Less Waste: Groceries Sans Plastic

While it doesn’t come new to us that plastic pollution is becoming a more prevalent and pressing matter, it was new to me just how dire the situation actually was, until recently. We were on a fishing trip in Hawaii and I was sitting on a boat with my brother when it came up in our conversation that I was hoping to decrease my red meat consumption and to substitute that with fish and other sea dwellers. My brother suggested I watch the Netflix documentary, A Plastic Ocean. And while I won’t give away any spoilers, let’s just say that after I did, my resolve to cut down on further plastic consumption has hardened significantly.

While I have increasingly tried to reduce the amount of plastic waste in the past year, in the form of grocery bags and disposable dishware and ziplock bags, etc., it dawned on me that plastic is literally everywhere. I walked into grocery stores and department stores this weekend and I was shocked at how much plastic I saw. I think it’s safe to say that more than 99% of the store had plastic on it or was made with some part of plastic. There are so many one-time-use plastic capsules and containers that we never think of. Toothbrushes are made out of plastic. Your lip balm container is plastic, as well as your shampoo and lotions. Clothes with polyester have plastic in them. I mean, most people are wearing plastic! That’s crazy to me.

So this week, I decided to try a new project, which is to reduce (or all together eliminate!) the consumption of plastic. (Thank God we live right next to Mother’s Market!). But even Mother’s Market has their meat wrapped in plastic. I had to trek to Whole Foods, which was my savior! Otherwise, we wouldn’t have had anything to eat this week! Here are a few tips I have learned in the ONE day that I went grocery shopping without plastic.

