Q: Any tips on greening my grocery shopping routine?

A: Well, first things first. The fact that you’re even thinking about greening your supermarket routine earns you a nice big thumbs-up. Most of us go to the supermarket at least once a week, if not more. If we spend an hour in the supermarket for every week from the time we’re 20 till we’re 60, we will spend more than 2,000 hours (or almost three entire months) in the supermarket. And that’s not including all the time we’ll spend in the grocery store after we’re retired. Eek!

The first thing you can do to green your trip to the supermarket this week is to go only once. We all know that driving a car can release harmful emissions into the air, and the less you do it, the better. If you’re one of those people who goes to the grocery store once a day for a gallon of milk or that bunch of bananas, maybe you should rethink your shopping strategy. Try to keep a running list on your refrigerator door and write down things you need as you run out of them. Better yet, menu plan on Sunday for the entire week, then go through each night’s dinner and write down everything you’ll need to make it. This will not only prevent you from forgetting something, (Oh no, we’re out of mushrooms!) it will also help you save money.

Before the holidays a couple of years ago, I went to the store every day for an entire week, picking up items that I kept forgetting. No joke. Now, Saturday nights are spent menu-planning and list-making, so I’m properly prepared for my Sunday trip to the store. (Glamorous, I know. Don’t get jealous.)

Ever hear that "Seinfeld" bit about how supermarkets are like casinos, without clocks or easily accessible exits? So true, right? You go to the supermarket with a list of five things to buy and show up at the checkout aisle with 15 … if you’re lucky. I have a friend who works in marketing — her job is to make those end-of-aisle displays appealing enough that people will want to buy whatever is on them. She must be doing her job well — last Thursday, my husband came home with four boxes of a new Entenmann’s product. So make that list, and stick to it.

Next, whenever you can, buy locally grown produce. Usually, the carbon footprint of blueberries grown in a local orchard is a lot smaller than the ones shipped in from South America. In my supermarket, there’s a small stand in the back of the produce section labeled “Jersey Fresh” and all the produce on that table is locally grown. Another added benefit? It’s often less expensive because you’re not paying to ship it in from Ecuador. And you can buy other foods that were manufactured or grown locally too — like dairy and eggs.

Also — an oldie but a goodie — bring your reusable bags to the grocery store. Many of us rationalize using plastic grocery bags by saying that we’re going to use them for something else — cleaning up dog poo, holding dirty diapers, etc. While this is good, all we’re really doing is adding an extra stop to that grocery bag’s trip to the garbage dump. If you want to be truly eco-conscious, try not using those bags at all. Many supermarkets have even started selling reusable grocery bags and are providing cash incentives for customers who use them. At my supermarket, I get 10 cents back for every bag I use, which may seem small but definitely adds up.

Finally, if you’ve got a plot of grass, why not plant your own garden of vegetables? After all, there’s nothing more green than grocery shopping in your own backyard.

— Chanie

Related on MNN:
Got a question? Submit a question to Mother Nature and one of our many experts will track down the answer. Plus: Visit our advice archives to see if your question has already been tackled.


Photo credits:

Inset photo: Jupiterimages

MNN homepage photo: Booleansplit/Flickr