29 Oct How to shop in a sustainable way
Cutting down on plastic centres on how you shop. But plastic-free and sustainable shopping can feel like a whole new world that you know nothing about. How you buy everything, from your toothbrush to your dishwasher tablets, can ensure you take individual steps to helping the environment. But how do you shop in a sustainable way?
If you live in a city or large town, you are probably fortunate enough to have plastic-free and zero waste retailers within reach. Smaller towns are now getting to benefit from monthly zero waste pop-ups. There’s also the option for online shopping too. It’s an exciting time for the green consumer, but you probably need a few pointers too.
What is a plastic free retailer?
A plastic free retailer differs considerably from the mainstream, especially when it comes to grocery shopping and supermarkets. The basic concept is that the household and grocery goods that you need on a regular basis are available to buy without plastic packaging.
This works in a few different ways. For some items, such as pasta or washing up liquid, you may need to provide the container, or buy a reusable container before your first purchase. Other items may be packaged without plastic, for example using recycled cardboard. Some items, such as fruit or veg will need something for you to transport them in.
Each plastic-free or zero waste retailer sets its own values. However, most will stick to:
- No single-use plastic: The shop buys products in bulk and so they aren’t put in individual packaging. In some cases, the bulk goods themselves arrive in plastic containers which are then reused.
- Values of zero waste: The shop itself will be committed to not adding packaging to the goods they sell. They will decant their bulk items into jars and bags in the store.
In addition, you may find that some shops buy local and seasonal in a bid to reduce the miles travelled, thus reducing carbon emissions. They may also choose to only stock organic items.
What do plastic free shops sell?
Again, this will depend on the individual shop, their location and their values. Typically you can expect them to sell a range of grocery and household items. You can usually find:
- Store cupboard essentials: Pasta, rice, cereals, flour, sugar, herbs and spices, etc.
- Dried goods: Teas, coffee, fruit, lentils, pulses, etc.
- Cooking liquids: Oils, sauces, vinegars, honey, jams, etc.
- Fresh produce: Fruit and vegetables, etc.
- Cleaning supplies: Washing up liquid, cleaning liquids and powders, etc.
- Bathroom items: Soaps, shampoos, toothbrushes, etc.
- In larger or online plastic-free or zero waste stores you may also find:
- Clothes: Clothes and accessories that are zero waste and meet your ethical principles.
- Gifts: Items to buy for eco-conscious people in your life.
- Household goods: Lunch boxes, reusable straws, containers for plastic-free food shopping, reusable bottles, reusable sanitary protection, etc.
- Homewares: Furniture, lighting, cushions, desk accessories, etc.
In online stores you will also likely find a much wider choice of items than in small high street shops.
Going to a plastic free store for the first time
When you’re ready to go on your first in-person plastic-free food shopping trip, you’ll need to do a little preparation. In addition to writing your shopping list, plan which containers to take along making sure you have one for each item you plan to buy.
You won’t want to create extra weight with your containers. So choose lightweight ones which you can easily reuse. An excellent example is these Green Island cotton mesh produce bags, or the Agnes LDN natural cotton grocery bags. Feel free to scavenge containers from around your house. Plastic storage boxes which can be reused are commonly used – there’s no need to throw out something that already exists, just use it well! It’s single use plastic that is the biggest problem.
At the shop there’s usually a four stage process:
- Weigh your containers
- Fill your containers and choose individually sold items
- Weigh the filled containers again
Shop assistants are usually very willing to help you to begin with! The initial container weigh-in is to ensure you only pay for the goods, not the weight of your container. With an item like the cotton bags above, there’s usually no need to weigh them in advance as their weight is minimal. To save time in the future, you might want to write the weight of the container on it in permanent pen.
Go around the store filling your containers with what you need. Try to use the scoops and tongs provided. Prices are usually displayed by weight or volume (for liquids). If you aren’t sure how much you will need, or how much it might cost, ask an assistant.
For the second weigh-in, the checkout assistant may do it for you, or you simply follow the process again, this time usually printing a label with the final price which you attach to the container. Then pay!
Plan your shopping trip
As we say, planning is crucial. In addition to individual containers, you will need bags. These can of course be plastic-free too. We love a string grocery bag, or if you’re stocking up on bulky items like pasta, we recommend a sturdy large canvas shopping bag.
The other part of planning that we recommend is how often you go and what you plan to buy. Shopping in this way can leave you with a lot of heavy items to carry home. Consider doing the food shopping in your local shop on a regular basis. Then get other zero waste items, especially bulky ones like washing powder, from an online marketplace like Wearth.
How to shop sustainably online
Doing a sustainable shop online will enable you to stock up on items such as reusable toothbrushes and washing up liquid. You won’t have to do the weighing process either. By choosing to buy these items from reputable sellers, you can always have room for doing the plastic free food shopping locally.
The additional benefit to shopping online is that, if you choose your retailer carefully, they will ensure that each individual item lives up to your eco-principles.
So, what are you waiting for? It’s time to have a go at sustainable shopping.