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How to Make Eco-Friendly Choices at the Supermarket

Updated on March 18, 2016
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Easy ways you can shop chain stores & love the planet at the same time.

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.

Examples of Whole Foods
Fresh fruit
Fresh vegetables
Unpolished grains
Raw nuts & seeds
Beans
Eggs
Non-homogenized milk
Meat, chicken & fish*
Whole foods don't contain additives. Baked fish, grilled chicken & steaks are whole foods. A frozen fish stick? No.

Buy whole 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. | Source

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Look for locally grown fruits & vegetables.

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.

Terms to Learn

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! | Source

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! | Source

Recycle plastic grocery 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.

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    • The Dirt Farmer profile image
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      Jill Spencer 5 years ago from United States

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

    • hi friend profile image

      hi friend 5 years ago from India

      interesting

    • The Dirt Farmer profile image
      Author

      Jill Spencer 5 years ago from United States

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

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

    • The Dirt Farmer profile image
      Author

      Jill Spencer 5 years ago from United States

      @ 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

    • The Dirt Farmer profile image
      Author

      Jill Spencer 5 years ago from United States

      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

    • The Dirt Farmer profile image
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      Jill Spencer 5 years ago from United States

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

    • The Dirt Farmer profile image
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      Jill Spencer 5 years ago from United States

      @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 profile image

      christollesseb 5 years ago from UK ME ASIA

      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 profile image

      cebutouristspot 5 years ago from Cebu

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

    • rebeccamealey profile image

      Rebecca Mealey 5 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

      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 profile image

      thebookmom 5 years ago from Nebraska

      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 profile image

      veggie-mom 5 years ago

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

    • davenmidtown profile image

      David Stillwell 5 years ago from Sacramento, California

      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.

    • The Dirt Farmer profile image
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      Jill Spencer 5 years ago from United States

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

    • Maren Morgan M-T profile image

      Maren Elizabeth Morgan 5 years ago from Pennsylvania

      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!

    • The Dirt Farmer profile image
      Author

      Jill Spencer 5 years ago from United States

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

    • DeborahNeyens profile image

      Deborah Neyens 5 years ago from Iowa

      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.

    • The Dirt Farmer profile image
      Author

      Jill Spencer 5 years ago from United States

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

    • hush4444 profile image

      hush4444 5 years ago from Hawaii

      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!

    • The Dirt Farmer profile image
      Author

      Jill Spencer 5 years ago from United States

      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

    • profile image

      Jennifer Angel 5 years ago

      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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