posted by Terri Hall-Jackson
It is now a common sight to see shoppers carrying their own reusable shopping bags to the grocery store. That is fantastic, and such an easy eco-friendly action for most of us to take. Still, there’s a ton of material we continue to schlep home when shopping — the cellophane, unrecyclable bags, plastic, and cardboard used in the packaging of many common items. Much of this packaging is unnecessary, but manufacturers know that flashy packaging translates into increased sales.
As of 1994, the European Union requires manufacturing companies to take back and recycle at least 60 percent of their packaging waste, including that used for food items, thus taking the burden off of the consumer and local communities. No such incentive for reducing packaging exists for manufacturers in the U.S. or Canada.
As consumers, there are a number of items we can use or purchase in order to reduce our consumption of excess packaging:
- Bring a travel mug whenever you go to your favorite coffee shop. Many cafes will fill your mug at no additional charge, eliminating the need for those one-use styrofoam cups with plastic lids.
- Use a reusable, stainless steel drinking bottle instead of individual drink boxes or bottles.
- Buy fresh fruits and vegetables instead of produce in cans, frozen boxes and bags.
- Buy in bulk, using your own containers from home to eliminate the use of can, carton, and plastic bag packaging.
- Use cloth napkins instead of paper napkins.
- Buy big boxes of cereal instead of individually packaged cereals.
- Never buy individual “snack-sized” boxes or bags.
- When washing non-bagged greens, use a salad spinner. That way you won’t have to use paper towels to blot the greens dry.
- Buy quarts of yogurt instead of eight-ounce or smaller cups.
- Use cloth or a gold coffee filter rather than paper filters.
- Buy bulk cheese instead of individually wrapped slices.
- Make your own popsicles using reusable molds, rather than buying boxed popsicles. Be sure to use BPA-free molds.
- Use metal and ceramic baking pans instead of aluminum disposable pans.
- Use loose tea instead of one-use tea bags.
- DIY, green cleaning products instead of commercial cleaning products. Care2 is a great resource for recipes for these easy to prepare recipes, from window cleaner to furniture polish.
Personally, I’ve sewn together some cloth bags, the same size as the plastic bags from the grocer, and take them with me when I go shopping. They’re inside my canvas bags and I use them just like the plastic ones, only I can wash them and reuse them many, many times. The folks at the Farmer’s Market smile when they see them, the folks at the grocery store scratch their heads.
That cuts down on some of the plastic, but I’m still getting some of it when I buy things, which is annoying. When I ask about that, I’m usually told that the packaging is for sanitary or health reasons. Which points us back to buying local, fresh foods and baking our own bread and other baked goods. Lots of time, I know, but, I believe it’s worth it for us, our health, and our planet.
Do you have any tips to reduce packaging? Leave a comment below.