Trash Talk

Going zero waste at the grocery store


What: Think Outside the Plastic Bag, Part 1

When: 6 pm Thu., Apr. 19

Where: Skagit Valley Food Co-op, Mount Vernon

Cost: Free; register in advance


Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Aisles flanked by deep-red beets and mist-covered greens are what dreams are made of. With the arrival of local spring vegetables, browsing the produce section can be a transcendental experience.

Groceries provide joy and nourishment, but they also generate a whole lot of trash. It’s important to be mindful of the waste associated with shopping and how to minimize it for a healthy planet.

Taking a waste-free grocery trip should be at the top of your to-do list this Earth Day. (Don’t worry, it’s easier than you think.)

Swapping plastic bags for reusable ones is a logical choice in Bellingham, where single-use plastic bags have been banned since 2012. This eco-friendly action isn’t as ingrained in other areas, but using reusable grocery bags is perhaps the easiest waste-reducing habit to form.

We can do more, though. The thin plastic produce bags often perched above meat and produce shelves can be eliminated or swapped for reusables, too. These bags are meant to keep items separate and reduce the spread of bacteria, but large produce such as tomatoes and avocados can be tossed in your cart without them.

When you do need one for smaller or messier items, think reusable and invest in a set of eco-friendly cloth bags. The two Community Food Co-ops in Bellingham and the Skagit Valley Food Co-op in Mount Vernon both carry great breathable options.

You can also skip single-use bags at the Bellingham Farmers Market (the only local market open this early). Every Saturday, it’s chock-full of fresh lettuce, tasty mushrooms and delicious spring produce. It’s the perfect season to shop, and you can always use your own bags.

Packaged goods are another concern. Packaging can sometimes be recyclable, compostable or—better yet—reusable, but it often just ends up in the trash. To reduce waste, pay attention to packaging and avoid excessive plastic when possible due to its eco-unfriendly production and low-durability for reuse. Watch out for things such as twist ties and stickers, too. They might be small, but they still end up as waste.

A great way to avoid packaging and reduce waste is by shopping the bulk bins. At the two Community Food Co-ops and the Skagit Valley Food Co-op you’ll find everything you need in bulk—grains, spices, coffee and even soaps. All three stores will also have serious sales on their bulk items on Sun., April 22—Earth Day proper.

Alas, not all bulk bins are equal. Some stores, like Whole Foods, require shoppers to use provided containers when filling up. The uniform bags simplify the weighing process and minimize the spread of germs. While the policy is understandable, it won’t work for aspiring zero-wasters. 

Haggen stores and the aforementioned grocers all allow shoppers to use their own reusable containers for bulk groceries. In fact, they encourage it.

Both the Bellingham and Mount Vernon co-ops also sell reusable glass jars, bottles and other containers at the bins. The stores in Bellingham also include container exchange stations where anyone can leave their extra, clean reusables for future sustainable shoppers.

Before you fill up your container, use the store’s scale to weigh it while empty. Write this weight down, along with the product name and number, and let the cashier take care of the rest.

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