8 Questions to Ask Yourself When Grocery Shopping

Shopping for groceries is a universal errand — we all have to do it. So it makes perfect sense that how we shop can have an enormous collective impact on the planet. Most of us continue to shop the same way we have for years — going through the same familiar motions every time. So, maybe it's high time we take a minute to examine our shopping habits and make a few small changes that will be better for our environment.

From where we do our shopping, to the products we buy, to the way we get back home, every action we make is a choice. What choices can you and your family make to be kinder to the environment while shopping? Here are eight questions to ask yourself at the grocery store.

Is This the Best Place to Shop?

Carbon emissions are a major player in climate change, so choosing a grocery store that you can bike or walk to is one of the best ways to be eco-friendly when you shop. If you must drive, try to find local, eco-friendly grocery stores as close to home as possible. Additionally, try not to make extra trips to the grocery store multiple times per week. If you can, choose one day a week to combine multiple errands into one trip to improve your fuel efficiency and reduce emissions.

Just as you're making an effort to green your shopping style, the most eco-friendly stores will be paying attention to theirs as well. How a store handles the following aspects of retail is a good indicator of how well they support the Earth. The best green grocery stores will likely be making all, or at least some, of these efforts:

  • Composts all of the eggs and produce that do not sell to reduce waste
  • Donates shelf-stable foods that are about to reach their sell-by date or have just-expired to a local food pantry/soup kitchen
  • Recycles all packaging materials
  • Allows returns on applicable packaging for reuse
  • Works with distributors to deliver items in reusable containers that are returned with the next delivery to negate the need for cardboard boxes
  • Limits printed materials, uses recycled paper, and recycles old documents
  • Offers initiatives to its employees that reward walking, biking, or carpooling to work

Is My Shopping List Green?

Putting the most environmentally conscious products available on your grocery list will truly make a difference. Whenever possible, try to choose eco-friendly products. Choose ingredients and packaging that are biodegradable. For packaged products, reduce waste by making sure the products you buy are in recycled packaging — or, even better, compostable.

When putting personal hygiene and household cleaning products on your list, ask yourself what impact they will have on the planet when they are washed down the drain. Choose products with an all-natural list of ingredients. Keep in mind that buying from brands that make natural products encourages more production of those products. The money you spend at the store sends a strong message to companies, which is good news for the planet.

Make sure also to keep the length of your list in check. People are prone to overbuy at the grocery store, whether it's because they don't have a list, make impulse buys, or just buy too much. In the US, 30%-40% of our food supply is wasted annually, so before you make a purchase, ask yourself if you'll definitely use it before it goes bad. Come up with a weekly meal plan, build your shopping list around it, and stick to the list. Don't forget to see what you already have in the pantry and fridge before leaving the house. When in doubt, always err on the side of buying less.

Do I Have Reusable Bags?

Trading those one-time-use plastic and paper bags for reusable ones will make an enormous difference in limiting your impact on the environment. Beyond being eco-friendly, many green grocery stores will even pay you to bring your own bags. You probably already have plenty of reusable bags stashed away in a closet or cabinet, so why not put them to good use? While you're at it, grab a few mesh bags so you can avoid using all those unnecessary plastic produce bags.

Do I Understand the Labels?

Make sure you're reading all those grocery labels! While it might sound a bit tedious, especially when you're busy, and you just want to grab your food and get home, labels contain a lot of important information about the food and the packaging that it comes in. If the packaging is plastic, try to choose items made with PETE and HDPE, which are the plastics that are most likely to be recycled in the US. Let your kids help you look for these important indicators while you're out shopping together. Not only will it give them something to do, but it will teach them about the importance of recycling, too.

Additionally, there are quite a few different certifications and logos that you should be on the lookout for, such as organic, fair-trade, non-GMO, and cruelty-free Leaping Bunny. Buying products with these labels is smart because they are held accountable for how their products are produced.

Should I Buy Organic?

Organic foods aren't just better for you, they're better for the Earth, too. Certified organic items are produced without using herbicides, pesticides, fungicides, synthetic fertilizers, and other harmful toxins. Organic farms also use natural methods, such as composting, crop rotation, and companion planting, to renew the soil's health instead of allowing it to diminish with each harvest. Additionally, organic livestock farming produces fewer carbon emissions, thanks to livestock's strict diets and a reduced number of animals.

Should I Buy Less Red Meat?

Eating a more plant-based diet is of the best ways to limit your impact on the environment. Globally, the livestock industry accounts for a whopping 18% of greenhouse gas emissions. Purchasing fewer red meat products will help cut back on pollution, but even just switching to a different kind of meat can impact your carbon footprint. The carbon emissions released by the beef industry are eight times that of poultry. Eating less meat and more veggies is also great news for your budget because vegetables are usually the cheapest items in the store.

What Seasonal Foods Can I Buy?

Vegetables that are out of season are grown in greenhouses. Vast amounts of energy are needed for greenhouses to simulate ideal cultivation conditions, which results in unsustainable costs for the environment. When energy-intensive greenhouses aren't sufficient, we then have to import produce from other countries, burning a tremendous amount of fossil fuels along the way. Seasonal produce grows in natural atmospheric conditions, is not subject to chemical treatments, and wastes less energy. Not to mention, seasonal produce is more savory and rich in vital nutrients.

What Can I Buy in Bulk?

If your funds allow you to do so, buying groceries in bulk is a good way to cut back on individually-wrapped products. Not only will buying in bulk cut down the amount of plastic you use, but it can also save you money. Any extras that you won't use immediately can be frozen for use at a later date.

While it may just seem like a little trip that you need to make a few times a month, a lifetime of making eco-friendly grocery shopping choices can make a huge difference on your environmental footprint.