I visit the supermarket mainly for chilled/frozen items, stuff that I cannot get from the wet market. Last Monday, I experimented with shopping a day’s worth of meatless grocery at the supermarket to get food items with as little packaging waste as possible. Armed a few small cotton produce bags (road test!) and just ONE reusable shopping bag – a method I adopt very often to avoid over-purchase/impulse purchase, I headed to the nearest supermarket that carries a wide range of fresh produce and here are the items + packaging waste I bought.
+ Fresh vegetables
Nowadays, almost every type leafy vegetable is bagged in crisp clear plastic bags for a more convenient checkout process. When it comes to vegetables like brinjals, gourds, cabbages, peas, lady fingers, asparagus, and taro, I found them individually wrapped with plastic cling film at some supermarkets. Some items like chilies and long beans even come with an additional styrofoam tray.
The stall holders at the wet market bag some of the vegetables after weighing so I can tell the “cashiers” in advance that I do not require their plastic bags, and offer 1) my cotton bags or 2) request to wrap them in newspapers instead. I usually avoid getting those that are already bagged, or I visit the market really early to “catch” these vegetables before they are being packaged. And cabbages, cauliflowers, and radish are never shrink-wrapped at the wet markets. I could thus avoid most of the plastic packaging waste when I shop there.
There is only one aisle with open crates of broccoli, carrots, tomatoes and capsicums (yes, only these 4) greeting me warmly with their bright colors sans any plastic packaging, so I bought all four varieties.
Packaging waste count: As these vegetables are sold by weight, I ended up still having their price labels (and receipt) as trash.
Only Holland potatoes and Russet potatoes come in these mesh bags that I like to reuse. The rest are packaged in plastic bags. So I got the Holland potatoes. At the wet market, I usually buy about 5 each trip as they are sold in bulk. I hope I can finish these up before they start to sprout and shrivel and end up as food waste.
Packaging waste count: The mesh bag can be reused, this becomes handy when buying root vegetables or shiitake mushrooms at the wet market so that the stall owner doesn’t have deduct the weight of my self-brought container since these bags are very light. The plastic item tag was unfortunately trashed.
Other than fresh shiitake mushrooms that I buy and store in my reusable covered containers, I almost can’t find other types of mushroom that do not come with plastic packaging. I say almost, because I have seen brown and white button mushrooms sold in bulk occasionally. Since I usually get pre-packed Erynjii and Shimeji mushrooms from the wet market as well, I stick to these varieties instead of shiitake that are packed in plastic bags at the supermarket.
Packaging waste count: plastic bags, same outcome if I were to shop at the wet markets.
I get white flour sold in bulk at the dried goods store. While the supermarket does not carry flour in bulk, I found this brand packed in a paper bag that can be recycled.
Packaging waste count: None.
Since I buy pasta from supermarket all the time, I went straight for the one that is packaged in a paper box.
Packaging waste count: a small plastic sheet that made up a see-through window on the cover of the box.
+ Freezer /Processed foods
Processed foods come with plenty of packaging trash. With home cooked meals 80% of the time in my family, I will be lying if I say I don’t use any kind of processed food to help in my cooking. Condiments, ready-made sauces, and vegetarian’s favorites such as seaweed sheets, kelp, fried bean stick, tempeh, and fried tau pok, ingredients I use all the time come with some form of plastic packaging. Not to mention common items like sugar and salt also come in plastic bags.
To counter the build up of non-recyclable processed food packaging waste at home, I stick to the obvious solution of buying these in recyclable tin cans or glass bottles as far as possible. If not, indulge in processed foods as infrequently as possible, which makes a healthier option as well.
Packaging waste count: flexible food foil packaging
In case you are curious what I cooked for that day with the items bought:
Lunch: Baked pasta
~ penne, broccoli, red capsicum, shimeji mushrooms, cooked with garlic, butter, cheddar cheese, whipping cream available at home.
Honey Bread loaf.
~ White flour, baked with wholemeal flour, honey, steamed taro, instant yeast, salt and butter available at home.
Dinner dish #1: broccoli, red capsicum, shimeji mushrooms, stirfried with ginger slices and vegetarian oyster sauce available at home.
Dinner dish #2: Tomato omelette with eggs available at home.
Dinner dish #3 : Instant vegetarian rendang with potatoes, added tau pok available at home.