Day 2: grocery shopping without plastic

Thursday was a long day. I know that grocery shopping is not all that grueling (unless you have three small children attached to you), but this was more than the usual outing to procure nourishment. I was on a mission to feed the fam without bringing home any plastic. I would call today’s foray a success, but also a shock. Although I’ve been looking at what to buy or not to buy as I mentally prepped for the Plastic Purge, I was unprepared for the lack of available foodstuffs sans plastic…or the cost of those rare items, either.
I looked through my coupons before shopping today — yes, I am a coupon lady but not an extreme coupon cuckoo like they show on TV. I am a smart shopper and regularly get 50% off my bill while shopping. We don’t buy a lot of prepared foods but have been buying cereal, granola bars, crackers and lunch meat with coupons and savings bundles. We also eat seasonally and locally (only US produce, only California produce if possible, only local dairies,  etc.) and really try to adhere to the 100-mile diet whenever possible. But when you throw the “buy no plastic” rule into the mix, ha. There’s nothing left to eat.

Of course, that’s an exaggeration, but in shopping today, I went to four different grocery stores in two different towns, as well as stopping for a take-n-bake pizza, and my avoidance of plastic made the day arduous. I walked every aisle in those stores, passing so much food that I then started to take anything I could find that wasn’t plastic-sheathed. I ended up bringing home a pint of Jelly Belly beans just because they were in a bulk bin, and I was kind of having a panic attack at the moment about what we’d be eating. Jelly Belly beans — an important part of your nutritious day.

Anyhoo, I brought along plastic (yes, plastic!) take-out containers to fill with grain/seeds/cereal or whatever I could find in bulk. I have cloth bags for produce but somehow, I was just thinking that these handy reusable 2-pint deli soup containers were the right thing to take along. But the containers confused the check-out clerks, who either ignored the tare weight and charged me for the entire thing, plastic included, or couldn’t get the proper tare weight and got close but still overcharged. Oh well. I think that may be something I can’t avoid, but this is just Day 2.

As far as yogurt, sour cream, or cottage cheese, there was nary a package available that wasn’t hard plastic. Almost all the cheeses were shrink-wrapped in plastic; those that weren’t (with two notable exceptions) were ghastly expensive imported cheeses, at about $6-$10 for a small chunk. Not local, and not affordable. Two exceptions that I’m happy to announce: cream cheese is still available wrapped in foil, then cardboard, and Laughing Cow wedges are also wrapped in foil and then a cardboard box with a nifty red string to open the box. There was nothing like a granola bar or other such bar to be had, so I will try baking my own and having them for daughters and Mr. Husband to take to work. (I told you my family would hate me, didn’t I? Sorry, fam, no more Nutri-Bars, Clif or Balance bars.)

I put off buying milk til the last stop, to avoid it getting warm, and by that point there were only waxed paperboard quarts available without a plastic pour spout, so I bought two of those (at the same price as a gallon in plastic) and will have to go back for more milk in a day or so (we go through a gallon or more per week). By the way, for those of you who like milk alternatives: all that soy, coconut, rice and almond milk that comes in the aseptic/shelf-stable Tetra pak? and the chicken stock, soup, tofu and juice boxes, too? — please be aware that those packages are not recyclable in the US (though there are said to be plants in Canada that will take them — will your trash facility ship them to Canada or Brazil?) So the supposedly healthful product’s packaging ends up in landfill. No matter how green your diet, if you are creating waste with your food (by eating lots of beef or lots of Tetra-packed tofu), you’re not doing the planet or the future any favors. Just something to think about.

I was able to get pickles, mayo and olives in glass jars. Ketchup? Not a glass bottle to be seen. Plain yellow mustard, no, but Sierra Nevada Pale Ale mustard, yes — a tiny glass jar for twice the cost of a plastic keg of no-name yellow mustard. Sigh. Now come with me down the snack aisle, where almost nothing is plastic-free. I bought a box of pretzels last week, only to find that there was a plastic bag within; I am pretty sure most boxes of crackers have the same issue. I couldn’t find tortillas nor tortilla chips without plastic (guess I can make my own, since I did find masa flour in a paper bag). Sun Chips and Boulder Chips are two delicious brands that make compostable bags, and I have been composting the Sun Chips bags for several months now — it really works! So the family gets to eat chips this week. They also get to eat Pepperidge Farms Milano cookies (just one bag), which has paper and foil within; Pepperidge Farms also makes goldfish crackers, and those are available in very small or very large sizes w/o plastic — but beware the mini-packages for lunch boxes, which are plastic, further wrapped in more plastic.

