How and where we shop can help lessen our collective environmental impact
Everything we do, every action we take, impacts the environment in some small way. Even our most routine habits—like taking a shower, doing laundry, driving to work, brewing our morning coffee—involve personal choices that, over time, take a collective toll on the environment.
Grocery shopping is no different. Where and how we buy our food can and does affect the health of our local communities. The good news is, many grocers are working hard to reduce their energy use, minimize food waste, and adopt more sustainable business practices. And we can help by choosing greener shopping habits that lessen our impacts, too.
Greener shopping habits
How and where we shop are habits primarily driven by convenience. Before 2020, making a routine grocery run was probably something we didn’t overthink. But the pandemic forced many of us to stop and re-evaluate our shopping habits and make changes to safeguard our health.
Now, we have the opportunity to re-evaluate our shopping habits once again—this time to safeguard the health of our environment.
Our coastal communities are engaged in a constant battle to keep harmful marine debris and plastic pollution out of our ocean and waterways—and 80 percent of that pollution originates on land, according to the California Coastal Commission. But the trash keeps coming—much of it in the form of packaging waste and plastic bottles. Could changing how we shop really make a difference? Ocean advocacy groups say a resounding “yes.”
Solving the plastic pollution problem can be accomplished with one word: Reusables. Swap your plastic water bottle for a reusable one, bring your own coffee cup to the coffee bar, and bring your own grocery bags.
— Shell Cleave, founder of the environmental nonprofit, Sea Hugger
Choosing products with lighter or nonexistent packaging is also a great way to reduce waste bound for landfills and cut down on the amount of paper and plastic that finds its way onto our streets, parks, and beaches.
Greener business practices
Some grocers, including New Leaf Community Markets, are taking steps to help reduce environmental waste by no longer selling single use bottles of still water, for example. A move that New Leaf expects will remove 70,000+ bottles annually from our community’s waste stream. As an alternative, grocers like New Leaf are outfitting their stores with refillable water bottle stations, and encouraging the sale of reusable bottles, straws, and utensils.
“Bringing your own bags and avoiding single-use water bottles are a great start,” says Athena Petty, Sustainability Program Manager for New Leaf Community Markets, a Certified B Corp. She points to New Leaf’s Envirotokens program, which rewards customers for bringing their own bags while supporting local nonprofits. (In 2020, grocers in California almost universally stopped allowing customers to bring their bags to comply with state health mandates.
But now, many are reinstating the practice.) To date, New Leaf’s Envirotokens program has diverted tens of thousands of trees from paper mills and donated over 1 million dollars to community organizations’ customers “choose” with the tokens they receive.
But there are many ways to green your shopping experience, says Petty—including eating food grown or made locally.
Buying food that travels a shorter distance to get to you can have a huge impact” in terms of reducing pollution and greenhouse gases—the emissions that cause climate change.
— Athena Petty, Sustainability Program Manager for New Leaf Community Markets
An even simpler action—buying just what you need so that food doesn’t go to waste. It’s counterintuitive, but food that rots in landfills creates methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Food is the single biggest category of waste found in landfills, according to the USDA. In the U.S. (and globally), between 30% and 40% of food goes to waste.
“If food waste were a country, it would be the third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases,” Petty points out. She believes local grocers are responsible for working with community organizations such as Second Harvest Food Bank, Grey Bears, and the UCSC Food Pantry to get food that goes unpurchased to those in need and reduce the amount of food that goes to waste in stores.
“As people, we can do a lot more,” says Karen Hibble, executive director of the Aptos Chamber of Commerce.
Customers can do their part by choosing products that are made to last instead of disposables, and businesses can do their part by choosing to sell products that are kinder to the environment.
Grocers have to work hard because food is only fresh for a short time. Eating seasonally is something we can all do to limit pollution related to food transportation and save energy
— Karen Hibble, executive director of the Aptos Chamber of Commerce
“It’s fun to have strawberries in December, but is it worth the environmental cost?” Food for thought, indeed.
Tips for greening your shopping experience:
- Shop local grown and local made foods
- Bring your own shopping bags
- Carry reusable water bottles, mugs, & utensils with you
- Opt for products with minimal packaging
- Eat seasonally