Sustainable grocery shopping is one of the best things you can do as an everyday consumer to help the environment. Your impact might only make a small difference, but you’re making a positive lifestyle change, helping normalise your community’s eco-friendly habits, and helping to shift wider cultural habits of food consumption.
Here are some essential tips for shopping more sustainably at the grocery store and helping heal the planet.
Simplify Your Grocery List
Simplifying your list is the biggest change you can make to ensure eco-friendly grocery shopping. Many of us are guilty of buying groceries we don’t need or end up using, which results in a massive amount of perfectly good food that never gets eaten. The UK alone produces 9.5 million tonnes of food waste annually.
To minimise food waste, keep it simple by eliminating products you don’t regularly consume. After removing any unnecessary snacks and drinks, your grocery list might look something like this, barring any food allergies your family may have:
- Grains: whole grain/whole wheat bread, pasta, rice
- Protein: tofu, tempeh, pulses
- Dairy: milk, cheese (or vegan alternatives)
- Fruits: personal preference
- Vegetables: personal preference
- Drinks: coffee, tea, juice
- Other: oils, sauces, condiments, dressings
Meal planning is another effective way to eliminate unnecessary foods and drinks. If you prepare your meals in advance, you’re both more likely to eat them and less likely to throw the ingredients away later. Plus, it simplifies weekday dinners when you know exactly what you’ll be making.
One of the best things you can do is reduce the amount of meat you buy. Even if you’re not ready to go completely meatless, having plant-based meals at least a few days a week will make a huge difference. Get creative with alternative protein sources, such as beans, tofu or quinoa.
Shop Local, Organic and Responsibly Sourced
After simplifying your grocery list, you can focus on buying local, organic and responsibly sourced food where accessible. Only a few items may fall under all three categories, but aiming for each product you purchase to check at least one of the boxes is a good process to follow. This shopping strategy ensures you’re not buying from wasteful or unethical massive food companies.
Locally sourced food products are eco-friendly because they have fewer “food miles” than products from distant locations. Since they don’t have to travel far to reach your grocery store, they have a smaller carbon footprint from shipping. More importantly, locally sourced food is more likely to have eco-friendly production practices than large industrial manufacturers.
If certain products are not made in your region, do research and read labels to find the most sustainable option. For example, Costa Rica produces some of the most eco-friendly coffee in the world, with many farms producing fair trade, organic and bird-friendly coffee. Supporting businesses with ethical practices is a great way to reduce your environmental impact.
Know Your Food Labels
How can you be sure the food companies you buy from are eco-friendly? The answer is simple — know your labels. Every company that claims to be sustainable must have the proof to back it up. UK shoppers should look for standards such as soil association certified, climate-neutral, organic, and Fairtrade International.
Food producers and retailers may also participate in the EU Ecolabel initiative to demonstrate their commitment to sustainability. It is no longer mandatory since Brexit, but many companies have continued with the practice. The Ecolabel takes a life cycle approach to measuring a product’s carbon footprint, starting with the cultivation of raw materials and ending with disposal.
Some foods at your grocery store might also have an eco-score from nonprofit environmental groups like Foundation Earth. The score gives a rating between one and 100 to individual products and a colour-coded rating of A to E. Before buying anything, check for these various labels to confirm that you’re making a sustainable choice.
Avoid Plastic Packaging
If you’re interested in sustainable living, you’ve probably heard about the adverse effects of plastic packaging, which is filled with chemicals and can’t naturally decompose. Every piece of plastic ever made is still polluting the planet with microplastics, so shoppers can make a maximise impact by avoiding it.
Thanks to the UK’s ban on single-use plastics that started on Oct 1, 2023, more food retailers have switched to reusable, recyclable and compostable packaging alternatives. Some increasingly popular materials you might find in the grocery store include corrugated cardboard, sugarcane fibre, bamboo, moulded pulp and mycelium.
You should also get into the habit of bringing your own shopping bags instead of using those at the store. It’s estimated that consumers use 4 trillion plastic grocery bags worldwide every year. You can make a small contribution to decreasing that number by bringing bags you already own.
Buy Your Pantry Items in Bulk
Another great way to minimise packaging waste is to buy items in bulk — specifically, pantry items such as flour, baking soda and spices. This simple shopping strategy eliminates unnecessary packaging and reduces your number of trips to the supermarket. Plus, having a large supply of these things is handy when cooking for a crowd!
You could also bulk-buy anything you eat or drink regularly, whether coffee, cereal or a specific dish. Shopping in bulk is necessary if you want to follow a consistent meal plan from week to week, and any method to cut down on food transportation helps the environment in a small way.
Shop in Season
When purchasing seasonal food items, like fruits and vegetables, aim to purchase what is in season. Seasonal shopping will help you get food with the best flavour, nutritional value and natural growing conditions. Purchasing things out of season means they’re more likely to be low-quality and shipped from a far-away distributor.
Sustainable Grocery Shopping Made Simple
Many misconceptions exist about the meaning of sustainable shopping. Some may think eco-friendly food is more expensive and only available at certain stores, but that’s not necessarily the case. Your diet and lifestyle don’t have to be overhauled overnight, but you can use these tips to help simplify grocery shopping and positively impact the environment without disrupting your daily life.