Welcome to Reduce Waste Wednesday! This series will be taking the place of Travel Thursday in 2019. Every other Wednesday I’ll be sharing a post on sustainability. The first few will focus on ways to reduce different types of waste, then I’ll be branching out from there.
First up, food packaging waste…
What is food packaging waste?
Food packaging waste is any material - plastic, foil, cardboard, paper, etc. - that houses food. One of my favorite examples is the plastic carton milk comes in. This is a classic example of a household staple that almost exclusively comes in a one-time use container. Other examples include, the plastic container strawberries or blueberries come in, canned beans, individually wrapped snacks, plastic jars of peanut butter, the paper that surrounds butter, the list is endless.
What Can We Do About It?
Food packaging was not on my radar for a long time. Too long, honestly. However, now that I am aware, I am obsessed with reducing my food packing waste. In fact, it was one of my five New Years resolutions. I am fascinated with ways to eliminate food packaging waste. I view it as a challenge of sorts. How can I creatively find ways to eliminate food waste but still buy the foods I want to eat?
Moving towards a sustainable life is a journey. Taking steps to reducing my food packaging waste was one of my first steps. I have found it to be easier than other aspects of sustainability. I’m going to share eight tips to reducing food packaging waste. These are tips I have found useful over the last year and I now practice them on a daily basis. Without further ado, let’s hop into the post…
Buy in bulk
You have probably heard this one before, but I promise, it’s true. Buying foods in bulk is a great way to reduce food packaging waste by a lot. There are two ways to approach this. My favorite way to do this is: visiting my local health food store or market and purchase grains, beans, nuts, dried fruits, etc. from the bulk bins. I bring my own bulk bags to further reduce my waste and not use the plastic bags that are typically provided.
I may or may have not a spreadsheet comparing bulk prices from all the health food stores in my area. Ok, I do and I can tell you purchasing in bulk is almost always cheaper. It is definitely cheaper when it comes to beans, grains, and flours and 90% of the time it is cheaper for nuts, seeds, and dried fruit as well. If you are on a budget ( like me ) and want organic foods but don’t love the organic pricers, shopping in bulk is the way to go.
Pro tip: Write the bulk code on a sheet of paper or in a note in your phone and skip the sticker or wire tie for the bag.
Invest in Produce Bags
You know those clear plastic bags you see in the produce section of grocery stores? Yeah, I have a solution to eliminate those from your life. Enter produce bags - reusable cloth draw string bags that take the place of the plastic bags. I have mesh bags for things like greens, carrots, and mushrooms and cloth and string ones for potatoes, onions, peppers, and avocados. They are a great, relatively cheap option for completely eliminating plastic bags from your grocery shopping trips. I recommend investing in a combination of five to ten produce bags and giving them a try. I have a feel you will love them and go back for more.
Pro tip: Cloth produce bags can double as bulk bags for your grains and beans.
Buy Products Sold in Recyclable Containers
I buy ketchup in a glass bottle. It’s true, I pay more than I should for unsweetened, 100% organic, local ketchup. I made the decision, I absolutely cannot live without ketchup and so in order to keep my food packaging waste at an all time low- I choose to spend more and buy ketchup in a container I know will be recycled. This is not a choice everyone needs to make, but I recommend looking at the products you purchase on a regular basis and ask yourself: Does this product come in a recyclable container? If so, am I willing to switch to that brand which may taste different, cost more (or less) in order to reduce my food packaging waste. This is an individual choice.
I can tell you not every product I purchase has a sustainable alternative. Take almond milk for example. Almond milk is typically sold in cardboard containers. I do not have the option to recycle these containers where I live. Each week at the grocery store I make the decision if I want to purchase almond milk this week or skip a week. True story: I made my own almond milk for about 6 months while living in San Diego. I wish I still did this. It was incredibly expensive compared to purchasing it pre-made and I decided to just cut back on my almond milk consumption rather than making my own.
Sustainability involves making decisions based on your values, desires, and budget. It’s no easy task moving from a world that is overwhelmed with consumerism and waste to a life of eco-friendly recyclables. My biggest tip is to take your time. Go at your own pace and do what you can to make a difference. It’s all about priorities and trade-offs.
When In Doubt…Make It Yourself
Cooking something from scratch can typically solve your food waste dilemmas. Take the almond milk example, I cannot find a way to recycle the container almond milk comes in. However, I produce zero waste when I make it myself. Boom. Done.
It’s not always this easy, but I recommend thinking this way to get yourself in the habit of considering zero waste options. Some of my favorite things to make that produce zero waste: hummus, pesto, granola, and my newest obsession granola bars. Before I purchase something at the grocery store I ask myself: Can I make this myself to produce zero waste? What is the cost difference? More times than not, it is cheaper to make it myself than purchasing it pre-made. That’s a win-win in my book. I do want to acknowledge this is not feasible for everyone and making things from scratch takes times that not everyone may have. If you are short on time, make something from scratch one week and purchase it pre-made the next week as a way to compromise. True story: I made homemade hummus every other week for a few months and then found a recipe I loved and have not bought pre-made hummus since.
Keep Extra Containers On Hand
I will a full post (coming soon) on how to eliminate take-out containers, but I’ll give you a little sneak peak. Keep extra reusable containers in your car, purse, diaper bag, what have you - you never know when you will need to store food and you want to have something reusable on hand. Now you may be thinking, there’s no way I’m carrying around a Mason jar or big piece of tupperware with me at all times. I feel you on that, but I can offer a solution…
Stasher Bags. They have become my newest obsession and they will be yours as well. I keep a sandwich size Stasher Bag with a piece of Bees Wrap with me. Between the two I can sustainably store just about anything. I most commonly use these for an impromptu Starbucks bagel. I pop it in my Stasher Bag and I’m good to go. More on take-out containers coming soon!
That’s it folks, my list of ways to eliminate food package waste from your life. As I mentioned before, the journey to sustainability and zero waste is is just that - a journey. It takes time to evolve your lifestyle into something that works for you. My biggest piece of advice is: take your time and go at your own pace. The goal is to make this a permanent liestyle change. If you rush into things and change too many habits at the same time, it’s unlikely the habits will stick. And don’t forget, every little bit helps!