5 Things to Learn from Sustainable Grocery Stores

For several years, the statistics on trash and wasted food have been a wake-up call for grocery stores who are major players in the food chain industry:

The number of sustainable grocery stores (also known as "eco-friendly grocery stores") is becoming quite numerous thanks to these organizations' efforts to reduce their use of single-use bags and packaging as well as to lower the amount of food that gets thrown out due to spoilage.

5 Practices of Sustainable Grocery Stores

Let's take a look at how some grocery stores are tackling food packaging and food waste issues:
  • Using eco-friendly food packaging
  • Discounting flawed and near expiration food
  • Selling complete meal kits or prepared meals
  • Donating unused food to the community
  • Recycling and composting at a grocery store level

1. Using Eco-friendly Food Packaging

The packaging used for fresh foods like meats and produce can be a problem because they:
  • Rarely get recycled
  • Do not decompose
  • Are rarely re-usable

Grocery store businesses are offering food packaging and shopping bags that are reusable, recyclable, or compostable. For example, LK Packaging® produces reusable shopping and grocery bags as an alternative to paper or plastic bags. Certain areas and stores are charging customers for single-use bags to help encourage patrons to utilize reusable bags.

2. Discounting Flawed and Near Expiration Food

Many grocery stores have a "clearance rack" of steeply discounted products in a shopping cart or designated shelf. Some have taken this a step further by marking down their produce and meat products as they draw closer to their expiration date.

Many sustainable grocery stores, such as The Kroger Co., have a produce bin that contains flawed or very ripe produce that has been marked down. Similarly, in the meat category, consumers can also find discounted meat products whose "use-by" and "sell-by" dates are fast approaching. This is a great way for grocers to cut back on food waste, while also monetizing food that would end up in the trash if not sold.

3. Selling Complete Meal Kits or Prepared Meals

A novel way to help reduce food waste is to give shoppers the choice of prepared meals in a bag. All the ingredients are included, so shoppers don't buy too much of certain ingredients that remain unused and end up in the trash.

Obviously, it's important that sustainable grocery stores make these meal bags with eco-friendly food packaging but be cautious when recycling packaging containing food materials in order to prevent food waste from contaminating the recycling chain.

4. Donating Unused Food to the Community

For food that does not get bought before it gets close to its "use-by" or "sell-by" date, many grocery store organizations donate the unused food to local, non-profit food assistance programs. This helps residents in the community who are experiencing food insecurity.

Two examples of this are Wegmans and Aldi:

5. Recycling and Composting at a Grocery Store Level

Most major grocery store chains have recycling bins for collecting single-use plastic bags as well as the foam from meat and egg trays. Publix Super Markets, Inc., a chain in the Southeastern U.S., is an example of this.

Whole Foods Market, a multinational chain, composts food waste from its stores and donates the final compost material to local farmers and vendors. This practice keeps about 25 tons of organic material per week out of landfills.

How Shoppers Can Continue Eco-friendly Practices at Home

Becoming more aware of one's own household waste is the first step in taking part of the worldwide push for better food packaging products and less food waste. Start by checking the bottom of all food packages to determine if it's recyclable in your community.

Consider composting the food waste that's generated by your household. Though it's a multi-step process, it's simple enough to perform, and the compost can be used in your yard or garden.

If you're interested in learning how a cooking bag program can help with sustainable grocery store efforts: