The future of food packaging is no packaging at all
I first found out about the concept of “zero waste” when I was doing research for a story. The movement resonated with me: people aim to send no trash to landfills by reusing, refusing, recycling, and rotting (composting) everything.
The idea makes perfect sense. I pay a flat fee for trash removal, but communities around me charge $2 a trash bag. Why pay for literal garbage when you can just not create trash in the first place?
It also has enormous environmental benefits. If you’ve ever taken a walk and been dismayed by the trash on the side of the road, or you’ve seen sad stories about marine life dying after ingesting plastic items, you’ll know that our planet isn’t exactly helped by the amount of waste we produce.
The zero waste movement was created by Bea Johnson, who wrote a book on the topic. Search #zerowaste or #basuracero (zero waste in Spanish) tags on Instagram and Twitter, and you’ll find many people sharing ideas.
Up until a few decades ago, what we call “zero waste” was just seen as … normal. Ask your parents or grandparents about hanging up clothes on the line to dry, using cloth diapers, or returning glass bottles to be sanitized and re-used.
So how do you buy food without creating waste? Many stores offer bulk bins, where you can fill up a cotton bag or a glass jar, and pay for the item by weight. You can also buy produce with a reusable net bag. Items that can’t be easily recycled, such as juice pouches, you would have to avoid entirely.
Some other easy recommendations are to buy a reusable water bottle, a to-go coffee cup and container for takeout, and reusable grocery bags. You can also replace paper towels with cloth, and buy a stainless steel straw and a travel kit with reusable utensils.
Some people are able to store a year’s worth of their trash in a small glass jar. I’m nowhere near there, but I was able to make modifications that limit the amount of trash I create — such as cutting out single-use coffee pods, and replacing them with a reusable coffee pod.
I’ll admit, I find going zero waste extremely challenging. Some ideas, like composting, I was already doing, since I have a garden. Other ideas, like giving up all packaged food, are a little more tricky.
Online stores like Package Free Shop, Wild Minimalist, and Tiny Yellow Bungalow help by selling kits and reusable items to help shoppers go zero waste.
As consumers increasingly ask for more sustainable products — like fruit and vegetables that aren’t wrapped in plastic— everyone can reduce the amount of stuff we throw out.