Trader Joe's recently promised to make some significant changes that will reduce plastic usage in its stores in 2019, including: cutting down the number of items sold in plastic packages in its produce section, replacing styrofoam trays in the meat section with recyclable ones, replacing plastic sleeves on greeting cards with compostable sleeves, replacing plastic flower bags with bags made from renewable material, and eliminating non-recyclable plastic and foil pouches from tea packaging.
Many Trader Joe's shoppers who had long lamented all the unnecessary plastic in TJ's stores were thrilled to hear these promises. While the chain is already working to roll out the changes, for those who haven't seen them in their stores quite yet, there are a few more sustainable choices you can make in your grocery shopping routine in the meantime. We spoke with Meredith Bay Tyack, the woman behind the eco-friendly lifestyle blog Meredith Tested and got her practical tips for shopping at Trader Joe's in a more environmentally-conscious way.
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"At Trader Joe's or any grocery store, there are ways to avoid or reduce plastic even if it doesn't seem as though there are many eco-friendly items. The main rule I keep in mind when I shop anywhere is 'product to packaging ratio,'" Bay Tyack told Refinery29. "Items with little to no packaging are best, but it's hard to avoid packaging completely. An individually-wrapped item will use more plastic or other wasteful packaging than something in a larger container."
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One of the sustainability practices Trader Joe's already uses at some of its stores is offering compostable produce bags. While Bay Tyack acknowledges that these are certainly better than plastic, she still tries to avoid them. "They are still a single-use item, so I skip them altogether and put un-packaged produce directly in my cart. I'm going to peel or wash at home, anyway," she says.
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Going along with opting out of using produce bags, Bay Tyack says to also look for completely un-packaged items first. "Grab a few loose sweet potatoes instead of the ones in the plastic mesh bag," she says, quickly following up by acknowledging one of the hardest parts about eco-friendly shopping: it's expensive. "If there's a price difference and the loose potatoes are more expensive, talk to a manager about adjusting the price."
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One of the main things that fans love about Trader Joe's is that it sells super-convenient items, but unfortunately, convenience sometimes comes with added plastic. Before buying something like pre-cut squash, Bay Tyack thinks about if it's really worth it. "A sharp knife and three minutes are all it takes for me to avoid the plastic and the price hike," she explains.
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Outside of the produce aisle, there are ways to reduce plastic as well. "I look for recyclable and compostable packaging too. I'll reuse or recycle glass jars and brown paper boxes," Bay Tyack says. When doing this, however, she advises keeping an eye out for plastic linings.
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When it can be tough to avoid plastic altogether, there are still ways to keep waste down. "If I need something that is only available in plastic, like yogurt, I'll buy the largest container I can find versus small cups. There's less packaging overall and larger packages are often easier to reuse or recycle, Bay Tyack explains. "Share with a roommate or friend or freeze if you can't use the whole package before it expires."
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In addition to sharing items with others, Bay Tyack has other easy tricks for reducing waste once she's home with her groceries. "First, I work hard to reduce my food waste. Sites like SaveTheFood.com have excellent advice," Bay Tyack says. "Whether I'm buying something loose or in a plastic bag, I make a plan to properly store and/or freeze it before it goes bad. It does, unfortunately, happen on occasion so I throw the item in the compost instead of the trash. Composting food instead of putting it in the landfill has a huge impact."