10 Ways to Be a More Sustainable ShopperJesse Clymer
As we all get used to new habits and temporary lifestyle changes, it’s a great time to look for ways to improve your shopping habits to be more sustainable. What is sustainable shopping? How I look at it is a combination of reducing waste, and maximizing your spending. Food waste is a huge problem in the US, with many estimates showing 40% of the food produced ends up wasted and never used. Add in the excess packaging we use as consumers, and the amount of disposable products that are being used, and the waste generated from your weekly grocery stock ups is tremendous. There are some very easy habits you can start with today to help cut down on what you are throwing out. Some of these tips may require a bit more effort, but when will you have a better time than now to take up a new hobby to help stretch that shopping budget.
Use Those Last Vegetables
It’s a night or two before grocery shopping day, and you have all the odds and end bits left from previous meals. Maybe a pepper, an onion, a few leftover herbs. These treasures are the ones that so quickly find their way to the trash after being forgotten under new groceries. They are my absolute favorite to work with! The last of your fruits, vegetables, proteins, and dairy items should be a personal challenge to you to come up with the best tasting dish you can with your resources at hand. Leftover vegetables with any protein and you have a stir fry going. Any leftover bones, put it in a pot and cut up a potato, baby you got yourself a stew going. If you have a few eggs, a delicious farmers style frittata. Brown bananas make amazing banana bread, so don’t let those go to waste either!
Use ALL of your Vegetables & Herbs
Cilantro, parsley, dill, and basil are just some of the many herbs that you don’t need to spend time trimming away stems to throw out. Cilantro is a great one to use as a sandwich addition. The leaves add the flavor, and the stems will give it and extra crunch! There are so many other vegetables that way too much time is spent trimming away bits to throw away. Celery leaves are great for cooking soups and other stove top dishes and the tiny stems, as the leaves give a wonderful light flavor and are incredible nutritious. Did you know that there is way more vitamins and nutrients in the potato skin, than the rest of it? Next time you are mashing potatoes, use the whole thing, and the flavor will be better too!
To take using all of the vegetables even one step further, did you know that many of the vegetables you use every day can simple be regrown? Some are incredibly easy to do as well such as; Romaine Lettuce, Celery, Green Onions, or Leeks (my personal favorite choice for this fun trick). Make sure you keep a few inches of the bottom of these vegetables, and place them in water for 2-4 days. Then transplant them to soil, either outdoors or in an indoor planter, and watch the magic happen. Your new delicious plants will start to regenerate and you can cut them over and over for your own regenerative vegetable garden! Roots such as onions, garlic, and potatoes can also be regrown, but take a bit more skill and work to do so. If you have a collection of rogue vases scattered about the house, why not turn them into a dining table green onion centerpiece?
Plant Your Seeds
Ever go to the grocery store and see some amazing produce, like giant jalapenos, or juicy lemons, just for that batch to disappear on you forever? Well if you kept the seeds from them, you could have a whole bushel of wonderful jalapenos in a few months. Peppers and tomatoes are notorious for having lots of seeds in them, so why not plant them yourself. This one is of particular usefulness for anyone with a little extra yardage. With some tender loving care, you’ll be amazed with how much produce you can grow in a small space. Many can be grown indoors too! Of course any tree based seed is going to take a few years to yield any edible results, but why not take the time to start a couple of little citrus trees growing. You know what they say, when life gives you giant lemons, grow a lemon tree! Make sure to do a bit of research on your local growing conditions for tips and tricks, as well as proper timing.
Composting is really the ultimate tool for sustainable shopping. Some things will always have to be thrown out, but in reality you shouldn’t have any food wastes going to the trash if you have a compost bin. If you plan on taking up one of our other tips and growing some of your own produce, adding fresh compost every year to the soil regenerates the nutrients so you can always use the same plot of land. Composting could easily be an entire post on it’s own to ramble about, but I encourage doing some quick googling to see how easy it is to start! Just remember to put your compost bin a bit away from the house, as it will smell like “fresh soil” in the heat of summer. If you don’t have enough room or perhaps live in an apartment building, community composting is a great initiative to get the whole neighborhood in a more sustainable mindset.
Expanding on using everything, soup stocks are a lost art in the American household kitchen. And they are absolutely the easiest way to make the most flavorful dishes. Beyond the flavor, soups are a great way to stretch your budget as they are cheap to make, and often times you can make an entire soup from those remnants we talked about earlier. Do you ever buy those pre-cooked rotisserie chickens at the store? After you have removed all the meat, the chicken carcass that is left, boiled on high for an hour or two, will make the most delicious chicken soup base. You won’t be able to go back to the canned stuff after you do this. Any other beef or pork bones leftover from other meals will work just as well. There’s certain cuts at your butcher that are always super cheap, such as neck bones, and are primarily used just for soup stocks. I know everyone loves chopping vegetables in the kitchen, that big pile of carrot peels, pepper tops, and zucchini ends? Vegetable stock!
