State by state, Australia is beginning to implement legislation to ban single-use plastic bags, however, single-use plastic packaging is still ubiquitous on our supermarket shelves.
Supermarkets have been leading legislation by example, with Woolworths New Zealand pledging in the group’s 2018 sustainability report to transition to 100 percent reusable, recyclable or compostable packaging in its own-brand products by 2025 or earlier. But the job isn’t done yet.
Plastic-free July is a great time to test your ability to cut plastic use and make good habits for the year ahead and here are a few ways you can make an impact during your weekly grocery shop:
Bring your own produce bags
There are a wealth of companies selling reusable produce bags online, some of them are even stocked in the utility aisle of supermarkets. There are ultra-lightweight versions if you’re worried about ripping yourself off, and organic cotton mesh for those with a view to reducing pesticides. For those with an affinity for crafting, you can also easily make your own.
If you’re the kind of person who likes to use single-use grocery bags as bin liners, there are also ways to get around that by diverting wet scraps to compost and ditching the liner altogether.
Favour loose produce
Nearly every supermarket will have a selection of pre-packaged goods. Some, like Aldi for example, have more than others (part of their cost-saving structure). Buying loose items usually costs less if you check the per-kilo price, and gives you the freedom to choose how much you need, avoiding excessive plastic, saving money, and helping to reduce food waste. It’s also a great opportunity to use your reusable produce bags.
Buying loose items usually costs less if you check the per-kilo price, and gives you the freedom to choose how much you need
Choose greengrocers or produce markets
The smaller scale and limited stock of a local greengrocer or produce market means fruit and veg are usually fresher (bought from the local wholesale market each day) and requires less strategy to keep in good condition e.g. less packaging.
Because you’ll also just be shopping for fresh stuff, there’s less need to separate fruit and veggies from hard items you’d also buy in a supermarket, so putting them straight into a basket then into your shopping bag at the checkout doesn’t require a produce bag for protection.
This brings us to the next point…
Don’t use them
Just put your green goodies straight into that supermarket basket or trolley. Make sure delicate stuff stays on top and try to choose naturally protected items, like a head of cauliflower with lots of leaves on it.
Swap out bagged salad and spinach leaves for whole heads of lettuce, or bunches of English spinach and look for fresh herbs without plastic wrapping (easily found at markets, fruit and veg shops and international grocers with fresh sections, or you could try growing some at home).
Plastic has its place
Plastic packaging keeps moisture in and wetness out of certain items like leafy vegetables, and guards against bruising on delicate items like berries. These factors help to prolong the shelf life of the goods and contribute to lowering food waste. It also keeps food safe from contamination throughout the supply chain and is lightweight, reducing shipping costs.
If you really do need to use plastic, try to recycle it at a soft plastics collection point (now available in many urban supermarkets) or wash and reuse bags for storing future un-bagged produce in the fridge to keep it fresh, or wrapping lunchboxes in to avoid leaks on the commute.
In the deli, bakery and aisles
Seafood, meats, antipasto and bakery
The deli and seafood counters are more challenging for the ill-prepared. The only solution to avoiding plastic-lined paper and bags here is to bring your own containers. Staff can easily deduct the container weight from your item and if you ask nicely they may throw in some ice to keep seafood fresh.
The only solution to avoiding plastic-lined paper and bags is to bring your own containers.
Opt for paper in the bakery, or ask staff to pack a loaf into your own paper or fabric bag. This is best done early before all the loaves are packaged at a supermarket, or any time at a local bakery.
Other dry goods
Finding a loose bulk store for dry and shelf items like pasta, nuts and cereals is a great way to avoiding plastic packets and jars, but these places usually come at a premium price. Choosing standard options like pasta and laundry powder sold in cardboard boxes over plastic bags, and rice in fabric bags is a good solution. You can also opt to make your own pasta and dry it.
Remember, going completely plastic-free comes at the expense of convenience, so you’ll have to be ready to make a lot from scratch if you want to truly avoid packaging. Alternatively, there will be a lot of dining out which most likely involves a lot of plastic you can’t see.
Dairy and non-dairy alternatives
For dairy, if you’re lucky to find glass bottles through a local supplier then you’ve got milk and cream (skimmed off the top of non-homogenised milk) and can make your own yoghurt. If you’re really committed you can even give ricotta and haloumi a crack. Who knows, maybe you’ll find a knack for cheesemaking.
Above all else, before leaving the house, don’t forget to pack your own shopping bags to cart all the goodies home.