Plastic-Free Grocery Shopping
To understand how plastic-free grocery shopping actually works, let’s examine the history of the supermarket first. At the moment, supermarkets are everything you need for your grocery shopping (and, of course, your daily life). However, this wasn’t always the case.
Let’s go back in time to 1916, when the first grocery store was established. In American history, Piggly Wiggly was considered to be the first modern supermarket. It revolutionized the way people shop. Piggly Wiggly provided a self-service service instead of having a grocer handle your list of needs. Getting what you need…or want…is as simple as walking into the store and getting a basket. Shelf advertising became possible, positioning the most expensive (and desirable) items at eye level to entice you to spend more.
History of Plastic
At the Great International Exhibition in London in 1862, Alexander Parkes introduced the first manmade plastic. It was actually Parkesine, a bio-based plastic that was invented by cellulose(nothing like todays plastic).
It wasn’t until after World War 2 that plastic became a staple in American grocery stores. Plastic inventions became more common after the war (and soon became household staples). 1946 saw the introduction of the plastic spray bottle, 1950 saw the introduction of garbage bags, 1956 saw the introduction of zipper storage bags. In the 1960s, the plastic boom began, and most grocery stores did not offer plastic bags until the 1980s.
In spite of the fact that using plastic for groceries is a relatively new concept, it seems at times as if stores would not be able to function without it. It’s now almost impossible to shop normally without it.
Plastic packaging can be eliminated from your life one change at a time with a few adjustments.
The idea that plastic waste is harming our environment is now widely recognized. Plastics contaminate our oceans, our forests, and our water sources with over 9 million tons per year entering the trash.
As a result of efforts on the part of people around the world, cities across the globe have adopted bans on single-use plastic bags and straws. As a result of these campaigns, the grocery store has become a major source of plastic packaging that enters the homes of most of us.
Over 40% of the plastic waste generated in the world comes from packaging, according to recent statistics. More than 200 million tons of plastic have been used to package food and other products by the end of 2022.
Dutch supermarket Ekoplaza became the first supermarket in the world to offer its customers a plastic-free aisle for the first time in 2018. A plastic free zone was introduced into Thornton’s Budgens stores in the UK shortly after that. Specialty zero waste stores have existed in North America since 2012, but they don’t always offer the full range of products that people buy at major grocery chains, which are that are available at zero waste stores.
This raises the question, “Is it even possible to shop for groceries without using plastic at all? ”
Is plastic-free grocery shopping possible?
Yes, in a nutshell! There are more and more locations that offer plastic-free shopping experiences. In order to reach your goal, you may have to adjust your buying habits or shop at multiple stores. Nevertheless, it is possible.
If you are interested in reducing or eliminating plastic packaging, here are a few tips and resources you may find helpful.
Where to find plastic-free products
Use Loop Resuable Packaging System
In the US, most grocery stores don’t set up plastic-free zones, but there are some that are taking an alternative approach. A leading US retailer, Kroeger has partnered with Loop, an online shopping platform that eliminates disposable packaging.
You can order your favorite food products online if you live in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Portland or Washington, D.C. (There are more cities being added all the time, so keep checking back.) They will arrive within a few days in returnable packaging. After use, glass and stainless steel containers are collected, rinsing, sterilizing, and reusing them. Among the great brands included in this service are Tide, Hellman’s, Dove, and Haagen-Dazs.
A variety of Walgreen’s products are available in returnable, refundable containers as part of the Loop program.
Stores that sell bulk food
Many shops will allow you to bring your own containers to refill items stocked in their bulk food section or deli. Some of these stores are dedicated to bulk goods. Others simply have a bulk food section. Check out the following retailers to see if they have a store in your area.
For several years now, the Bulk Barn has allowed customers to bring their own containers. In order to prevent you from being charged for your efforts, cashiers ‘tare’ or weigh your containers before you fill them. Reusable containers are also available for purchase at Bulk Barn.
Reusable bulk bags and jars are sold by a Colorado-based retailer with more than 300 locations. Customers are encouraged to reuse and refill at Sprouts.
Because FDA law requires them to sell items in single-use containers, large health food retailers will not weigh your container. (FDA websites give more information by state.) Nevertheless, most retailers will let you reuse bulk food bags even in these locations. In bulk food sections of the following stores, you can usually shop without plastic waste even if the weight of the bags does not matter:
- Whole Foods
- Fresh Thyme
If you plan to shop at a grocery store with a bulk food section, it’s worth trying reusable bulk bags, since many stores don’t have an official policy regarding them. The Zero Waste Nerd has a list of bulk food stores around the world.
Zero waste shopping
Unlike traditional retail stores, zero waste stores eliminate plastic and other forms of disposable packaging (including bioplastics). This store and its customers are dedicated to zero waste living, which means no single-use packaging.
- A national database of zero waste stores was compiled by Zero Waste Canada.
- An updated database of American zero waste shops is maintained by Litterless.
Local Farmers markets
Another way to avoid plastic is to shop at farmers markets across the country. It is common for vendors to wrap items in newsprint or place them directly in your basket. If farmers sell bagged items, don’t be surprised if there are no alternatives to clear plastic bags. There are still a number of locations where this is being worked on. Let them know what you think, and ask if they can load these items directly into your own reusable bags. Browse our list of farmers markets to find one near you.
