10 simple ways to reduce your ecological footprint when grocery shopping

If you want to consume better—and less—the way you shop can be a good thing to optimize. Without going crazy and shopping exclusively in bulk stores, there are several small things you can do that will have an impact on your consumption. And as a bonus: many of these actions will have an impact on your health and will help you save money. Are you ready? Let’s go.

Tip #1: Choose local and seasonal foods

While it’s not possible all the time, you can reduce your ecological footprint by opting for local foods. For instance, if you have a choice between apples harvested in an orchard 30 km from your home, vs. apples harvested in the neighbouring country—choosing the ones that have travelled less will reduce your ecological footprint. Indeed, the transportation of food—whether by boat, plane or truck—is responsible for a large percentage of greenhouse gas emissions!

Many of us have become accustomed to being able to consume anything at any time of the year! But the food we have to import from far away is usually full of preservatives to keep it fresh during its journey. Just like buying local produce, buying seasonal fruits and vegetables will mean that they will have travelled less to get to you. It’s the greenest solution!

One way to kill two birds with one stone is to subscribe to an organic basket service near you!

Tip #2: Walk or go less often

In the long run, driving to and from the grocery store has an impact on your gas consumption! If you can, try to go to the grocery store less often and stock up when you drive there. Otherwise, if possible, walk to the store! At our house, we do a mix of both. Once or twice a month, we make a trip to the grocery store to stock up. Then we walk to our smaller local store every other day to make sure we always have fresh fruits and vegetables!

ecofriendly grocery shopping

Tip #3: have a plan A and plan B for packing

Many people already master this one: bring reusable bags to pack your groceries. Choose sturdy cloth bags that can be repaired, rather than those made of plastified material that end up in the garbage once they rip.

And, if you forget your bags (it happens to the best of us!), here are a few options to avoid turning to single-use plastic bags:

  • Paper bags
  • Cardboard boxes
  • Wooden crates

I also recommend stocking up on small produce bags made with cloth or mesh—these can be used for bulk groceries, but also to carry your fruits and vegetables (instead of the small plastic bags you can never get opened!)

My tips for not forgetting them? One is to keep a bunch of cloth bags in the trunk of my car, so I don’t get caught off guard if I impulsively decide to stop at the grocery store. The other is to store our reusable grocery bags near the front door, so that they are within sight when we leave to walk to the store. 

Tip #4: Fresh vs. processed

Fresh food offers many more nutrients than processed food—so it’s the healthier option. They are easier to digest and generally less packaged than processed foods, too! And their production method has a lower environmental impact than processed products. Another undeniable advantage of buying fresh instead of processed: it’s less expensive! Yes, eating fresh food will help save you money on your grocery bill.

Quick tip: we tend to buy too much fresh produce and waste it. When it comes to fresh fruits and vegetables, it’s better to get less than too much, and purchase what’s missing later on foot if possible.

zerowaste shopping

Tip #5: Forget aesthetics

We’re often inclined to choose the most beautiful fruits and vegetables because we like pretty things… But this means that collectively, we end up with a lot of waste! Choosing “ugly” foods is therefore a meaningful choice. And you’ll notice that in many grocery stores, it can even save you money!

Tip #6: Avoid plastic

It’s hard to completely eliminate plastic if you shop in supermarkets, but you can still try to avoid it! For example, if you hesitate between two honey jars, choose the one that is packaged in glass rather than plastic! Glass is infinitely recyclable… And you can even reuse the jar to do your bulk shopping later!

Tip #7: Buy in bulk

This list would not be complete without mentioning bulk shopping! Although it usually requires more time and organization, bulk grocery shopping has many advantages.

First, it allows you to buy high quality, unprocessed and certified organic foods. And it’s a great way to buy only what you need! 

For example, if you need agar-agar for a recipe, you can buy a microscopic amount instead of a container that will gather dust in your pantry for years to come. And if you’re a big pasta eater, there’s no need to limit yourself to 500 grams of pasta, you can purchase a few kilos at a time minus the extra packaging!

Plus, bulk looks beautiful in the kitchen 🙂

bulk shopping

Tip #8: Shop in large quantities

For large families (which is our case!), buying large quantities (for example, at COSTCO—but also in supermarkets that offer maxi or family sized products) can be very useful to reduce waste. Of course, this is not true for everything—some foods are heavily overpackaged—but it is possible to make wise choices. For example, in our house, we buy olive oil in 3 to 5 litre cans, because we use so much of it. 

Tip #9: Plan “leftover” meals or freeze leftovers

To limit food waste, it can be a good idea to plan meals with all the leftovers from the last few days! At home, everyone chooses their favourite dish and we all eat a different menu, once or twice a week, to avoid wasting leftover portions and buying fresh food when we still have enough to eat. It’s a reflex to develop and as an added bonus: it’s less work for the cook! 

To avoid feeling like you’re eating the same thing several days in a row, you can create a new recipe with your leftovers! For instance, you can make a rice salad with a side dish from the day before, or make a tomato sauce with vegetables left over from yesterday’s meal. If needed, you can add a salad or raw vegetables to the mix :).

Another option to consider is to freeze your leftovers before they go bad and take them out when you have nothing left to eat in the fridge!

Tip #10: Take inventory often

One last tip: I strongly recommend you do a quick tour of your fridge’s content a couple of times a week, to identify foods that have been hidden at the bottom or pushed behind something else and that could be forgotten forever. Keep an eye on the expiration dates, and bring soon-to-expire foods closer to the front for quick consumption! The same goes for the pantry and freezer: a quick look from time to time will avoid you losing perfectly good food.

Some people also find that planning meals helps them to waste less. Personally, I find it restrictive so I don’t plan much in advance—I actually find it fun to create recipes with what I have in the fridge—but I can definitely see how planning would allow you to waste less! If you only buy the ingredients you need for a recipe, you’re less likely to have orphaned veggies sitting in your fridge drawer!

low waste shopping

The most important thing to remember about your grocery shopping habits is that perfection isn’t the goal. It’s much better to do small actions every day without feeling guilty than to be the champion of zero waste shopping and put immense pressure on yourself to waste nothing at all. Remember, changes that are gentle on us tend to be more sustainable. 

What about you, do you have any other tips for limiting your ecological impact while shopping? Share them with our community by commenting on this article!

Oh—and would you be interested in an article on bulk shopping? If so, please let me know!

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