Sustainable Shopping in the Grocery Industry
By Ceili Cornelius
Grocery shopping is no unknown operation, especially for college students now living on their own and cooking for themselves. Often times students don’t recognize the types of packaging the food they are buying comes in. For example, Trader Joe’s sports a fun, well set up health food store, with entire shelves lined with broccoli, nuts, lettuce and many more goods, all packaged in plastic.
Plastic is one of the most mass produced products in the world. It is easy to manufacture and is the best for storage because it’s sealable, making it a massive industry.
Plastic packaging facts states, “For example, modified atmosphere packaging helps preserve food freshness by capturing a reduced-oxygen air mixture in a plastic package. This technique can extend a product’s shelf life by slowing the growth of bacteria.” This article shows that plastic packaging allows food to stay fresh. However, this can cause a huge amount of plastic waste to be thrown out. Often times plastic is contaminated with food bacteria and, therefore, cannot be recycled.
It is hard for students to try to be sustainable when they have to worry about school, work, and providing meals for themselves. Often times students want to be more green and reduce their plastic consumption, however, they just don’t have the extra time it takes to make more environmentally friendly choices.
In an interview with environmental studies major Odin Wium, he talks about how students can make an effort: “Buying bulk, buying canned foods and just being aware of what your food is coming in is the best thing students can do while shopping,” said Wium.
Wium spoke at length of the various environmental impacts that buying food can have. “Buying local is the best option because it takes less energy and travel time for the food to reach the consumer,” he said. Buying local produce and foods made by local companies reduces the amount of energy and packaging spent on the one individually packaged item.
Another aspect of buying sustainably is focusing on what the ratio of product to container is. If the container of plastic is larger, it will take more time to use up the product and, most of the time, these containers can be reused. Individually packaged items tend to have more waste because they are made up of single use plastic which cannot be reused.
Wium comes from an environmentally conscious family. His family garden was a catalyst for his interest in an environmentally-friendly lifestyle. “Growing up with a garden was impactful because I learned that growing your own food is really not that hard, it is cheap to buy seeds and then plant and water occasionally. I think a lot of people don’t know how easy it is, and have a lack of knowledge and therefore just buy what is convenient to them,” he said. Growing up, his family didn’t eat out much, they always made their own food. “Making your own food is way more sustainable than eating out because the energy it takes to produce food in a restaurant is a lot higher than cooking it yourself from locally bought ingredients,” he said.
As far as sustainable packing goes, Wium recommends bee cloth, which has been a recent trend. Made from beeswax and resin, it resists bacterial growth and is good for storing produce. An item can be wrapped in it and remain fresh. It can also be wrapped around the lid of a jar. It can be washed with cold water and ready to use again. Unlike plastic, when it’s done it doesn’t have to be thrown away, it will just decompose. Bee cloth is a good option for keeping foods fresh instead of plastic bags or plastic wrap.
Buying in bulk is a cheaper option than most bagged or packaged items. Things such as flour, rice, nuts and honey are cheaper per pound in bulk than in an individual package. You get more product for less when buying in bulk. Often times local health food stores have mason jars available for purchase at bulk counters so you can reuse them for bulk items instead of plastic bags.
There are many ways for students to become less reliant on plastic packaging, including buying in bulk, getting reusable containers and meal planning. The only catch to this is it requires planning and often times excess time, which many college students feel as if they do not have. However, even the smallest thing, such as purchasing a reusable bag or a container to go buy bulk foods in, can greatly reduce your plastic footprint. The use of bee cloth, as Wium mentioned, is a great way to preserve fruit and vegetables without using a plastic bag every time.
“The biggest thing students can do is vote with your dollar. Your purchase at a local store is basically investing in the concept of sustainable shopping. People want to follow a successful business, so buying local and being smart about where you put your money is one of the biggest things you can do,” he said. There are a few markets in Eugene that emphasize the local food movement. Stores like Sundance Natural Foods and Market of Choice all have options for buying in bulk and have products in sustainable packaging.
There are many options for students to be more sustainable, it just begs the question: how much do you care and how much time you are willing to commit to sustainable shopping and lessening your consumption?