For many people, trips to the grocery store are an essential part of their everyday lives, but few pay attention to the impact of our supermarket purchases on the environment. As we enter a new year, 2021 is the perfect time to start making greener decisions, says MICHELLE CAO, who suggests five steps towards more eco-conscious grocery shopping.
Step #1: Reduce Plastic Usage
If you take a look around in a grocery store, you’ll be amazed at the sheer amount of plastic around you. Fruits and vegetables come in plastic bags, meats and other foodstuffs come in plastic packaging, and we even bag our groceries in another plastic bag. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, plastic bags can take over 1,000 years to decompose. While some countries such as China and New Zealand have implemented plastic bag bans and more and more places are shifting towards reducing plastic bag use, we can continue to help reduce the usage of plastic in three different ways.
First, instead of bagging your groceries in plastic bags, bring reusable tote bags or a backpack to store your purchases. If you don’t have any reusable bags, you can also reuse any plastic or paper bags you may have at home.
Second, if buying things such as spices, oils, pastas, nuts, or other foods similar to these, try to find local stores that allow you to bring your own storage containers and skip the plastic baggage! Check out this Social Space article about Unpackt, Singapore’s first zero-packaging bulk store.
Finally, avoid individually packaged food items and try to buy in bulk instead! While single-use products are super convenient, they mean that there is much more packaging waste going into landfills. Instead, you can take or pack your sizes made from a bulk package in reusable containers for your lunches and consider a reusable lunch bag that is BPA free.
Step #2: Buy Local
Not only should we be mindful of what we buy and how we shop, we should also pay attention to how we get there. Carbon emissions are a principal offender when it comes to environmental concerns, so when you travel to get your groceries, walk or bike to the nearest store, or, if you have to drive, choose an outlet closet to home. Also, instead of making a single trip for groceries, try to combine multiple errands in one day to save on both fuel and time.
Additionally, purchase local produce. Eating more local food reduces carbon emissions by reducing food miles—the distance food travels from farm to consumer. According to a study from the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, the average piece of produce in the U.S. travels 1,500 miles, while local food may only travel 100 miles (or less). Local produce is also allowed to ripen naturally, while food that travels longer distances are often picked before it’s ripe. Food that's picked fresh and in season doesn’t have far to travel before being sold.
Step 3: Avoid Impulse Purchases
While browsing along the shopping aisles, it can be be tempting to make impulse buys, but these only generate increased waste. Green shopping involves choosing products that use fewer natural resources, avoiding unnecessary purchases, and creating the least amount of waste possible.
Creating a shopping list and planning your meals for the week can help remind you what is necessary versus what may just be an impulsive purchase. By planning meals in advance, you can reduce the amount of food waste you create by having a better estimate of what ingredients you plan to use. Moreover, shopping strategically at the supermarket will ensure you do not forget your key items, and reduces the likelihood of having to return to buy any items you missed the first time.
Step #4: Save Your Scraps
Besides reducing the quantity we buy, we should also decrease our volume of waste. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United States, the scale of food lost or wasted every year amounts to US$2.6 trillion—that's more than enough to feed all the 815 million hungry people in the world, four times over.
To cut down your potential food waste, create meals that make the most out of the least amount of grocery items. For example, rather than buying boneless, skinless chicken breast—from which you can make two to four meals and which comes with additional plastic packaging—buy a whole chicken.
Additionally, many scraps of fruits and vegetables can be reused. For instance, the outer layers of onion, celery tops and tails, and bits of leftover lettuce can also be reserved, frozen, and made into a vegetable stock. Leftover orange peels can be candied or infused into an orange olive oil or tea. If you’re not one for making these, consider separating out your food scraps to be composted, rather than just tossing them in the trash.
Step #5: Buy Less, But Better
One final word: eco-shopping doesn't only apply to groceries, but also to clothing, shoes, electronics and other items. The best thing you can do for the environment is to just buy less. When we make the most of the things we buy (i.e. expand its lifespan to the fullest), we lower the environmental impact.
All images via rawpixel.