The environmental reasons to be a more ‘responsible’ shopper

We’ve heard a lot lately about how we should be shopping ‘responsibly’.

For me, shopping responsibly is about thinking about others when we shop – not only other customers, but also shop and farm workers, food producers, the environment. It’s about acting in a way that serves the collective good of people (and the planet) around us. This adage is so true, but not only in times of a global health crisis – we should always be shopping in a way that serves the collective good.

(It’s definitely not my intention to write about the current crisis, which is already causing information overload. My blog is about my efforts to live a more sustainable lifestyle and trying to make better choices for people and the planet.)

For me, shopping responsibly means not buying more than you need, leaving some for others, ensure we are treating the supply chain fairly and not creating unnecessary waste. This will chime with anyone who is sympathetic to the idea of fair trade, organic, locally-produced, zero-waste.

So what am I doing? I already buy fair trade where possible and I signed up to a local organic veg box scheme last year. So the next step was to try to reduce waste, particularly single-use plastic. Although most people generally think plastic is recyclable, much of it isn’t, and certainly much of the packaging that supermarkets use is actually not recyclable. If I look at my own council’s list of what is recyclable, they state:

The following items are no longer recycled in the green and should go into the landfill (blue) bin.
  • Polystyrene
  • Plastic bags and films
  • Plastic wrappers (e.g. biscuit/crisp bags)

It’s not terribly helpful a definition, and it often relies on us knowing how the council defines ‘plastic’. Does ‘plastic bags’ mean the shopping bag, or the bag that you put your veggies in? How about the wrapping for my pasta and rice? What’s classed as ‘film’, or ‘plastic wrappers’? Confusing.

I found that there tended to be a lot of single-use plastic in the supermarket shop. (I praise some of their efforts to reduce the amount they use but think they could do way more). Many of the goods sold in supermarkets are also way over-packaged in the name of convenience.

Having sold our car last autumn, I don’t have the carrying capacity I once did, so have to shop in smaller chunks more regularly, which makes avoiding the supermarket easier.

The carrying capacity of my bike trailer

Happily, I’ve recently discovered that I have a local Transition St Andrews group that has an online food cooperative shop, part of the Open Food Network, that sells locally-sourced, organic and zero-waste products. It’s very good – you order online and then go to one of three collection points in town and collect your goods. Many of the products come loose in paper bags, there are re-fill options for laundry liquid or oil and many of the goods are local – frozen berries from Tayside, sourdough bread from St Andrews, fava beans, carlin peas or marrowfat peas from England.

The Transition collection point

I’ve also found other local shops that do the same thing – Handam in Perthshire, Sea no Waste in Arbroath and the Birchwood Emporium in Dundee – providing customers with much better packaging options.

A dry goods order from Handam

I sense that by making these really easy (and relatively small) changes to my shopping habits, I can lighten my carbon and environmental footprint. I’m making better, more responsible decisions along the way, and learning more about what’s grown and made locally. I am also less dependent on national distribution networks to get my food to me, and am reassured that my food doesn’t have the carbon mileage embedded in it.

How about you? Please share with me any experiences or thoughts you may have on any of the issues I’ve raised here. Any a new thing for each of my blogs is a bit about:

What YOU can do

  • Find out whether you have a local food network near you and try an online order
  • Find an organic veg box scheme near you
  • Research three things grown near you and be their customer!

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