Package Sizing and Sustainability

My grocery buying habits have shifted over the years. Once upon a time (in a long forgotten age) I was a single university student living alone. Most of the food I bought came in small packages. In the first place, there just wasn’t much cupboard space in my tiny apartment. In the second place, there was no way I could get through the economy sized tub of mayonnaise before it spoiled. But then I got married and had one baby, and another. And suddenly we were going through food at an alarming rate. These days I do opt for the economy sized mayonnaise , because we will eat it and it’s, you know, economical.

Buying the largest size I can reasonably use isn’t just economical, it is also a more sustainable choice in the long run. Far less packaging goes into producing a single very large jar as compared to 4 or 5 smaller jars that add up to the same amount. And, of course, this isn’t just true for mayonnaise. It’s true for pet food or pasta or shampoo, as well. Steering clear of single-serving sizes is one great way to reduce the amount of waste that you’re producing.

Now that I’m making much more of an effort to shop consciously, I spend more time in the natural food section of the grocery store. And while I peruse organic salsa, phosphate-free dishwasher detergent and fair-trade chocolate, I can’t help but notice how pretty much every product in those aisles comes in teeny-tiny packages. Some of the size difference can be explained by increased concentrations, especially in cleaning products, but that does not account for the entire difference. The organic spaghetti, for instance, is half the size of the conventional spaghetti. And it is not wonder spaghetti that somehow requires half as much pasta for the same meal. (Although wonder spaghetti would be very cool.)

The small package sizes in the natural food section have become a pet peeve of mine. I am feeding a family of 4, and we eat a lot of food. While I like the idea of buying organic food, I wonder if the much smaller unit sizes negate the environmental benefit of buying organic on the first place. I would really rather not have a mountain of non-recyclable plastic packaging on my hands every time I opt to steer clear of pesticide residue, you know?

At the moment, I often head to the bulk bins to reduce my packaging. In the bulk aisle I can get the same products as the natural food aisle more cheaply, and I can buy as much as I want. If you bring your own re-usable bags you can do some completely waste-free shopping that way. It’s great for dry goods especially. But I buy things that they don’t carry in the bulk aisle, so it doesn’t completely solve my quandary. And so you can still find me in the natural food section, holding a small jar of organic peanut butter and shaking my fist at the universe in frustration.

What about you? Have you also noticed that natural and organic products come in smaller packages, and how do you feel about that? And, do you have any tips to reduce the amount of product packaging you bring home from the grocery store?

When Amber isn’t fuming in aisles of the grocery store, she’s chronicling her daily adventures at

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