Brad 'N' Butter: Zero-waste grocery shopping

Columnist Brad Spudich on how to get groceries and save the Earth

A huge goal I set for myself with this column was to learn to live more sustainably and to be more conscientious about my life choices and purchases. What I’m really hoping for is to write about changes I have made that will inspire others to do the same.

Since I started this column, I’ve began composting, cut down on my meat consumption, made a habit of keeping a re-usable mug and water bottle on me at all times, bought second-hand whenever possible, donated wasteful products, found low-energy solutions to warm my home and started buying my groceries with almost no packaging.

I found recent inspiration after reading “No Impact Man,” a book by Colin Beavan about his project to make as close to no environmental impact as possible. He stuck to strict, extreme rules of sustainability, but what stood out to me was that most of his life changes take very little effort. Beavan shopped for his groceries with no packaging and no waste, and I realized I could do the same.

It’s not hard to buy your groceries waste-free, you just need to buy the right food and have the right supplies.

Before you begin: Plan your trips. When you have a list of what you’re going to buy, it’s easier to avoid buying items on impulse, and you can set up a meal plan.

Bring reusable bags: One of the first, and most essential, steps to reduce your carbon footprint is to bring your own reusable bags to the store, instead of continuously wasting paper and plastic bags. If you haven’t done so already, you can use bags you already have or buy them at almost any grocery store. This step is easy and makes a huge difference, but most food still comes wrapped in plastic or in cardboard packing. Columbia, like most cities, can only recycle one and two plastics, and this adds more packaging to landfills.

How to shop: By shopping the perimeter of the grocery store, you can avoid most foods that are in packaging. Don’t buy produce wrapped in plastic, and instead opt for fresh fruits and vegetables that you can put in your own bags. The easiest way to not only eliminate packaging waste, but also save money, is buying your food in bulk.

How to buy in bulk: Nearly every grocery store in town has a bulk section with beans, nuts, grains, fruits, cereals, flour, cooking oils, spices, soup mixes, cleaning products and more. By buying your food in bulk, you eliminate excess packaging, you can take only as much as you want and save money. Buying from the bulk section is a simple process; Put the food from the dispensers into the bag and weigh it to your desired amount and write down the item code. To avoid wasting the bags, I used to wash them and reuse them until I started bringing my own containers. This eliminated the need for additional packaging and waste.

The no-waste grocery kit: In addition to reusable bags, you can cut out waste by bringing your own reusable packaging to the store. For a standard, no waste kit, you will want to bring: Cloth bags: These eliminate the need to use plastic bags in the bulk section and for produce. You can have the cashier pre-weigh these before you shop (known as the “tare weight”) and then eliminate the bag weight from the final price. I wanted to save time and found reusable bulk and produce bags online that were lightweight enough to not affect the weight of my produce. You can find these from a variety of producers on Etsy and Amazon, or easily make your own out of spare fabric. Containers or jars: Jars and stainless steel containers work perfectly for items from the deli, peanut butters, spices, baking soda, cheeses and other items you wouldn’t want to bag. You will want to have a cashier weigh your jars before hand, but if you write down the tare number it’s a one-time thing. You can invest in a solid set of mason or lid-locking jars, or just wash and reuse spare jars from food. Swing-top bottles: In most stores, you can also find things like olive oil, canola oil, vinegar and even castile soap –– it’s olive oil-based and biodegradable (and vegan, if you’re into that). Swing-top bottles with a lid that locks in place eliminate the need to keep spending money on packages of cooking oils and soaps.

By making a small investment in these items, you will eliminate the majority of your grocery waste and save money –– and the planet.

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