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How to Make Eco-Friendly Choices at the Supermarket

Jill has been writing as The Dirt Farmer on HubPages for nine years.

You Can Shop Chain Stores and Care About the Environment

You don't have to schlep to a farmer's market on weekends or go to a specialty grocery store in order to be an environmentally conscious grocery shopper. You can be eco-friendly even if you shop your local supermarket chain store.

Shop the Outer Aisles First

If you select most of your purchases from the outer aisles, you're more likely to be an eco-friendly shopper.

The outer aisles of most supermarkets contain produce (fruits and vegetables), dairy, and meats rather than highly refined, processed items like cookies and chips.

Whole foods don't contain additives. Baked fish, grilled chicken & steaks are whole foods. A frozen fish stick? No.

Examples of Sustainable Foods

Fresh fruit

Fresh vegetables

Unpolished grains

Raw nuts & seeds



Non-homogenized milk

Meat, chicken, & fish*

Buy Whole (Unprocessed) Foods

Buying whole foods that have not gone through a lengthy manufacturing process is an easy way to shop in an environmentally friendly way.

Whole foods are unprocessed, unrefined and edible in their natural state—ideally without modifications or additives. However, if you buy produce that has been shipped from afar, it may contain synthetic preservatives.

Eating more whole foods than processed foods isn't just good for the earth. It's also good for you!

Buying local produce and opting for organic foods are two easy ways to shop earth-friendly.

Buying local produce and opting for organic foods are two easy ways to shop earth-friendly.

Look for Locally Grown Produce

When they're in season and plentiful, local fruits and vegetables will often be available at local chain stores.

Local produce is usually fresher than produce that's shipped from out of the country or out of state, which means it contains more nutrients, and that's good news for consumers. Also, lots of energy (in the form of fossil fuel) will not have been expended in order to get it to your local store, and that's great news for the planet.

Look for locally grown asparagus at the supermarket in spring. Here in southern Maryland, local corn, cantaloupe, strawberries and tomatoes are often available in summer, and local mushrooms may be found throughout the year. Usually, the words "Grown Locally" are scrawled on a piece of cardboard and propped up near the display.

Key Terms:

Knowing what food labels really mean will help you make eco-friendly choices.

100% Organic: In the U.S., a 100% organic label means that the food is free of hormones, pesticides & additives. Organic fruits, vegetables and grains are raised without artificial fertilizer.

Whole Foods: Foods that are unrefined and/or unprocessed, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, are considered whole foods. Foods that have undergone very little processing, such as beans and non-homogenized milk, are also usually considered whole foods.

Natural: Some items you may buy at the supermarket, such as cosmetics and hygiene products, may be labeled "natural." Natural products do not contain petrochemicals (chemicals derived from petroleum). The synthetic chemicals they do contain are identical to compounds found in nature.

Select Organic Foods

Reach for products that bear an organic label.

Organic labels usually indicate that the foods have been raised (at least to some degree) without hormones, pesticides, artificial fertilizers or other synthetic additives.

If you're shopping in the United States, organic foods will either bear the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) organic logo or the logo of a specific certifying agent.

Currently, the USDA recognizes three "levels" of organic foods:

  1. those that are 100 percent organic,
  2. those that are labelled "organic" and contain 95 percent organic ingredients, and
  3. those that are labeled "made with organic ingredients" and contain 70 percent organic parts.
A box, a plastic carton and a wrapper? That's a lot of packaging for a dozen cookies!

A box, a plastic carton and a wrapper? That's a lot of packaging for a dozen cookies!

Avoid Products With Excessive Packaging

Have you ever noticed how some products are smothered in packaging? Certain brands of bread, for instance, are wrapped in plastic and placed inside plastic sleeves.

Cookies, chips--even sliced apples--are sometimes individually wrapped and sold in packaged sets. Yes, they're handy for lunches, but they produce lots of waste. The same goes for individual bottles of water and soda.

Give them a miss. Instead, opt for products with less wrapping, or purchase earth-friendly bulk buys for even less garbage.

Keep Reusable Shopping Bags Handy

Keep reusable shopping bags handy to avoid using plastic.

Store them in the trunk of your car or some other convenient location so that you don't forget to take them with you to the grocery store.

You can purchase reusable bags for general use as well as thermal bags for hot and cold foods, and drawstring mesh bags for produce.

My 2008 Earth Day reusable grocery bag--still going strong!

My 2008 Earth Day reusable grocery bag--still going strong!

Recycle Plastic Bags

Some supermarkets make it easy for you to recycle plastic grocery bags by providing locations, usually at the front of the store, where you can drop the bags off once you're through with them.

You can also send some plastic grocery bags straight to the recycling center along with the rest of your recyclables. If you have single stream recycling, also known as fully commingled or single-sort, you can toss any plastic grocery bags that you don't repurpose in with the rest of your recyclables.

