Seven Ways to Reduce Grocery Store Waste

By Laurie Fanelli in Thinking Sustainably

You try to leave the store with just what you came for, but grocery store waste always seems to creep up. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “more than 30 million tons of food waste is sent to landfills each year.” To make matters worse, according to Reuseit, Americans reportedly throw away 100 billion plastic bags annually.

Nonetheless, we all have the ability to reduce grocery store waste—including food, packaging, and plastic bags—by making a few adjustments at home. Here are a few simple tips to reduce the waste commonly generated while perusing each shelf.

Take Inventory

One of the first steps to eliminating grocery store waste is to only buy what you need (easier said than done, I know). Before heading out to the store, take stock of your pantry, refrigerator, and cabinets to see what you’ve run out of and what still needs to be used. If you still have a half bag of carrots hanging out in the fridge from the previous week, leave these carotene-rich veggies off your list for next time. Giving yourself this direction can steer you past the aisles you have no need to be in.

Make a Meal Plan

As you’re taking inventory of your groceries, it’s also a good idea to create a meal plan for the week ahead. This way, you know exactly what ingredients you’ll need to prepare meals for the family without getting tempted to buy food you’re not certain you’ll cook. A bonus of making this meal plan is that it encourages eating at home and enjoying dinner as a family. This could also include figuring out what days your kids will bring their lunch versus buying at school, so you know many sandwiches you need to plan for.

Reusable Bags

Reusable bags and groceries

Plastic bag waste is one of the easiest things to eliminate when grocery shopping. Bring a few reusable bags into the store so you’re ready when it comes time to check out. I leave a few canvas bags in my car so I always have them on hand; some grocery store chains offer these at the register. Worst-case scenario (in which you find yourself without a reusable bag)? You can always ask for paper over plastic, as paper is more easily recycled. Use your purse for smaller items, as well.

Buy in Bulk

During the holidays, many major grocery store chains offered customers the option of buying nuts, spices, and candies in bulk—rather than in boxes with wasteful packaging. Several stores, including Whole Foods, sell everything from rice, to beans, to dried fruits in bulk year-round. This allows customers to buy as little of an item as they need over purchasing a full prepackaged bag of a new ingredient. Split peas, cornmeal, and couscous are a few of my favorite items to buy in bulk.

Farmers’ Markets

Tomatoes and asparagus at a farmer

Produce purchased at a farmers’ market is typically grown locally, meaning it’s fresher than grocery store produce that often travels for weeks before making its way into your fridge. The fresher the produce, the longer it’ll last, increasing the odds that your delicious fruits and veggies will end up in your child’s belly before they go bad. You can also bring your own bags to transport the food instead of the plastic sleeves in the produce section.

Deli Duties

By bringing reusable glass or plastic containers to the deli counter, you eliminate the additional plastic packaging that grocery stores use to store your cheese, meats, and pasta salads. Just note the weight of your reusable containers in your smartphone so the deli employee can deduct the extra ounces from your final bill.

Coupon Caution

Coupons are a great way to save money, but we’ve all been tempted by an amazing deal on something we don’t need, resulting in more trash weeks later. Don’t be swayed into buying five boxes of a new cereal for the price of three; ignore coupons unless it’s for something you recognize. You can also look for coupons on your phone instead of printing them out or throwing away clippings you never got around to redeeming. Also, beware of great sale prices on produce, as the discounts may have been applied because the fruits and/or veggies are nearing the end of their shelf life.

As you take steps to decreasing your trash, consider composting, and look into donating unused, nonperishable items to a local food pantry. Here’s to happy healthy shopping! Tell us how you prevent grocery store waste @TomsofMaine.

Image sources: Flickr | Flickr | Flickr

This article was brought to you by Tom’s of Maine. The views and opinions expressed by the author do not reflect the position of Tom’s of Maine.

Why It’s Good

The quest to reduce food waste and plastic bag refuse starts at home. If we, the consumers, make the effort to combat grocery store waste, corporations, business owners, and governments will follow. Case in point, major municipalities like the City of Chicago have taken steps to ban the use of plastic bags in most retailers. If we lead by example, plastic bags and excess grocery store waste may be a thing of the past.