Tuesday, January 2nd, 2018

The Middle – Weekly Low Waste Shopping

Let me preface this by saying that our household is not zero waste. What we are, is lower waste than what we were previously, which was your average North American household (I’m guessing).

I don’t intend to stop at this point, as I do want to lower our waste further, but I’m game to show some of the steps we’re taking currently. This is our middle: an honest look at the changes and compromises we’ve made up to this point.

One thing I can’t get rid of yet are milk containers. Munchkin is under 2, so he drinks homogenized milk daily. I have tried to locate dairy in glass bottles that can be returned, but I haven’t been successful. I contacted Alberta Milk to try and source it, but it looks like I’m out of luck for the time being. Avalon is a BC dairy that produces milk in glass bottles, and I used to be able to get it here, but it looks like they’re not shipping to Edmonton anymore.

That leaves me with plastic jugs, or cardboard cartons. The jugs are made of high density polyethylene, and the cartons are coated internally with low density polyethylene. So, plastic either way. Both are accepted by our local recycling program, but from what I gather so far the plastic removed from the cardboard cartons ends up in going to landfill. So, I have been buying his milk in 4L jugs to reduce plastic to milk volume ratio, reuse the jugs as much as I can (emergency water storage, laundry detergent, etc…), and recycle the ones I can’t. He goes through a jug a week.

The other item I haven’t been able to source waste free is gluten free bread. I have tried some of the local options, and I have experimented with making my own, but up to this point I’m bag bound. It’s turning into more of a treat than a regular occurrence.

On to the better stuff.

When the grocery stores started charging for bags I picked up a half dozen of these shopping bags on a trip to IKEA. They’re polyester, which isn’t preferable, but they’re surprisingly durable. They have a little pocket that they crumple up into when you’re not using them, and they end up being slightly smaller than a softball. I store them in a cotton tote bag by the front door. During the week I’ll throw one or two into my bag so I have them on hand, and on the weekend I’ll grab the whole tote to bring them with me to the store. I also store my smaller produce bags in the same tote, so they’re all ready to go at a moment’s notice.

I reorganized my pantry with a bunch of clear containers last March. They’re plastic, which I understand makes some people squeamish, but it also makes them very light. I keep our dry staples in here. When we run out of something I clean out the container and put it in a shopping bag for grocery day. I usually keep a larger stock of dry goods, so at most I’m only bringing 2 or 3 of these containers with me at a time. This week I ran out of cereal, sugar and wild rice, so these ones are coming to the store.

If we need smaller quantities of something, say nuts or dried fruit, I’ll bring a couple canning jars with me. Same story with peanut and almond butters, but currently we have enough of those. The empty Bonne Maman jar in the picture is for graham cookies as a treat for my son, and I’ll probably grab my husband some trail mix with the canning jar.

When I’m refilling containers I usually shop at Bulk Barn. They have a location close to me, so it’s convenient. I bring the empty containers to the cashier, they weigh them for the tare weight, and then I fill them with whatever I need. I realize not everyone has easy access to this type of store, but they’re convenient even for the occasional trip. I told my mom about their reusable container program, and she now brings her pantry jars with her whenever she makes the 3 hour trek to Kelowna.

If I’m picking up meat or deli items, I’ll bring one of our glasslock containers from home. This week I’m picking up a rotisserie chicken, which fits conveniently in the largest size container I have. The grocery store closest to me is fairly accommodating, though the employees have variable understanding on how to weigh and fill containers. I don’t mind working with them on it though, because they’re working with me. Other grocery stores have needed a little more encouragement, but I’ve never been outright refused.

The meat department at the grocery store doesn’t usually have what I’m looking for in the fresh case (it’s usually pre-seasoned), so I don’t fill my containers there. If I’m picking up meat in my containers, I’ll go to a smaller butcher. I’ve gone to Acme Meats in Ritchie Market several times. They don’t even bat an eye when I hand them my container, so I know I’m not the only one doing it. I’ve picked up fresh sausage, ground beef, ground pork, and steak this way. It’s not a convenient location for me though, so I’m trying to reduce our meat consumption.

