Today’s post is a guest post from Nathalie Heyden. Nathalie Heyden is a student at the University of Waterloo, who is currently completing a co-op placement here with our team. Nathalie will be writing about sustainability, waste & recycling, compost & so much more. We invite you to read along and follow her on this exciting journey with our team. This post is the second in a two-part series about how waste reduction and waste diversion can play a crucial way in the way we grocery shop.
Continuing on from last week’s post, Nathalie Heyden breaks down her recconmended steps to approach grocery shopping with a focus on waste reduction…
A detailed groceries list for a mindful consumer
I have broken your groceries list down into five categories: produce, grains, proteins, drinks and treats. The first four categories are straight from Canada’s food guide, and the fifth is my personal (and often favourite) addition. This week you will be focusing your spending habits on eliminating packaging that goes to waste, reducing recyclable packaging and continuing to take advantage of reusable container programs.
First, let us compare fresh versus frozen produce. Fresh produce come with a small barcode sticker whereas frozen produce comes in a film-plastic bag. (For reference: if you can easily rip the plastic packaging, then it is unlikely that there is a recycling market for it.) The fresh produce is the better option when it comes to the amount of waste, but only if you remember to bring reusable bags for it. Some great options for produce are mesh or cotton bags. If you are a DIY enthusiast, you can even give a shot at making your own.
There is such a wide variety of packaging when it comes to grain products. There are plastic bags, paper bags, cardboard boxes, and those noisy-crinkly-metallic bags (you know, those loud ones that ruin movie night) that end up in the waste-bin. Grain products are best bought in bulk with reusable containers, but if that is not possible, aim to buy grains that come in boxes (e.g. boxed pasta) or that come in paper bags (e.g. fresh bread). Try your best to avoid packaging-within-packaging such as cereals and granola bars. If granola bars are a must-have, consider making your own. These are some of my favourites.
When we think of protein, many of us think of meat products. What we do not think about is how our meat is packaged. Meat will more often than not, come in a plastic bag, or on a Styrofoam plate with plastic wrap. The exception is instances where we go to the butcher’s and our meat is wrapped neatly with waxy paper. None of this can be recycled, and in most cases the waxy paper must go as well. So, as a challenge for this week, I encourage you to buy more nuts, seeds and legumes. These can be bought in bulk with your own container, or in recyclable metal, glass, and plastic containers. I am not asking you to become vegetarian, but substituting a portion of your meat intake for nuts and legumes is a great way to reduce packaging. Not only are they great for reducing packaging, they are often less expensive. One pound of lentils or beans are around $1 to $2, one pound of chicken is around $5 and a pound of beef is around $6. If you are reluctant to give-up meat altogether, ask your butcher if they’d be willing to place your meat in a reusable container that you bring from home. As long as it is well-cleaned, most butchers are happy to accommodate your waste-free request.
I want to talk about water. More specifically: water from the tap. Yes, I know… You love your bottled water, but I cannot express enough, how much of a waste of money and resources it is to buy bottled water. If you have access to tap water, you should take advantage of that commodity.
Some great options to avoid bottled water include getting a water filter or investing in a jug that you refill at the groceries store.
Another suggestion I have to eliminate that undrinkable taste everyone claims tap water has, is to add fruits or vegetables to your water. I like adding cut lemons, but you can add other things such as cucumbers, raspberries and other fruits to add flavour. Do this by adding the fruit and veggies into a reusable water bottle, fill it up with tap water then leave it in the fridge overnight to allow the water to become flavourful. It is quick and ready to go for the next day. If all of these suggestions are not reason enough to ditch the bottled water, how about the fact that you do not need to find space in the fridge (or in your laundry room) for the 24-pack of water bottles if you use tap water instead.
Aside from water, first I want to briefly talk about milk. For milk, your best option is to buy milk cartons or milk in glass bottles, as the milk bags (primarily sold in Ontario) are not recyclable. If you are to buy juice, pop and other beverages, be sure that the container is recyclable. If you are truly looking to save money and reduce waste, you are best-off to limit your spending on beverages aside from tap water.
The fourth ‘forbidden’ food group. Also known as the ‘extras’ that we realize we should not buy but our sweet tooth urges us to. Baked goods, chips, candy – you name it. These types of foods are notorious for excessive amounts of packaging, so please try your best with this one. Homemade treats are a fantastic option to reduce the amount of packaging we bring into the house. If you do not have the time, aim for desserts that come in recyclable packaging, for example ice cream (this is the permission you needed to buy that tub of Ben&Jerry’s). You want to avoid the sleeves of cookies and bags of candies that are wrapped in layers of wasteful non-recyclable plastics. The bulk-food store is also a great location to buy your sweet needs. You can buy lots of baking ingredients, and there are many candies and sweets that you can fill your reusable containers with.
Thinking about the big picture
It is no easy task to shop with your product’s packaging in mind. This past weekend I went grocery shopping with these ideals considered, and I had a very hard time weighing certain options. I found that if I wanted to buy my produce in bulk (such as romaine lettuce or avocados), it would come with extra packaging, whereas the individual produce would not. I believe there are some areas where there is need for a change in the system itself, but there are other times where I could choose the product with better packaging between products of equivalent amounts and cost.
One positive outcome from my Sunday shopping, was that instead of buying pre-made sushi, my best friend and I tried a hand at making our own. There were still some products we used that created waste, but we were able to avoid the bulky plastic take-out container, and the individual soy sauce packets that the pre-made product came with.
That was a lot of information…
Here are the big take-aways to stick to your waste-budget:
- Compare product packaging where possible
- Drink tap water
- Buy ingredients rather than pre-packaged meals