  • BULK DRY FOODS, INCLUDING COFFEE BEANS AND TEA LEAVES. Whole Foods and Mother’s Market as well as other eco-conscious groceries sell dry foods such as rice, flour, nuts, granola, (fig bars even!) in bulk. Whole Foods also has a Bulk Chocolate section, as well as Bulk Cookies section for all you sweet tooths. What I love about the bulk section is the ability to purchase only what you need, which also helps to eliminate the food waste problem that is occurring. I can easily confess to buying a sack of flour in the past and then not needing half of it until past its expiration date. Wasteful and tragic. The bulk section allows you to simply bring your reusable container(or my favorite, glass jars!), and fill them up with whatever you need for the week. TIP: Go to the cashier first to weigh out your containers, that way you can subtract how much they weigh when you check out at the end of your grocery run.
  • PEANUT BUTTER AND ALMOND BUTTER. My husband loves peanut butter. So how excited was he when we came upon the section at Whole Foods where you could make freshly grinded peanut butter and almond butter?! With different flavors to boot! We ended up making honey peanut butter and it dispensed straight into our reusable glass mason jar. Pop the lid on there and you are all set! Oh, and the verdict: Best peanut butter ever!
  • MEATS. This one was easy. Most groceries, even Ralph’s and Albertson’s, have a fresh meat and fish section. All you have to do is remember to bring your container. You just hand them your container, they weigh it all out, place the meat into it and print out that sticker to hand to your cashier!
  • CHEESES. I was afraid this was going to be a toughy. We like to eat cheese at our house, but if you think about it, what cheese isn’t wrapped in plastic?!?! I think I purchase at least one of those shredded cheese packets every week that I’m at the groceries. And what about the cheese to go with our crackers and fruit? Wrapped in plastic. I was worried for a second that we would have to give up cheese forever. Then my husband figured it out! We headed over to the deli section and asked them to slice cheese for us and put it in our container. The selection is limited, and it isn’t the classy type that you serve with dried dates and cracked black pepper crackers, but it’ll do for your everyday cooking! For the nicer stuff, try stopping by your local cheesery (we’ve got one in Costa Mesa just down the street), and ask them to slice a big chunk off of their cheese wheels, to go!
  • BREAD. Bread usually comes packaged in plastic, but Whole Foods has fresh baked bread every day, and tons of different types too! It was so difficult choosing which one to get this week. The one covered in pumpkin seeds or the baguette? You just let them know your favorite and they have paper bags that can be used to carry the loaf out. Or, my more preferred option, you can bring in a large rectangular linen, and wrap that fresh bread up as if you were in France and were stopping by a bakery on your way to a picnic. Might as well bring a picnic basket with you while you’re at it.
  • MILK. We know we wanted cereal this week, but the problem was in the milk. Milk comes in those plastic gallons or half gallons which I definitely did not want to buy. They also come in cartons, but even the cartons are lined on the inside with a film that contains, you guessed it, plastic. So what solution did I find? Companies such as STRAUSS Creamery sell their milk in glass jars. And you can take the glass jar back to Whole Foods who will ship it back to Strauss and the creamery itself will reuse the glass jars. The only problem? They use a plastic containing lid, probably to seal the milk properly. I will keep returning the glass jar with the lid, to prompt them to think of a reusable option at least. The nice thing is, if you live close to their creamery, you can swing by and fill your own container, but alas, no creameries near me. Also, I was happy to see that there were multiple other companies that sold milk in glass jars as well, so yay for the movement!
  • MAKE YOUR OWN SAUCES. Okay, so I know it’s easy to find sauces in glass jars these days, but I wanted to go that extra step and try to reduce consumption of other individual containers as much as possible too. So this week, I made pasta marinara and green enchilada sauce out of vegetables and spices. And it was very rewarding. Mike says the enchilada sauce was the closest he’s had to the best enchilada sauce he ate in Mexico. I bet it’s because they make them fresh there too.
  • EAT FRESH. The subway mantra applies to this no-plastic campaign. I came to the sudden realization that if I am to cut out all plastic, I have to cut out all frozen foods. Including my ever-loved acai berry packets from Trader Joe’s. All frozen foods come in plastic packaging. There’s no other way around it. But you know what, it’s for the better anyway. Healthier meals, happier planet.
  • FRUITS AND VEGGIES. Skip plastic bags when buying produce. I use these reusable net mesh bags from New Zealand to put my veggies in, and when I get home, transfer them to a bowl so that the bags are free to re-use again. Usually, berries and the like are packaged in those clear plastic baskets, but you can head to a local farmer’s market, and fill your own container with your favorite summer berries. Or return those green plastic baskets to your local farmer’s market guy and he can re-use it again! The worst are those nets that hold multiple avocados or cuties. How many of those avocados go bad before you are able to use them anyway? Just grab one or two individual avocados and oranges instead!
  • SUPPORT LOCAL BUSINESSES. Ice cream isn’t the first thing that pops into most people’s head when it comes to grocery shopping, but it’s the first thing that pops into mine! One of my favorite local ice cream stores is Kansha Creamery in Torrance. They make ice cream daily, and give part of their proceeds to a charity, which changes every year. They also promote having their customers bring in their own containers to serve the ice cream in. And they will sell you ice cream pints, placed in your own container! The ice cream is great, albeit a little pricier than a tub, but you’re saving the planet, and hey, it might even help with your summer diet! Might I be so bold as to also suggest supporting local carnicerias by buying freshly made tortillas?  The second thing that pops into my head. They will welcome the business, and your belly will welcome the tortilla. Win win.
  • ASK FOR AN ALTERNATIVE. And the best thing you could possibly do? Start a conversation. Ask for an alternative. You may get weird stares, especially at large grocery stores such as Ralph’s and Albertson’s, but it does get people thinking. I asked for my meat at Ralph’s to be packaged in my container, and there was a moment’s hesitance, but he said “Ok” anyway. When I was ringing up my order, the couple in front of me were whispering, not so subtly, “Is that tupperware??”, when staring at my pile of check-out items. And then the wife goes, “I never even thought of that!”. The cashier guy himself paused in the middle of check-out and asked, “Did you bring all of these?”, to which I said “Yupp! Just trying to reduce plastic waste.” To which he shrugged and kept ringing up the order. You wouldn’t get these questions or stares or comments at places like Whole Foods or Mother’s Market, which is to say that you are surrounded by very like-minded people in those areas. But it’s important to continue this habit in other aspects of your life as well, to other grocery stores who might question you or think differently of your routine. One day at the grocery store can bring a lot of awareness to a lot of people.

I know that there are a lot of people out there who know about the situation, but don’t care. But it is also true that people cannot care if they don’t know. A lot of people simply don’t know. They don’t know the severity of it, nor are they aware of the alternative options that they have. And you know what, most people will be willing to change. How often do I see people bringing their reusable bags now that they have to pay to buy grocery bags in LA and OC and SF? Or opting to carry their items out in their hands instead of paying for a convenient piece of plastic? I like to believe that people are inherently good. That’s just how I am able to sleep at night. How about you?

Other tips for readers and me alike are welcome in the comments below! Thanks!

Future blog post on how I reduce plastic in other aspects of my every day to come! 🙂