Best plastic packaging alternatives
In the absence of a zero waste store in your community, you can still replace plastic with recyclable or compostable materials. Generally, long-lasting materials have a larger environmental impact if not used multiple times, so reusing or recycling them is a good way to keep them in circulation. You can choose from the following options that are less harmful.
Paper is compostable unless it contains a plastic coating. Make sure the paper is unbleached and made from recycled or FSC-certified wood.
Aluminum or Metal
The recycling process of aluminum doesn’t degrade aluminum, making it one of the most recyclable materials on earth. There is no limit to how many times it can be used.
It is also possible to recycle glass again and again without losing its quality. Even better if your purchase includes a return deposit. Some companies recycle the glass instead of sterilizing and refilling it for the next round. Check with your local milk supplier to see if they offer returnable glass containers. The production of single-use glass requires a great deal of resources.
It has become more and more popular for European products to be made from sustainable beechwood. To transport fruits and vegetables, manufacturers have developed mesh bags which are suitable for carrying them. It’s time to say goodbye to plastic mesh! It is a soft and compostable fiber which is made of cellulose. Don’t get me wrong, we don’t want anything single-use.
Bamboo is biodegradable and compostable, so some makeup brands use it instead of plastic. It’s also possible that it’s local, since it grows everywhere.
In addition to being durable, stainless steel is 100% recyclable. It is possible to recycle this material indefinitely, just as you can with glass and aluminum. The most common types of stainless steel products are those with returnable containers or those with multi-purpose containers (such as water bottles).
What to bring on your plastic-free shopping trip
When you do not arrive equipped, it is difficult to avoid disposable plastic. Below is a list of items you may find useful during your plastic-free shopping trip. Based on your individual needs, select the items that should be included in your shopping basket.
Cloth shopping bags
When you are finished, you can place everything in this handy, reusable bag. It is advisable to choose bags made of durable fabric and with sturdy seams that will not split. When the bags are loaded with heavy items, wide, soft handles will be more comfortable on the hands and shoulders. It is also important to ensure that your bags are washable.
Reusable bulk bags
Generally manufactured from cotton muslin, these bags are best suited for dry goods. The best cotton is organic cotton. As a result of a variety of sizes, you will always be able to find something that meets your needs. Fill the package with bulk pasta, flours, salt, sugar, dried fruit (non-sticky), and other dry goods.
Bags made of net or mesh
Fruit and vegetables can be purchased in woven mesh or net bags. In spite of the fact that you do not need to place a handful of apples or a head of cabbage in a bag, some vegetables are wet and can be transported more easily using reusable produce bags.
Beeswax wrapping and packaging
This pliable material consists of fabric coated with pure beeswax. It has a deliciously sweet scent. Plastic wrapping and sandwich bags can be replaced with this product. Take along for wrapping items like cheese, cured meats, shampoo bars, bread, tea bags, and other dry items.
Reuseable Mason jars
It is ideal for packing moist, bulk foods like coconut oil, honey, brown sugar, and dried fruit, which cannot be packed in a bag. Moreover, they are easy to clean and reuse once empty, and they are available in a variety of sizes. It is important that your store has a system for weighing them otherwise you will be responsible for the additional charges.
stainless steel or glass containers
You will need a larger metal or glass storage container if your local market sells bulk cheese or meat. Tell them to fill it at the deli counter, and they will invariably do so without question. When purchasing meat, make sure the containers are sanitized for your own safety.
For shops that stock personal care products in bulk, glass bottles are ideal for refilling shampoos and liquid soaps. Olive oil can also be stored in them.
Tips for your trip
- There is more to the story than the containers you bring. The following tips will help you to make your trip as smooth as possible.
- You should choose a store that sells fruit and vegetables without packaging. There are many times when those bagged deals do not represent a true bargain.
- Consider visiting a butcher shop if your local grocer does not have a deli counter where you can bring your own container for meat. You may request paper packaging instead of plastic if you do not have a nearby deli counter and you are not able to bring your own container.
- In bulk food areas, if you allow customers to refill their own containers, choose containers that are clean and do not have chips or cracks.
- Each time you use a reusable bulk food bag, wash it thoroughly. It is possible to use produce bags several times before washing them.
- Use a grease pencil to write the weight on the bag, lid, or jar before filling if your store has a scale for weighing containers. It is even possible to tare your reusable bulk food bags if they are too heavy.
- Be sure to fill your bags and jars carefully, writing down the bin number on a piece of paper or on the container itself so you can keep track of them later.
- Make sure you only buy what you need and nothing more. This helps reduce food waste.
Plastic Free Future
The number of grocery stores recognizing the harm caused by plastic packaging has increased considerably over the past few years resulting in a greater variety of zero-waste lifestyle options. Nevertheless, even if you are unable to eliminate all packaging, there are simple steps that you can take to eliminate as much plastic as possible. There is no doubt that a world without plastic is not too far away.
Are there any other ways that you have found to shop without using plastic? I would love to hear about your successes in the comments below, so feel free to share!