I was tricked by Klondike Bars ice cream, which I thought were wrapped in foil, but turned out not to be — plastic wrapped, each one, inside that silvery box. Doh! Also for cereal: it’s easy to fill a container with granola, but I already make my own and was looking for *anything* that wasn’t oatmeal or granola. No luck at the bulk bins, but I did get an old-fashioned box of large-size Shredded Wheat, which are paper-wrapped inside, with a cardboard box. I think British Wheetabix may also be paper-wrapped, but will have to check that out. Note that these cereals are naturally soggy types.

I had no trouble at the meat counters, getting chicken, fish and bacon wrapped in paper only, no plastic. At the deli counter in one store, they were confused by my strange and exotic request but fished out a paper bag that they normally use for fried chicken, and filled it with sliced salami instead. I will switch the meats to Tupperware containers and freeze or cook soon (these are my own frequently used plastics, not the use-once-and-discard meat wrappings I could have brought home).

In the pet food aisles, I got large cans of cat food instead of the usual plastic-tray (Whiskas brand) or the usual many small cans. I feel a little better about using one can in a week instead of 5 cans. And metal is recyclable, but there’s less of it this way.

Other grocery items included Arrowhead Mills pancake mix (paper), butter (paper/foil), red pepper flakes (glass), french bread (paper), melons (no bag), Annie’s mac and cheese (paper/foil), and some Nile instant soups for our daughters to take to work (cardboard cup with paper lid). I bought sodas in cans and sparkling waters in glass.

I took a chance on a few items that will lead me to some deeper investigating: Tom’s of Maine toothpaste used to be a metal tube but is now in plastic. I don’t know why, but all toothpastes now seem to be in plastic tubes. I bought a cereal brand called Bear River Valley Cereal that I think is in plastic, but it might be compostable. I’m interested to read up on their green and renewable energy claims, as posted on the bag.

So my long-suffering family will be eating pancakes and cereal, fresh fruits and veggies, home-prepared beans, fresh meats, fresh bread, more wholesome chips and drinks, and zero breakfast bars or sugary yogurt this week. That is, after all, a success story — good food! Healthy family!

One more thing: I mentioned that got a take-n-bake pizza — from our local Papa Murphy’s Pizza on Broadway in Alameda. I called ahead and asked if they could use foil instead of plastic wrap on the pizza,but they said no, they had only plastic. So I brought along a roll of aluminum foil and asked them when I ordered if they would use my foil instead. They happily agreed, and I find that worthy of a big green kiss. Thanks, Papa Murphy’s peeps!

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9 Replies to “Day 2: grocery shopping without plastic”

  1. I thought of you yesterday as I was transplanting tomatoes. I guess I’ve been slacking off since my own plastic purge 2 years ago. I never noticed the ambient plastic label wrap on the tomato plant pots until I was standing there in the garden struggling to rip it off without destroying the plant. Ugh. It creeps back in. How sad that we don’t even notice it.

    Great job on the grocery shopping. What brand of mayo did you find without a plastic lid? We’re able to get more things in glass here (including french’s mustard), but most have plastic tops.

  2. Just a couple of fyi tips that I have learned:

    1. Heinz makes a Chili Sauce that is basically exciting ketchup. It comes in a glass bottle with a metal top. I love this stuff. I tend to think of it more like home-made ketchup.

    2. Besides Weetabix and Shredded Wheat, you can try Grape-Nuts for a no plastic cereal. If I remember right, it’s just cereal in a box rattling around.

    I have not had to go to the store yet on this adventure. But I will be sure to post my trials and triumphs!

  3. And Grape-nuts can be eaten hot or cold – I really love to dump some milk on it and stick it in the microwave for a minute… Mmm!

    Also – yogurt is actually frightfully easy to make at home! It sounds a bit over the top, but actually a very low-labor thing. The Frugal Girl has a good tutorial with pictures!

    One more resource, ’cause I can’t resist – has rated lots of creameries, both local and with national distribution, based on the conditions for their milk cows… I’m loving organic whole milk, and currently choosing waxed cardboard half-gallons, because it’s able to be composted.

    Thanks, always, for sharing your journey. I was similarly overwhelmed while grocery shopping a few days ago…

  4. Am really enjoying your adventure! Just a question. I had one of those Laughing Cow cheese wedges at a friend’s house recently and thought I recalled that the little red pull on each individual cheese was actually plastic. Am I mistaken? I hope so!

    I’ve also had some reuse of plastic difficulties with trying to refill stevia from bulk into a reused plastic stevia container from Trader Joes. Something to do with the unit measure.

    Good luck!

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