Most of us would like to reduce the amount of plastic we consume – but with practically everything we buy from the supermarket packed in the stuff, it’s hard to avoid.

That means tons of plastic gets used one time, only to be thrown away. It’s a disaster for the environment – and it’s also mostly unnecessary. Follow these simple tips to lower your grocery plastic consumption:

Choose paper bags

Instead of environmentally damaging plastic bags, many retailers offer bags made of paper, or even corn starch or sugar cane. While these are not ideal alternatives, emphasises Germany’s Federal Center for Nutrition (BZfE), they’re more biodegradable than plastic. However, in their life cycle from manufacture to disposal, these alternatives still release many climate-damaging gases.

Bring reusable bags

So why not bypass disposable bags altogether and bring your own fabric bags for shopping? Or, if you forget your reusable bag one time and end up having to take some plastic bags home, reuse them instead. Also, since making a single fabric bag is actually more harmful to the environment than making one disposable bag, you should wash fabric bags regularly to keep them clean and useable for longer.

Use crochet bags for fruit

Lots of supermarkets supply small cellophane bags for fruit and vegetables. These, too, can be replaced quite easily. The BZfE recommends bringing along extra linen or crocheted bags for packing fresh produce. That way, you won’t have to bring out all the tomatoes individually at the cash register.

How to reduce plastic

A sign, seen in a Coles supermarket in Sydney, advises its customers of its plastic bag-free policy. Photo: AFP

At the deli counter

Often, hygiene regulations mean supermarkets will refuse to put deli sausages or cheeses in containers customers bring from home. This is because nothing that the customer brings may enter the area behind the counter. There is, however, a solution: The BZfE advises customers to put a plastic container on top of the counter and ask the seller to put the goods into it. Alternatively, you can suggest putting the container on a tray, so that only the buyer has actually touched it.

Set an example

Many groceries in the supermarket are packed in plastic. If it is not possible to avoid wrapped food, or at least to choose packaging made of glass, paper or cardboard, the Federation for the Environment and Nature Conservation Germany (BUND) recommends deliberately leaving the outer packaging behind in the shop. Supermarkets must provide appropriate collection boxes for this purpose. – dpa/Simone A Mayer