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  • Carol Jin

4 Ways Your Next Grocery Haul Can Be More Environmentally Friendly



Introduction

You stroll through one of the aisles in your go-to supermarket and casually glance over rows of neatly-arranged items as you pass them by. Hmmm… so many possible choices. 


But you have more choices to make than simply what you want to eat for dinner tomorrow—you can also make a conscious decision to shop for your groceries in a way that is more eco-friendly! 


Here are some tips to make your next grocery shopping experience more environmentally sustainable:


Bring Your Own Reusable PLASTIC Bags

This is a good starting point for those of you seeking to shop greener. Durable, multi-use plastic bags generate less waste than the single-use paper/plastic bags that you would have to get every single time you visit a supermarket and they still do a great job of holding your groceries!


Surprisingly, PLASTIC is the better material for reusable bags, not cotton! I know it sounds counterintuitive, but the cotton that goes into making cloth bags requires a huge input of water and pesticides that end up being worse for the environment than if you just used bags made of recycled plastic or nylon [1]. If you already have a cloth bag, there’s not much we can do about that, just keep using it faithfully so that its multiple uses will hopefully outweigh the environmental costs of its manufacture sometime in the future!


Another great alternative to single-use plastic bags would be reusable net/mesh bags, which are way more degradable than regular plastic bags. The link I embedded in the previous sentence is just an example of what I’m talking about!



Avoid Individually Wrapped/Packaged Foods When You Can

Buying in bulk is a great step towards reducing plastic waste because bulk/family-sized items tend to generate less plastic than individually packed items. For example, imagine buying one huge box of 36 cupcakes versus buying 36 cupcakes all in their own little containers; bulk packaging uses far less plastic than individual packaging in this case. 


Even if you don’t immediately need a certain food ingredient in bulk quantities, consider if there are any other foods/dishes that you could make using this item later on (this mindset might also save you another unnecessary trip to the grocery store in the future!) and remember that you can freeze leftovers to use for later in most cases!


I should bring up a disclaimer for this point: If you really don’t have any use for bulk quantities of a food/ingredient, then definitely go for the small-unit items because we don’t want to generate food waste and contribute to another environmental issue while trying to cut down our plastic consumption. Everyone has their own unique situation, and so buying in bulk is a general suggestion and never a universal “green rule”.


A different point to bring up is that you may see lots of individual fruits and vegetables, such as a single banana separated from its bunch, packaged in plastic wrap at your local grocery store. To understand the reason behind this, you should know that certain foods ripen way faster when they are together than when they are isolated. For example, uncovered apples in a bunch will naturally emit and exchange ethylene, a gas that promotes ripening, so that all of the apples collectively ripen faster. Grocery markets will wrap individual items up to prevent them from exchanging ethylene and similar gases through the air and thus spoiling faster.


In those cases, I would still suggest finding non-wrapped produce if it is available and to reiterate my earlier point about bulk buying, buy foods packaged in bunches rather than separately. After all, it would be better to get a bunch of bell peppers in one plastic bag than getting… this:



Shopping Seasonally Isn’t Just A Fashion Thing:

Certain foods aren’t in season all year round, but supermarkets still manage to keep certain items in stock all the time by importing them from long distances, which contributes heavily to fossil fuel releases (and higher food prices!). Shopping seasonally will help to ensure that your foods are coming from shorter distances, which is an effective preventative measure against unnecessary emissions [2]. 


With that same logic, grocery shopping at local stores such as your nearby farmers’ market will also help cut down the emissions that would come from driving foods over long distances to a non-local market, so make sure to shop locally and seasonally!


Some Labels To Look For On Products:

Most labels on food items are there to tell you what the food producers are proud of (i.e. non-GMO, Rainforest Alliance Certified, etc.) and so here are some common labels signifying environmental friendliness that you can proudly support [3]!

Disclaimer: I am not associated with or sponsored by any of these trademarks owners.

  • American Grassfed

  • Many companies may choose to feed their animals grain because it promotes faster growth and so they will be able to export their products at a higher rate. 

  • American Grassfed indicates that animals were constantly provided with their natural diet of grasses rather than grain. 

  • Especially relevant to meat products such as beef because grass-fed beef tends to contain more omega-3 fatty acids, carotenoids (a vital ingredient to make Vitamin A), and vitamin E than grain-fed beef [4]. 


  • Bird Friendly

  • Label for coffee products.

  • Indicates that the coffee farm that this product came from is certified organic and also maintains forestry for diverse bird habitats rather than clearing away trees to make space for more coffee cropland.


  • Food Alliance Certified

  • This is a label for foods that meet Food Alliance’s standards of sustainable and responsible food production. These standards include reducing the use of synthetic pesticides, meeting Food Alliance's standards of wildlife and biodiversity conservation, and fair working conditions (not directly eco-friendly, but still great to see!)


  • Green Seal

  • Obtained after products pass rigorous performance, health, and environmental criteria.

  • Identifies products that are safe for human health and the environment.


  • Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) Certified

  •  Certifies that seafood products were caught sustainably without depleting natural reserves and without harming any surrounding marine wildlife.


  • Rainforest Alliance Certified

  • The source of a product with this label meets Sustainable Agriculture Network standards of ecosystem conservation, wildlife protection, water conservation, and basic animal welfare practices.



  • USDA Organic

  • Indicates that the food’s processing strictly follows federal standards of sustainability, which includes minimal synthetic inputs into farming/production.



Thank you for reading! With our help, the world can make a U-Turn for the better.

Note: Bracketed numbers next to certain texts (e.g. [1], [2], etc.) indicate that the aforementioned information in the article is derived from the corresponding source in the References below.



References

[1] Rodriguez-Cayro, K. (2018, August 17). How To Shop Eco-Friendly At The Grocery Store With 8 Sustainable Hacks. Retrieved July 14, 2020, from https://www.bustle.com/p/how-to-shop-eco-friendly-at-the-grocery-store-with-8-sustainable-hacks-10148694

[2] Kellogg, K. (2019, June 11). 7 Tips for Eco-Friendly Grocery Shopping. Retrieved July 17, 2020, from https://goingzerowaste.com/blog/7-tips-for-eco-friendly-grocery-shopping/

[3] Make sense of these 15 eco-friendly food labels. (2016, March 10). Retrieved July 14, 2020, from https://thrive.kaiserpermanente.org/thrive-together/live-well/make-sense-of-these -15-eco-friendly-food-labels

[4] Gunnars, K. (2019, December 4). What's the Difference Between Grass- and Grain-Fed Beef? Retrieved July 14, 2020, from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/grass-fed-vs-grain-

fed-beef




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