Grocery shopping for a healthier planet

Grocery shopping

for a

healthier planet

To reduce waste and cut back on carbon footprints,
grocery stores and shoppers alike are trying to do their part.

With quarantine limiting time outside the home for many people last year, Americans pivoted to grocery shopping less often and buying more items per store trip. They examined their refrigerators before heading to the store. They thought more about the shelf life of different items, and about the versatility of specific ingredients. One unexpected result? All of these behaviors can ultimately help reduce food waste, something that is crucial to curbing the environmental impact of the food system, according to Sheril Kirshenbaum, a food and agriculture researcher at Michigan State University.

Many shoppers want to do even more to help the environment — and they want grocery stores to get on board too. According to food industry association FMI, a third of shoppers prioritize their grocery store’s recycling and sustainability practices, up from 24 percent in 2019. And in the coming years, industry experts say that grocers need to continue to align themselves with an increasingly environmentally aware population.

We want to do out part. We want to be
incredible stewards to our customers,
our communities and the environment."

Darcie Renn, Director of ESG & Sustainability for
Albertsons Companies, parent company of Safeway

Large efforts are already underway, like the Food Waste Reduction Alliance, which works with grocery stores like Safeway to reduce food waste generated by overproduction, donate food to people in need and divert food waste from landfills through composting and other methods. And stores are making major commitments when it comes to reducing waste as part of a broader, comprehensive approach to sustainability.

A third of shoppers prioritize their grocery store's recycling and sustainability practises, up from 24% in 2019.

A third of shoppers prioritize their grocery store's recycling and sustainability practises, up from 24% in 2019.

"We want to do our part. We want to be incredible stewards to our customers, our communities, and the environment," said Darcie Renn, Director of ESG & Sustainability for Albertsons Companies, the parent company of Safeway, and the nation’s second largest food and drug retailer.

How grocery stores are focusing on sustainability

Despite their growing interest in environmental issues, a majority of consumers still feel uncertain when it comes to selecting the most sustainable produce or poultry raised with less environmental impact, for instance. Six in 10 people struggle to know whether their food choices are environmentally sustainable, according to FMI. And research shows that shoppers look to grocery stores for advice on how to reduce food waste.

Safeway is among the grocers striving to help shoppers waste less and have less impact on the planet. Last year, the company donated over 75 million pounds of food to people in need, which not only reduces carbon emissions by keeping food out of landfills, but also helps ensure that unspoiled food gets “into the hands of people that can use it,” said Renn. Food that can’t be donated to local foodbanks or hunger relief agencies goes to local farmers to be used as animal feed or compost.

All of these little things throughout
the store really do make an impact
on energy use."

Darcie Renn, Director of ESG & Sustainability for
Albertsons Companies, parent company of Safeway

Packaging has also become an "increasingly important" sustainability priority for grocers and brands alike, with a shared vision of keeping packaging waste out of the environment, according to DePuy. For its part, Safeway has reduced the weight of containers of its Own Brand milk (including O Organics, Lucerne, and Value Corner) by cutting out at least 10 percent of overall plastic, an effort that also reduces the environmental impacts of shipping and production, according to Renn. New packaging technologies are also extending the shelf life of certain foods sold at Safeway stores, and the company’s “plastics and packaging pledge” includes a goal of 100 percent of packaging being recyclable, reusable or industrially compostable by 2025. Albertsons Companies is also working toward standardizing its labeling to make sustainability and recycling claims easier to understand, using QR codes that customers can scan to access information about brands’ environmental practices. And that’s something that will become more common as shoppers continue demanding greater transparency from grocers, according to DePuy. “There's a lot more storytelling happening,” she said, whether printed directly on packaging or accessible through smart labels.

23% of landfill waste is made up of packaging and containers.

23% of landfill waste is made up of packaging and containers.

