I was recently sent an article by a dear friend that chronicles the life of a 20-something-New Yorker who claims that she live s a zero-waste life. I recycle tea bottles, and paper bags, and have a compost pile in my back yard. I also bring my own reusable bags to the store, and even re-use food containers, but I realized that my frequent trips to the grocery store were generating a lot more waste than I previously considered.
Information is power though, and via websites like zerowastehome.com, I’m learning how to stop contributing to the ridiculous amounts of trash (mostly plastic) that goes into landfills in the US every year, or the almost 35% level of edible food waste that occurs annually. This, when biotech erroneously tells us there isn’t enough food to feed the world.
You can reduce, too. Just follow these simple tips:
- 1. Shop for all your food, toiletry, and beauty items only one time a week. Not only will this cut down on impulse buys and force you to purchase only what you need, you can also save money on gas, and recycle the last shopping trip receipt by writing your new grocery list down on it.
- 2. Use a shopping list to decide how many reusable jars and produce bags you’ll need, and put those into one big reusable bag. Add just a few more jars for the inevitable impulse purchase.
- 3. Stop purchasing packaged foods, and re–use your own jars, bags and plastic containers to purchase bulk foods. One little bottle of juice adds up to a lot of waste when consumed by millions of people. Consider purchasing your own oranges or lemons, and make your homemade juice that has its own compostable casing, or limit beverage consumption of drinks that only come in single-use packaging. The same goes for dry-food items.
- 4. Forget plastic altogether. Today, Americans discard about 33.6 million tons of plastic each year, but only 6.5% of it is recycled and 7.7% is combusted in waste-to-energy facilities. There are many biodegradable alternatives to petroleum-based plastics. Glass is the first choice – it is made from sand and doesn’t leach into your food. Mason jars can be re-used over and over again. Also, use nylon, cotton, hemp, or fiber bags instead of plastic ones.
- 5. Keep shopping ‘baskets’ in your trunk. Sometimes a cloth or fiber bag isn’t strong enough to carry bulk food or larger purchases. If you carry woven baskets or even re-use cardboard boxes, you can pack a lot of groceries and not worry about them falling out of a bag or other less-sturdy carriers.
- 6. Use bread bags for bakery bread purchases instead of taking it home in a paper or plastic bag.
- 7. Buy in bulk. Many people are worried about buying in bulk in fear of food going to waste, especially if they are single or don’t have a large family. To solve this problem, eat what you can and store the rest in the freezer. Fresh produce can be frozen. Bread can be frozen. Even butter can be frozen. Fewer purchasing trips mean you’ll eat more package-less foods too, and contribute less to the waste stream.
- 8. Re-use clean, empty wine bottles by taking them to a local organic winery bottling event. Many wine makers will offer bottling events as often as four times a year.
- 9. Shop the farmer’s market for ‘sticker free’ produce. All those little stickers add up to trees being wasted. Farmer’s markets usually have one sign that says “organic apples .50 each,’ for example. You don’t need a sticker when you get home to tell you what you are eating. And of course – bag them in your own reusable produce bags.
- 10. Refill egg cartons at local farms. Egg containers can be re-used again and again. Many local farms now even allow you to ‘pick your own’ eggs from free-range, grass and plant eating chicken coops.
Stores can also consider going package-free. One grocery store in Germany, Original Unverpackt, sources food locally to reduce transportation costs and energy use. It also offers many items from gravity or bulk bins. Containers that can be reused are available, or better yet, you can bring your own. They also carry non-food products like cleaning products and personal care items.
In the US, First Alternative Natural Foods Coop located in Corvallis, Oregon, offers all dry goods (including herbs, spices, baking goods, pastas, dried fruit, and beans) in bulk, as well as tofu, mozzarella cheese, eggs, kombucha, honey, hazelnut butter, mustard, shampoo, body lotion, oils, henna, soaps, and even pet food.
Another zero-waste store is opening up in Austin, Texas. They plan to reduce their environmental footprint—petroleum consumption and transportation emissions specifically by offering zero-waste goods to consumers.
According to Treehugger.com:
“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.”
It is not only what you eat, but how it is packaged that makes a difference to overall food sustainability. When we think outside the plastic container, there is a lot of room for improvement. Maybe you can’t be zero-waste overnight, but you can certainly start to reduce your waste contribution, and be part of the solution.