“How do you grocery shop?” must be one of the most common questions I get when asked about garbage-free living. I thought I’d share with you my most recent grocery shopping trip. The items purchased totaled about $100, and as you’ll see, virtually everything is recyclable, compostable, or reusable.
I tend to grocery shop at the local Fred Meyer, which is literally about five minutes from our house. While I would prefer to shop at a natural foods grocery, there are none close enough for me to make a regular trip. We shop at Whole Foods and other similar stores about once a month, but because these stores tend to be so expensive and out of the way, we can’t make a regular trip. I am happy to report that our Fred Meyer has an extensive natural foods section with lots of bulk items. You’ll see that I’ve organized my food into categories below. I’ll list the items and let you know areas where I’m working to improve. Overall, though, this sort of shopping would be quite easy for most Americans to adopt.
Step 1: The bags matter! Bring those reusable totes.
Step 2: Produce. I bring my own nifty mesh bags. The mesh is so fine I can also use them for bulk items like oatmeal, cereal, and pasta. I put things like unwrapped lettuce in the mesh bags, and heartier items like avocado and tomatoes go in the cart without any bags at all. Nothing drives me crazier than watching somebody put bananas in a plastic bag! You’ll see a cauliflower wrapped in plastic in the back. I work to avoid this, but in a pinch, this plastic is recyclable. Twisty-ties I reuse. Produce stickers I send to Sticker Man.
Step 3: Dairy. I’ve not yet found anywhere in Washington willing to put cheese unwrapped in my own Tupperware container, so when shopping for dairy, I am resorting to recycling the plastic containers. I buy rice milk in paper cartons. Yogurt and sour cream can be purchased with foil peel-back lids; check before purchasing. Note that yogurt, margarine, and sour cream containers are made from # 5 plastic, and not everyone can recycle these.
Step 4: Pantry. All cans can be recycled, but be aware that cans are lined with a plastic coating that usually contains BPA, which is a suspected endocrine disruptor. Glass is recyclable, and metal jar lids are too (usually in a curbside bin). I buy very few condiments in plastic, but you’ll notice the BBQ sauce and salad dressing up there. Sometimes I’m really cool and make these at home. Other times, I make sure I’m buying bottles with paper, not plastic, seals.
Step 5: Things wrapped in stretchy plastic. I do buy items like potatoes and tortilla shells wrapped in plastic. I make sure this plastic is recyclable by reading labels or calling the manufacturer to check. Don’t forget that Ziploc-type zippers are not recyclable. I reuse the annoying plastic tabs that hold the plastic twisted shut.
Step 6: Juice. We go through TONS of juice in our house. We even mix it with sparkling water to make it go further, but we still drink a lot of it. I strongly prefer to buy juice in glass bottles, but you’ll remember from my last post that sometimes we have to buy the stuff in plastic bottles to save money. We compromise by making sure we are buying 100% juice with no artificial stuff.
Step 7: Pet food. We feed our pets a mixture of wet and dry food. On this particular trip, I needed no dry food. We bought cans of cat food, which are recyclable. Then there are the nasty $0.99 frozen meals, which I water way down and feed to my dog mixed with dry food. This is a really long story, but basically my dog, who I love dearly, is neurotic and would starve rather than eat plain dry food, so people food he gets. We’re lucky enough to be able to recycle freezer cardboard; most people cannot. You’ll also see a package of DentaStix wrapped in nonrecyclable plastic. Now that our official garbage-free year is up and we allow ourselves weekly “luxury items,” we occasionally get our pets these sorts of treats, too. Just like I don’t agree with making natural carnivores like cats and dogs into vegetarians, I’m not going to take away the joy my pets get from these treats because of my beliefs.
Step 8: Luxury items. Since we’re planning on living this way for the rest of our lives, we built into our garbage-free plan a little “splurge room.” We allow ourselves to each create one piece of trash a week. Between myself, Adam, and the pets, we generate at most 3 pieces of household trash each week. This week, Adam chose chips, and I chose cheese. The packaging will be used in upcycling fused plastic projects, so we’re making an effort to recycle it.
Thoughts? Suggestions? Questions? Leave them below!