You’re either a desert nomad or a giraffe if you’ve never been to a grocery store.
Everybody goes to the grocery store, whether it’s for dino kale, sourdough bread, or a desperately needed pregnancy test at two in the morning (not judging). Because millions of us go grocery shopping every day, each little decision we make before we hit the check-out lane can greatly impact the environment.
Here are a few tips to help you, the consumer, feel like less of a drunken frat boy vomiting all over the earth and more like the responsible environmental science major taking his keys away.
1. Plan ahead.
Please don’t pull a newlywed me and galavant the grocery aisles like the Monopoly man when you don’t have a prepared list of the items you need. Not only are you doing yourself a huge disservice by shelling out money you could have put towards your atrocious phone bill, you’re using up more plastic produce bags and selecting more packaged products than necessary. Worst part? If you don’t eat the heaping mountain of ripe bananas you needlessly bought on sale in 48 hours, it ends up in the trash.
2. Avoid irresponsibly packaged items.
Did you know that styrofoam has a life span of over 5,000 years? While Band-Aids and microwave popcorn bags can't avoid individual packaging, you can easily forgo the unnecessary cellophane-wrapped styrofoam trays and sealed plastic tubs at any market. Forgo pre-cut mangoes and cut your own. Bring mesh bags to carry cherry tomatoes instead of buying them in a cup you'll throw away immediately. Forget those skinny bags of peanuts and...
3. Buy in bulk.
Purchasing items in bulk isn’t just a luxury for Costco members. More and more grocery stores are offering bulk goods in barrels and bins, and here’s why it’s a great thing: You get to control the amount you need, forgo the unnecessary packaging, and spend less time on the road in an effort to purchase more of that weird chewy stuff you surprisingly liked (you think it was buckwheat, or something like that).
4. Reuse and re-purpose.
When it comes to re-purposing otherwise pointless crap, you know Pinterest is your best friend. I’m sure you’ve all seen those bizarre DIY projects floating about cyberspace - you know, wrapping hemp rope around old coffee tins to make a vase and all that junk. Sure, it might seem a little tacky, but you’re reducing unnecessary waste by giving that bizarre empty jar of olives a second chance. We personally love reusing the giant glass jugs our apple juice came in. We’ve got one filled with change, and another one filled with beer bottle caps, as you can see - and no, we don’t drink that much beer, our friends helped us out with this…a lot.
5. Bring your own bags.
This might seem like a no-brainer, but bringing a reusable bag is one of the best things you can do for the planet (but still not as impactful as going vegan, just sayin’). Lots of companies are starting to give out canvas totes as promotional items, so hold on to those. You could also purchase them straight from the grocery store itself, or learn how to make bags from old clothes if you want to save some cash and reduce your waste. I’ve never tried bringing in old paper bags before, but I’m sure the cashiers won’t care. If they do, tell ‘em to suck a lemon.
My personal favorite is our blue Trader Joe’s insulated bag. It cost us $7, and it’s a huge help. It can handle quite a bit of weight and holds a lot of items, so it’s perfect for carrying up those bazillion stairs and hopefully shortening your trips back to the car you apparently parked in Yemen.
6. Buy local.
You think to yourself, “Buying local doesn’t seem that great…my local farmers’ market is 10 minutes further away than the grocery store”. Well, here’s the thing; you know those red table grapes that read “Product of Chile” at the bottom of the bag? Yeah, nobody took a million bags of grapes and walked them all the way to your produce section from freakin’ Chile. Tons of fuel had to be burned to get those grapes to your store. Why not opt for fresh, locally-grown grapes? They weren’t sitting in a crate thousands of feet up in the air blasting at Mach 0.85. They were picked by ol’ Jimmy down the street and chucked into the back of the Chevy he drove to the farmers’ market. Easy.
7. Grow your own garden.
Guess how much fuel it takes to walk outside and pick and orange…that’s right, none. Done properly, starting a garden can be inexpensive, therapeutic, and rewarding. Don’t be afraid to do some research on starting your own garden, whether you’ve got a half-acre of land, or a tiny balcony like us. Just promise me one thing: Don’t ever leave your precious crops alone and defenseless in the merciless California heat. Rest in peace, Plato Tomato.