Sustainability & Shopping: How to Start
Whether eating, drinking, cleaning, cooking, or putting on clothes we are creating waste. These activities often mean a crumpled wrapper, a tossed straw, a dirty napkin, plastic bags, duplicates, and leftovers. How do we reduce this waste and eat, drink, clean, cook, and dress more sustainably? By adopting eco-friendly habits when we shop. The source of all this waste often comes from when we’re shopping for whatever we end up eating, drinking, wearing, or cleaning and cooking with.
If you want to step up your sustainability game, it often starts at the shops and while shopping, keep three questions in the back of your mind: Do I need it? Will I use it often? Will it make me happy?
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1. Shop with Reusable Bags
Before you head to the shops, make sure you have reusable bags with you. Keep them in the trunk of your car or in your bag, so you don’t need to remember them every time. Using these bags means you’re buying less plastic. However, make sure you purchase durable and long-lasting bags. A reusable bag takes more energy to produce than a plastic bag, so get all their wear and tear out of them. If you need to buy plastic ones, use them again (and again) instead of just throwing them away after one use.
2. Manage Food Waste
It’s not just at the counter that sustainability takes a knock through the use of single-use plastic. Fruit and vegetables entombed in plastic, glistening on shiny Styrofoam trays cause an inordinate amount of waste. Rather, buy loose fruit and vegetables or bring your own bags – and buy only what you need. Food waste is a huge contributor to human-induced climate change.
When food is thrown away, we not only waste the energy and water it took to get the food from farm to table but when it ends up in landfills, food emits the greenhouse gas methane – so if you only need two potatoes, buy two potatoes and not a whole bag that will rot and end up in the trash. Should this happen, find a second life for your fruit and veggies.
Bake banana bread, blend a smoothie, start a compost pile. Or plant them and turn your food waste into a sustainably grown garden! Throw a squishy, overripe tomato into your garden and a tomato plant will soon spring up giving you fresh, homegrown tomatoes and less need to buy the plastic-packaged variety in store.
3. Go Big
There are times when buying in bulk can be a good thing. In fact, if you know a product can last long-term or be stored long-term, it’s better to buy bulk. Bigger items last longer, meaning fewer trips to the store and fewer plastic-packaged items packed into plastic bags. Baking dry goods, pastas, shampoos, creams, and cleaning products are good examples of items you can buy in bulk. If you travel a lot, buy travel-sized reusable bottles and fill them from your existing toiletries, instead of buying new, travel-sized versions every time you go away.
4. Make a List
Grab a pen and paper or jot down a list on your phone. Knowing what you need will lessen the chance of unnecessary purchases. It may not be easy when walking down the candy aisle or catching a whiff of pastries and pies from a bakery, but stick to your list.
5. Eat First, Shop Later
A good way to stick to your list is to shop after a meal. Don’t shop on an empty stomach. This can lead to unnecessary (and often unhealthy) purchases. If you need to refuel, sit down instead of buying takeout. Avoid takeout in general with its paraphernalia of plastic and single-use items. Carry reusable cutlery for those days you don’t have time to sit down. Invest in a reusable cup as well, so if you need a caffeine boost, you won’t need a takeaway cup.
6. Buy Only What You Need
This goes back to your shopping list and sticking to it, no matter how good that red jacket will look with your jeans or what new flavor of potato chips you find. Avoid two-for-one specials. Unless you know for certain that you’ll use both items, you’ll only be buying something you may not end up eating or using – which means throwing away food or other items and creating more waste.
7. Cook from Scratch
Unleash your inner chef and prepare meals with fresh, local, and seasonal ingredients. Avoid ready-made meals that come wrapped in layers upon layers of plastic. Again, avoid takeout. If you absolutely can’t, ask that plastic cutlery, napkins, and single-use condiments be left out of your order and use reusable cutlery or what you have at home.
8. Glass is Gold
When it comes to mayonnaise, ketchup, creams, and lotions buy them in glass where you can. It’s infinitely reusable, giving you extra storage items or funky alternatives to vases and pots for flowers and plants. It might be more expensive, but if you’re not buying that unnecessary jacket or second bag of potato chips, you can use the money you would have spent on them to purchase more sustainable products instead.
9. Buy Sustainable and Eco-Friendly Products
Sustainability is not just about the packaging, it’s also about what’s in the product or the whole product itself. Like fish. Choosing sustainable fish in stores or at restaurants supports local economies and protects endangered species. If you’re unsure about a fish’s sustainability level, check the packaging, ask a waiter, or download a seafood sustainability app like Good Fish Guide, Sustainable Seafood Guide, Seafood Watch, or Best Fish Guide.. Keep an eye out for eco-friendly labels on other products as well, such as makeup, toiletries, and even clothes.
10. Say Goodbye to Fast Fashion
Clothes, or more specifically, fashion is another industry that creates a large amount of waste and emissions. This is in large part due to the planned obsolescence ingrained into the nature of the industry. By changing styles and trends from season to season, last year’s must-haves are sooner relegated to the back of the closet than worn again. However, fashion is becoming more eco-conscious and upping its sustainability. But there’s more you can do than merely buying eco-friendly labels: shop in second-hand stores, host a clothes swap, or fix what you have.
11. Reach for Seconds
There’s a lot more you can buy second-hand and by choosing this option you are giving second life to an item that would otherwise be thrown out or sit around collecting dust. From strollers and toys to car seats and cribs, second-hand baby items are a must. Babies are expensive and come with an assortment of accouterments and accessories – so save money while you save the planet and search for second-hand solutions. Cloth diapers and eco-friendly alternatives also make a difference to your wallet and your trash can.
12. Buy Less
The principles of sustainability are reduce, reuse, recycle, and by adopting these you can live a more sustainable and eco-friendly lifestyle. Familiarize yourself with recycling practices so you don’t buy products that have no future other than the trash. But before even recycling a product, think about whether you can reuse it. And before you even wonder whether a product is recyclable or reusable, ask yourself a very important question: do I need it?
If you don’t buy it in the first place, you are reducing waste, reducing demand, and throwing out one less item the next time you spring clean. Don’t try to take on every goal at once, tackle one or two at a time to sustainably shop and start to chip away at the waste you produce with each trip to the store.