Zero Waste: 7 Ways You Can Protect the Environment When You Shop

Protect the environment and reduce waste when shopping for groceries by using these seven tips.

We’ve all gotten the memo: Bring a reusable bag for grocery shopping whenever you can, and choose paper over plastic when you can't. But what other things can you do to make the least amount of impact on the environment when you’re shopping for groceries? Here are a few, along with some added incentives to adopt the reusable-bag habit.

1. Pack Reusable Bags

If you haven’t remembered to keep your reusable bag on you at all times, maybe this will encourage you to do so: Every time customers bring their own bag to Whole Foods they receive 10 cents off their purchase. If you bring your reusable bag to Trader Joe’s, you can enter your name into the daily raffle to win a gift certificate for the store just for being kind to the environment. If you’re near a Wegman’s, bring back your plastic bags and drop them in their designated recycling bin. The bags will be sent back to the supplier to be made into new plastic bags, thus creating a closed-loop system. (Note: If you’re having trouble keeping your reusable bags on you, each time you’ve unloaded your purchases, put the bags back into your car trunk, bicycle bag or handbag.)

2. Grab Your Mason Jar

In addition to using recyclable or reusable bags, bring a reusable container to collect your favorite bulk food products. Whole Foods (check with your local store) allows customers to use their own Mason jar (or other container) to stock up on their selection of nuts, seeds, grains and dried fruits.

3. Buy Precut Veggies

At Wegman’s, when you buy their already cleaned and chopped fruits and veggies you will be doing more than saving time. More than half of Wegman’s 85 stores divert food waste to be used for animal feed or compost, or to produce energy.

4. Skip the Produce Bags

Is it essential that you separate all your fruits and veggies into plastic bags?  If you’re worried the bananas will bruise or the zucchini will get nicked, take good care of them as you would your loaves of bread or your eggs: Make sure sensitive fruits and veggies go on top of other, more durable goods. At home you’ll have an easier time discovering what’s in your veggie drawer, as you won’t have to dig through a sea of plastic.  If you do use the plastic bags, remember to reuse them.

5. BYOB

A new trend in the olive oil world: bring your own bottle. Gourmet cheese shops that offer signature olive oil from a vat are selling refillable green bottles. Customers often receive a discount for reusing the bottle when they fuel up on the liquid gold once again.

6. Take a Lunch

Nowadays the grocery store has also become the eatery. If you are heading to Whole Foods for their hot/cold bar, skip the takeaway and take a lunch break. Customers who opt to eat in and use their reusable bowls receive a price break — another reason not to eat at your desk.

7. Don’t Forget Why You Should Buy Local

When shopping, look for local foods that have traveled fewer miles to the grocery store. Choosing sustainable seafood, organic meats and poultry, green cleaning products and energy-efficient light bulbs are all good decisions. The store is filled with choices that promise to make the planet and your home a greener place.

Kiri Tannenbaum is a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu Paris and holds an M.A. in food studies from New York University where she is currently an adjunct professor. When her schedule allows, she leads culinary walking tours in New York City and is currently at work on her first book.

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