Friday, March 18, 2011

Eco Costco?

I shop at Costco perhaps once or twice a month and we try to be eco-logic when shopping in general. However, I’m not perfect.
We eat a lot of cereal and that has a lot of packaging, there is no bulk cereal available where we are and I am not ready to make my own granola. We use a rather large amount of disposable diapersand I am really not ready to do cloth diapers quite yet.
Bu we definitely don't always make smart choices.

Exhibit A:
My kids love the Vache-Qui-Rit (Laughing Cow) cheese, which I like to buy because it reminds me of home (France).
Is it the best-tasting cheese in the world? No

Is it an organic, all natural food? Nope

Is it cheap? Not really

Is it well packaged? Heck no; individual chunks of cheese wrapped in aluminum foil, wrapped in a cardboard box, and wrapped again in a larger box.
Do I buy it every time we go to Costco? Yes I do

So I don’t want to sound like I always make the best decisions, I most definitely don’t! And I don’t want to be hypocritical either. But after shopping there for about a year now, here are some of the pros and cons in my humble opinion in terms of environmental-friendliness at Costco.

On the plus side:

1. No plastic at the checkout. You either bring your own bags, or they provide you with cardboard boxes; which brings me to my second point;

2. Cardboard recycling. The boxes used to ship and package the food is reused at the checkout aisle for customers to take home.

3. Organic food. They have a growing selection of organic produce, chicken, cereal, soups, coffee, etc.

4. Bulk food. Some products, such as nuts, cereal, or cheese come in large quantities with less packaging per weight of produce sold than in other grocery stores.

5. Less handling. You buy the food directly from the wholesaler, instead of it being handled by a middleman company. Less shipping, redistributing, shelving, etc.

6. Cheaper. Many of the products available are also much cheaper, both for regular and organic.

However, on the negative side:

1. Shipment Packaging. There is an incredible amount of different types of wrapping, paper, plastic, and cardboard used to ship and store the large quantities of food. Granted, a lot of this is similar to other grocery stores, we just don’t see it elsewhere because the food is unwrapped behind closed doors.

2. Individual packaging. Large quantities doesn’t necessarily equate with smart packaging. You can buy 50 mini bags of Doritos individually wrapped instead of just buying one large bags of chips.

3. Serving size. From a nutritional point of view, I really think that it makes giant sizes the new norm in terms of how much is an acceptable amount to both buy and eat. And although many Costco products are made for the food industry at large, individuals now buy the same large quantities of food for personal consumption.

4. Food waste? I’ve done this before, bought the huge box of yogurt because it was such a good deal, and it went bad before we could finish it. Better to buy smaller quantities, fresher produce, and not-as much frozen food. It’s healthier and you know your family will eat it. And I don’t know the answer to this, but I wonder if they have to throw more expired/moldy food or produce away than other food retailers due to the large quantities that they deal with.

5. Food ‘allure’ part 1. As soon as you are at the checkout, before you can get to your car you have to pass the giant pizza/ice cream/soda area, where you can buy fast food for dirt cheap. Way to promote unhealthy food and unhealthy eating habits.

 6. Food ‘allure’ part 2. And then there are the little tasting booths. Sometimes the options are great, we got free yogurt last time and my kids quietly ate them for the entire time we were shopping. However, when the options are dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets and weight-loss cookies, it also leads to having to repeat over and over “no we are not getting that, no you can’t taste it, I know everyone else is tasting them, but you can’t” and telling the nice old lady “no thank you my kids don’t want any,” while they are screaming “but I want one!”

Again, what is my conclusion? I don’t know. I think almost anything in moderation is ok.

And next time you go to Costco you should try some Vache-Qui-Rit, it’s so good!

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