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There are lots of ways to reduce your waste in your everyday life, from wearing more sustainable clothes to cutting down your food waste by composting and meal prepping. The grocery store often poses a minefield of single-use plastics and unsustainable practices, but if you want to be more sustainable while grocery shopping, you’ve got two premises to keep in mind.
The first premise: You must waste less food. The average American household wastes almost a third of its purchased food each year, and spoiled food tossed in the trash isn’t as innocuous as you may think.
To waste less food, you’ll need to learn how to keep foods fresher for longer, use scraps and maximize your freezer — because virtually everything can be frozen and enjoyed later. You’ll also just want to buy less food: Build some awareness around the foods that commonly go to waste in your household, and try buying less of them.
The second premise: You must rely on as few single-use items (things like plastic baggies) as possible. The more you reuse the items you already have, the fewer discarded materials will pollute our waterways and end up in the landfill. This means avoiding foods wrapped in disposable packaging as much as you can. Pro tip: The produce section generally has little to no plastic packaging.
Of course, there are other practices that can help you be greener with food: Decreasing your meat and dairy intake, composting, growing your own food and getting more familiar with food labels are all steps in the right direction.
While you don’t need to buy a single thing to practice sustainability, there are a handful of items that may help you get ahead in your sustainability journey at the grocery store. Without further adieu, here’s what you need for a sustainable grocery shopping trip.
Sustainable grocery shopping checklist
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This one’s a given, and chances are, you probably have a handful of totes stashed away somewhere in your car or kitchen. Use those before buying new. If you aren’t stocked with a proper bag arsenal, you might consider this heavy-duty collapsible option. Each bag can support up to 65 pounds and is easy to clean. These bags will also sit upright in your trunk, preventing any spillage.
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You do not need to use those plastic produce bags at the grocery store. They are the definition of a single-use item, as you dispose of them as soon as you unload your groceries at home. You could just rely on smaller tote bags that you have in your collection, or invest in a set of mesh produce bags. These are see-through, which makes things extra convenient at checkout, and they’re also washable, so you won’t have any lingering parsley juice stinking up your bags.
Just remember to bring these along with your bigger totes — your best bet is to store the two together so you don’t forget!
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Don’t bring this to the grocery store, but do stop buying pre-sliced produce. Pre-packaged and chopped fruits and veggies seem convenient at first glance, but whole produce wins out. The packaged stuff can cost up to three times more than its whole food counterpart and will spoil much more quickly. Prepping your fruits and veggies at home will all prevent you from taking home all that extra waste — like the styrofoam plates and plastic wrap or plastic containers that this stuff is usually stored in.
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Once you prep your produce at home with your expert knife, store it in a Stasher bag rather than a single-use baggie. CNN Underscored is a longtime fan of these brilliant bags for their versatility: Aside from being a great reusable storage option, these bags can withstand the freezer, the microwave and the dishwasher. They can also be used as a sous vide method in boiling water. Unlike those flimsy plastic snack bags, you can enjoy the same Stasher bag for years to come.
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If you’re big on cereal and snacks, a couple of air-tight storage canisters can help keep those goodies from going stale, meaning you’ll waste less of it in the long run. This Jar Jump canister keeps things extra-fresh with its vacuum-seal technology, preventing air and moisture from ruining things like coffee beans, looseleaf tea and nuts. The container features an automatic suction system on the lid that, with a push of a button, vacuum seals the contents inside. The lid is rechargeable and comes with a freshness tracker.
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When it comes to these colorful silicone ice cube trays, think beyond ice. You can store leftover soups and sauces in these squares and pop them out to defrost whenever you’re ready to enjoy them again.
These trays make a great solution for any wilting herbs you have too. Before your cilantro, minced garlic or dill goes bad, mix it with butter or oil in these squares and pop the whole thing into the freezer. Now you have a fancy, single-serving herb butter (or oil) to cook with on the ready. Just pop a square out of the freezer and let it heat up on your skillet and, voila, you’ve just elevated your next meal.
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Mason jars are the ultimate food storage solution. Many food items, like jam, mustard and pasta sauces, are sold in these jars, so instead of buying new ones, rinse out what you have on hand and put them to work. If you don’t tend to buy these kinds of items, you can always buy a set of jars and lids, which you can use to store leftovers (in the fridge and freezer), shake up salad dressings and even beautifully display a bouquet of fresh flowers.
There are endless ways to use a mason jar, and once you have a couple in your home, you’ll see the magic too.