Our tips for plastic free shopping…
I’d take a wild guess that most of the rubbish you produce comes from your weekly grocery shopping.
So, many items nowadays come in excessive packaging. Often it can be difficult to imagine what someone who claims to be ‘zero waste’ or ‘plastic free’ actually eats.
We made a tonne of changes to our buying habits (washable nappies, reusable menstrual cup, safety razor etc etc…) but were still producing a huge amount of waste every week.
Our bags of trash were either destined to be buried in landfill or sent off for ‘recycling’ (I don’t even want to think about what’s happened to that!)
We decided that the only way we could be sure that we weren’t producing waste that would continue to pollute our planet for centuries was to stop buying it.
Is Plastic Free Shopping Possible Without A Bulk Grocery Store?
First off, I want to clarify that the ‘plastic free’ and ‘zero waste’ labels are aspirational. They are ideals to work towards.
Setting out with the mindset that you will create absolutely no waste straight away is an unrealistic expectation (unless you have an amazing bulk store up the road).
It’s also far too much pressure to put on yourself, especially if you have children.
Committing to live a plastic free lifestyle is about making the best choices that we can given the resources that we have.
Obviously, where you live and the facilities around are going to have a huge impact on how free of plastic and other waste, you can actually be.
Money can sometimes be a barrier to becoming entirely plastic free too.
Having said that, we’ve found that some items on our zero waste shopping list have actually saved us money. You can see what’s on our zero waste shopping list here.
We’ve also saved money by buying less processed food and replacing it with more filling, wholesome foods instead.
How To Start Plastic Free Shopping?
Packaging is everywhere. (Although, many companies are starting to improve things following customer demand.)
Plastic free shopping will definitely mean that you will have to change your shopping habits but that doesn’t mean that it has to be more difficult…it just makes it different and different takes some getting used to.
So before you even think about plastic free shopping you’ll need to get prepared:
Plastic Free Shopping Tips and Tricks
1. Spend some time looking for the most waste free stores.
We’re creatures of habit and so we tend to stick to the same supermarkets year after year. That’s why plastic free shopping seems so impossible…we just can’t imagine shopping anywhere else!
Take me for example, I was born, raised and stayed in a tiny hamlet in West Wales for the first three decades of my life.
We shopped in our nearest supermarket which was 20 miles away. When we decided that we wanted to do something about the amount of waste we were accumulating we had to spend a bit of time researching where the best places to shop were. Despite having lived there for over 30 years!
Ask around, post a question on local Facebook groups, search online.
People who follow the zero waste movement are generally really helpful and keen to spread the message.
2. Washable produce sacks are handy for weighing and carrying your loose items to check-out.
You can easily make your own out of old pillow cases or bed sheets. We have around 5 medium and 5 smallish bags I think.
I use the larger ones for pasta and potatoes etc and the smaller for mushrooms and chocolate chips.
I usually keep bigger vegetables like courgettes loose in my basket.
3. Jars with lids – jars can be used to hold so many things. We use ours for deli items like olives and coleslaw.
They’re great for delicate items like soft fruits too.
If your driving to a bulk store and don’t have two kids hanging off your arms then you can put your oats, rice, lentils etc directly into jars in store.
This saves decanting at home but I’ve not attempted it with toddlers yet.
(I wash mine in the dishwasher and sterilize them in the oven).
4. Pack some boxes – these are great for putting cheese or similar in at the deli.
Keep a separate one for meat at the butchers counter if you eat it. You can pop it straight in the fridge or freezer when you get home.
5. Refuse packaging you don’t want. It’s not as scary as you might imagine and people are generally polite or really interested about it.
You will often need to explain why or you’ll end up with your cheese from the deli wrapped in plastic inside your own box…#facepalm.
At a supermarket deli I’d say something like: “I try to avoid packaging can you please put my cheese in this box”.
If your shopping at a market and fancy some strawberries, don’t be afraid to ask if they’ll reuse the plastic punet before you decant their strawberries into your own jar.
I say something like: “I try not to buy anything in packaging will you be able to reuse the box?”
Remember, each time you ask for plastic free shopping options you are promoting plastic free shopping and are helping to spread the zero waste message! 🤗
6. Keep it in your car! Every time you return from a plastic free shopping trip put your kit back in your car.
It needs to be there when you shop next time.
If your partner has a car then keep an emergency box, jar and bag in there too.
7. Buy in bulk. If the only option you have in your area is a supermarket with very few unpackaged goods then you can only do the best that you can do.
Don’t beat yourself up about it.
Instead try to choose the biggest packs that you can buy (provided it won’t be wasted) rather than smaller bags of everything.
Buy large portions of cheese which can be frozen in blocks or grated. The texture changes slightly (it’s crumblier) but it’s great for cooking and I’ve eaten it in sandwiches without noticing a huge difference. Milk and yogurt can be frozen too. You can also freeze bread in a cotton bag.
