We Leave the Grocery Store with Three Pieces of Plastic or Less. This is How We Do It.

by - Friday, July 26, 2019

Going absolutely plastic-free can be so daunting (especially when grocery shopping) that it is easy to give up. A few summers ago, we tried our first Plastic-Free July and had an absolute meltdown in the grocery store when we realized that you can't buy much of anything without plastic. I don't think we had ever realized before just how dependent we are on plastic for our food shopping.

The amount of plastic we bring home with our food is a big problem. Plastic food wrappers are one of the largest sources of plastic overtaking our oceans (plastic will outnumber fish by 2050) and our land. We need to clean up our oceans, but we also need to turn off the tap of all of this plastic. Businesses and brands need to take the lead to turn away from plastic, but we can hold them accountable as consumers by refusing plastic-wrapped products and by speaking up. This helps us too- we know that plastic packaging is connected to a host of health problems with our endocrine system, our hormones, and may even lead to cancer. We need single use plastic out of our lives, and soon.

I love people who manage to be zero waste- that is freaking awesome! For me, the goal is to get through the grocery store with 3 plastic-wrapped items or less. This wiggle room gives us freedom (and keeps us from falling off the wagon completely), because we don't have to be perfect. I think perfection is a trap (on that note, we fail pretty often. Then we try again the next time we go. The real trick to making a positive impact on the environment is to just keep trying).

We all have what we can do, and what doesn't make sense for our lives. I try to think of it as a plastic diet- doing a fad or cutting completely probably won't last. Instead, I try to make pretty good decisions most of the time. You can only do what makes sense for your life, so pick a number you feel comfortable with.

So, this is my challenge for you- the next time you go shopping, count how many pieces of plastic you leave with. Could you cut that number in half? How about by a third?

I know that low waste shopping can seem intimidating. It keeps us from our normal routine and does sometimes require some planning. But plastic is absolutely overtaking our planet, so it is worth doing. Here are my best, simplest tips for getting a bunch of plastic out of your shopping trip.

1. Be Prepared and Bring Our Bags

The biggest step is to show up prepared. When we are on point, we have cloth grocery bags, our Colony Co produce bags (love these), and containers for the meat and deli counters.

 If you need tips on how to shift to reusable bags, I have a whole post on that here.

2. Let Our Produce Swing Free

Ok, now if you are like me, you may have some emergency grocery runs mid-week (we are always running out of milk and apples... it doesn't matter how much I buy). If I wasn't planning on coming, I may not be as prepared, but I can usually still make my goal happen. I either dig up a bag in the car somewhere or I ask for paper.

For the produce, I just let my produce roll around in the cart, and then I wash them when I get home. There is truly no reason for plastic produce bags- your apples and oranges get along just fine in the cart.

3. We Shop the Outside Edge of the Store

Most everything on all those aisles in the middle are wrapped in plastic. We just have slowly gotten the hang of mostly just skipping the whole section. We stick to a lot of fresh produce, so we can use our plastic credits for bread, milk, and something else.

4. Eat Less Meat and Processed Food

Meat and processed foods tend to be wrapped in a lot of plastic. If you go absolutely zero waste, you will be buying lots of mushrooms and other plastic-free proteins!

Some meat and deli counters accept containers, but not all. But the truth is, most meat or seafood you buy has already had a pretty high plastic cost. Fishing nets are the number one source of plastic in our oceans and large farms use a tons of plastic for their farming and shipping. Best case scenario, environmentally-speaking, is that we all go vegan. But if you aren't ready for that leap you can still do a lot of good by eating less animal proteins. So we now eat more Meatless Monday meals and tend to choose meals where we can spread one package over several meals (I call them Less Meat Meals).

But yeah, the bad news is that if you are avoiding plastic waste, the cookie aisle is basically going to be a heart breaker. Our regular grocery store has donuts in the bakery you can take away in paper, so we do that. There is also usually a baker at the counter, so in theory you could ask for your favorite item before it hits the packaging. It's all about being strategic and not being afraid to ask questions! Same for the freezer aisle (we make our own popsicles- so easy).