While much of the change happening in the grocery industry is driven by technology, from packaging innovations to use of renewable energy inside stores to vertical farming, sustainability can also mean getting back to basics. Safeway, for instance, is continually implementing projects that reduce energy use in stores, like switching to LED lighting and installing doors on some of its previously open refrigerated cases to prevent leakage of cold air.

“All of these little things throughout the store really do make an impact on energy use,” Renn said.

See how your food shopping choices can help the environment

Plastic bags, red meat and dairy products, and food waste are among the largest sources of carbon emissions when it comes to grocery shopping. But by making a few simple changes to your diet and shopping habits, you can help contribute to a more sustainable food system. Below, find out how many carbon emissions you can save by making small dietary shifts and adopting new grocery shopping practices.

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SWITCH

Use five fewer plastic grocery bags per week.

YOU'LL SAVE

18 pounds/8.25kg of
carbon emissions per year.

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SWITCH

Compost one pound of food waste per week instead of adding it to landfills.

YOU'LL SAVE

48 pounds/22kg of carbon
emissions per year.

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SWITCH

Eat chicken 1-2 times per week, rather than beef 1-2 times per week.

YOU'LL SAVE

1,098 pounds/498kg of
carbon emissions per year.

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SWITCH

Drink oat milk 3-5 times per week rather than dairy milk 3-5 times per week.

YOU'LL SAVE

207 pounds/94kg of
carbon emissions per year.

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How grocery shoppers can help curb environmental impacts

While helping the planet necessitates cooperation on a global scale, consumers can actually make a difference by changing their own individual habits, according to Kirshenbaum.

“All of us can play a role in addressing the environmental challenges of the food system because our individual and collective choices matter,” she said.

This is how long you've been on this page

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In that time, approximately 12,513 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents — a primary driver of climate change — have been released into the air in the U.S.

Background data:

In 2019, U.S. greenhouse gas emissions totaled 6,577,000,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents. Source: EPA

Grocery shoppers can take simple steps, like bringing reusable bags to the store and making sure to store foods at their proper temperature to keep them fresher longer. Making lists and planning meals in advance can also result in shoppers taking fewer trips to the grocery store, which reduces energy consumption, according to Renn. Additionally, creating a grocery list "allows us to focus on what we will actually consume, rather than impulse purchase products that are likely to sit in the back of the fridge until they spoil," Kirshenbaum said. Using perishables before they go bad is a priority for 43 percent of shoppers today, according to FMI, and paying attention to packaging size can help, according to Marjorie DePuy, FMI's Senior Director of supply chain and sustainability.

Safeway's Renn advised choosing seasonal and local produce if possible.

Safeway's Renn advised choosing seasonal and local produce if possible.

I'm a single person, so buying the largest lettuce doesn't always work for me. It's a balance of “How much do I want to spend on my fresh products and how much can I use up in any certain amount of time?”, DePuy said.

All of us can play a role in addressing
the environmental challenges of the
food system because our individual and
collective choices matter."

Sheril Kirshenbaum, food and agriculture researcher,
Michigan State University

Shoppers can also keep sustainability in mind as they move from one store aisle to another. Safeway’s Renn advised choosing seasonal and local produce if possible. When East Coast residents buy apples grown in the Northeast rather than Washington State, she said, “that's a lot fewer miles that they've traveled.” Safeway has longstanding partnerships with local farmers, especially in California, and recently began carrying greens produced by low-impact vertical farming company Plenty. When buying seafood, customers can feel confident that products marked with Safeway’s Responsible Choice logo, including all Waterfront Bistro and Open Nature seafood, is responsibly sourced to help keep ecosystems thriving. Depending on shoppers’ particular needs, they can choose ultra-pasteurized milk — which has a longer shelf life — or select meat near the end of its shelf life if they plan on using it that day. These practices can help ensure less food goes to waste, according to Renn.

“We have to waste less, all of us, and we have to understand the scope of some of these challenges,” said DePuy. “I don't think we can ask our stores to do absolutely everything. We have to be a part of it.”