Plastic-free Food: Reducing plastic in grocery shopping

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Image from http://www.mujeresdelatierra.org/state_ban_on_plastic_bags

On July 1 of this year, a bill will be passed into law banning the production, distribution and use of disposable plastic shopping bags in Morocco. This is just one recent example of a region taking these measures to reduce plastic production and consumption; France, China, California, and the Australian Capital Territory have all similarly banned the thin polyethylene-based bags widely used in grocery stores.

These plastic bags, and similar products including zip-seal style bags ubiquitous in most packed student lunches, are an increasingly contentious item in conversations about environmental issues. Some suggest banning plastic bags does not reach the heart of the issue at hand—that is, creating meaningful change in a culture that has come to rely on unsustainable practices and products like disposability and plastic.

In reality, it is now easier to spend a day without technology than without plastic. Plastic has invaded an astonishingly large and diverse range of the products in our daily lives: shampoo bottles and makeup products; water bottles and drinking straws; seatbelts and computers; even clothing, in the form of polyester. As the issue of plastic bags suggests, one of the most visible places plastic appears is in commercial grocery stores.

While reusable shopping bags are now a widely distributed alternative, plastic remains pervasive in most mainstream food shops. Most obviously, processed, frozen, or pre-made food is packaged in plastic; however, fresh produce is also widely distributed in plastic nets, bags or containers. Once you begin to look, the amount of plastic you discover in a grocery store is shocking.

Given the abundance of the product, change may seem daunting. The average consumer, however, can influence a shift in general consumer behaviour by taking eco-conscious steps, changing their habits, and reducing their negative environmental impacts. When it comes to grocery shopping, cutting out plastic is not only relatively easy, but may have additional benefits.

Escaping from mainstream grocery stores to local farmers’ markets is one easy step. Here, produce supports local industry, is often more sustainable and is almost entirely plastic-free. Moreover, purchasing the fresh and unpackaged food that is available at these markets not only reduces plastic, but is often nutritionally healthier for us than processed and prepared foods.

This is not to say you must abandon packaged foods or plastic. Both options have merit, yet reducing consumption of these products will benefit both you and the environment. On a large scale, reduced consumption can decrease demand and lead to positive environmental change. Other options include, when buying processed foods, purchasing only those which come in glass or metal packaging, as these materials are more recyclable. Where plastic is unavoidable, reuse it where able and eventually recycle.

At home, try storing food in re-used glass jars, wrapping leftovers or lunch items in cloth or baking paper and care responsibly for any plastic containers so they last as long as possible. Together, these habits can contribute to positive environmental change.

Eat, live and shop responsibly!