Action 95. I think you’re ready for this deli (approach).

From global weather patterns to… deli meat? Yes, Im changing scale on you a bit for this post from my last action (but I’m keeping the theme of obscure song references in my titles for consistency, see if you can peg this one).

Let’s talk about going to the grocery store. Ive done this before (Action 72), but given that grocery shopping is a regular part of many of our weekly routines, I think its worth circling around to it with some frequency. This post is very specifically about one new step I’ve been taking in my mission to use less plastic packaging in my everyday life. And it looks like this:


bringing home the bacon (ok, turkey) in my own container from the deli counter.

That is my family’s weekly deli meat purchase in a container I brought from home. I am going to admit this: I was nervous about doing this. Why? I guess because if I bring my own bag to put my own produce in, nobody really has to change their behavior except me. When I go up to the deli, and hand them this container and ask them to put it in this instead, I am now involving someone else in my behavioral change, asking them to break from their routine to accommodate my choice. Will they think I’m weird? Will they understand what Im trying to do, or just throw the deli meat in a bag and then put it into the container, and then I have to explain my mission further? Maybe I’m odd or unusual in being this sensitive to what is a super, super minor activity, but I’m not so sure. I think as humans we spend a lot of time worrying about conforming in social situations- trying to introduce a new behavior outside the norm, even as small as asking the person at the deli counter to do something different from what they always do- can feel a little, well, off-putting.

But you know what? Nobody gave me any grief. The deli counter people at two different stores have all been perfectly nice about it. And the super cool thing was, each time I brought my own container up to check-out, the check out person actually commented on it! They noticed it, and said things like, “what a good idea!” “I have never thought of doing something like that!” That was the part of this experience that was the best- that not only am I taking one more small step to reduce my fossil fuel footprint, but my actions might actually inspire others to do the same.

I got this idea from the book “Plastic Free: How I kicked the plastic habit and you can too” by Beth Terry (she also has a great website that incorporates many of the ideas from this book). You will notice that I in fact am using a plastic container, but this is in line with Terry’s approach: working to minimize the use of plastic as much as possible, but if we are going to have plastic, let’s make sure its stuff we reuse and repurpose to extend its life cycle, rather than down cycling or tossing and repurchasing new plastics. Terry has some great ideas about how to bring awareness and ecological sensitivity to our everyday purchasing habits, with a list of questions you can think about asking before you buy (arguably this list is applicable to much more than just plastics, it can be used for most things we buy):

  1. Do I already have something similar that I could use instead?
  2. Can I repair what I already have?
  3. Can I find it secondhand?
  4. Can I borrow or rent it?
  5. Can I download it instead of buying it as a CD or DVD?
  6. Can I build, sew, or knit it myself?
  7. If not, can I find someone who can?
  8. Can I find a version that has been refurbished instead of buying new?
  9. Can I find a plastic-free or less-plastic version of it?
  10. Can I find it made of recycled materials?
  11. Can I buy the least toxic version of it?
  12. Can I find it/have it shipped to me without plastic packaging?
  13. What will happen to it at the end of its life? Will the manufacturer take it back?
  14. Will having this item truly make me happier/be useful?

I think these are fantastic questions to go armed with to any store or purchasing adventure. I also wanted to touch on my source because I think she makes a great point about the ripple effect of small, individual actions. It is admittedly a very minor thing to take a reusable container to the grocery store for deli. On the other hand, its not, because as Terry articulates very nicely in her book, our personal habits matter for several very good reasons. I’ll touch on a couple of them here:

  • Beth Terry says, “When we realize our direct impact of the rest of life on the planet, we simply cannot continue to do harm. To live with integrity, we have no choice but to change”: in other words, once you start doing small actions like this, they multiply and blossom to pervade your lifestyle, and it becomes much more second-nature to make this thinking the norm of your daily life.
  • We connect with our communities: once we start making personal changes, we get to a point where we realize we can’t change the world, or even ourselves, all alone. My experience above highlights this effect: when I change my behavior, other people notice, and it gives them something to consider as well. And I start to think about how else to communicate and share these changes, like writing this blog. Or making produce bags for friends (Action 87).
  • We see the flaws in the system: when we start making small behavioral changes, we start noticing these things more. When I go to the grocery store, Im also noticing things like: among the options in front of me, does one have less packaging than the other? In this item Im considering buying, is there something they could be doing better? Those are the sorts of thoughts that can lead us to further action, like asking a company to consider a change in their manufacturing process to reduce packaging (see Action 72).

So, fellow shoppers, in the recurring theme of this blog on how small steps can lead to collectively large effects, I would love for you to join me in finding ways to reduce our fossil fuel footprint in our regular activities. Plus, that way Im not the only one looking weird at the deli counter. 🙂


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