STANFORD UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF EARTH SCIENCES - EARTH SYSTEMS PROGRAM

Sustainable Choices

Buy Foods That Minimize Processing & Packaging

Simplicity:
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Carbon Impact:
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Money Savings:
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Health Helper:
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Overview
After you start recycling and buying recycled products, the next step is to begin getting rid of waste altogether. Think about recycling, and you will realize that it is not the ideal solution. The process of taking old materials and re-manufacturing them into new products takes up a considerable amount of energy (generally derived from fossil fuels, and therefore contributing to global warming). Take a plastic container for instance. Let’s say it’s filled with rice. If you buy the rice and then recycle the plastic, it has to be shipped somewhere to be sorted and bundled with other recyclables. Next it goes to a facility where it will be recycled into new material (sometimes this is as far away as China). Through a series of chemical and mechanical processes, it is eventually made into a new bottle or another plastic product.

Now, imagine that instead of buying rice in disposable packaging, you are able to bring a glass jar to your grocery store and continually refill it from a bulk rice supply. In this scenario, you will never have to throw anything away. Minimizing or eliminating packaging altogether is a big step on the road to zero waste! It’s also often a sure way to save money on your grocery bill.

Tips & Tricks
Look for opportunities to buy bulk products from you grocers. Some markets offer bins of bulk grains (flour, rice, pasta), snacks (crackers, nuts, chocolate), and liquids (oil, vinegar, honey). You can bring a re-usable container, such as a tupperware or a glass jar, to refill your home supply of cooking ingredients! Look around your local markets to see who offers bulk products.

Buy big. If you can’t buy bulk bins that allow you to refill your own container, buying in larger quantities still reduces packaging by increasing the volume-to-surface-area ratio.

Bring your own bags to the farmers market. If you’re not able to get to a farmers market, you can still bring reused plastic bags to the produce section of the supermarket.

Web & Print Resources
Cooperative markets (for bulk foods):
www.localharvest.org/food-coops/
www.cooperativegrocer.coop/coops/

Find reused goods for sale, trade, or free:
www.freecycle.org/
www.craigslist.org

Books:
Paper or Plastic: Searching for Solutions to an Overpackaged World, by Daniel Imhoff
Beyond Recycling: A Re-user's Guide: 336 Practical Tips to Save Money and Protect the Environment, by Kathy Stein

Fun Facts

Wal-Mart’s simple reduction of 5 grams of plastic from its water bottles will result in a savings of 9.6 million pounds of plastic. Source

During the past 35 years, the amount of waste each person creates has almost doubled from 2.7 to 4.4 pounds per day. Source

Since 1977, the average weight of 2-liter plastic soft drink bottles has been reduced from 68 grams each to 51 grams. This translates to 250 million pounds of plastic diverted from the waste stream every year. Source