© 2012 Jill Spencer


Jill Spencer (author) from United States on April 09, 2019:

Thanks for commenting, Anu. Best wishes to you!

Anu Ganesh from Simple Blissful Life on April 09, 2019:

Carrying reusable bags choosing less plastic packaging is something that everyone can afford to do! Thanks for sharing the tips

Jill Spencer (author) from United States on April 27, 2012:

Great to hear from you, hi friend. Thanks for reading & commenting, DF

hi friend from India on April 27, 2012:


Jill Spencer (author) from United States on April 05, 2012:

@ cebutouristspot--Yes, simple and easy! Thanks for commenting. Take care!

@ christollesseb--Hey there!Your comment could inspire several hubs! Thanks for stopping by. --DF

Jill Spencer (author) from United States on April 05, 2012:

@ rebeccamealey--Before researching, I didn't know the label meanings either. There's a big difference between 100% and 70! Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Rebecca. DF

Jill Spencer (author) from United States on April 05, 2012:

While writing for a fitness company, I came across the idea of selecting foods from the outer aisles in order to eat healthy and lose weight, but later realized that it's also a way to be more earth-friendly when you shop. I guess what's truly good for us is good for the planet, too! Thanks for stopping by, thebookmom. Take care, DF

Jill Spencer (author) from United States on April 05, 2012:

Thanks, Veggie-Mom. Love your refried beans in a crockpot hub! ("How-to-Make-Refried-Beans-in-the-Crockpot")

Jill Spencer (author) from United States on April 05, 2012:

@davenmidtown--Great to hear from you! I can remember when it was really tough to be shop eco-friendly. Thank heavens we have so many more choices these days. Take care, DF

christollesseb from UK ME ASIA on April 05, 2012:

Got your message loud and clear. Buy only what you need. There is so much food waste & just thrown out, some of it cooked and not eaten & some not even cooked! So many people are in a groove/rut. Just impulse buy. Thanks for a useful and interesting Hub. Voted across and up! Cheers, Christo,

cebutouristspot from Cebu on April 04, 2012:

Great stuff. We all need to start an eco friendly lifestyle and this is simple enough that most of us can do.

Rebecca Mealey from Northeastern Georgia, USA on April 04, 2012:

I really found the "levels of organic foods" reference to be most unique and helpful. I love buying local fresh produce in season. Great Hub!

thebookmom from Nebraska on April 04, 2012:

What a helpful hub! I had never heard the rule of shopping the outer aisles first, we will certainly try that. We do like to buy local and I was amazed at how easily my kids have transitioned to whole food, so much better.

veggie-mom on April 04, 2012:

Great tips, Dirt Farmer, thanks for sharing. Voted up & shared!

David Stillwell from Sacramento, California on April 04, 2012:

The Dirt Farmer! Great hub... I never realized that the outer aisles of the grocery store was more eco-friendly...but now that I think about it you are so right. The reusable grocery bag is something we can all do and so well highlighted (2008) in your hub. Awesome! Voted and shared.

Jill Spencer (author) from United States on April 01, 2012:

Yeh,it would be counterproductive to travel hours to shop organic. Thanks for your comment, Maren!

Maren Elizabeth Morgan from Pennsylvania on April 01, 2012:

This is a great topic for those of us who live in areas with minimal organic markets. I do get plastic bags because i have major cat litter trash to wrap up. VU!

Jill Spencer (author) from United States on March 31, 2012:

Hadn't thought of that, Deborah! Thanks for the good idea. Jill

Deborah Neyens from Iowa on March 31, 2012:

Great tips. I'd add one more: skip the bottled water. It's not any better quality than tap water in most cases, it burns a lot of fuel to transport heavy bottles of water, and the platic bottles end up in landfills or littering roadways.

Jill Spencer (author) from United States on March 31, 2012:

@ Hush4444--Your local foods dinner sounds great! What an awesome idea. Thanks for commenting! DF

hush4444 from Hawaii on March 30, 2012:

You have some really great tips about going green. I always make an effort to buy locally grown produce, as well as other items like honey. My friend recently put on a feast of all locally grown food and it was fun to see what all the possibilities were. Voted up!

Jill Spencer (author) from United States on March 30, 2012:

Hi Jennifer. Thanks for commenting. In all fairness, I don't think every green decision (like buying foods with less packaging or purchasing local foods) actually does cost more. I do agree with you, however, that more local, state and federal monies should be invested in education. Take care, DF

Jennifer Angel on March 30, 2012:

Um no thank you. It costs extra money to go green, the packagaing you are purchasing costs double the regular price of rubber bands on certain fruits. The 100% recycled box you just bought costs 200% more in energy and waste to make. Why go green? Let's spend that extra money on what we really need, better schools!

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