When you enter any store, most products will come pre-packaged in plastic containers and bags or wrapped in plastic film. From hygiene to produce, all around the world an unnecessary amount of plastics go from being packaging to being put in the trash accounting for about 23% of landfill waste. It might seem strange but one idea we like bringing back is the “milk man” idea. The thought of reusing your own containers when you can to reduce our reliance on single cycle packaging.
We can reduce waste by Bulk Shopping, Refill Shops, and just being conscious of what is around us and what we choose to buy. Of course no one is perfect, and it can be hard to avoid excessive plastic packaging when companies double or triple wrap their goods. But as always it isn’t about flipping your habits a full 360, it is about starting to swap a few items from packaged to bulk/refillable and getting better at it as you go as new resources become available. Try to remember too that we can only do so much as individuals and we need to hold large corporations responsible for their huge part in finding actionable and effective solutions.
Reducing Plastic Waste at the Grocery Store
When we go grocery shopping, we are used to grabbing a bunch of the thin plastic bags nestled between the fruits and vegetables (and struggling to get them open). A rather routine action just like grabbing a cart but if you start to think about how all these bags add up each week, you realize how much waste is created for a single person. Most times produce bags usually get thrown out right when you take out its contents because they are too thin to keep reusing or get wet.
But food packaging waste goes beyond produce bags. Grains or spices come in plastic or paper packaging. Fresh items like garlic or chilies can be found saran wrapped in a styrofoam tray or precut fruits in plastic trays. To take the extra step of choosing produce that isn’t wrapped and cutting it yourself might seem tedious but it is easier than you think and probably fresher.
Some solution to food packaging waste is bulk shopping and using reusable containers/bags. Products at bulk stores are sold by weight and liquids by volume. You can find rice, flour, sugar, lentils, oils and more. The way it works is quite simple - if it is a shop specialized in bulk goods they will first weigh your container/bag and have you write the tare weight before you fill it. When you are done, your filled container will be weighed again and the container weight will be subtracted, so all you pay for is the product. To make it easier for your cashier you can write the product number/code in your phone for faster check out.
Some cities have whole stores dedicated to bulk products and some chain grocers have specific sections for items like grains, baking supplies or even snacks. Unfortunately it can be hard to find these grocery options everywhere but here is a resource that might help you find one near you: https://www.litterless.com/wheretoshop
Local Chain Grocers with bulk sections: Northgate, Superior, Winco, Sprouts, Smart & Final, Whole Foods.
*Obviously due to the Covid 19 Pandemic, please be sure to check if bringing your own containers is okay to do so again.
If you don’t have any bulk options near you, you can still invest in reusable produce bags for all your fruits, veggies and more! There are many options to choose from, such as ones made of organic cotton or mesh in a range of sizes. Some have the tare weight on the string so you can easily tell the cashier the bag weight. When the bags get dirty, you can put them in the washing machine. Just think, you are going to wash your produce when you get home anyways so bringing it home in a reusable bag or even no bag is perfectly safe.
- Reduce packaging: You’ll be more mindful about consumption choices.
- Reduce Transport Miles: Bulk products can be packed more densely than individually packaged items.
- Some items could be cheaper because you are not paying for the branding
- You can buy what you need: You can buy things in smaller amounts to see if you like it first, therefore reducing food waste.
- Learn to make your own dairy free milks with bulk nuts. Saves water and packaging.
- Look for local farmer’s markets for produce and if it comes in plastic such as strawberry baskets, give back the basket after placing produce in your own bag/container.
- Make a shopping list so you know ahead of time what you need or make a list of what items are offered at a bulk store for your next visit.
- In addition to reusable produce bags some places accept glass jars or other reusable containers. (Check before you go)
- Choose the produce (eg. Lettuce, bananas) that isn’t wrapped. Look for places that sell mushrooms that are not in plastic and can be bought by weight.
Reducing Plastic Waste For Beauty & Hygiene
Image: BYO Long Beach
Just like food packaging, beauty and cleaning products add to the percentage of packaging waste that ends up landfills and waterways. We are used to getting our shampoo, detergent, soaps and more in individual bottles and toss them as soon as they are out. The good news is that in addition to bulk grocers there are also bulk refill shops. They work in the same way, where you bring in your own glass or reusable plastic bottles and containers to fill and are priced by weight/volume. You can find shampoo, conditioner, soap (bar & liquid), laundry detergent (dry & liquid), lotion, cleaning supplies and more.
Some shops sell new containers if you forgot your own or accept them (if clean) from their customers to repurpose for others. The best option though is to find something you already have at home. If you have old glass bottles or even a mason jar, you can buy reusable pump attachments and have yourself a minimal and sometimes stylish refillable container set. (Although sure to check first what containers the shop accepts for refill use.) There are also shops that can even personalize scents for your cleaning/beauty products such as bubble baths. These products are usually ethically sourced and don’t use harmful chemicals.
If you don’t have a physical refill shop near you, there are places you can research online that are subscription based refills for toiletries and cleaning supplies. You can also check to see if a physical shop has online services where you can send back your refillable bottle for more product. Most importantly you just need to take the the first step in choosing larger sized products where you normally shop instead of individual ones, then eventually take the next step of switching some things to a refill shop. Although, if a refill shop is too far from you then driving an hour might cause more environmental impact. So with all of these options we must remember the pros and cons to all our actions.