Plastic-Free July Eco-Challenge: Day 3

Yesterday, I gave a few example recipes using no plastic. I should specify that these are recipes I make without plastic mainly because I shop specifically to cut out my waste when looking for ingredients.

For me, it’s getting easier to find foods I enjoy and want to eat without plastic because I’ve been practicing it for a while. I also have an AMAZING community store with a large majority of items I use in their bulk food section.

So, for today, I wanted to share some helpful tips for creating a plastic-free meal plan and how to go plastic-waste-free in your supermarket.

Bulk Food Section is Your Best Friend

I get 75-85% of my dry ingredients from the bulk food section. And I don’t consume any more plastic than I already have on hand. This is the ideal place to get all your herbs and spices, as well as a slew of other ingredients.

Depending on your store, here are some items you can find in the bulk section:

  • Flours (gluten and gluten-free): for ALL your baking needs. Almond flour, coconut flour (for the paleo and keto-followers), all-purpose flour, cake flour, corn meal, you name it.
  • Non-gluten grains: I get my quinoa (from Day 2’s recipe for Quinoa Salad) from the bulk section. There is also couscous, oats, millet seeds, and anything else you can think of
  • Rice: Rice gets its own section apart from non-gluten grains because there are dozens of different types of rice you can get- jasmine, Arborio, wild rice, forbidden (black) rice, sushi rice, green rice, brown rice. It’s all there.
  • Legumes: Lentils, black beans, chickpeas, pinto beans, just to name a few.
  • Dried fruit: Dates and raisins are kind of a staple for me. Yes, they are high sugar, but (particularly dates) they are great for recipes to cut down on added sugar. You can also get cranberries, apricots, mango, crystallized ginger, and well, all the other dried fruits you might want.
  • Nuts: Almonds, pecans, walnuts, hazelnuts, cashews, peanuts, and pistachio. Oh, and mixed nuts. Did I forget one? Don’t worry, your bulk section probably has it.
  • Cereals: Guys! Bulk bins have CEREALS! I get granola for the hubby to snack on since it doesn’t have a lot of sodium or protein, and I don’t find a lot of preservatives in them. He eats like a bird on steroids, though, so these snacks don’t typically last long.
  • Tea: Loose leaf tea is the way to go, and getting it from the bulk section makes it easy to try new flavors or blends, and makes it cheaper.
  • And so, so, so much more. But you get the idea, right?
Plastic bags shown here have been reused for months

Make Friends With Your Deli/Butcher/Bakery Attendant

Instead of buying your meat, cheese, and bread from the aisles, where these products are wrapped in tons of plastic, make a new friend at the supermarket. I get that asking for products not wrapped in plastic is intimidating, but these folks are here to HELP YOU. Let them know why you don’t want it wrapped in plastic. They’ll be happy to assist.

If you want to take it a step further, bring your own containers for meat, cheese, and bakery goods. Yeah, it might confuse the cashier once in a while, but isn’t that kind of fun in itself?

Lesser of Two Evils

Paper is made out of trees, and while it can still be somewhat conflicting to purchase something made from destroying trees, there are a couple things I want to point out:

  1. Paper is more easily recycled than plastic, provided it stays relatively clean
  2. If paper is thrown away, it eventually GOES away. It will return to the earth in a healthy and non-destructive manner. Plastic never goes away.
  3. You can find lots of packaging nowadays made from recycled paper.

Another tricky material is metal. While it certainly takes a lot longer for metal to disintegrate back to the earth, it too, is a more natural product. If you have to choose between canned corn and frozen corn in a plastic bag, go with the canned corn.

Whole Foods

In the produce section, it’s easy to go for the pre-packaged, ready-to-use salad mixes, or cut up fruit, or veggie platters. Yeah, it’s EASIER, but at what cost? Are you really so strapped for time you can’t spend five extra minutes cutting up lettuce, or preparing your salad yourself?

Pre-packaged produce costs more than the whole, un-prepared option. So, you save a lot of money and spend only a fraction more time.

Fourth of July is almost here. I would be remiss if I didn’t say I can’t WAIT for 4th of July watermelon and grilling. So, yeah, I got the whole watermelon versus the half-watermelon wrapped in plastic or the segments in plastic containers. Am I worried about it going bad? Not really. I can eat the crap out of watermelon, and in case you didn’t catch on, my husband eats like a bird on steroids.

Progress, Not Perfection

If you decide to take up all my suggestions and start shopping like a plastic-free boss tomorrow, I commend you. But I want to remind you this is a long-haul process. Taking smaller steps now creates lifelong changes in the future. Sometimes doing too much too soon creates burnout, or the feeling it’s too hard. And that’s not sustainable.

Instead, if shopping plastic-free is new for you, start small. Pick one of my shopping tips. See how it feels. It may take time just to establish THAT as a habit. Once it is second-nature, then add to your repertoire. Soon, you too, will be an eco-shopping warrior. And that’s exactly what this planet needs.

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