Lately, I have been thinking of ways to be more ecologically responsible when it comes to shopping. It seems that ever since we made the decision to cancel the trash service and recycle all of our trash, I have been finding ways to eliminate some of the trash we create. When I think about all of the plastic bags and food containers that we carry our groceries in, I am amazed at the volume that can quickly build up. Here are some ideas that I have found that may offer solutions.
The health food store where I buy the grains and such gives shoppers the option of plastic or paper bags. I always take the paper ones. I double the bag for added strength. Once home, I fold the bags up and store them for later use. If I haven't used them for other things, the bags can be taken back to the store the next trip and reused. You can continue to do this until the bags begin to weaken.
Bags on the Run sells very generously sized canvas shopping bags for under $2.00 each. Their bags are about the size of a large diaper bag. The bags come in a 10-pack or larger quantity. For our family, a 10 pack of the bags would be plenty to cover the bulk of our shopping.
If you are handy with a sewing machine, you can make tote bags from any durable fabric. I would strongly suggest that if you regularly make purchases of heavy items such as canned goods, that you construct your bags with the handles made in a single long loop that is sewn to the bag, going under the bag bottom to give added support.
A fast and easy option is to go to a dollar store and buy the fabric mesh zippered bags used for laundering delicate items in. These bags have almost no weight to them. If you want to remove the zipper, simply cut the zipper out of the bag. Weave a length of cord or ribbon through the bag's mesh to make a drawstring closure. These bags work great for your produce purchases. The bags hold the produce yet are see-through to make check-out faster. Sheer fabrics are also a great material to make your produce bags from.
The bulk bins can create a small challenge. So I have come up with a few ideas that I find work well. The first is to use the sheer fabric and make bags to put the bulk items in. The only downside that I can see if the health food store bulk items such as the powdered or small grains such as quinoa or rice. The homemade fabric bags are good for the larger items though.
For the powdery or small grain items, I am saving the clear plastic deli containers. These containers work very well. Since the health food store uses twist ties with a paper strip to write the bin information onto, I can either write the information on the deli container with a permanent marker or attach a piece of tape/label to the container to record the information on.
A resource that the health food store allows is that I bring in my own gallon sized plastic jars for putting the grains into. Their attitute is that if I am willing to pay for the weight of the container, they have no problem with it. The containers that I have are recycled from a deli. The jalapenos that the deli uses on the sandwiches come in these jars. Each week, the deli throws away 2-3 of them. If I need jars, I ask them and am able to get the jars for free. The pepper odor is easily removed by washing the jars thoroughly, then rinsing in water that contains alittle bleach. Each gallon jar will hold approximately 6 lbs. of dried beans or rice. I am able to fill the jars with the amount needed and when it comes time to have the jar weighed, I remove the lid as that is the heaviest part of the jar. Even with the lid, however, most times the weight is so minimal that I just leave the lid on.
One option that may work well is to buy a box of the gallon sized baggies with the zipper type closure. The freezer bags are the best at handling the weight of the bulk bin purchases. With these bags, you can label them once with the information and then reuse the bags each time you go to the store. Having the zipper-type closure, you get a good seal that won't pop open. Once you get the purchases home, pour the contents into the containers you choose to store them in. Rinse out the bags and let them dry if needed and they are ready to use again.
I am love the foil looking insulated bags that you can buy at the grocery stores. Even with the 75 mile distance we have to travel home from the health food store, the tofu and other cold items stay cold. I use these bags for everything that needs to remain chilled - meat, frozen veggies, tofu, cheese, ice cream, milk, etc. We have 4 of these bags, 2 large and 2 small sized. We never have to worry about the food being warm when we get it home. The trick for things like tofu and milk is to pack frozen items in the bag with them. The bags prevent the frozen items from thawing out before we reach home and the frozen items work as an ice pack keeping the milk and tofu from becoming warm. If you don't have the insulated bags, use recycled bags and place the items in a cooler for the trip home if you have far to travel.
Look around at what you have available at home. Here is a list of a few of the light weight plastic items that regularly come into our home and can be recycled as a bulk bin container to get you started.
1. large parmesan cheese shaker bottle
2. bulk spice containers like those sold at the membership warehouses
3. peanut butter jars
4. deli containers
5. containers from the cut up fruit in the produce dept.
6. bread/bun bags
I pray that these thoughts and ideas help to inspire you.