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7 ELIMINATE ALL FOOD PACKAGING

This action focuses on eliminating food packaging waste.

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why?

eliminate-all-food-packaging Pie ChartBuying food in bulk is a very different way of grocery shopping, but it provides a variety of benefits beyond eliminating food packaging waste:

Buying in bulk is often less expensive. A consideration many overlook is that anytime you are buying pre-packaged food you are also buying the container. Although there is an up-front cost with buying reusable containers, for certain items that cost pays for itself.

Another benefit is that the food which is in bulk containers is quite likely much fresher than boxed or packaged food. According to Marcos Lopez-Carlson a managers of a Minneapolis co-op The Wedge, most of the food in bulk is much fresher than packaged foods as it is allowed to bypass a few steps of the shipping and storage process. Packaged foods typically travel from farm to processing plant, then to another packaging facility, and often are shipped a third time to be stored in warehouses until they are stocked in local grocery stores. This can be a 6-12 month process. Buying local items in bulk, however, eliminates the packaging and storage time. Buying bulk oats from a local farm in Minnesota at the The Wedge Co-op allows customers to purchase oats one day after processing. As Mr. Lopez-Carlson describes, "Once you buy bulk, you will never go back". The freshness, health benefits, and cost savings far outweigh the hassle of bringing in jars to fill.

Buying in bulk can change eating habits from consuming an assortment of pre-packaged foods to learning to cook almost everything from scratch. Many products that are ordinarily purchased in packages (tortillas, fresh rolled pasta, crackers, bread, pasta sauces, pesto, scones) must be cooked from scratch, bulk ingredients instead. In this way, bulk buying inadvertently eliminates countless preservatives and food additives in a typical diet that are normally required in packaged foods which must have a shelf life of at least 8-12 months. In these ways, a bulk-food purchasing diet can result in a healthier one, although requiring more time for food preparation.


how to do this action:

food packaging imagesNot all grocery stores offer customers the option of buying food in bulk. Even some that do don't allow customers to bring in refillable containers. Rather, they provide plastic or paper bags to fill bulk ingredients with, which, while still providing the benefits of cheaper prices and fresher food, does not help with reducing food packaging waste. Another option available at many bulk food sections is to bring in your own containers (or purchased containers there) to weigh and then fill. Most health food stores and local food cooperatives have excellent bulk food resources. If your local grocery store does not provide food in bulk (with scales allowing customers to bring in containers), speak with a manager about the possibility of providing that kind of food purchasing.

Mason jars work well for bulk food buying for a variety of reasons. They are inexpensive, can be purchased at a local ACE Hardware store, and extra lids can be bought separately, so if a lid is lost or ruined it can be replaced without replacing the whole jar. And they come in a variety of stackable sizes. Items which are commonly bought in bulk are grains, rice, legumes, spices, flours, candies, oats, granola and baking ingredients. Here are some example sizes of jars for various bulk foods.

  • -Half pint jars (yeast, dips, spreads, butters, portable containers for sauces/food)
  • -Pint jars (baking soda, beeswax, drinking glasses, leftover sauces)
  • -Quart size jars (wild rice, flax seed, maple sugar, salt, nuts)
  • -64 ounce jars (flours and crackers)
  • -Larger jars for pasta and all-purpose flour

One huge benefit to buying in bulk is that ANY quantity of the food can be purchased. Make sure the size of your jar (and amount of food purchased) is appropriate to how much you will use before the food spoils. This is a part of the learning process when purchasing food in bulk. Because buying in bulk eliminates packaging that would contain an expiration date, it is necessary to write on each container when it was purchased and an estimated expiration. A great place to start is to check out food storage options and length of time that food can be stored a this link (www.stilltasty.com).

Another option for purchasing without creating packaging waste is to select products which come in returnable containers. While there are not many products provided this way, it is a growing movement in many grocers. Some examples of this are refillable glass milk containers which can be returned to the grocery store and refillable egg trays which can be reused. Another example is to use refillable growlers found at local breweries instead of buying bottles of beer. Some of these items require that the customer make a deposit on the container (typically a few dollars). When the container is returned, the deposit is credited back. This is a good method for emphasizing that we DO pay for packaging, and it is much less likely that customers will recycle or dispose of a container that they paid for and could be credited back upon return.

