Your guide to sustainable shopping

Your guide to sustainable shopping

7091 views 2 min to read

What does an ‘environmentally awesome’ shopping strategy look like? Read on for our 3 top tips to turn your trolley green.

When the Greendex Survey – research into sustainable consumption led by National Geographic – turned its magnifying lens to food not long ago, the results were fascinating. 

Eighteen nations and their food habits were studied, and India was crowned the most sustainable country. How did they top the list?

There, the average diet features the fewest number of imported foods, the highest amount of self-grown food, the lowest amount of beef and pork and the highest volume of fruits and vegetables.

Australia came in as the 13th most sustainable country on the list. There are some things we’re doing wonderfully – we consume less bottled water than the average (of the 18 nations surveyed) and we score big points for the number of us who grow our own food. 

But here’s where we’re falling behind:

  • We’re the most frequent consumers of beef and lamb of all the countries surveyed (see below as to why this isn’t such good news for the environment)
  • Our consumption of packaged foods and excessive packaging is above average among those countries surveyed
  • We consume a high amount of imported foods
Buck the trend and be a greener Australian shopper with these three sustainable living hacks. 

1. Avoid packaging

Landfill zones create large amounts of methane gas, which contributes to climate change, writes the World Wildlife Fund. Choose products with minimal packaging or products that can be recycled. 

Plastic packaging marked with the codes 1, 2, 3 are typically recyclable. And soft plastic packaging – such as newspaper wrap, cereal box liners and rice cracker trays – can be recycled through the Red Cycle program that places collection bins in Coles and Woolworths supermarkets in many capital cities. 

Want to go a step further? Shop at bulk stores and take your own jars and containers. 

2. Buy less meat

According to the US Center For Biological Diversity, “Meat production is one of the most environmentally destructive industries on the planet.” This is owing to the huge amounts of water used, pollution generated, green house gases emitted and habitat destruction often caused in the meat harvesting process. 

By way of example, 50,000 litres of water is needed to produce just one kilogram of beef, and around 92 per cent of all land degradation in Australia is caused by animal industries, reports Sustainable Table, citing research from CSIRO. 

At least once a week, swap meat for plant-based forms of protein. When you’re at the shops, look out for foods such a chickpeas, lentils, tofu, nuts and pepita seeds to add to your meals on meat-free days. 

3. Be coffee and seafood savvy

Coffee and seafood are two foods that we Aussies love, but they present some challenges in terms of sustainability. 

Coffee pods pose a particular problem given the additional waste generated through plastic and aluminium pod packaging. 

This issue is raising so much alarm that the former boss of Nespresso, Jean-Paul Gaillard, told the ABC in 2016 that pods are wreaking environmental havoc. "It will be a disaster and it's time to move on that. People shouldn't sacrifice the environment for convenience," he said.

The ABC also reported that pods take up to 500 years to break down. 

In addition to avoiding pods, look for the ‘Fair Trade’ label on coffee that indicates that farmers are paid a fair and liveable wage for their product, and also consider buying coffee fresh from your local roaster or farmers’ markets. 

Now for seafood. Overfishing in our oceans is raising sustainability concerns worldwide> The University of New South Wales’ sustainability officer Belinda Bean says, “We’re currently taking far more fish out of the ocean than can be replaced by those remaining.”

Bean advises to buy local, seasonal fish direct from local markets and fishing boats, to opt for ‘line-caught’ fish (ask over the counter about the method of fishing) and to keep your eyes peels for seafood carrying the Marine Stewardship Council logo.

Get more advice from websites such a Greenpeace and Sustainable Seafood identity the most environmentally friendly fish and fishing practices to look out for. 

Want even more tips for a greener, lighter life? Sign up to the How to live a sustainable life Action Plan for tips to get benefits for your health and to the environment.