Sustainable step – Avoid plastic packaging

When I started transitioning to more sustainable choices I realised most of my plastic waste was coming from food packaging.   

To reduce the plastic packaging in my life I have adopted a range of strategies, to varying degrees of success. Depending on how busy life is, what the product is or how motivated I am feeling, I’ll use all or some of these approaches.  

Shop at bulk bins

By shopping at bulk bins you can avoid plastic packaging completely.

When I first entered a bulk food shop I didn’t think even half of my shopping list would be available in the store. It seemed so bare. But the bare appearance was simple because there weren’t rows and rows of flashy packaging trying to entice me into buying a particular product. Once I looked around I realised almost everything I needed was available and even some extra things like chocolate coated berries. Yum!

Many people don’t have access to bulk stores, but the good news is that bulk bins are becoming more and more common in mainstream shops. And as the popularity of bulk bins increases the range of items available will also increase.

Make your own

Most of the ready to eat (i.e. processed) food we purchase comes in plastic – so an easy way to avoid plastic is to make more of our own food.  

For those people who love cooking this is an easy swap, but for those of us that aren’t whizzes in the kitchen it can seem overwhelming. I have started slowly by making muffins rather than buying packets of muffins and popping my own popcorn rather than buying those microwavable bags. Small steps, but every little bit counts.

Choose more sustainable materials

This is where I find I can make easy changes that have a really big impact on the amount of plastic packaging I bring into the house. Whenever there is a choice I always try and buy products that are packaged in glass, aluminum or cardboard.

Depending on the product this sometimes results in me buying the cheapest items and other times the most expensive. Where I live baking flour and sugar have always been available in paper so I choose that option. It is also usually the cheapest option.  

Other things are more difficult. There is a large selection of tomato sauce at my local shop however only one is packaged in glass, all the rest are plastic. Even though it is more expensive, I choose the one packaged in glass because it is locally made and I want to support businesses that are making more sustainable choices.  

Buy in bulk

For things that you can only buy in plastic packaging consider buying the largest size that you will use. Choose the large block of cheese rather than individually wrapped slices, get the large tub of yoghurt rather than individual snack containers, and get the big packet of biscuits rather than the individually wrapped ones.

While it doesn’t seem like much, you’ll be surprised how much of an impact buying the larger option can make, and you will also save some money because per serving buying the bigger packet is usually cheaper. And to avoid food waste ensure you store things properly or put them in the freezer where they can last for months until you are ready to use them.   

Go without

Some things we don’t really need to buy at all. Consider the items that you buy at the grocery store and ask yourself do I really need it if it’s wrapped in plastic? Is there a more sustainable alternative?

Everyone is different and we all have access to, or lack of access to different things. Many people won’t have bulk bins near them and some people won’t want to cook things from scratch.

The point is to make choices that work for you.


The Sustainable Steps series provides quick and easy tips about how to make more sustainable choices in your everyday life.