Produce is hit or miss, depending on what I’m looking for. You don’t realize how much is wrapped in plastic until you start looking for it! I’m less concerned about produce stickers and twist ties than I am about overwrap and bags. One of the frustrating things about shopping at the grocery store, is that the organic produce is more heavily packaged than the conventional produce. It forces me to pick a priority if you know what I mean, so sometimes I make trade offs.

If organic isn’t a priority, there should potentially be lots of options. English cucumbers are wrapped in plastic, but field cucumbers are waxed, so we buy the field ones. Instead of buying bags or containers of salad leaves, we buy heads of romaine, leaf lettuce and kale. Potatoes, yams, onions, garlic, carrots, broccoli, brussels sprouts, parsnips, celery, bell peppers, apples, bananas, oranges, tomatoes, avocados, and other seasonal produce are all readily available unpackaged. If you cook based on what is available, rather than trying to make what is available fit what you want to cook, you’ll have a much easier time.

If I’m picking up 2 or 3 of an item, I’ll just leave them loose in the cart. If I’m picking up more than that, I’ll put them in cotton drawstring bags I made at home. There’s plenty available online if you don’t feel handy. In the photo above I was actually using one of my nut milk bags, because most of the cotton ones were in the wash and I wanted to use the small one I had with me for lentils.

One thing to remember is that if a product is priced per item, you have to buy the whole thing. If a bundle of parsley is $1, you have to buy the whole bundle. If a product is priced by weight, say with a bag of grapes, you’re not obligated to take the whole bag! We don’t go through grapes fast enough to buy the whole bag. Instead of buying a bag and wasting half the grapes, I’ll pull a stem off and put it in my own bag. I realize that means I’m supporting a company that uses plastic wrapping, but my other option is to not eat them at all. This is my happy medium.

If I don’t buy my dry goods at Bulk Barn, I’ll just use a bag in the store and snap a picture of the bin number. I could get a tare weight for the bag, but to be honest it doesn’t weigh very much. Most of the grocery store scales I’ve seen are accurate to 5 grams, and my bags weigh in between 5-10 grams. I didn’t worry about the 5 cents it cost me, though I can understand why others might. If you need to economize,  and you can’t/the cashier won’t give you a tare weight, buy as much of the product as you can in one shot. That way you’re paying for the tare weight less frequently. In my experience, the cost savings that come through shopping this way aren’t because buying bulk is cheaper (that’s hit or miss), it’s through the reduction of food waste and the refusal of pre-made, pre-packaged food type products.

The only other thing I picked up was eggs. I buy free range eggs in cardboard containers so I can either recycle them, or put them in our compost bin.

It was a small shopping trip this weekend, and this post is already getting too long, so I’ll stop here for now. Next post I’ll cover household and pantry staples like oils, vinegars, and cleaning/hygiene products.

Where do you do your weekly shopping?

2 Responses to “The Middle – Weekly Low Waste Shopping”

  1. Mica says:

    This is awesome! We had a plastic free July here and it made me think more about what I was using and trying to cut back. I don’t know of any bulk stores like you have mentioned here which is a shame. The health food section of the supermarket has a similar idea, but it’s mainly for nuts!

    Our stores here in Queensland are phasing out plastic bags this year, and they have been making changes to how things are package based on feedback, so it’s nice to see them trying to use more cardboard and less plastic when buying things.

  2. Ashley says:

    I can’t wait to read your next post! We just started investigating reducing the amount of packaging we consume and I have already had some fails in the bathroom and cleaning products area lol! Our bulk store preportions their goods in plastic containers (boo). We opted to buy the whole bulk bag for our staples (black beans, oats, rice) so we skip the smaller packages.

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I'm Cassie.

I'm a petite hourglass, slow adopter, food geek, Engineer, wife and mom. Welcome to the little corner of the internet where I ramble on about random things. Mostly clothes.