Markets. They’re where we buy the things we need. If you’re like most of us, when you go to the market it’s usually a super one. I live in Massachusetts so many of us go to Market Basket. You may have heard of them when they got some press back in 2014. There was concern in the form of protests and strikes, due to the firing of Arthur T. DeMulas by his cousin, Arthur S. DeMulas. Arthur T. eventually bought out his cousin Arthur S. and gave the employees of the grocery chain more benefits and raised the working standards, putting the workers and customers first.
As much as I love Market Basket and the story of Arthur T. taking care of his employees and in return them supporting him in regaining ownership of the chain, there are still some issues I feel are plaguing not just Market Basket but most stores, super and regular alike. The major issue with most food we buy today is, a sides from how we produce it, the amount of waste that’s involved in its packaging.
The Waste We Carry Our Food Home In
Some quick numbers, the EPA’s Advancing Sustainable Materials Management: 2017 Fact Sheet reported that U.S. citizens composted and recycled about 94.2 million metric tons of waste. While only about 35% of the waste we recycled and composted actually was recycled or composted. That’s 61.2 million metric tons of recyclable and compostable materials that went into landfills. Or found its way into the ocean. Or who knows where else. But that’s only one year’s worth of waste! And most of it is coming from packaging. I’m not sure how much is from food but I’m willing to bet it’s quite a bit.
When I’m at a grocery store or any kind of store for that matter, I’m amazed at the amount of packaging we are taking our food and products home in. Aisle after aisle of neatly packed and stacked items. Shimmering with plastic, glass, paper and metal, all kinds.
I understand that we’ve come a long way in food safety and for a while these types of packaging were necessary to deliver food free from bacteria to the folks buying it. But there are definitely more environmentally friendly and responsible ways of packaging our food that will keep it just as safe and just as fresh. We’ve come a long way in regards to making compostable packaging as well as in food safety. Why not put more of those practices into use?
Maybe Not Ideal But Heading in the Right Direction
For starters, there are zero waste grocery stores, but they are few and far between. I think there are about ten within a 16 mile radius of where I live and I’m in a small suburb just a few miles from Boston! I imagine pickings are slim the further you are from a major city. But there are other places you can shop to reduce waste even in your average grocery store.
Some groceries, and most co-ops, have bulk sections. You can usually find pantry staples in this aisle such as rice and beans, legumes and oats. And they are often times cheaper than their pre-packaged counter parts. This will reduce the amount of plastic packaging for sure, but only if you bring your own reusable bulk bags. Avoiding the plastic bags you find in bulk and produce sections. A quick Google search yields a variety of options and sizes for carrying home your loose items and produce. Some of which I’ve linked to below.
Speaking of produce, another way to cut down on packaging is to buy fresh produce. From either the grocery store, co-op or farmers markets. The only packaging is the boxes they’re delivered to the store in. Or in the case of farmers markets, the reusable containers they brought from the farm. And bringing your own reusable canvas or cotton bags to store them in will eliminate the need for those clear plastic produce bags. Or whatever package the vendors from farmers markets are offering which may or may not be recyclable.
And while you’re shopping for your new canvas or cotton produce and bulk bags, why not pick up some reusable silicone bags that are freezer friendly? To freeze your own fresh veg and fruit in. The shelf life and quality of freshly frozen fruits and veg are far superior to comparable pre-packaged frozen products. And the only downside is that there’s a little more prepwork involved. But if you set aside some time each week to prep the food you’re going to freeze, maybe while you’re already cooking dinner, you can save money and packaging that would have ended up in the landfill.
Storage is Key
So let’s say you get some reusable bulk bags for dry bulk items and produce. You buy a bunch of oatmeal and black beans. You get them home and now you have a bunch of loose dry bulk items and no where to put them! Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered. I use glass Ball jars with a wide mouth which makes them easy to fill with just about anything. Beans, rice and oats as I’ve mentioned, but also flours, sugars and teas (actually I use old glass peanut butter jars for tea).
They’re easy to stack, look good, and all while maximizing your usable cabinet storage space with surprising efficiency all while being super cheap. On top of all that, you can find them at pretty much any store you go to. I get mine at the supermarket but remember, they’re technically “seasonal”. Because they’re traditionally used for preserving, canning and pickling your garden harvest. So they may only be available in late summer and fall.
Land of Misfits No More!
And finally, Misfits Market buys produce from farmers that don’t meet the aesthetic standards of supermarkets. A surprising amount of viable fruits and vegetables are tossed in the garbage because they are misshapen, discolored or otherwise deemed as “ugly” by the would be buyers. Markets like Misfits steps in and offers to buy the produce from the farmers at a fraction of the price.
The produce is the same quality as you would find at the grocery and they pass along the savings to you, the customer. They also source their produce from farms that use organic methods and non-GMO seeds. Another benefit is that their packaging is a 100% sustainable. Either recyclable or compostable.
From super, to co-ops, to Misfits, to farmers. The above four types of markets are examples of where, given a little bit of forethought and planning, you could turn your next shopping trip into a greener one. Peace : ) and thanks for reading!
Image Credits: Adam Sergott, photo of vendors at Haymarket, Produce Market in Boston MA