A beginner’s guide: 6 easy steps for a more sustainable shop

A beginner’s guide: 6 easy steps for a more sustainable shop

    By Emma Lucey  September 12th, 2023

    When shopping for essential everyday items like groceries, it’s important to consider how our purchases impact the environment.


    We all need to make that mid-week dash to the shops after using that last square of toilet paper (you could have sworn that wasn’t the last roll!) or squeezing the last dollop of toothpaste from the tube.  

    Whether planned or unplanned, we have listed a few simple steps anyone can take to ensure those trips to the supermarket are as sustainable as possible.  

    Bring your own bags – including produce bags 

    Say goodbye to single-use plastic bags for good! Bringing your own bags from home is a small but important means of significantly improving your shopping footprint. If you’re still using plastic bags for fruit and veggies, keep an eye out for reusable fresh produce bags where you shop as many supermarkets, including Coles, place them near the fresh produce section. Reduce the need for multiple produce bags by being selective when bagging. For example, items such as bananas can be placed straight in your cart and do not need a bag. Keep a few reusable bags in your everyday backpack or handbag, in the car or by the front door and remember the most sustainable grocery bag is the one you already own and bring to the supermarket! Another trick is to write ‘SHOPPING BAGS’ at the top of your shopping list. Speaking of lists ... 

    Make a list and stick to it

    Making a list ahead of time can help you avoid unnecessary purchases and reduce food waste. Whether you’re a foodie, busy professional or parent, having a list can curb impulse buying and help you avoid a second (or third) trip to the shops. For those who are time poor or keen to save on expenses, consider meal prepping to make the most of your ingredients and prevent edible items from being forgotten at the back of the fridge.

    Check the Australasian Recycling Label (ARL)

    When you can’t avoid packaging, look for the ARL. The ARL is an evidence-based system designed to provide instructions for how to responsibly dispose of each component of a piece of packaging. The label may not appear on every item on the shelves just yet, but earlier this year Coles announced it successfully added the ARL to the packaging artwork of all its Own Brand products, providing Australians with easy-to-understand recycling information that removes confusion, saves time and reduces the amount of waste going to landfill.

    Buy seasonal produce

    There’s a myriad of reasons buying seasonally is better for the environment. Seasonal produce is typically grown locally, meaning less energy is needed for transportation, refrigeration and any artificial growing conditions. When seasonal crops are grown according to local climate it also means fewer chemical fertilisers and pesticides are required, reducing the potential risk to your health and the environment from exposure. Not to mention, buying seasonal allows you to support local farmers, shops and their communities. Familiarise yourself with what’s in season before planning your meals and try to incorporate these ingredients as much as possible.

    Buy in bulk  

    Buying a bigger portion of staple goods can reduce excessive packaging and save you money in the long run. Think about everyday items that get used up quickly or have a long shelf life, such as tea or coffee, and opt for larger quantities over those that are individually wrapped and won’t last you as long. You can take this one step further and cook up a big meal to freeze in portions and save yourself time later in the week! Freezing food helps to avoid food waste, especially if it’s reaching its expiry date. Learn some simple hacks to utilise food that may be close to expiry or overripe, such as bananas that start to brown – pop them in the freezer for smoothies!

    The big weekly shop 

    If you drive to the shops frequently, perhaps doing just one or two big shops a week or a weekly shop online can reduce time in the car – saving you money on petrol and reducing emissions – especially if a delivery service optimises their delivery routes.    

    Once you've mastered these basics you can also start looking at other considerations such as buying organic and less-processed foods for home cooking, learning how to determine what produce is grown in Australia, how to avoid palm oil, how to store food to increase shelf life, or which products have the lowest emissions in their growth and production phases.     From supporting local produce to minimising packaging waste, your choices at the supermarket shelves can contribute to better environmental outcomes.


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    Emma Lucey

    Emma brings experience in digital media and communications with a background in several industries such as tourism and hospitality. Prior to joining Planet Ark in 2022, Emma spent 5 years living abroad in London & Amsterdam where she developed a greater interest in the environment and sustainability. Outside of work Emma enjoys gardening, camping and crocheting.

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