The first time I went grocery shopping plastic-free I was so nervous I pretty much just took a field trip. If I could have been dressed incognito, undercover, camouflaged, I would’ve scoped out the perimeter of the store, snuck around aisles, eavesdropped on customer service…anything to give me a leg up before the actual shopping began.
I’m a creature of habit. I go to the store near my house, where like Cheers, everybody knows your name. I can zip in and out in seconds with whatever I need. I know just the items I like and where to grab them. The problem is, almost all of my trusted products come in plastic - snacks, shampoos, toothpaste, eggs, cheese, bread, yogurt, strawberries… you get the idea.
With few plastic-free alternatives at my comfort-store, I made my way to our nearby Whole Foods. Equipped with reusable totes, mesh produce bags and storage containers from home, we literally bought nothing on the first trip. I just took stock of what was in store (literally and figuratively). My family, and especially my husband, seem to have infinite patience for my shenanigans and introverted awkwardness.
The next time we went, I had more courage. I boldly walked over to customer service, with my supportive seven-year-old boosting my confidence, and asked them to tare my containers for bulk shopping. With a smile and without the feared weird looks, the man weighed my jars and marked them with the “tare” on the lid, which is taken off the total weight at the cash register once the jars are filled. One job done, possibly one bar drop on my energy levels.
Next we move to produce. We avoid the plastic-wrapped veggies and choose the loose options. So easy. Sadly, we pass on the strawberries for now. And the grapes. Always in plastic! But there are peaches in green paper cartons! And loose mushrooms, tomatoes, zucchini, and so many other choices to fill our mesh produce bags. On a separate trip, we forgot our produce bags. We just popped everything right in the card, no problem. At check out, they put them in my bag. Easy, still plastic-free. I read once, if you’re worried about your produce getting dirty when not in a bag, just remember they grew in the dirt.
After produce shopping, we hit the bulk area. My kids love filling the containers. We get snacks like yogurt raisins, nuts for snacking and cooking, oats, rice, peanut butter and more. They even have tea and spices. The first time we shopped bulk, we filled a container with oats. My daughter was pumped. I was nervous, with shifty looks, kind of crouching, like I was going to get in trouble. Sometimes I find myself to be so annoying. I give myself a good middle-school-girl eye roll. Filling my own containers gets easier every time. I was only weird that one time. I think.
Next, we visit the meat counter. I don’t eat much meat, so I leave that to my husband. They wrap most things in paper, much better than the plastic-wrapped foam trays. We then zig zag through some aisles, giving a little extra thought to choose plastic-free. Especially at Whole Foods, you can find a plastic-free alternative to nearly everything. Except chips. I do miss chips. (darn those plastic-lined, multi-layer bags!)
In the dairy section, we choose the eggs in the carton, not plastic. Easy. We skip yogurt, since it is crazy easy to make your own. Next comes my current plastic-free nemesis: milk. I love milk. But, here in Birmingham, you can only get it in plastic or a carton. I started out getting cartons, feeling so happy. I called the recycling center and was accidentally misinformed that they accept waxed cartons. They don’t. So the cartons are non-recyclable in my area. Curses! What’s a girl to do?
For the moment, that is the one item I willingly (and begrudgingly) purchase in plastic. After visiting our recycling center, I know that our plastic milk jugs are, for 100% sure, recycled in our region. No recycling dumping, no burning, no clogging up at the border wanting to be shipped to China. While we aren’t lucky to have milk in glass, we are lucky to have good recycling. Plus, I make yogurt out of it, saving hard-to-recycle #5 containers from being purchased!
Phew. Going through my shopping trip is making me tired. But in reality, this routine has gotten so easy. I have retrained myself to new products, a new store, a plastic-free way of living, one (sometimes awkward) step at a time.
The last hurdle is cheese. My girls and I LOVE cheese. I took my reusable container to the cheese counter and asked for some cheddar. Sounds easy enough, but, especially in the early stages of plastic-free shopping, my introvert energy meter is lowwwww. I get my cheese. I feel happy. I feel ready to go.
There are a few shopping items you may notice I left out of this winding tale:
Toiletries- I find it easier to order these items, getting the products I like best. While Whole Foods does carry bamboo toothbrushes, a few shampoo bars and some other options, I prefer some other brands currently unavailable at the store. Examples: Bite toothpaste, Nourish shampoo bars (I also use my homemade shampoo bars), Meow Meow Tweet deodorant, and I make our own bar soap.
Paper products- we use Who Gives a Crap toilet paper (I laugh at that every time! And one answer is me. I do). It’s a great company, TP made from 100% recycled paper, 50% of profits go to building toilets for those in need.
Bread- I make my own, easy and quickly! Don’t believe me? Check out my post about Bread.
You know what else is great about shopping plastic-free? We don’t buy junk. Also, I’m happily surprised at the total cost when I check out...all that fresh food and I’m spending less than I used to? Plastic free isn’t so bad....