Ways to Reduce the Use of Plastic When Grocery Shopping

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July is the month in which the challenge is set to go plastic free. For many of us, going totally plastic free, all at once, can seem very overwhelming.

Do you agree that any small step forward is better than remaining stuck in the same place due to feeling overwhelmed? Therefore, I would like to suggest a few ways to reduce the use of plastic when you shop. See if any of the suggestions will work for you and start with one habit change at a time.


1. Remember to pack your reusable bags

Now that single-use plastic bags are becoming banned or shunned, most of us have a supply of reusable bags, however, these bags don’t always get back to the car. Perhaps these ideas will help get them to where you can use them.

I have developed the habit of putting my reusable bags into a basket near the front door as soon as I have unpacked the groceries. The basket is less of an eyesore than the bags, yet visible enough to remind me to grab the bags on the way out of the door.

I also always have a small foldup reusable bag tucked away in my handbag. One in each handbag (yes, I have more than one).  To prevent ending up with two foldup bags in one handbag and none in another, the foldup bag is colour coordinated to the handbag. 🙂

Some people like to use a hanging reminder on the front door. If you think this may help, then get the download file here for a reminder door hanger in a choice of two designs in five colours.


2. How to remember to take your reusable bags into the shop

For most of us who live in a country where single-use plastic bags are banned, we have developed the habit of remembering to grab our reusable shopping bags. However, it is not uncommon to still sometimes forget the bags in the boot or trunk of the car, especially when we have other things on our minds such as an appointment before our shopping. How to remember? 

Try a purposely associated object like a small sticker on the dash or a piece of ribbon tied to a vent. Or trim down the door hanger mentioned above, attach a piece of string, and hang it from somewhere like the windscreen wiper switch rod.

If I’m travelling alone in the car, I will put the bags on the seat next to me rather than in the boot.

Children can help here. They can take turns being responsible for bag transport. This will help the kids get into the habit of shopping with their own bags when older. Or, if a child helps you to remember the bags, they could get a reward like a dollar to spend in the shop. This will help you to remember if you don’t want to keep paying out! 🙂

If your kids are older, they may like to grab the forgotten bags from the car for you. It would be nice to think they will do it out of the goodness of their heart, however, the “entrepreneurs” in the family may request a monetary reward.


3. Shop in stores that provide bulk food bins

These stores are becoming more popular for food, personal care products, and cleaning products. For food items, they provide paper bags into which you scoop or pour your required amount. Liquid items like dishwashing liquid are poured into pre-bought jars. 

I like to turn up with my own repurposed glass jars and containers. This saves money as well as packaging.


4. Choose brands that have the least plastic packaging

In non-bulk stores, choose brands that are packed in cardboard or paper rather than plastic. For example, you will often get this choice when buying pasta and bread. The deli counter usually packs in paper, whereas the prepacked fridge section primarily uses plastic wrapping. 

For fruit and vegetable shopping, bag your own rather than opt for the pre-packaged trays with plastic cling wrap over the top.


5. Use your own mesh bags for fruit and vegetables

In my area, single-use plastic bags have been banned in grocery stores but not the thin plastic bags used for fruit and vegetables.

Due to time and distance, I can’t always shop at my favourite fresh food markets where I can simply load the fruit and vegetables straight into my bag, basket or trolley. So, when I duck into a supermarket for some much-needed items, I have a supply of reusable mesh bags made from recycled materials. They are light, compact, and easily washed. 

Some will complain that most mesh bags are made from non-biodegradable, petroleum-based materials, however, I am trying to give hints that create a “better” and workable solution rather than the “perfect” solution. Perhaps cotton mesh bags will be the next step along my “low tox” journey.

If I have forgotten my mesh bags, I will use the paper bags from the mushroom counter.


6. What to do if caught without reusable bags at the checkout

Even with the best intentions, we may forget our bags, or buy more groceries than we brought bags for. Here are a few ways to make do:

Look for empty boxes at the front of the store. If the store does not provide boxes at the front, ask for a box before you get to the checkout. There are always boxes out the back.

If you are at a supermarket, put the already packaged food into the trolley and wheel it back to your car where your bags are. This is a usual practice at stores like Costco.

If you feel a purchase of another reusable bag is warranted, avoid buying the green, non-woven fabric-like bags. These are made of plastic and have a short life span compared to cotton or hessian bags that are much better value for money. If you still have these green bags at home or in your car, keep using them until their end of life. There is no sense in them ending up in landfill sooner than necessary.


In summary, we can reduce our use of plastic by:

  • Remembering to pack our reusable bags when leaving the house
  • Remembering to take our reusable bags from the car into the shop
  • Shopping in stores that provide bulk bins
  • Choosing brands that have the least plastic packaging
  • Using our own mesh bags for fruit and vegetables
  • Looking for alternatives when caught without reusable bags at the checkout