A trip to the supermarket can create an alarming amount of trash. One excursion around the place presents us with aisles upon aisles of alluring labels, catchy makes, and distracting displays. It can be hard to get in and out of the place without being suckered into buying something we never knew we wanted. It can be nearly impossible to make out without some semblance of waste created.

Waste from grocery shopping comes at us from all angles. The modern food industry is built around convenience and commercialism rather than feeding us healthy meals. It is focused on products rather than wholesome ingredients to be prepared at home. And, we are often packaged into buying more than we want, which ultimately creates food waste as well.

Luckily, there are simple ways to avoid creating extraneous trash when grocery shopping.

Shop With a Purpose


Avoiding extra trash at the supermarket starts with shopping for a reason, sticking to it, and leaving with what’s on the list. Supermarkets are carefully and cleverly designed to have us wandering around, being enticed by things, then departing with stuff we don’t need. Instead, we should arrive with a purpose.

It’s a good idea to make a list, thinking through what we actually need versus letting ourselves freewheel through the aisles. Then, it’s equally as important to shop for what’s on the list. If something seems enticing, it can go on next week’s list when the initial “wow” moment of something new or “on sale” has passed.

Do a Weekly Shop

It’s much easier to shop with a purpose when it’s done once a week rather than more frequently. Every time we go into the supermarket, we are bombarded with advertising and, admittedly, a tasty-looking bevy of treats. If we have to think through what we actually need for the entire week, it’s easier to stay focused, and we minimize our exposure to marketing.

Food becomes homecooked meals rather than tempting snacks. And, we learn to get by on what’s in the pantry rather than what’s available at the supermarket. We make use of leftovers and eat what we bought before buying something else, which equates to less food wasted and less packaging.

Plan Carefully for Perishable Foods

Food waste is a huge issue in the United States, and it’s a real shame when so many out there go to bed hungry. While much of this issue is a result of the food system, it does happen at home as well. We buy fresh fruit and fail to eat. We open a package of something but don’t finish it. We let our leftovers migrate to the back of the fridge and toss them out two weeks later.

Some food waste is unavoidable, and composting at least gives it some value rather than making it a burden on the landfill. That said, it’s imperative to be aware of our perishable foods and use them. Buying with purpose and shopping weekly helps us heighten this awareness, as does planning meals so that we use what we have. A soup or stew at the end of the week is a good way to use up loose ends of vegetables.

BYOB: Bring Your Own Bags


Fortunately, these days, reusable shopping bags have moved far beyond a sort of novelty for the environmentally aware. Just about every supermarket sells them, and baggers know what that’s all about. Lots of supermarkets are banning plastic bags altogether. But, there is much more to be down in this BYOB department.

The movement has advanced from shopping bags alone. We can carry our own reusable bags for fresh fruits, vegetables, and bulk purchases. We can bring our own jars for fresh peanut butter. In doing this, we should also avoid purchasing things that aren’t loose. If something is in a plastic bag that doesn’t need to be, consider not buying it.

Buy Whole Foods, Not Processed

One of the best ways to reduce waste from the grocery list is buying whole food ingredients rather than processed products. This means buying fresh, local, seasonal vegetables (when available) instead of bags of frozen ones. It means buying dry beans (from bulk bins is even better) rather than sodium-laden cans of beans. It means avoiding instant versions of stuff.

Buying whole foods requires cooking from scratch rather than boxes. For those used to processed foods, this can feel a little intimidating at first. However, it’s easy to learn, much healthier to eat, and cleaner for the environment.  Plus, it’s much more cost effective. A one-pound bag of uncooked rice will be significantly cheaper and make more than a box of instant par-boiled stuff.

Without a doubt, buying groceries this way takes a little more effort and brain power, but maximizing our own convenience is how we’ve put the planet in such a state. In the end, we’ll be better off — healthier and wealthier — for changing our ways, and the planet will be a lot cleaner for it too.

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