Grocery Shopping: 7 Great Tips for Your Pantry

How to reduce the impact of your grocery shopping

Grocery shopping is something we all do on a regular basis. Therefore it’s crucially important that we consider how sustainable our choices and habits are at the grocery store. The way we eat and shop for our food is one of the key pillars of an eco-friendly lifestyle.

Many factors are at play when it comes to making your trips to the grocery store more sustainable – the packaging, the country of origin, and even the type of food itself that you’re buying. Because of that, we recommend that you focus on one of the steps we’ll discuss in this article and pick up the next once the first becomes a habit.

That way, you’re building strong habits which will last and avoiding feeling overwhelmed with all the changes you’re making.

1. Do your grocery shopping with carbon footprint in mind

Research from Our World in Data shows that most often, the types of foods you’re eating matter more than where they come from when it comes to determining your carbon footprint and overall sustainability. There are several reasons why this is the case.

Firstly, many foods lead to an increase in deforestation and land use change. If a food is causing the rainforest to be cut down, it’s preventing greenhouse gasses from being captured by trees and other greenery, increasing its carbon footprint. Beef, cheese, palm oil, chocolate, coffee or poultry meat seem to be the biggest offenders in this category.

If you’re surprised by the inclusion of animal products on this list, consider the amount of land needed to produce them – aside from land cleared to make space for farms and slaughterhouses, there’s also the need for land which is used to grow the crops that feed them. For example, soy is one crop that often gets blamed for deforestation – but what many of us don’t realize is that 80% of all soy produced is consumed by livestock.

Secondly, the farming stage of food production is responsible for many emissions – from the greenhouse gas emissions caused by the methane cows and other animals emit while digesting to the emissions from machinery or fertiliser use. In this category, meat and animal products seem to have the largest impact, along with coffee.

Lastly, we also need to consider the resources which are needed to produce the foods – aside from power or land, mainly water. Some crops are much thirstier than others. Animal products also consume many more resources – to feed the animals, give them water or wash and power facilities. When it comes to water, the foods which take the most water to produce include cheese, nuts, fish and seafood, rice, groundnuts, beef and other meats.

Knowing this, do your best to avoid these foods with a high environmental impact – especially red meats such as beef, which seem to be causing environmental issues on many different fronts.

2. Buy locally and seasonally

Although choosing the types of foods which have a lower environmental footprint makes the largest difference to your carbon footprint, choosing foods produced locally and seasonally is also an important factor to consider.

Doing so can help you enjoy tastier food as it is harvested when truly ripe rather than being left to ripen during transport or on supermarket shelves. Eliminating the transport which would be needed to transport those foods – often across the entire world – also decreases your carbon footprint. Additionally, when foods are transported, large amounts of plastic packaging are usually used to protect the foods from damage – packaging we usually don’t see as the end consumer.

Aside from eating locally, eating seasonally is also important in reducing your carbon footprint. Getting non-seasonal crops to market often requires a lot of transportation. While producing a crop when it’s not in season is possible locally, it often comes with a hefty resource cost, either from electricity or otherwise. As most of our grid is still powered by non-renewable energy sources, doing so produces more greenhouse gasses. All of these factors are important to keep in mind while grocery shopping. Read more tips on eating locally and seasonally here.

3. Only buy what you need

Globally, about 1.3 billion tons of food are wasted every year! This isn’t just a moral issue, it’s also a substantial environmental risk.

When food is thrown away uneaten, it means that all the resources used to produce it have been wasted. This is especially problematic with foods such as animal products, which take a lot of resources to produce.

Aside from wasted resources, food waste – when sent to landfill – also contributes to climate change. In a landfill, food waste lacks the optimum conditions to decompose, mainly access to oxygen. Instead of naturally biodegrading, the food waste then produces methane – a greenhouse gas 84 times more potent in the short run than CO2.

That’s why it’s very important that we only buy the groceries we know we’ll eat. Don’t buy food just because it’s on sale and you may get around to using it at some point. Before going grocery shopping, make a grocery list and a meal plan and stick to it when going to the grocery store – it’s one of the best ways to avoid food waste!

4. Skip plastic packaging

Nowadays, it often seems like everything we see at the grocery store is packaged in plastic. However, once we explore the supermarket shelves a little more, we’ll likely find that you can often avoid plastic by choosing alternative packaging – or no packaging at all.

While this will largely depend on what is available to you in your area, opting for glass, paper or metal packaging instead of plastic can make your trips to the grocery store a whole lot more sustainable.

Single-use plastic is so unsustainable because it uses a material that can last for hundreds of years, to only be used for a very brief period of time. Did you know that only 9% of all plastic ever made was actually recycled? All this unrecycled plastic will sit in a landfill for hundreds of years, releasing microscopic plastic particles into the environment rather than biodegrading.

5. Bring your own bags

You’ve likely been told to bring your own grocery bags to the store about 10 times just in the last week – and we’ve all gotten quite good at doing this. However, these grocery bags aren’t the only plastic you can avoid.

When buying loose produce, most of us use small plastic bags provided by the store, which can add a lot to our environmental footprint. Instead, get yourself a set of reusable produce bags (most come quite cheap these days) and wrap your loose produce in these.

6. Do your grocery shopping in bulk or at zero waste grocery store

If you’re having trouble shopping sustainably at a regular grocery store or supermarket, look for a bulk shop or a zero waste grocery store in your area. While the numbers of these are still limited, they let you bring your own containers to package the products in and allow you to buy just the exact amount you need.

Besides helping reduce the amount of packaging you’re using, this opportunity to buy just what you need helps prevent food waste!

7. Try the farmers market

Grocery shopping doesn’t mean you have to go to the store, for the best fresh produce without any packaging, try your local farmers market. This way, you’re avoiding packaging as well as products shipped over a long distance and helping support the local economy – a perfect combination.

Maybe you’ll discover your new favorite business there or become more engaged with the sustainability community in your area!