4 Easy Questions To Make Your Supermarket Trips More Sustainable

mbg Contributor By Lindsay Miles
mbg Contributor
Lindsay Miles is a passionate zero-waste and plastic-free living spokesperson and educator who helps people to find more meaningful lives with less waste and less stuff. She has been sharing ideas and strategies on her popular website, Treading My Own Path, since 2013.
How To Make Grocery Shopping More Sustainable

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When I first made a commitment to reduce my waste, I actually started out not by tracking down a specialist store or locating a farmers market but by going to my regular grocery store (back then, I shopped almost entirely at the supermarket). I recommend you start wherever you usually do your grocery shopping, too. You're already familiar with the layout and the prices. Change can be unsettling, and there is some comfort to be found in what we already know.

Ready? Let's go to the store! Allow yourself a bit of extra time for this shop. Or, if you prefer, you can choose not to shop at all. We're going to look at the store and the products they sell in a new light.

Starting at the entrance, make your way around the store as you normally would, and whenever you come to a product you'd usually buy, ask yourself the questions below. You don't have to find all the answers, and you definitely don't have to make decisions about every single purchase. This is about finding easy swaps and better choices, but it's also about being aware of the areas where we could improve.

Where is it grown or made?

All products will state, somewhere, the country of origin. With unpackaged fruit and vegetables, there may be a sticker with the country written on it; otherwise, there will be a shelf label with the details. With packaged food, it will be printed somewhere on the label. This question gets us thinking about food miles: How far has this item traveled to get to our shopping basket?

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How is it packaged?

When we buy the same things week in, week out, we often don't pay much attention to how they are packaged. It's just not on our radar...until it is. Take your time looking at the packaging.

Are there multiple layers—packets inside packets, or trays wrapped in plastic with cardboard outers? How much packaging is there relative to the actual product inside? What's it made of? This gets us thinking about whether the packaging is excessive, whether it's actually recyclable where we live, and whether other products have better packaging options.

If it's a product, what ingredients does it contain?

Food manufacturers are required to list all ingredients on the label, with the ingredient used in the greatest amount listed first and the others following in descending order. This question gets us thinking about whether it's actually something we could make ourselves or substitute with a different product.

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Could I choose better?

As you reflect on the things you usually buy, look at some of the alternatives. There are a lot of products on offer, and it can feel exhausting to try to compare them all. Which is why, typically, we don't. We just buy the thing we always buy, or maybe the one on "special offer." So now is a great opportunity to step back, question our habits, and ask ourselves, What is it that I'm currently buying, and can I do better?

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