MWG #6 Minimal Waste @Home – Kitchen Edition I
Food packaging probably makes up a large portion of your weekly waste. Going to the grocery store is almost universal, and it's something we do probably a few times a week. It's one of the easiest and biggest ways you can have an impact and reduce your waste. Not just how you buy it, but also what you buy.
A lot of you might think zero waste grocery shopping is hard and involves a lot of time and money – and you’re right, buying package free isn’t as convenient as grabbing that already prepared lunch from AH and popping it into the microwave. Nevertheless, we do want to encourage you to try plastic free shopping which is why we’ve prepared some tips below to show you that in the long run, it can actually save you money!
Of course buying from bulk shops is the easiest way to get groceries plastic-free, but Amsterdam isn’t overflowing with them and most of you might not have access to such a shop. When going to the regular grocery store there are actually many options that are packaged in a way that’s better for the environment than plastic. Below some inspiration for the next time you go grocery shopping.
Can I make this myself?
Things like hummus, tomato sauce, vegetable stock, pesto, salad dressings, apple sauce, and granola bars, … Nine out of ten times you can easily make it yourself which ends up being cheaper, and healthier for you. Buying package-free often comes down to getting whole ingredients and making things from scratch, and it’s not as hard as you think!
Can I buy it in a returnable bottle/jar?
Most organic supermarkets like Ekoplaza and Odin offer dairy products that come in glass bottles and jars that can be returned to the shop. The containers are collected at the grocery stores and sent back to the farms, where they’re refilled.
Can I buy it in packaging that can be composted or recycled?
Because of the durability of the polymers involved, substantial quantities of discarded end-of-life plastics are accumulating as debris in landfills and in natural habitats worldwide. Most types of plastics are not biodegradable, and are in fact extremely durable, and therefore the majority of polymers manufactured today will persist for at least decades, and probably for centuries. Even when a plastic item degrades, it first breaks down into smaller pieces of plastic debris (i.e. micro plastic), but the polymer itself may not necessarily fully degrade in a meaningful timeframe. As a consequence, substantial quantities of end-of-life plastics are accumulating in landfills and as debris in the natural environment, resulting in both waste-management issues and environmental damage.
Glass, Cans & Paper
If you’re looking for sustainable packaging, glass is the one go to. It's 100 % recyclable and can be recycled endlessly without loss in quality or purity. A typical new glass container is made of as much as 70 % recycled glass. Another option are cans. Recycling aluminium uses only around 5 % of the energy and emissions needed to make it from the raw material bauxite. The metal can be recycled time and time again without loss of properties. Paper is one of the most easily recycled materials, however, paper eventually reaches a point where it can no longer be recycled due to the progressive shortening of fibers each time it is recycled. Each metric ton of recycled paper can save approximately nine trees that can absorb 127 kg of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere each year!
Reuse Then Recycle
Once you found the products you love in more sustainable packaging don’t recycle it just yet, reuse those empty glasses and bags for various purposes.
Keep the paper bags from the brown sugar, flour or bread you bought and reuse them as often as possible. Bring them for the next time you go to the bakery or buy loose tomatoes at the supermarket. As they’re very light, these bags are also quite handy when buying bulk items in stores where there’s no system to subtract the tare weight of your container.
Cotton bags also come in handy for loose vegetables, bread, and all the things bulk. You can sew them yourself from some old cloths for example, get them second hand or buy new ones – some supermarkets like Albert Heijn and Lidl have started selling them, too. An even lighter option for fruit and veggies are produce nets made from cotton.
Glass jars are a versatile asset for zero waste shoppers! They can be used to buy dry goods in bulk stores and of course to store those at home. As they’re usually made to not leak, they’re also great for rather “wet” groceries that you might get at the market, the cheese counter or at the butcher’s. Don't feel you need to buy new jars to fill up (if you do want new ones, IKEA, Dille & Kamille sell plenty). You can use empty glass jars from jam, marinara, peanut butter, … or anything you buy in jars really. Another benefit: Jars filled with all kinds of goods look really nice on your kitchen shelves!
Really, the only disadvantage of glass might be that it’s not break-proof. If you worry about that, you can get some containers made from stainless steel, i.e. at Dille & Kamille. They’re super durable and come in handy as containers for meats and cheeses, lunch boxes and take-away containers for when you’re too lazy to cook.
Buy it in bulk?
If you can freeze it or it won't go bad on the shelf buy as large a pack as you can. You'll be getting bulk discounts and drastically reduce your waste. And refrain from buying single servings such as small yoghurt cups, chip bags, individually wrapped sweets, etc. Always try to buy as big as possible, if it won't spoil. Food items like bread, pasta sauce, fruit, and vegetables can be frozen and things like flour, sugar, rice, beans, and dry pasta when stored in air tight containers won’t go bad for a very long time.
Now that we’ve covered shopping at Albert Heijn & Co., and you’ve accumulated some jars, bags and containers that can be filled, let’s talk shopping loose products.
Veggies & Fruit
Buy loose produce whenever you can and avoid pre-cut fruit and veggies. A lot of supermarkets have at least some loose fruit and vegetables and of course, you’ll find plenty at local farmers markets. You’ll save packaging, but also buying only what you need and in smaller quantities, you’ll end up with less food going bad.
Bulk Stores & Zero-Waste Shops
Remember that time you needed a certain ingredient for a recipe, a spice maybe, or when you wanted to try a food you saw but then ended up not liking it, most of it still in your pantry because you never used it up?!
The good thing about zero-waste shops is not only can you buy things package-free, you can also buy only exactly what you need! Fill your containers up all the way with what you love, or buy only a small amount of a certain item that you need for a new recipe. This will save you the money spent on stuff you end up not using up and wasting, and it’ll save so much unnecessary packaging, too.
Here are some places in Amsterdam to buy from bulk:
Little Plant Pantry, Amsterdam’s first real zero-waste shop, has a variety of dry goods, spices, plant-based milks and vegan cheeses!
Most Ekoplazas have a bulk section for nuts, seeds, dried fruit, granola and oats, and coffee and also sell nut butter and olive oil that you can fill into your container.
For coffee and loose leaf tea check our post on zero waste coffee!
Delicious Foods: Ask the shop attendants what really is from bulk, because most of the items they sell unfortunately come from smaller packages.
Some more ideas for dairy products, flour from the mill, spices etc.
Overall, it really comes down to being prepared when getting your groceries, remembering to bring those bags and containers, and asking the people in the bakery, on the market, etc. to put it in your container. Also, zero waste shopping will encourage you to cook more from scratch, prepare food yourself, and you’ll end up eating healthier, because most convenience food is packaged in a lot of plastic. But combined, these efforts will result in healthier eating, less money spent and of course, less waste created!
Photo credits in respective order: Lukas Bierie, Ajale, Litterless, Monicore, IKEA, Mohammed Saifullah, Little Plant Pantry