Tips for Plastic-Free Shopping

Dec 10th

A little over a year ago I started reading My Plastic Free Life, a blog by Beth Terry. I was shocked by some of the images I saw of albatross’s stuffed with plastic bits and pieces they had mistaken as food. Some of those plastic bits looked way too familiar; bottle caps, twist ties, wrappers and more. I really didn’t like the idea that the bottle cap I was tossing today might end up in the belly of a bird tomorrow (or any other creature for that matter). So, in classic Chelsie style, I obsessed about how I could reduce my plastic use. For about three months it was a fully enforced plastic ban in my house. That was until reality set it. Plastic is a part of our lives. There’s no way around it. BUT, that doesn’t mean we need to use all this disposable plastic! While my plastic ban has loosened a bit to allow certain unavoidables (like vitamins and the special bison dog food I get for my old dog) I still work hard to reduce disposable plastics wherever I can. One simple way to start is to go plastic-free when shopping. I’m not just talking bring-your-own shopping bags. I’m talking bring-your-own produce bags, bulk containers and reusables whenever you can. After a year using my trash free system, I’ve got some tips to ease the transition and make you a earth-friendly grocery shopper.

Tip One: Arm yourself


Hemp produce bags from Hands on Hemp

Make sure you have 3-6 shopping totes, depending on the size of your family and how much groceries you buy during a single shopping trip. If possible, choose durable canvas totes. Nylon, recycled plastic and other synthetic materials don’t last. Over the past year I’ve punished my shopping totes. Only the canvas ones have survived. As a bonus, you can easily toss them in the washer and dryer between shopping trips.

Also important is a decent sized pile of various sized produce bags. Again, I’ve found that cotton or hemp lasts soooo much longer than the mesh versions and wash up without falling apart. Two of my favorites are Hands on Hemp’s produce bags and Simple Ecology’s cotton mesh  produce bags. I’ve accumulated about 20 for my family of three.

Also, don’t forget Jars for bulk items like honey, olive oil, flour, sugar, etc. The key here is to make sure you have the tare weight written with a permanent marker on the lid or bottom of the jar.

Tip 2: Make sure your tare weight is visible

Most grocery store workers are not used to seeing produce bags or jars for bulk items – unless you are lucky enough to have an awesome co-op in your neighborhood. To minimize any animosity from store workers, be sure to have the tare weight visible on your produce bags and jars. This ensures you are not charged the weight of your container and makes check out simpler for your cashier. A simple way to do this is to go in to your grocery store during a slow time and ask a cashier to weigh and marker all of your containers.

Tip 3: Make friends with the store cashiers

Not all cashiers are going to understand why – or even care to learn why – you are bringing your own containers. All they know is that it makes the task of checking out a little more challenging since they have to deduct the tare weights from your purchases. The simplest way around this is to make friends with your cashiers. Learn their names, explain that you are trying to reduce disposable waste by using reusables. You’ll find that some of them will be really impressed, while others may be a bit annoyed. Once you know the friendlies, make a habit of choosing their register at check out time.

Tip 4: Know the laws for your state

In King County, Washington I can use my own containers for almost anything, except deli items. Stores can not directly place deli items in a customers container due to health and safety concerns. This really irritated me the first time I learned it, but there’s nothing the deli workers can do. Some have offered to weigh my deli selection on a sheet of wax paper, which I could then pour into my container. But not all workers are willing to make this extra effort.

Tip 5: Keep your resuables ready at all times

Store your bags either in your car, or next to the door where you will remember them. I always shop with a grocery list, and therefore know ahead of time when I need to bring a jar for baking soda or a bottle for olive oil along with my produce bags and shopping totes. I toss the jars into the shopping totes during the week and then grab the whole kit and caboodle when I head for the store. Remember to also bring a washable crayon or masking tape and pen to write down bin numbers on your dry bulk bags – I keep these items in my tote bags at all times.

The trick here is to establish a habit. Once you’ve made shopping with reusables a routine you’ll be surprised how much fun it is and how much plastic you can eliminate from the environment. Additionally, you’ll inspire others too. I can’t count how many times I’ve been asked about my bulk jars and produce bags by other customers.