We might as well tackle the biggest category of trash, food packaging. Some figures estimate that nearly 90% of our waste in the US is food packaging! Small changes in your personal shopping and recycling habits can make a huge difference in your trash output.
Like with all categories, I like to run it through the 5 Rs (we’ve discussed these in a previous post, and others may give a different set of Rs, but these are the ones I use).
Refuse and reduce:
A lot of packaging is not refuseable. I’m thinking of those items that come in a sealed bag, in a sealed box, sealed with more plastic. Why? When possible, seek out the product with less packaging. If one tea comes in a nice reuseable tin, maybe choose it over the one in individual foil bags inside a cardboard box with shrink wrap on it. Or better yet, buy the tea in bulk and use a reusable tea ball or bag! For fruit, this means choosing loose fruit, not pre-bagged or shrink wrapped on top of a Styrofoam pad. Choose fruits and veggies from a farmers market to avoid stickers and packaging, or seek out the stickerless pieces in a store. Remember to bring your own produce bags to avoid those single use plastic ones. Tare them at the register first so you are charged correctly.
Buying in bulk is the biggie here. Find what’s available close to you, and BYOC (bring your own containers). My favorites are peanut butter (I bring a mason jar), coffee, tea, all my dry goods, granola and dried fruits, agave (glass bottle) and loose produce. Choose package free whenever you can. Shop around and become familiar with what is available near you.
I mentioned the tea tin in the previous section. Some other packaging can be reused creatively – my favorite example is the glass jars my preferred brand of applesauce comes in. We use it to store beans, homemade yogurt and salsa, vinegar for cleaning and all manner of things. I use toilet paper rolls to collect lint for fire starters (if you choose not to go TP free – an article for another day) Other people are more creative than I and come up with some cool reuses for the packaging they can’t avoid. If there’s something you regularly buy that comes with a package, consider researching (ie. Googling) reuses for that item before you toss it.
I’m fond of saying more things are recycleable than you think. I constantly hear “I didn’t know that was recycleable!”. So educate yourself on what is recycleable in your local community. And if there’s something they don’t accept, research who does. For instance, some municipalities don’t take plastic #5 (think yogurt and butter tubs) so Whole Foods has a “gimme 5” program to accept those plastics. You may be surprised how many items you are throwing away that your local facility accepts for recycling.
Food obviously falls in this category, but a lot of packaging does too. Shredded cardboard is great for the compost, and it’s my preferred disposal of any items that might have food residue on it, as the recycling facilities prefer to receive clean items so as not to contaminate the batch.
This is a category of great mass, and so there is great opportunity to reduce your impact here. What hurdles are you finding in the food packaging category of waste, or what big wins? Share in the comments below!