Buy fruit that’s reduced and freeze for smoothies and pies.
A sack of potatoes or carrots will keep for a long time in a dark place (I keep ours under the sink) and will save all those small nets.
9. Look online.
You may find an online supplier that will deliver plastic free to your door.
This post has some tips on how to find a local milk delivery in your area.
Many of these companies will also deliver juice in returnable glass and fruit and vegetable boxes.
10. Think of the bigger picture and don’t fall for greenwashing!
I know that this post is about plastic free shopping but it’s so important to think of climate change as a whole.
For example, buying produce in glass is great because it means less plastic polluting our earth BUT we really need to keep pushing for an end to single-use packaging in general.
Glass bottles are awesome but throwing them in the recycling every single week is not ideal.
Try to support companies that re-use their own bottles.
If it’s an item that you don’t buy often it’s not such a problem as you can keep the jars to use at home.
But, if it’s something like juice that you buy weekly then that’s over 50 bottles that have only been used once (unless you manage to reuse that many at home of course!)
Glass actually takes more energy to produce so although it’s better than plastic in so many ways, it’s really important that it’s reused often.
Same with paper and cotton bags. Yep they’re not plastic…great! But producing them uses a lot of resources so if they’re not being reused then they aren’t as great as we might think.
This is probably one of the most important aspects of plastic free shopping for us.
As soon as you start trying to shop plastic free you start noticing pointless packaging everywhere!
Plan your meals and write a shopping list (click to see ours)…that way it should be less daunting.
Plastic Free Shopping | stuff other than food!
For those items that we buy regularly there are often plastic free alternatives.
Take a look at these posts:
If all else fails…
When your faced to make decision to either starve or buy a packaged item, ask yourself these questions…
1. Can I go without?
Sometimes we have to make a choice between our needs and our wants.
I’m not saying that we should feel really terrible if we give in and buy our favourite bar of chocolate once in a while but ultimately the decision is ours to make.
2. Can I make this myself?
Processed foods usually come heavily packaged.
Making your own means that you won’t have all those plastic trays and wrappers in your bin.
Cooking doesn’t need to be complicated.
It literally takes me 10 minutes to get a batch of cookies in the oven with my toddlers ‘help’.
If you’re new to cooking, then these tips might help:
- Use a stand mixer and/or blender so you can just chuck everything in. Great for cooking one-handed, while on the phone of holding a baby. Also, amazing for kneading bread if you buy the right one.
- Keep basics in the cupboard so that you can easily make a tray of something yummy (flour, oats, oil, raisins)
- If you-re baking something that doesn’t fill the oven (like baked potatoes) then add a simple cake, tray of cookies or veggies to roast for soup.
- Keep it simple. I have 2 or 3 cake and cookie recipes that I make…that’s it! I just add different ingredients to them…apple, lemon, raisins, choc chips…
- Freeze treats as soon as they’re cool enough or they’ll be devoured within minutes. I freeze mine in a Tupperware or glass kilner.
- If you have vegetables that need using then cook them all up. I make a simple mix of onions, garlic, tomatoes and any other veg I have to use up. It works as a soup, pasta sauce and pizza sauce. It freezes well too.
3. Can I buy it in a compostable material?
Some items should be easy to find packaged in paper. Buy sugar, flour, oats, baking powder etc in paper and either recycle it or compost it.
4. Can I buy it in glass?
Glass is awesome because it can be recycled again and again.
If you can find returnable glass produce it your area then that is by far the best packaging option. Many milk deliveries now offer juices in returnable glasses too.
If the glass isn’t returnable then reuse it, give it away or recycle it.
5. Can I buy it in a larger quantity?
Buy as big as you can without risking wasting any.
Freeze milk, yogurt, fruit, vegetables, cheese, bread…
Buy big bags or sacks of flour, rice, pasta, oats and decant into jars.
Potatoes, carrots and other vegetables that store well can be bought in sacks and stored in a cool, dark place. If you’re used to pre-washed then a vegetable brush will make them so much easier to prepare.
6. What number is on the plastic?
All plastic should have a number on the bottom. The closer that number is to one, the higher the chance it has of being recycled (technically it’s downcycled as it can’t be made into the same item again and again like glass can be).
Number 1 plastics are Polyethylene Terepthalate which are downcycled to make things like medicine bottles and fleece jackets.
Number 2 plastics are High-density Polyethylene (milk bottles etc) and can be used to make things like garden fencing.
Anything with a 6 or 7 on is destined for landfill.
It’s a good idea to try making just a few changes each month.
If you’ve never really cooked much before try substituting packaged biscuits and cakes with your own flapjacks or home-made cookies.
Wait until it feels easy before setting yourself another target.
Plastic free shopping isn’t going to be easy for everyone and becomig zero waste is a process, where every step counts for something.