Treading Lightly
Treading Lightly

Grocery shopping nightmare: The battle with packaging

Sometimes I feel like my largest tests of will (other than when I am making a dessert and I would rather keep eating it than finish baking it) is when I am grocery shopping. It’s not because I only want to buy items that are terrible for me or I am counting calories, but rather that every item I want (because most of our fruits and vegetables comes from a local delivery service or the farmers market) comes in endless amounts of packaging.

Normally I hate naming the places I am talking about, but this time for clarity I will. Stores like Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods irk me with their packaging. I love trail mix, crackers, and other snacks, and yet they all come in at least a plastic bag and sometimes even a box. The frozen food is in a plastic container, wrapped in plastic, in a cardboard box. Are they serious? There is no point to this piles and piles of packaging. As soon as the item is gone, or moved into a reusable container, the entire thing is meant to just be thrown out. We even put fresh fruits and vegetables in Styrofoam and then wrap it in plastic. Why are we paying to full our garbage cans and our already over flowing landfills?

When I am walking down the isles and I see something I would like to eat I always ask myself how much packaging it has, how much is recyclable, could I do without it? More often than not I walk away from some food item that I would enjoy because of the packaging. I am not willing to take home healthy food (or otherwise : ) ) that is going to send plastic to the landfill. However, it makes shopping for food so frustrating.

When I shop at Whole Foods I can get things in bulk with my canvas bags, but I worry about cleanliness, and sometimes the selection is not that great. I just wish packaging were better sourced, or not used at all. What if we all used reusable containers and brought in what we wanted? What if we didn’t double or triple package things? What if our food was not sealed in plastic? What if all stores didn’t package food?

Today GOOD highlighted a grocery store, In.gredients in Austin Texas that promises to be the nation’s first “package-free, zero waste grocery store.” According to the article:

“The idea is so simple, it’s surprising that no one in the United States has implemented it yet. (The United Kingdom, on the other hand, got the bulk food-only Unpackaged in London last year). Just like many people bring tote bags to the grocery store, shoppers at In.gredients will be encouraged to bring their own containers to pack up items like grains, oils, and dairy. If a shopper doesn’t have his own containers, the store will provide compostable ones. It’s as if the specialty bulk food section rebelled and took over the rest of a traditional grocery store. In.gredients will replace unhealthy, over-packaged junk with local, organic, and natural foods, and moonlight as a community center with cooking classes, gardening workshops, and art shows on the side.
“Truth be told, what’s normal in the grocery business isn’t healthy for consumers or the  environment,” In.gredients co-founder Christian Lane said in a press release. Americans add 570 million pounds of food packaging to their landfills each day, while pre-packaged foods force consumers to buy more than they need, stuffing their bellies and their trash bins: 27 percent of food brought into U.S. kitchens ends up getting tossed out.

I hope they get the funding they need to open and the support to stay open. I also hope we can get one close to my home in the Bay Area. While we wait there are some easy things you can do to cut down on the packaging you send to the landfill:

1. Avoid all of the isles that do not have fresh food. Focus on your fruits, vegetables, and freshly baked goods.

2. Shop at farmers markets and bring your own containers and totes. Give back any baskets or bags after putting your food into your own containers.

Image courtesy of Greener Greener
3. Shop at the bulk bins with canvas bags or jars. Just do not forget to keep one empty for the clerk to weigh.
Image courtesy of Eating Bird Food
Image courtesy of Super Stock
4. If you have to buy something packaged, buy the biggest package you can to reduce the amount of packaging you can.

Until one of these stores makes it near me, I will continue to battle the packaged foods and stalk the bulk bins for the trail mix with the perfect ratio of dried fruit to nuts and other tasty snacks.

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