foods i {sometimes} buy in packaging

Below a picture from a trip I made to Safeway about 2 years ago. This was, clearly, earlier in my zero-waste “journey.” I used to buy some of these items regularly. Now, they are things I only buy a few times a year if I’m really in a food jam or it’s a special treat.

Nevertheless, these items show some of the challenges of shopping without packaging. There are many items you just can’t get. There was a time when I’d buy things anyway…I’d say to myself “well, raspberries only come in plastic, so that’s my only option.” But now, I just won’t buy raspberries. There are so many other fruits available without packaging. It’s hardly a sacrifice!

There are probably less than 1,000 people in the whole world who are actually going to sort of achieve a zero-waste lifestyle. For the rest of us, we have to use our consumer power to “vote.” If we won’t buy things in plastic packaging, we’re sending a message that we want different options. This is our power. Ask the manager at the store. Email the company. There are a lot of ways to make your opinion known. Don’t be shy; express it! And, if you really truly want the raspberries, get them!

1. Pasta. For some reason, pasta is rarely available in the bulk section. Occasionally I've found whole wheat macaroni at Whole Foods and tri-color rotini at Sprouts. But you can't count on it. So, I usually buy pasta in as much paper or cardboard packaging as possible (instead of in plastic bags). It's hard to find a box that's 100% recyclable, but most stores have pasta in cardboard boxes with just a tiny bit of plastic.

2. Alternative milk. I buy cow's milk in reusable glass bottles. I sometimes make nut milks at home. I buy coconut milk in cans. But as a family of 5, we go through a good amount of milk in coffee, cereal, etc. Tetra-pak (shown above, what many milks come in) is not at all a good choice. It's terribly difficult to recycle because it's a combination of plastic, aluminum and paper. Denver now has facilities to recycle it (as do most major U.S. cities), but it's questionable how many cartons are actually being captured and whether or not the material salvaged can really be used in any meaningful way. I buy in moderation and try to buy in a plastic jug if possible. because simply plastic is actually more recyclable.

3. Bread. Thanks to my mom, I have an awesome recipe for homemade bread. I make it regularly. If I don't have it in me to bake, I try to buy a loaf of bread without packaging from a local bakery. But let’s face it: life happens and the kids still need school lunches. Occasionally I buy bread at the grocery. I like this Dave's bread because it's one of few on the market that doesn't have added sugar. Plus it has a good amount of protein per slice. I reuse the bags and then take them back to the store recycling bins for plastic film.

4. Tuna + Beans. Aluminum is one of the most sustainable forms of packaging. Cans contain more recycled content than plastic or glass containers. They are easily melted and reformed into more packaging. They're light to ship. If a type of product is available in aluminum I will chose that over glass or plastic 100% of the time. When I occasionally buy my kids juice, I buy pineapple juice that comes in cans.

5. Yogurt. This is the worst thing I buy! Even though I've started making yogurt at home, and my kids enjoy it, when given the option to pick a "special treat" at the store, they often choose a fancy yogurt. They love the novelty of it, I guess? I hate it. I’ve gotten better at saying “no” or opting for the ones in glass instead, but occasionally I cave. I’m human. I like making my kids happy, and yogurt is a lot better than many things they could pick. I recycle the plastic...but that doesn't really make it much better.

6. Produce stickers and tags. Not much we can do about these unless the industry standards change. Even farmers' markets often have produce with stickers. I try to take the stickers off as soon as I get home so we don't accidentally compost them (on banana peels, avocado skin, etc.).

7. Tortillas. We eat a lot of tortillas. I really want to get a tortilla press and learn how to make my own, but in the meantime I reuse the resealable bags for storing food and produce.

8. Frozen peas. I buy almost all of our produce without packaging. But peas are the vegetable my kids will consume the most of, and so I like to have a “back up” bag in freezer for those times when there aren't any other vegetables in the house or I'm super tired or lazy. I wish fresh peas were more available. Maybe this summer I can find a bunch and shell them an freeze. #goals


Other things I occasionally buy with problematic packaging:

  • Cheese

  • Fish/seafood

  • Tofu

  • Dates

  • Potato chips

  • Frozen foods at the Asian grocery - dumplings, baozi, etc.

Foods we love but I try not to buy because of their packaging:

  • Clementines

  • Grapes

  • Cherry tomatoes

  • Baby carrots

  • Rice cakes

  • Crackers

What about you? Do you think about the packaging on the foods you buy? What tips do you have to share?