sustainable grocery store foods on a table

Sustainable Grocery Shopping Starter Pack: 12 Simple Tips

Sustainable grocery shopping means making mindful choices as a consumer that positively affect the environment now and for future generations. It can be difficult to know where to start when it comes to shopping sustainably, but it is easier than you think. 

With copious options lining the grocery aisles, understanding which sustainable solutions to pick is the first step in learning how to grocery shop sustainably. Use our sustainable grocery shopping tips below to help you make the right choices to bring home to your family.

1. Shop Only for What You Need 

According to Feeding America, 108 billion pounds of food are wasted each year in the United States alone. To eliminate food waste, create a meal plan so you buy only what you need. Make a list before shopping and resist impulsively buying items that aren’t included. Planning meals, buying only quality ingredients you need, and cooking at home are strategic ways to shop and let you know exactly what’s in your food. 

2. Use Reusable Shopping Bags

Over 75% of plastic created ends up lying in landfills and littering our oceans. Bringing your own reusable shopping bags on shopping trips is a simple solution to curb this massive problem. Carry a few cloth or canvas bags to your grocery store or farmers’ market to keep those plastic shopping bags from ending up as harmful waste.   

3. Choose Sustainable Groceries 

Sustainable groceries are goods sourced from production systems that are conscious of their impact on people, the environment, and the community. To help you be a conscious shopper, here are a few examples of what to look for while shopping for sustainable groceries. 

  • Sustainable Sources: The brand sources its ingredients sustainably and practices ethical business.
  • Organic foods: The product meets the USDA standards for organic food production.
  • Direct/fair trade: The company sources directly from smaller-scale farmers and pays fair prices while ensuring high product quality.
  • Local: The product is locally sourced which boosts the community, economically, and socially. 
  • Biodynamic: The product uses sustainable and holistic methods of organic farming.
  • Seasonal produce: The fruits and vegetables are in season and can be sourced locally, reducing costs and carbon emissions.

Finding sustainable groceries can be difficult. Consider shopping online at sustainable grocery stores that provide clear information on each brand they offer. 

4. Pick Recyclable or Sustainable Packaging

list of sustainable packaging guidelines image

Your carbon footprint is heavily influenced by the packaging of the products you buy. Use these guidelines to pick products that use the most recyclable or sustainable packaging.

  • No plastic (or minimal plastic): Ultimately, you want to pick packaging without plastic. Since that’s not always an option when buying groceries,, choose a product with recyclable, barely-there plastic that seals jars or protects cans.
  • Plant-based, compostable packaging: Plant-based, compostable packaging is made from renewable resources and will break down into natural, nutrient-rich elements in a short amount of time. Sustainable chocolatiers like Alter Eco use compostable, non-toxic wrappers that will break down entirely within six weeks. Keep an eye out for the BPI (Biodegradable Products Institute) certification or OK Compost HOME and OK Compost INDUSTRIAL certifications. These labels mean products must be non-toxic and break down within 180 days.
  • Recyclable: If you’re looking for recyclable packaging, make sure it’s made from tin, aluminum, paper, cardboard, glass, or plastic #1 or #2 so you can give it a second life.  Better yet, packaging made from recycled materials, like Four Sigmatic products, has already helped the environment by being repurposed. 
  • Reusable packaging: Reusable packaging helps reduce plastic waste and saves you money by buying refills at a lower cost. You can even take your empty Dr. Bronner’s soap bottle container into certain stores and refill it from bulk.

5. Buy Bulk 

Turn your attention to bulk goods when looking to stock up on pantry essentials. Buying in bulk helps eliminate unnecessary packaging and curbs food waste that would otherwise wind up in the landfill.

When shopping in-store, there is usually an aisle with barrels or dispensers that let you scoop out and measure the exact amount of ingredients you need. So if you’re making your famous pot of vegan chili and only need a half-cup of beans, buying in bulk lets you buy just that to avoid over-buying without the packaging waste.

6. Understand Food Labels  

food labels organic vegan fairtrade non gmo USDA image

Some non-sustainable products are labeled with misleading language or images to give a false impression of sustainability, a practice known as greenwashing. Watch out for buzzwords like “All Natural” and “Green,” or packaging with images that suggest being environmentally friendly without any additional details on what makes it sustainable.

