The Beginners Guide to Shopping Sustainably – The Weekly Food Shop

Increasingly often, we hear about the super-humans who have cut down their waste by so much that it now all fits within a single glass jar. For many of us, this seems incomprehensible. How on earth have they managed to do that when we could fill a jar just from the rubbish we create making Thursday night’s dinner? While we can only applaud these amazingly committed individuals, it often leaves us feeling even more powerless against the tide of plastic that seems to be constantly rolling into our supermarket trolleys. So here’s a quick guide to how you can be a little more Captain Planet.

From Greece to Colombia, plastic bags have been either taxed or banned for several years now, with Bangladesh kicking off this new environmental norm in 2002. The average plastic bag is used for only 12 minutes, often for the well-known struggle from car to door where the aim of the game is to carry all your bags in only one trip. Yet once disposed of and in landfill, these are one of the worst ocean pollutants as they masquerade as jellyfish, a tasty treat to many species whose bodies can simply not process our synthetic invention. Carrying a reusable bag with you, either in your handbag or the backseat of your car, is one of the easiest sustainable switches. Using sturdier plastic bags is a common option and, in the UK, once your bag has ripped after its extended lifetime, supermarkets will replace it for free. If you want to avoid our dreaded plastic enemy altogether, cotton or hessian bags are widely obtainable while in a few years’ time, Solubags may be adopted by shops globally. These revolutionary bags are as durable and flexible as plastic but dissolve in water within five minutes, all while leaving no chemical trace, allowing our dolphins free to play without hindrance.

In fact, supermarkets are a major producer of plastic waste with almost half of packaging on their shelves being either non-recyclable or difficult to recycle. In the UK alone, supermarkets produce 810,000 tonnes of single use plastic a year and that’s not including the 1.2 billion small plastic bags used to carry our fruit and vegetables home in. Luckily, this one is easy to avoid as we can simply buy loose fruit and veg as opposed to pre-packaged jumbles of peppers and oranges, whose synthetic netting is one of the worst contaminators and tanglers in recycling plants. This way of shopping also allows you to buy exactly what you need, helping eliminate food waste and stopping you wondering what to do with all your eight leeks. Some supermarkets provide paper bags for items such as mushrooms and bread, so why not take advantage of these and use them for all your greens? Or just leave your fruit free to roam as they are protected by the waxy, hairy or spiky skin mother nature provided. While this may feel a fairly negligible change, supermarkets are backing your actions as UK stores sign up to the Plastic Pact, an agreement to provide only compostable, reusable or recyclable packaging by 2025, something already seen at Waitrose who are removing all unrecyclable black plastic from their own label goods by the end of this year.

If you’re going to start housing vegetables in paper, then you might as well start wrapping fresh bread in your own cloth sleeve or beeswax wraps while you’re at it. Beeswax wraps are made of cotton, beeswax and pine resin, providing a colourful alternative to clingfilm and tinfoil. This wrap can be used to keep food fresh and once you’ve gobbled your leftovers, can be washed in cold water and reused for several months before they need replacing.

Some other more ocean-friendly items you may want to hunt for are fizzy drinks in cans instead of plastic bottles and biodegradable teabags, nappies and dog poo bags. Further sustainable switches may soon hit the market with the Saltwater Brewery inventing a six pack ring which not only secures your beer as well as plastic, but is created from the barley and wheat by-products of their brewing process, meaning the end result is biodegradable and edible to sea creatures.

If you don’t want to wait around for these inventions to hit your town, or if you want to go one step further and really dip your toes into this way of life, you can visit one of the zero waste shops sprouting on street corners. While the idea may sound a little daunting, the process is really quite simple. All you need are your own containers, whether that be old glass jars from pasta sauce, spare Tupperware boxes or bags which are weighed before and after you fill them with staples such as oil, rice and oats from dispensers. While many perceive these to be more expensive, it really depends on which items you are looking for, although it is worth bearing in mind that these stores often stock organic and locally sourced produce which explains the higher prices. Prices are given per kilo, which may cause a bit of a brain workout the first few times, but once you get used to the weight of different items, this becomes only a minor speedbump. Online interactive maps can help you pinpoint your nearest store and while it may be inconveniently a bit far away, the ability to buy in bulk means you only have to traipse to the shops every few weeks.

Zero waste shops additionally house a variety of eco-friendly detergents and shampoos as splashing about in the bath also affects what is splashing about in the ocean. Keep an eye out for part two of this sustainable shopping guide where we discuss the contents of your bathroom cabinet.

By Neve McCracken-Heywood

Rory Sinclair