This summer, I'm tackling what low-waste grocery shopping could look like, if stores near you don't make truly zero waste grocery shopping easy or doable. (Find parts one and two of the series). I've said it before, but since progress is the goal here, not perfection, it's totally fine if your grocery haul currently looks more like the above than, well, something more like this.
So, in the spirit of things, next we're headed to another Midwestern grocery chain: Kroger. While visiting my parents in Indianapolis last month, I took my mom's grocery list to the store and attempted to stick to it in spirit, if not in letter. I chose zero waste or low waste alternatives where I could, and honored her requests when I couldn't. Below, a peek into each item on the list:
-Bananas. I learned from a friend that single bananas are more likely to go unpurchased and be thrown away than bananas in bunches or pairs. So, I've been picking them up myself!
-English cucumber. Those long, skinny cucumbers called English cucumbers almost always come entirely sealed in plastic (why?). So, instead I purchased a regular cucumber and tucked it into a reusable produce bag. Yes, I am a grocery store tyrant, sorry Mom.
-Garlic. Since you don't eat the skin, it doesn't really need to go in a bag. I placed it in my cart loose.
-Lemon. The first lemons I saw at the store were packaged in a net mesh bag containing a few lemons. Nope. Usually stores who sell bagged lemons that way also sell individual ones. After another moment of looking around, I found the single lemons and popped one in my cart, sans produce bag.
-Flat leaf parsley. Many stores now sell large bundles of unpackaged herbs, in lieu of those small plastic clamshells of herbs. Always look around to make sure you can get the herbs package-free before resorting to plastic-packaged. Luckily, this was the case with parsley, which I just placed into a cloth produce bag.
-Cremini mushrooms. When I purchase mushrooms at the farmers' market or my local Whole Foods, they're loose and I'm able to fill my own bag with only what I need. Loose mushrooms are fairly rare at other grocery chains, though, which really leave you no option but to buy them packaged. I'll recycle the cardboard box, but the plastic wrap will become trash. (Instead, you could seek out mushrooms at the farmers' market or even grow your own).
-Two boxes of spring greens. Instead purchasing two smaller boxes as requested, I bought one bigger box to save on packaging. And, this box is recyclable, which gives it a leg up over plastic bags of washed salad mix. If you wanted to go a step further, you could buy a head of lettuce instead and chop and wash it all at once, so that it's just as easy to reach for in your fridge as a box of pre-washed baby greens.
-Brown rice and green lentils. This one was tough. Brown rice and green lentils also came in plastic boxes, which would have been recyclable (to my knowledge, the bags these came in - pictured above - aren't). But the boxed rice and lentils were conventionally grown, and I wanted to stick to organic, which meant buying the bagged versions instead. One of the times that zero waste is most frustrating is when I have to choose between organic / not zero waste and conventional / zero waste. I took the bags back with me to Chicago, where I'll use them as makeshift "trash cans" under my sink before I toss them for good.
-Ranch dressing. Always a crowd pleaser, ranch dressing was requested for a salad to bring to a potluck. I found it in a glass bottle, which could be recycled, donated, or even upcycled - with the label removed, wouldn't that be a cute flower vase? Or a pencil holder? As a bonus, I loved the smaller size, since I thought that a larger one would go unfinished at our house.
-Sandwich thins. I chose the variety with the least amount of packaging. Some of the options on the shelf came packaged in a plastic bag inside another plastic bag, what?!
The verdict: this was pretty different than my standard grocery haul, but it represents a good compromise, I think. If this is similar to what going zero waste looks like for you, don't sweat all of the perfect photos of unpackaged, bulk grocery hauls you see on Instagram. I've thought for ages that imperfect sustainability from all of us is what we need, not perfect sustainability from a few of us. My pal Meredith summed it up thus:
"I’m not trying to 'win' zero waste. I’m not trying to prove anything to anyone on Instagram or online about how little trash my family can produce. I’m setting myself up for the long haul – for a lifetime of my family being mindful about how we view materials and treat our planet through decisions big and small."
Okay, now fess up: how similar to or different from your weekly haul is this? Would you have approached any of these choices differently? I'd love to hear. Back next month with the next installment in this series - leave me a comment with what you'd like me to tackle in that one!
PS. You can read the rest of this series right here.