Coffee & Tea
What’s your favorite type of tea? If it’s any type such as green or black in those disposable tea bags, then it’s really green tea and paper flavored. Disposable tea bags create unnecessary waste for a product that can easily be made with loose leaf as long as you have a loose leaf teapot or strainer with the added bonus of having a more pure taste as well. And did you know that those bags can usually get two cups of tea out of each one? Save the bag the first time you used it, use it again, and you just cut in half your tea bag waste. Switch to loose leaf, and you’ve minimized your waste even more. As for coffee, are you buy and pitching hundreds of coffee filters every year? If you had a few reusable Hemp Coffee Filters, which can be easily washed in the dishwasher or laundry after being rinsed out, you just removed a wasteful product entirely from your grocery list moving forward. Also, coffee grinds are fantastic for composting! And please, for the love of everything that is sustainable, do not use Keurig cups. Disposable tea bags and coffee filters were already bad enough introducing new ways for us to make even more garbage on the planet. Now these little hunks of plastic that an office can easily fill an entire trash bag full in a day are terrible for the environment.
Learn to Pickle
This one is undoubtedly the most difficult one of the lot, but I promise it is not nearly as difficult as it may seem. Pickling is incredibly easy to learn the basics, but you will always find yourself slightly tweaking your own personal secret recipe with either heat or garlic or dill or whatever your own personal tastes may want. Especially if you start to grow some of your own vegetables, you will find yourself with 30 pounds of tomatoes one week or 50 pounds of cucumbers the next week. With some proper pickling and canning techniques, that could be your family’s entire years worth of pickles! And you certainly don’t need to grow your own vegetables to pickle, you can take advantage of seasonal produce prices to pickle vegetables why they are cheap to have them later in the year. This is a great budget stretching tool for those who live in the more northern climates where produce prices can really spike in the winter. My personal favorite beyond the go to staple of pickles are spicy Mexican pickled carrots. There’s many more things you can pickle, so feel free to experiment with almost anything. Have you ever tried pickled watermelon rind? It’s delicious, and a great way to use the entire product and not throw away a ton of food. Speaking of making sure to use all of your products and cut down on that food waste;
Bulk Bins & Reusable Bags
Most of these tips so far have focused on the actual food waste side of thing, but the amount of waste we generate in the US every year from over packaging goods is equally tragic. A friend had me try out one of those weekly meal pre in a box companies a few years ago. After unpacking the shipping box, inner box, each meals boxes, the smaller boxes and plastic for ingredients, and all of the plastic cups and such for things like a tablespoon of vinegar, I was absolutely disgusted with it. I had an entire bag of packaging waste to make a couple darn burgers. Most people are comfortable with product by the pound, but be on the lookout at your local grocer for things like dry beans, spices, coffee, and nuts that can also be purchased by the pound from bulk bins. A lot of times they are cheaper than the over packaged counter parts. Dry beans for example, while they do take the extra step of soaking, are sometimes a tenth of the cost of their canned counterpart! And please bring usable Hemp Tote Bags when you can to the store. Out here in California disposable shopping bags are now banned, and I hope some day other states will follow suit.
Check for Weekly Store Ads
This last one is a purely cost savings variety, but can easily add up to hundreds of dollars over the course of a year. Let us first start out with the correct mindset, if you believe that setting a weekly budget for grocery shopping is the correct way to save money over the long run, then you are doing it wrong. Saving money on groceries for your home is all about shopping with the ebbs and flows of the cost of goods. If it’s January in Pittsburgh, your grapes are going to potentially be $5 a pound. Early fall in Iowa? Time to start loading up on corn! Shop your produce based on what is in season, and the weekly store ads will be a good indication of this. If you have the room to freeze things, buy extra when the sales are low, and cook and freeze them for a later date. Or pickle them! Be on the lookout for bulk savings as well. Buying smaller oil and vinegar containers consistently is going to be much more expensive in the long run than purchasing a gallon less often, especially when it’s on sale. This will have the added bonus of cutting down on your packaging waste as well. It may feel like a hit on the budget to be spending $20 on oil or $12 on black peppercorns in one trip, but if they will last you the year, you will save over time, and cut down on throwing out smaller packaging.