Did you know that recycling starts at the supermarket? If you’re standing next to the rubbish and recycling bins at home wondering what to do with the plastic tray and wrap your lemons came in, you’re TOO LATE!
Many people focus their efforts on recycling packaging waste after it’s been used. However, ‘precycling’ or avoiding the creation of extra waste by buying wisely in the first place is even better for the environment. You’ll often hear this spoken of as the 3Rs of waste minimisation:
- Reduce your waste-producing behaviour.
- Reuse items that would otherwise be rubbish wherever possible.
- Recycle materials instead of throwing them away.
Giving credit where credit is due, packaging has allowed food to be contained and preserved for longer than fresh food would otherwise keep. Packaging has meant that food can be preserved until times when it is out of season, stockpiled in times of plenty, and transported to places with inadequate food supplies. But the production of this packaging, like all material goods, has had an environmental cost, and once used, has the impacts of disposal. We need to minimise these impacts as much as possible.
It’s the choices you make at the supermarket, corner store, shopping centre and/or produce market that ultimately determine what ends up in your recycling, rubbish and compost bins.
Precycling saves you from having to think about recycling or responsible waste disposal later. You can reduce the waste and packaging problem by taking care with what you purchase at the supermarket or grocery store. Here’s a bunch of tips:
Tips to avoid and reduce waste
• Avoid over-packaged products. Don’t buy individually wrapped items or those with unnecessary packaging. Do you really need your coffee grounds in a coffee bag, each individually wrapped, collectively boxed and wrapped in cellophane? That’s 4 layers between you and your caffeine fix!
• Favour unpackaged goods or buy from store that allow you to BYO containers. Avoid packaging where it isn’t needed in the first instance. Fruit and vegetables are a good example (see next bullet point). Many stores have dispensers and sell their products by weight (such as dried fruit, nuts, seeds, gains, sweets) or volume (cleaning liquids, shampoo and conditioner), and allow customers to bring their own containers to take them home.
• Avoid fresh produce pre-packaged on plastic trays. The plastic wrap is generally not recyclable. Besides, some produce (like citrus and bananas) has it’s own natural, compostable packaging – it’s called ‘peel’! Over-packaged fresh produce received the (dis)honour of a 2009 ‘DUMP’ award from the green group Environment Victoria in the following clip:
• Buy in bulk. Buying non-perishable products in bulk quantities means less packaging is used per unit of product. It’s also often cheaper to buy in bulk.
• Buy products that come in refillable or reusable containers. Many manufacturers now make products and packaging that can be reused. For example, Colgate makes a toothbrush with a replaceable head, and biscuits often come in a retro-style biscuit tin that can be kept and reused. Think about the waste that will be generated as a result of you buying that item, and choose products accordingly.
• Buy goods in recyclable packaging. Make sure that the products you buy have recyclable packaging, which can be recycled in your local area. If you’re not sure what you can recycle, call your local council or, if in Australia, visit Planet Ark’s online recycling guide.