Shop Smart

One of the major sources of most household waste is packaging from around groceries, clothes, toys, etc. When you go shopping, most items are packaged in one form or another, and it is this packaging that often becomes waste. Therefore one of the best ways that you can make a big difference to the amount of waste that you and your family create, is to become Shop Smart and think hard about the things you buy at the shops. Try to buy items that will result in less waste creation and have minimal impact on the environment.

There are many ways that you can be Shop Smart:

Buying Items with Less Packaging

Most items that you purchase in a grocery shop come packaged or wrapped in variety of styles. For instance, cool drinks come packaged in cans, glass bottles, plastic bottles and even paper cups if you buy them at a take away food outlet. Fruit juice can be bought in large plastic bottles as well as in juice boxes. Cat food comes in steel cans as well as in single-use foil sachets. In all of these examples, the product inside is exactly the same, it is just the packaging around the outside that is different and it is this packaging that we dispose of. By being able to identify items that have a lot of packaging and avoid buying these, then we are immediately minimising the amount of waste that we are bringing home from the shops.

Buying in Bulk

This simply means buying a product in a large size instead of many little items to make up the same quantity. By doing this you are reducing the number of times that you have to replace the item and hence reducing the amount of packaging that needs to be disposed of.

For example, instead of buying a 3-pack of little, single serve tins of spaghetti, the more shop smart option would be to buy one large, 800g tin. If you consider that every tin has three pieces of rubbish (i.e. the lid, the tin itself and the paper wrapper) then by purchasing the 3-pack you are actually bringing home 10 pieces of rubbish (if you include the piece of plastic used to hold the three tins together). By purchasing the one large tin (that actually has more spaghetti in it than all three of the small tins combined) you are only creating three pieces of rubbish. In addition to reducing waste when you buy in bulk, you will also save a lot of money because larger items are cheaper than if you bought the same quantity of the product in smaller packages.

Taking Your Own Bags to the Shops

Across the country, Australians use and bring home from the shops approximately 6.5 billion plastic bags EVERY YEAR. That works out to almost one plastic bag for every person in this country for every single day of the year. Unfortunately, most of these bags simply become more waste. People use them to line their rubbish bins which are then disposed of in landfills. Worse still, many plastic bags are let loose into the environment as litter. As plastic bags can take up to 1000 years to break down they have a great potential to cause disastrous effects on the environment, particularly wildlife.

According to Planet Ark, thousands of turtles, birds and other marine animals are killed each year after mistaking the millions of bags in the world's oceans for squid and jellyfish and eat them. Discarded plastic bags do more than just kill animals. In Bangladesh they were blamed for clogging drains in the capital Dhaka, contributing toward deadly flooding in the low-lying country. The government has since banned the 10 million plastic bags used each day in the country in a bid to alleviate the problem.

Fortunately it is very easy to be Shop Smart and avoid using plastic bags. Simply by taking your own bags (e.g. green or calico bags) OR using a cardboard box or basket to bring your shopping home you are immediately and significantly reducing the amount of waste that you create.

Both Planet Ark and Cleanup Australia have more information on plastic bags and their impact on the environment.

Buying Environmentally Friendly Products

Environmentally friendly products are items that are either made from recycled materials, are recyclable or have minimal impact on the environment when they produced, used and disposed of.

Many common items that we purchase at the shops have an environmentally friendly option. One example is toilet paper. Toilet paper made from recycled paper and packaged in recycled paper is far more environmentally friendly than toilet paper made from virgin paper and wrapped in plastic.

Another example is tinned tuna. Tuna that carries the Dolphin Safe logo indicates that the fish was caught in an environmentally friendly way. Other marine animals such as dolphins, turtles, sharks and stingrays were not inadvertently killed by using drift nets.

Buying Items that can be Reused, Refilled, Recharged or Recycled

Unfortunately not all items available for purchase at the shops can be reused, refilled, recharged or recycled. However there are almost always alternatives that are. By choosing these alternatives we will considerably reduce the amount of waste that we create.

For example, plastic sandwich wrap is commonly used but rarely reused more than once because it gets dirty and unhygienic. A Waste Wise alternative is to buy or reuse a strong plastic container (e.g. Chinese fast food container) to carry your sandwiches in and keep them fresh. When the container becomes dirty you can wash it and no waste will be created.

Avoid buying drinks in containers that can not be refilled. Examples of these include juice boxes and pop-tops. These are single use containers that must be thrown out after their initial use. The Waste Wise option is to buy drinks in standard plastic bottles that can be refilled or recycled.

Standard, non-rechargeable household batteries (e.g. AA, AAA, C and D size) are the most common form of hazardous waste disposed of by Australian households, with 94 percent of those disposing of them via their usual rubbish collection. Simply by purchasing the rechargeable alternatives, you will reduce the amount of harmful hazardous waste being created and also save a lot of money.

Buy Loose Fruit and Vegetables

Avoid purchasing vegetables that are already packaged in plastic (e.g. bags of tomatoes or potatoes). The Waste Wise alternative to this is to place your vegetables directly into your basket, trolley or reusable shopping bag instead of tearing off a plastic bag from the roll in the supermarket. This reduces waste by minimising your consumption of plastic bags.

Buying Items that will Last

Purchasing poor quality or cheaply made items usually results in premature malfunction or breakdown. With the cost of repairing these items often being much greater than the cost of replacement, people are more inclined to choose the latter option. This results in a great deal of waste (particularly electronic or E-waste) being created. By buying good quality products that are less likely to break down you will not only create a lot less waste, but also save money by not having to pay for repairs or replacements.

Avoiding Single Use or Disposable Items

These types of products are not designed to be reused or to last a long time and quickly result in the production of large amounts of waste when they have been used.

Also consider:

  • products that can be stored in reuseable containers
  • second hand/refurbished products
  • sharing with friends or family or hiring rather than buying.

Contacting Manufacturers

Actions by consumers will result in change by manufacturers. If you believe that products you've purchased are over packaged or result in environmental damage during manufacturing, packaging, sale or use contact the manufacturer to express your concerns. The more people that respond in this way the more likely it is that change will be made.

The Australian Packaging Covenant is another initiative where packaging industries have signed agreeing to reduce the amount of waste they produce.