Plastic Free Food – A shopping study

Plastic Free July has just ended, and now what you might ask? Going plastic free or reducing plastic for one month a year is not going to solve anything. A month is only enough to raise awareness of the issue how our Planet Earth is becoming Planet Plastic, and it is happening scarily fast. One of the places where plastic is in extensive amounts is grocery stores. However the good news is that it is possible to buy food and to avoid plastic; you just need to do your research.

In previous articles My Good Planet discussed how you can start to reduce your plastic footprint by changing little things in your life. In addition My Good Planet looked at ways how post-consumer PET bottles can be taken out of landfills and turned into clothing.

Yet what about food shopping? How can we reduce the plastic wastage in our local grocery stores? When you step foot into any grocery store you see shiny plastic packaging everywhere – vegetables packed in plastic, salads in plastic bags, eggs in plastic boxes, milk in plastic bottles, etc. etc. etc. – you don’t even have to go to pre-packed meal aisles to see plastic everywhere.

Here is an interesting fact, in June a major UK supermarket Marks & Spencer switched from price stickers on avocados to laser-printed barcodes on its skin. According to The Guardian:

“The British chain hopes to save 10 tonnes of labels and backing paper and five tonnes of adhesive every year by using these lasered labels rather than stickers.”

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Moreover, one year ago M&S launched ‘Project Thin Air’ to redesign packaging for more than 140 popular M&S own brand food products. This is the latest move in the supermarket’s ethical and sustainability programme. Just by taking extra air out on their popcorn range, helped M&S to reduce the pack size by 37%, while their own brand hand-cooked crisp range now uses 20% less plastic than before by switching to a thinner and stronger film bag. As The Guardian reported:

“The changes have led to 75 tonnes of packaging being saved each year – in carbon emissions equivalent to 152 fewer lorries on the road in 2017.”

These are positive changes, which are hopefully only a start to moving towards more sustainable shopping.

Recently a campaign group A Plastic Planet commissioned a poll in the UK asking people whether they would like to see a plastic-free aisle in the supermarkets and the results were positively affirming, as Independent writes:

“Nine out of 10 people want supermarkets to introduce a “plastic-free aisle”, according to a new poll amid rising concern about pollution.

The survey – of 2,000 British adults by Populus – was commissioned by campaign group A Plastic Planet, which said it was clear that the public wanted an alternative to ‘goods laden with plastic packaging’.”

These figures are positive, but what can you do in your own shopping? Even if there is no plastic free aisle or zero packaging bulk stores in your neighbourhood, you can still pick vegetables and fruits in the supermarket that are not packed in the plastic – or if so inclined leave the plastic packaging behind and ask the supermarket to recycle. In most cases the price for these items will be lower than for the same produce wrapped in the plastic, due to the fact that you will pay per weight and not per piece.

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Besides the fresh produce, look at jams, peanut butters, hummus or anything else that comes in a jar, always source and pick out the glass jar over the plastic jar. You can re-use the glass jar afterwards for storing dry goods such as nuts, seeds, grains, or maybe make your own chutney or jam and use the jar for storing. I even use my store bought sauerkraut jars as food boxes – great for bringing salad or snacks en-route. Picking no packaging or plastic free packaging produce will quickly become a new habit, plus you might even discover new products that you have never tried before.

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As most of us know a great alternative to supermarkets is your local farmer’s market. Firstly, food will be mainly sourced locally, if you are not sure ask; secondly the food, if you forgot your own bag, most often will be put in a paper bag/box; thirdly, more often than not farmer’s market produce will be organic, once again, ask if not sure. I personally prefer to go and do my weekly vegetable shopping at the local farmer’s market, no packaging, as I bring my own cotton bags, the food haven’t travelled too far and I can buy vegetables and fruits that are in season locally, thus eating healthier. Plus, it feels good to support local producers.

I even buy bread at my local market, and it is simply put in a paper bag, no plastic; if you get any packaging at all in your local market, always ask whether they recycle, for example, the farmer that I buy eggs from takes back the carton egg boxes and re-uses them. Another bonus that I enjoy about farmer’s market is that they always strive to improve; so if they don’t offer paper bags or biodegradable plastic bags, ask, suggest them to switch, you will see the change will happen. Demand needs to be there so it can be met with an offer.

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Other fantastic option for buying fresh produce is vegetable and fruit boxes; you don’t even have to leave your house to do your shopping. Some producers even offer Zero Waste box, like Green Earth Organics in Galway, Ireland. Nothing is wrapped in plastic in this box and the box itself is re-used, plus you can customise your box, adding vegetables that you like and enjoy cooking with. Plus, the box is delivered to your door, no need to stand in that supermarket queue. Stress free and plastic free shopping!

Next time when you shop, notice what you are putting into your basket, and see whether it has a plastic-free option, bring your own bags and shop locally.

Baiba Šustere

Baiba Šustere is a writer whose work focuses on mindfulness, health and wellbeing.