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T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies
9 Ways to be a More Sustainable Grocery Shopper

Earth is calling. It needs your help not only in continuing to follow a whole food, plant-based diet but also in making your shopping more sustainable. Fortunately, simple strategies can turn your grocery shopping green. Here are nine I’ve found helpful:

1. Place reusable bags in view.

Always forget those reusable grocery bags? Keep them in the front seat of your car so they’re at least top of mind when you head into the grocery store. And if you’ve got a few of the plastic grocery bags hanging around because you forgot your reusable bags, stick one in your purse as a back-up.

2. Skip single-use plastics.

There’s a reason the European Union and countries like Canada have pledged to ban single-use plastics: The planet is literally drowning in plastic pollution, including this type of plastic designed to use only one time. Consider this: One million plastic drinking bottles are purchased every minute worldwide, and every year, the world produces enough plastic waste that it’s the equivalent to the weight of the total human population, according to the United Nations Environment Programme. The majority of that plastic then ends up in nature or a landfill. You can avoid contributing to this plastic mess by not purchasing single-use plastics, including bottled teas, juices, waters, and sodas.

3. Pass on the plastic produce bags.

There are so many ways to kick the plastic habit, but here’s another: Rather than reaching for those plastic bags hanging by the produce for, say, unbagged celery or bell peppers, just throw the produce in your cart. You have to wash them anyway, right?

4. Say no to plastic-wrapped produce.

A single cucumber wrapped in plastic might seem like a good way to keep germs at bay – until you consider the environmental cost of that one plastic-wrapped veggie. If you were to buy every single vegetable or fruit like this and everybody followed your lead, imagine how much plastic waste that would create. Best bet? Skip the solo plastic-wrapped produce.

5. Buy in bulk.

When you buy in bulk, you’ll not only cut out most or all of the packaging, you’ll also spend less. Generally speaking, the best foods to buy in bulk are the ones that won’t go bad. For instance, I buy oats, dry beans, rice, nuts and seeds, and even nutritional yeast in bulk and store them in glass jars.

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6. Seek ugly produce.

Grocery stores often keep bins of almost-expired or bruised produce—often called ugly produce or misfits in some stores—and sell it for a discount. Check those bins first, even if you’re an organic shopper, as you’ll find all kinds of perfectly good produce in it. And if they’re not appealing to eat raw, they’re often great for smoothies or soups (cut and freeze when you get home). Trouble is, some grocery stores have stopped doing this because customers weren’t supporting it. If that’s your grocery store, speak to the manager or start a petition requesting that they sell this produce again.

7. Shop local.

Shopping local means that you’re supporting your local farmers, which then supports your local economy. As a result, you’re probably also cutting down on the foods that you’re buying from other parts of the world, which places a huge burden on the environment via shipping and transportation. Look for locally grown foods at your grocery store or head to a farmers market.

8. Check recycling labels.

Plastic containers usually have a small number inside the triangular recycling logo on them. These numbers range from one through seven, and while some cities accept all seven numbers for recycling, others may only take those with a #1 or #2. If your city is among the latter, be conscious of this when you’re at the grocery store, and if you are buying a food in a plastic container, stick with those labeled #1 or #2.

9. Go organic when you can.

Organic foods get the leg up when it comes to sustainability because farmers are producing higher quality food and maintaining the health of the soil. Plus, organic foods aren’t grown with chemicals that their conventionally grown counterparts use which harm human health as well as the soil. Even if you can’t go fully organic, at least follow the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen, an annual list of the most pesticide-laden produce. Buying organic versions of those foods will have the greatest impact on your health and the health of the environment. In 2019, strawberries, spinach and kale were ranked the three dirtiest. The group also ranks the Clean Fifteen, produce that have the least amount of pesticide residues. If you can’t find or afford organic versions of these, buying conventional is a good option.

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