Making sustainable choices at the grocery store is more than paper vs. plastic. Jennie talks to Kim Tate about all the shopping options consumers have a their grocery stores and markets. For more everyday ways to save the environment and save money at the same time, visit Jennie at EcoSense for Living. (SaltRun Productions, Inc.)
Jennie: You know, paper or plastic isn't the only decision we make when we go shopping. We’re here at an all-natural grocery store with Kim Tate, who’s given a lot of thought to the whole package deal. Kim, where do we start?
Kim: Well, we can start by talking about what’s local and what’s organic. When you buy local, you're saving a lot more than just a few dollars. You're saving on fossil fuels that are used to transport the items and it is a lot fresher when you get it from the field to the table. For organic items, they’re grown without the use of artificial chemical pesticides, so you're getting a better benefit from how the item is grown and prepared.
Jennie: Is it more expensive to buy organic?
Kim: Not always. In many cases, the organic items can be less expensive or the same price as what we call the conventional items, which are grown with pesticides. Organic items are a lot better for the environment than the conventional item. The limited use of pesticides and fertilizers means that when it rains, those items aren’t being washed back into the ground, into the watershed, and then reconcentrating themselves in the water supply. When you're looking to save money, it’s important to buy exactly what you need. We offer a number of items packaged for your convenience and also you’ll cut down on the waste. So if you're looking to make an old-fashioned pot roast, you have the exact amount of squash, potatoes, carrots, beans and onions you need, instead of buying items that you're gonna have to cut down and throw away.
Jennie: So tell me, are these items, are the packaging they’re in, is it recyclable?
Kim: We try to use mostly recyclable packaging when we can. These particular packages are 100% recyclable and that’s the case in most all-natural grocery stores. We use products and packaging that are most friendly towards the environment.
Jennie: We’re seeing more bulk foods in grocery stores these days, but it’s not really a new idea. It’s a throwback to barrels of pickles, nuts and apples in the old general store. Why is it better buy in bulk?
Kim: Buying in bulk is a great way to be friendly to the environment. You can save on waste by buying as much or as little as you’d like, and you can also save on the packaging.
Jennie: Are these plastic bags recyclable?
Kim: The plastic bags we provide in the store are 100% recyclable. They also contain less ink so that the environmental pollutants are reduced as well.
Jennie: So we can just bring all of our bags back?
Kim: We can recycle all the plastic bags that you bring back, or you can use them at home. An even better option would be to bring your own packaging in from home. Just stop by the customer service desk. We’ll weigh it for you empty. You can fill it up and we’ll make sure to take that weight off once you check out. A lot of times, manufacturers will package and double package things in order to get to a single serving. We find a great alternative would be to buy larger amounts, or to buy in bulk, and fill individual containers and send your kids off to school. Another great alternative would be, instead of buying individually wrapped juice boxes, buy a gallon or half gallon, fill your kid’s cup every day and send them off to school.
Jennie: Is it more expensive to buy prepackaged products as opposed to buying in bulk?
Kim: It can be more expensive because oftentimes you are paying for the packaging. When buying in bulk, you're paying simply for the weight of the product. And again, you save money and save the environment by reducing the amount of waste.
Jennie: So, Kim, if you don't have a cow in your backyard, what’s the best option at the grocery store, the plastic milk containers or the cardboard?
Kim: The best option would be the plastic containers. They’re 100% recyclable and you can refill or reuse them at home. The cardboard, while it’s a good option, is not easily recycled by the consumer because it is a waxed cardboard. There are programs that reuse wax cardboards to make things like firelogs, but again, not a great option if you're at home.
Jennie: So when it comes to eggs, what is the most environmentally friendly packaging?
Kim: We have this cardboard, which is biodegradable. It will break down or you can compost it at home if you have the opportunity to. This plastic container is 100% recyclable. You’ll notice that you don't see the traditional Styrofoam containers. And you won’t see those in most natural grocery stores, because they are so unfriendly toward the environment.
Jennie: Ok, Kim, the million-dollar question: paper or plastic bags? Which is better?
Kim: I don't know that any one is better than the other, but I do recommend plastic bags. When oil is refined to make gasoline, a chemical is produced that will burn off into the air. We can harness that chemical and produce plastic bags. So if nothing else, we’re reducing the amount of pollutants going into the environment. A better alternative would be to bring in your own bags from home. And you can use any kind of bags you want, a tote bag or bags that you can purchase right here in the store and bring back.
Jennie: What are some incentives for people that bring in their own bags?
Kim: In most natural food stores or other responsible groceries, any bag you bring in, whether it’s one that you bring from home or one that you previously got here in the store, you can bring it back in for a rebate.