So this is how my pantry looked like as of a few days ago. Not very visually-exciting. Bags were breaking, stuff was leaking, and some items were lost forever within the inaccessible depths of my shelves. I found an onion-dip mix that expired in 2009.
But more importantly, not environmentally-exciting either. There is sooo much waste in packaging. Even if you buy organic food, unprocessed food, healthy food, what-have-you food, it is always wrapped, bound, enclosed in shiny, sparkly, crispy plastic.
Spring cleaning and lots of rethinking is in order. My belated 2012 resolution: I am no longer buying grains/dried fruit/pasta etc in these cute little colorful packages. Bulk is the way to go. You can buy as little or as much as you want, it's usually cheaper, you can see what you're buying, and you are not buying A LOT of useless plastic and cardboard.
Here are my tips to try and save a little on packaging:
1. Buy as much of your food as you can in bulk. You can even bring your own plastic bags to the store and refill them a million times. Some even bring their tupperware/containers directly to the store and then deduct their weight off the total at the checkout aisle. Some stores will let your grind your own coffee.
Furthermore, most boxes of things like chips, popcorn, or cereal are only filled halfway. Individual servings of the same items, or things like kid snacks are even more ridiculous. I've refused to buy things based on their packaging (apples wrapped in hard plastic at Costco, 'pouches' of fruit juice for kids, itsy-bitsy-teeny-weeny packets of chips, etc). The various company reps will say it's necessary to leave empty space in the box so the product can breathe or as a buffer so the chips won't get squished, etc.
For more info on this "wasted space" in food packaging, check out this article from ConsumerReports:
2. Don't buy individual servings of food. This will be the demise of modern civilization. Just divvy up your snacks, no biggie.
3. Don't take the plastic bags provided in the grocery store. I'm talking both the ones at the produce section as well as the ones at the checkout aisle. People will bag their bananas, then bag them again at the checkout, get to their house and rip both bags apart. All that plastic lasted 15 minutes. Really unnecessary, especially if we're talking bananas. If you MUST use them, then reuse them once you're home. But seriously, you don't need them. Bring your own cloth bags and dedicate one to just produce when you're at the checkout aisle.
True, grocery stores do provide bins where you can recycle your unwanted plastic bags. But did you know they can't wash them and use them again directly? Nope, it's not sanitary apparently. So all those bags have to be shipped, melted, reprocessed, and reshipped to make... NEW bags. Americans go through 100 billion plastic bags annually, for a total cost of $4 billion, that is insane. No need to go into detail about that, we know the damages of plastic bags to oceans and ecosystems, the impact it's had on the digestive track of animals, the chemicals that are in now our soils and aquifers, etc. Plastic bags blow, we've heard the campaign.
4. Please, please, please don't buy plastic forks/plates/cups. I don't know what else to say about that. Just don't. Wash your dishes, period.
5. Don't buy ziploc bags, either, argh! There is really no need for them. Reuse the plastic bags from other packaging (i.e. bread). Or use tupperware. Or glass containers. They all work perfectly well in the fridge or freezer.
6. Oh yeah, no plastic bottles either. People argue that the plastic breaks down over time or in hot weather and that's why they throw them away. Yuck. So even more reason to buy just one good bottle, like a Nalgene (they are now BPA-free) or stainless steel container. Hang on to it and reuse it.
7. Take advantage of your farmer's markets, 'tis the season! No stickers on produce and packaging is kept to a minimum.
If you want more info on how to reduce your garbage and minimize waste, check out this cool blog. Some of it is pretty extreme but the author has lots of good tips and ideas to get started: