Here’s something that bothers me: why do many kinds of higher quality/organic bread come in two packages? There’s the outside bread bag, and then a tighter inner plastic wrapper around the bread. Is it to keep it fresher for longer because it doesn’t have the same mold inhibitors as lower quality breads?
And why does some organic produce come with more packaging than its conventional counterparts? Like organic bananas have a large sticker around the whole bunch, and a little plastic thing that covers the tops of the bananas, while conventional bananas don’t. It just seems backwards to me.
I’m not really sure what the answer is, but I do know one thing – it’s frustrating! Trying to increase the quality of our family’s food while also decreasing the amount of food packaging waste we create sometimes seems to be pulling me in opposite directions.
I will be the first to admit, up front, that I definitely do not have the whole reducing food packaging thing figured out. I realized as a part of my garbage inventory that it is one of the main kinds of waste our family creates. So, I knew I needed to address it and brainstorm ideas for coming home with less, and therefore throwing away less, food packaging. This post is just as much for me as it is for you.
Here’s some of the ideas I’ve come up with, and I’d love to hear what you and your family have done to reduce your food packaging waste.
Photo by bcmom
Buying in bulk
Buying in bulk will help to reduce your food packaging in some cases, but not all bulk buying is created equal.
The best kind of bulk buying is obviously the kind where there is are large containers filled with all different kinds and types of foods, where you are able to bring your own reusable bag or packaging and fill it up, instead of using one of the clear plastic baggies that are usually available for bulk food purchases.
We, unfortunately, do not have many places like this locally to shop from. We have stores that sell bulk foods, but they come prepackaged in their own bags, so that takes away the opportunity to bring your own bag or container.
Buying prepackaged bulk foods can still help to reduce packaging, because instead of having a lots of smaller packages to make up the same quantity of food, you only have one package for the larger bulk quantity. But, on the other hand, buying individually wrapped food items in bulk, like from the big box “bulk” food stores, obviously does not reduce food packaging.
Our local grocery store, Meijer, does have a small bulk food section, but it’s mostly candy – not really what I’m looking for. They do also sell nuts from the bulk bins though, and I often stock up on nuts when they are on sale, so I realized that would be a good opportunity for me to figure out how to bring my own container and fill it up with nuts, instead of buying the prepackaged ones.
I’ve heard that Whole Foods has a good bulk bin selection, or if you can find a local health food store or co-op that has these kinds of bulk bins, it is a great opportunity to reduce your packaging waste on all kinds of staple items from flours and sugar, to nuts, beans, oats and more.
Cook from scratch
Along with buying in bulk, another obvious way to reduce packaging is cooking from scratch. Whatever you cook at home, from scratch, you reduce or basically eliminate the need for packaging for those items.
You will still have the packaging for all of the ingredients involved, but if you are able to buy those ingredients in bulk, then you may be able to make completely package free food! Wouldn’t that be fun (Okay, is it weird that that is my idea of fun?!)
For example, when I make chicken stock at home, and freeze it in glass jars, I eliminate the box that I would otherwise buy stock in. Or baking your own bread eliminates the double packaging that I am so frustrated about on higher quality bread.
Also, making snacks from scratch, like granola bars, eliminates the individual packages for those types of food items.
As life has been a bit crazy and busy the past few months, I definitely have not done as much of this as I would like, and I need to get back to being better about cooking and baking from scratch to help with reducing our food packaging.
This one probably depends on what your Farmer’s Market has to offer, but you can at least avoid some of the packaging that’s usually found on store-bought produce. Bring your own bags, and ask the farmers to put your produce directly into one of your bags. I recently received these reusable produce bags by Fabrik from Etsy, and can’t wait to use them at the market.
If the farmer does give you a container, say for berries or eggs, you can take the container back so they can use it again.
Our Farmer’s Market has a stand that sells cheese, and I’m wondering if I can take my own bag or cloth and get my cheese from them without any packaging. The same stand also sells chicken and other poultry and I often buy whole chickens from them, and I’m trying to think of a way that I can avoid the plastic bag that they usually put the chicken in – a Tupperware, or stainless steel, bowl with a lid?
Meat and Deli Counters
This would also be true for buying meat, cheese, and other items, from a deli counter at the grocery store, or a butcher shop. You could bring your own containers and ask the person working at the counter to put your items right into your reusable containers instead of their packaging.
This is a totally new idea to me, and I’m not really sure how I would actually go about this. It seems like such a strange concept to me, I guess just because I’m really not used to it. I’m not sure I can get on board with the idea of using reusable containers for purchasing raw meat quite yet, but buying cheese seems doable to me.
My only other concern about buying food from the counter is the cost – usually deli stuff is more expensive than the prepackaged stuff. I’ll have to balance reducing food packaging with staying on a pretty tight food budget. Does anyone have experience with buying food this way? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Photo by stevendepolo
Buy Larger Quantities
Along with making snacks from scratch, that are usually individually wrapped, another idea is to buy in larger quantities and make your own single servings, instead of buying items individually wrapped in single serving packages.
One example of this that we do is cheese. I usually try to buy the largest package of cheese that I can, on sale, and then I use it to cut cheese sticks for my kiddos, instead of buying the individually wrapped string cheese. Also, shredding your own cheese from a large block of cheese uses less packaging than buying the same amount of pre-shredded cheese.
Other examples would be things like yogurt, or applesauce, buying the largest container and then serving it in individual bowls. I’m sure there’s lots of other things, but I can’t think of them right now, because we almost never buy individually wrapped items any more.
Reusing food packaging as much as possible.
Finally, reusing food packaging doesn’t eliminate the packaging to begin with, but it at least helps to cut down on the amount of waste that is thrown away or recycled. I keep all the glass jars that my food comes in to reuse for storing leftovers, homemade yogurt and coffee creamer, freezing soups and other foods, and even for organizing stuff.
I keep some of my bread bags, and other food packaging, but I don’t always know exactly what to do with it. There’s a fine line between repurposing and hoarding, right?!
And, this isn’t food packaging necessarily, but I learned this tip from Katie at Kitchen Stewardship, keep some ziplock bags in the freezer for leftover veggies to put in homemade stock, and for the heels of bread to make into bread crumbs, or in the deli drawer to keep cheese in, and you can keep using the same bag for the same purpose over and over and over without having to wash it out in between.
Here’s a great resource for reducing food packaging waste when grocery shopping. And her blog has tons of other great tips and ideas for reducing waste all around the house.
What tips or ideas do you have for reducing food packaging waste? Do you shop from bulk bins or deli counters using your own containers? I’d love to hear your experience!
Also, Stephanie at Keeper of the Home is having a 50% off book sale!! Only $9.49 for Real Food on a Real Budget, which is regularly $18.97! And $6.48 for Healthy Homemaking, regularly $12.95! What a great deal on these great ebooks! Use the code SPRINGSALE.
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