Understanding symbols and certifications can help you know what to look for on food labels. Here are a few common ones:

  • USDA Organic: All ingredients and production meet USDA standards. Some of the many USDA standards include land and soil quality used for agriculture, no use of genetic engineering, animals being fed 100% organically, and more. 
  • Non-GMO Project Verified: The product and its ingredients were produced without genetic engineering and do not include genetically modified organisms. The product must pass a stringent multi-part testing process performed by an independent, third-party system and testing must be repeated yearly to stay verified. 
  • Certified Vegan: The product does not contain any animal products or byproducts and does not use animal testing. 
  • FAIRTRADE Mark: The product is recognized by Fairtrade International as meeting their social, economic, and environmental standards. 
  • Climate Neutral Certified: The company producing the goods is taking responsibility for its own carbon emissions. This means “measuring and offsetting greenhouse gas emissions by investing in carbon reduction and removal projects like clean energy and reforestation.” 

7. Opt for Upcycled Goods

Upcycling reduces landfill waste by using materials that would otherwise be thrown out. They also conserve more energy than recycling by repurposing the upcycled goods into usable forms rather than turning them into raw materials. Apple cores, potato peels, and blemished produce can be reused as ingredients for upcycled foods, snacks, and even personal care items. 

When grocery shopping, look for unique products that have been made from upcycled plastics like the Cora Ball. You can drop this gadget into your washing machine, where it traps the tiny, plastic microfibers that are shed from clothing that normally end up in waterways.  

8. Shop Plant-Based

Though plant-based diets are typically associated with health benefits — and there are plenty — the environmental benefits are bountiful as well. According to a new study, plant-based diets cut greenhouse gas emissions nearly in half, use almost 30% less energy for production, and have a 41.5% lower carbon footprint when compared to meat-based diets.

A plant-based diet isn’t just fruits and vegetables, either. There are many meat and dairy alternatives as well as sweet treat options for you to experiment with. Just scan the label for the Certified Vegan or Certified Plant-Based stamp, or ensure that the product doesn’t contain any non-plant-based ingredients like meat, eggs, or dairy. 

For example, Plant Boss is the gold standard for easy-to-read plant-based labels. The label is scannable, the certifications are listed clearly, and they are transparent with their ingredients. 

9. Shop Seasonal Produce

image organic produce avocado apple kale on table

Buying seasonal produce (like tomatoes in the summer!) promotes business with local farmers, yields better nutrient density, and some say, tastes better. With seasonal produce comes more sustainable agriculture practices. The natural environment provides proper growing conditions organically.

10. Buy In-Season Seafood

Buying seafood in season allows the spawning season to occur and the fish to mature and reproduce to create an abundance of stock. This curbs overfishing and helps the ocean maintain a healthy ecosystem. Buying fish out of season not only means you’re contributing to diminishing stock, but it also likely means you’re buying from a distant source. This creates a negative impact on the environment through transportation and distribution. 

When shopping, research the origins of the fish to make sure they are wild-caught. Look for the blue Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) logo on labels to confirm the fish meets the United Nations fishery guidelines. 

11. Shop Locally

Shopping locally not only invests in your community but also significantly reduces your impact on the environment. Why? The local goods are closer and more accessible — which results in 26% fewer automobile miles. On top of that, the produce is fresher with no need for chemical preservatives to keep it from surviving a long commute. It’s a win, win. 

12. Shop Online

shop online sustainable food box

Shopping online can reduce carbon emissions—especially when you opt for delivery from sustainable grocery stores. Planning multiple deliveries to homes in the same neighborhood is more efficient than individual family trips to the grocery store. In fact, grocery delivery cuts carbon emissions in half!

When shopping online, look for sustainable grocery stores like Hive. All of our shipments are carbon-neutral, and our shipping materials are 100% recyclable. 

Fun fact: We have completely offset ALL the carbon we use for production and for deliveries.    

How To Grocery Shop Sustainably

Small actions add up over time. Use these tips when doing your sustainable grocery shopping so you can start living your best life and doing your part for the planet. 

Want to feel good about what you buy? Learn how to shop sustainably and start discovering your new favorite sustainable foods and products on Hive’s sustainable grocery store.  

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