Some of the rituals of every-day grocery shopping are also new. When bringing a jar to the co-op, weigh it first and write down the weight (ex. Tare 0.64 lbs). Fill with whatever bulk ingredients and write the number (usually 5 digits on container) on another sticker for the jar. You don't have to weigh it after you fill it. At the checkout they simply subtract the TARE from the weight to calculate the amount of food purchased. Below is a checklist of what to write down on each bulk food jar:

  • - Weight of jar, 'tare' (ex. TARE=0.83 lbs)
  • - PLU # found on bulk containers (ex. PLU=18728)
  • - Date of purchase
  • - Estimated expiration date (can be found on www.stilltasty.com)

Another benefit of buying in bulk is the visibility of your food. However, how food is typically stored in our kitchens can often be a challenge when purchasing many jars of food rather than boxes. It may be quite beneficial to reorganize your food storage or create a new food storage option that allows for this new way of purchasing pantry items.

Below is an example of a shelf which was designed and built for bulk food purchasing. It is designed to be the depth of one jar so that all food can be seen and no jars can be stacked behind others and forgotten about. Organizing food in this way can create a colorful collage of food which is attractive to look at rather than boxes of packaged foods which need to be kept in closed cupboards.

bulk food shelf

what will be measured?

KEY QUESTIONS

QUANTITATIVE QUESTION: How many types of food where you able to buy without food packaging waste when trying to eliminate all food packaging waste?

QUALITATIVE QUESTION: How does the experience of eliminating all of your food packaging waste affect your happiness, convenience, health and costs?

BASELINE WEEK TRACKING

QUANTITATIVE
During the baseline tracking week before the project begins, use the corresponding spreadsheet (WST7_BASELINE) to track all food items that were purchased in food packaging. Keep a list of the types of waste and the quantity of these items. List next to each item a replacement purchasing option that would allows you to buy this or a similar item without packaging in the future.

QUALITATIVE


Qualitative Scale

Using the above scale as a visual, rate each of the following criteria on the spreadsheet (WST7_BASELINE) as it relates to your current waste consumption:

  • 1. SATISFACTION/HAPPINESS
    (Overall, how much enjoyment or dissatisfaction do you get out of doing and completing this behavior?)

  • 2. CONVENIENCE
    (How easy/difficult and accessible/inaccessible is this behavior for you to do and complete?)

  • 3. HEALTH
    (How healthy/unhealthy and safe/unsafe does this behavior make you feel?)

  • 4. COST
    (How much does this behavior cost? Use positive numbers for being above average and negative numbers for being below average and zero for being average.)

IMPLEMENTATION PHASE TRACKING

QUANTITATIVE
Use the corresponding spreadsheet (WST7_QUANTITATIVE) to track all food items that you are unable to purchasing without packaging, as well as items that you were able to purchase without packaging (e.g. shampoo, spices, peanut butter, greens, snacks). Make notes when possible about the types of containers you like best for storing/purchasing your bulk foods and other products.

QUALITATIVE
Part 1 - Ranking


Qualitative Scale

Using the above scale as a visual, rate each of the following criteria individually each week on the spreadsheet (WST7_QUALITATIVE). Your answers should not be rated in comparison to your baseline week, but in general as a reflection of how you are feeling.

  • 1. SATISFACTION/HAPPINESS
    (Overall, how much enjoyment or dissatisfaction do you get out of doing and completing this behavior?)

  • 2. CONVENIENCE
    (How easy/difficult and accessible/inaccessible is this behavior for you to do and complete?)

  • 3. HEALTH
    (How healthy/unhealthy and safe/unsafe does this behavior make you feel?)

  • 4. COST
    (How much does this behavior cost? Use positive numbers for being above average and negative numbers for being below average and zero for being average.)

Part 2 - Blogging
Keep a narrative log of your experiences as you implement this action and how it has affected your life. Some of the following questions might be helpful as you reflect upon your experiences.

What challenges made this action difficult to complete? Why? What was surprisingly easy and or fulfilling about completing this action? Did you feel that you were making a substantial impact on your individual waste consumption/creation by completing this action?


resources

For proper food storage methods and expiration dates go to the following link: stilltasty.com

ACTION SPREADSHEETS

The spreadsheets referred to above can be found in the Excel file at the following link:

WST7_Eliminate All Food Packaging Waste Spreadsheet

If you prefer to enter your responses by hand, printable PDFs of each spreadsheet can be found at the following links (at the end of the project, all data will have to be entered into the Excel spreadsheet):

WST7_BASELINE
WST7_QUANTITATIVE
WST7_QUALITATIVE