Markets. They’re where we buy the things we need. If you’re like most of us then when you go to the market it’s usually a super one. I live in Massachusetts so most of us here go to Market Basket. You may have heard of it when it 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.
Some quick numbers, the EPA’s Advancing Sustainable Materials Management: 2017 Fact Sheet reported that in 2017, United States 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. And 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 packaging 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 food safety. Why not put more of those practices into use?
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 even slimmer the further you are from a major city. But there are other places you can shop to reduce waste even in an average grocery store.
Some grocery stores 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 bulk 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 they keep in the produce section. 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. Which translates to time. But if you set aside some time each week to prep the food you’re going to freeze, maybe while you’re cooking dinner, you can save money and packaging that would have ended up in the landfill.
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 and are 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. So they may only be available in late summer and fall.
And finally, markets such as the 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 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 of Misfits Market 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.
Image Credits: Adam Sergott, photo of vendors at Hay Market Produce Market in Boston MA