I think food shopping has to be one of the trickier areas to reduce single use plastic consumption. For our family online shopping offers convenience and is the most cost-effective way to shop. This does mean it can be more difficult to reduce plastic as you are limited to the products offered online. However, I do think it is possible to make some sustainable swaps this way and lessen your plastic use.
For some items I have recently been looking to opt for alternative packaging options when shopping online. For example, instead of buying mayonnaise in a plastic bottle I have been getting a glass jar. I have also switched to the supermarket own brand so actually this works out cheaper. Instead of recycling the jars I have been repurposing them for storage of dried goods that I have been able to source from elsewhere.
Another swap has been pasta. I have been able to find pasta and spaghetti in cardboard without the plastic window. This is slightly more expensive so possibly not a swap everyone could make. I will probably keep looking for an alternative, hopefully one that is a bit cheaper and can be bought in larger quantities as we go through quite a lot of pasta.
When selecting fruits and vegetables some are easier to get plastic free than others. Where there is the option for plastic free that is what I will select. Sometimes this will cost more, other times it is the same or cheaper. We opt for single apples, bananas, peppers, carrots and onions. Annoyingly though these often come in plastic produce bags. The online store we use is beginning to use recyclable bags but there seems to be some inconsistency in this and occasionally we still get the old-style bags. I would like to be able to go and buy loose fruit and vegetables, but this is just not possible for our family at this time. If I do go to the shops in person, I find it is easier to get the plastic free options and I can use my own bags for the loose goods. A bonus of buying loose fruit and vegetables you can get the amount you need which can assist in reducing food waste which will in turn save you money.
Buying items in larger quantities can also help to reduce the amount of packaging. I have started to buy larger pots of yoghurt for myself which I then serve smaller portions from. This means only one pot for recycling rather than multiple smaller pots.
For some products I have begun to source them from an alternative online service. There are a few different sites now offering plastic free dried goods such as herbs, spices, seeds, dried fruits etc. You can order varying quantities of some of these items and they can still be delivered to you rather than you needing to go out to stores. The items we get come in packaging that is compostable. We are fortunate that we have a compost bin which means we can dispose of this packaging. If you don’t have a compost bin it may be possible to pass these onto a friend who does have a compost bin. There are some physical zero waste stores that offer this type of service too. An advantage of going to a store like this is you can take your own existing containers with you which reduces the need for other packaging. Again, for our family the local store is not the most convenient for us to access hence our choice to use an online company for this.
We try to look carefully at the packaging our food comes in and we recycle where we can. We are quite lucky and live in an area that takes quite a good range of items for recycling. Additionally, we have looked at other items we can recycle through other means such as TerraCycle and as I mentioned earlier, I also try to find ways to repurpose packaging.
There are still several items which come in non-recyclable packaging, we try to reduce the amount we select these but sometimes it is unavoidable without completely avoiding that food item. Slowly producers and supermarkets themselves are starting to make changes which will help us as consumers. One of these has been to stop selling tins in plastic multipacks that are cheaper than individual tins. Some are now even offering a discount on buying multiples of individual tins. Changes like this help everyone with making small sustainable swaps. Hopefully, supermarkets will continue to look at ways they can reduce packaging as this will clearly have a greater impact as more people will be able to access these products. It is important that people continue to share the changes they want made with the suppliers and supermarkets to encourage them to provide more sustainable options. Hopefully in time it will become the norm to package things in these more sustainable ways.
Essentially when it comes to food each family has to work within the constraints of their budget and their ability to access plastic free alternatives. We make changes that we can and accept that certain things for now will have to continue. Remember even small sustainable swaps will have an impact, especially if you encourage others to do the same.