastic. And pro tip: metal bottle caps and lids of tin cans can be recycled as well, so stocking up on canned foods can be low-impact.

Ditch Produce Packed In Plastic

Cucumber wrapped in plastic? Skip it. Produce wrapped in additional, single-use plastic is unnecessary and for anyone who cares about the environment, eye-roll-worthy.

In most cases, you can find a plastic-free version of the produce you are looking for. Vegetables like tomatoes and even greens — lettuce, kale, and more — can be found in most grocery stores sans plastic. So, if they lack plastic, what do you do?

Well, there is no rule that says you cannot just pick up produce and throw it in your cart. But, for sanitary purposes, you may still want a bag, which brings us to the next tip...

Remember Your Reusable Bags

Reusable bags are not just for bagging groceries at the end of your shopping experience. (Though they are good for that, too!)

Plenty of zero-waste brands out there make plastic-free, reusable produce bags so that you can ditch produce packed in unnecessary, single-use plastic. Some are made out of cotton or mesh.

By bagging produce with reusable bags, you will cut back on plastic and prevent the possibility of plastic leaching onto your food, too!

Avoid The Middle Aisles

The middle aisles of the grocery store are notorious for housing the least healthy foods and also for using a ton of unnecessary plastic packing. One meaningful way to avoid both the nasty additives in these kinds of foods and the plastic packaging they come in is to stick to the outer perimeter of the grocery store.

Think about it: When you walk into the grocery store, all the produce is usually right there. That’s where you live if you’re trying to avoid plastic. Nearly all of the produce available at any grocery store can be bagged in your own reusable, sustainable cotton-mesh bag. You’ve already avoided a ton of plastic packaging at this point -- just by choosing the freshest options the grocery store has to offer.

Once you pass all the middle aisles of food, you’ll likely get to items like dairy, bread, and other foods that can generally be either bought in bulk or placed into your own packaging. Some stores like Whole Foods have a grind-your-own coffee station, which is perfect for avoiding the plastic packaging that packaged coffee usually comes in. You also might find a bulk section here, which will let you fill up your own glass mason jar of items. That’s a great sustainable option and usually, every zero-waster’s bread and butter.

Go For Bulk If You Can

Do you live near a grocery store with a bulk section? Go for it! Bulk sections are designated areas at the grocery store where shoppers can purchase certain foods by weight rather than by individual packages.

You can usually find flours, grains, nuts and seeds in a store’s bulk section. Sometimes they also have candy, bulk pasta, rice, legumes and beans, and other snacks.

If you’ve never shopped in bulk before, don’t be discouraged. In order to shop in bulk, you’ll need to bring your own container from home. Most grocery stores offer plastic containers, but we’re shopping plastic-free here, remember? Bring a glass mason jar or some other reusable container from home to avoid the plastic container altogether.

Now, before you fill up your jar or container, you’ll want to weigh it. Once you do, write the weight on the container itself. That’s the tare weight. It comes in handy (and makes your cashier’s life easier) when you are checking out. After you fill it, the cashier will weigh the jar again. The cashier will get the weight of the container with the food in it. They’ll subtract the weight of the jar alone from the weight of the jar with the food in it. That’s how they know how much to charge you since in-bulk foods are priced by weight.

Another bulk-shopping tip: You’ll also want to bring a Sharpie to the store with you. Whenever possible, label your containers their tare weight, but also what goodies you put inside. It saves your cashier time and energy and they will totally thank you later.

If your grocery store is devoid of a bulk section, you can still shop in bulk if you get creative. In whatever you need, buy the biggest container available. In many stores, you can buy a large container of soap, detergent and sometimes certain foods. The bigger the container you get, the more potential waste you are cutting down on.

As it stands now, it might seem near-impossible to avoid plastic while at the grocery store. But it’s not. Making plastic-free choices is kind of like a muscle. The more you stretch and exercise it, the more easily it will come to you. As long as you bring your own reusable bags from home, choose foods sans plastic packaging, avoid the middle aisles, and shop in bulk, you will be one giant step closer to getting out of the grocery store, totally plastic-free.

What is your favorite way to avoid plastic waste at the grocery store and shop sustainably? Let us know in the comments!

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