5. Shopping our Local Farmer's Market and Bulk Stores

Unlike grocery stores, farmer's markets won't use fruit stickers and tend to be much more open to using whatever bag you happen to bring. I also love farmer's markets in the summer, because we can get berries without any plastic clam shell.

I am also obsessed with grocery stores with bulk spices, pasta, candy, and grains. We can get a ton of what we need in our own containers so we skip a bunch of plastic containers (this is really great for everything from filling our pantry to filling our Easter baskets). We also can buy these dry goods (and cleaning supplies) in pretty big quantities, so we don't have to do it all of the time. Think you don't have a bulk store near you? Check again! Even our tiny hometown has one 10 minutes away now. Do some research!

6. Beware of Paper Cartons

Pretty often, paper milk cartons are still lined with a thin layer of plastic that keeps the whole thing from being recyclable. You are better off buying one jug, which can be reused for water storage or recycled.

7. We Don't Buy Bottled Water. Ever. 

If you want to kill a bad habit, the first step is to just stop buying it. Just stop with water bottles.

We are lucky to live in a place where our tap water is perfectly drinkable with a healthy filter. I would never, ever buy bottled water, because you are really just paying for tap water wrapped in plastic garbage. It makes tons of sense if you live in Flint. The rest of us just need to stop.

8. We Order Our Paper Goods Online (and Wrapped in Paper)

We mostly use reusable options like unpaper towels and cloth napkins, but if we do need toilet paper, we buy it in bulk and wrapped in paper. THIS IS SO MUCH EASIER THAN GETTING IT FROM THE GROCERY STORE. This post gives you a big list of places you can buy toilet paper without plastic, but the short answer is to just fall in love with Who Gives a Crap, because they are awesome.

9. I Stopped Buying Pads

I have a menstrual cup. It is a freaking game changer, and if you haven't tried yet, look into it. Thinx is another option that people love, but the bottom line is that disposable pads and tampons have huge amounts of plastic in them, and no one needs them. If you want more plastic-free tips for your menses business, I have a whole post for that.

10. We Eat What We Buy 

I am not the best at using everything in our fridge, and we used to throw a lot of food out. My partner in grocery crime has become a pretty committed meal planner, and we throw away a lot less. It's so simple, but using what we have creates less waste. Less food and packaging wasted for nothing.

11. We Use Bar Soap and Refillable Shampoo Bottles

We have been using bar soap for a few years, and I wouldn't go back. It's just as easy, but everything comes wrapped in paper. I think bar soap is sorely due for a big comeback, because you can buy beautiful, local, paper wrapped soap that will last you so much time!

For shampoo, we use refillable shampoo bottle from Plaine Products. They send me a full metal bottle of shampoo every three months, and then I mail them back my empties in the same box. Bar shampoo didn't work for me, but this really does, and it is so simple to do.

That has been the big things that have helped us! Do you have a specific item that you can't figure out? Write me in the comments and I will try to help you find a plastic-free solution!

12. We Skip Boxed and Bagged Salads

Lettuce from the produce aisle takes a few minutes to clean and works just as well.

13. We Grow it Ourselves

We have parsley, basil, green onion, and chives growing in our yard all of the time, so we don't have to buy the little (way overpriced) plastic pouches of herbs. We also grow blue berries, strawberries, and raspberries in our yard. It isn't going to stop all plastic, but it is the most healing and fun way that we cut down on plastic.

14. We Skip Individually Wrapped

Just because you can't cut plastic out completely doesn't mean you can't cut out a whole lot of it. We will never buy those American cheese slices that are wrapped in plastic again. Even kraft sells their cheese slices without all that extra packaging, so we can even get American cheese without so much plastic.

We Leave the Grocery Store with Three Pieces of Plastic or Less. This is How We Do It.

Want more ideas for getting plastic out of your life? Check out our crazy long list of easy ways to cut plastics out! Happy Plastic-Free July!

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