Shopping the zero-waste way isn’t always easy, as most stores aren’t optimized to prevent post-purchase waste. A big concern for meat eaters is how they can keep buying meat without the wasteful processes and materials that may follow. You might be wondering how to buy meat with zero waste?
This article offers insight into the best ways to buy meat without waste, especially plastic waste, and tips on storing your meat correctly.
Related: Rearing livestock to produce meat for human consumption significantly impacts our climate. Find out more in our article: Eat less meat to help the environment.
There are lots of disadvantages to buying meat in plastic packaging. The most prominent problem is plastic pollution. Globally, excessive plastic waste is a collective problem that various countries are trying to solve. Research shows that most plastic waste comes from plastic packaging1.
For example, over 100 billion tonnes of plastic packaging in the United Kingdom end up in landfills annually2. These plastic materials do not decompose easily. It takes over 100 years for a plastic item to decompose fully. During the long years of decomposition, the plastic breaks down into tiny bits, referred to as microplastics.
These microplastics enter our food chain and water sources. They also leak harmful chemicals into the environment, causing harm to humans and other living organisms. The plastic used to preserve meat often contains difficult-to-recycle polystyrene, which can also release microplastics onto the surface of the meat.
Since microplastics are so tiny, we cannot see them with our naked eyes, and rinsing doesn’t get them off. So, we unknowingly consume these little particles, which might lead to health complications.
Related: 10 Best Plastic Wrap Alternatives.
Many of us still choose to eat meat - but how can we do so without the waste?
Supermarkets and meat counters usually sell meat with foam pads and plastic packaging. They do this for a good reason, as plastic preserves meat for a long period, while the foam pad soaks up the liquid that drops from meat and provides a tray to avoid spills. However, these materials are not in line with zero-waste living.
Here are some alternative ways to buy meat sustainably:
It may be challenging to find a supermarket that sells meat without plastic containers, except when local supermarkets have a butcher counter. What other material can I buy my meat in?
You can buy meat without plastic wraps and bags using plastic-free packages. These plastic-free packages include parchment paper and reusable food containers made from stainless steel or glass. Both metal and glass containers are easy to wash up after and reuse. Butcher paper would have made the list, but it has wax or plastic lining. You can’t compost or recycle it because of its lining. So, parchment paper is your best choice.
You can also carry your reusable shopping bags to avoid using plastic bags from the supermarket to carry your meat home. The goal is to reduce as much plastic as possible.
Another option is finding a nearby farmer's market to purchase your meat. A farmer's market has the highest chance of selling fresh meat with no plastic packaging. Here, you can request fresh cuts and sizes without worrying about the quantity of plastic that'll go into the packaging it properly.
At the farmer’s market, you're more likely to learn about where the meat came from if it has animal welfare certification that proves the animal farmers maintain sustainable farming practices or the environment in which it grew up. Further, you'll likely pick up a bunch of other package-free items to complete your zero-waste grocery shopping.
Also, buying the meat last if you are shopping at a supermarket before going to the farmer’s market is best. This way, you can separate it from other food products, avoiding contamination and food waste.
Related: 12 Reasons to Buy Local Food.
The best option is to go directly to a butcher's shop to source your meat. At the butcher's shop, you'll get fresh meat of high quality and personalized service. They, unlike supermarkets, do not add special additives to their cuts for preservation.
They can answer all your questions regarding the source of the meat. Also, they can offer you advice on the best ways to preserve and cook whatever type of meat you buy. Overall, butcher shops deliver the best service.
To stop buying fresh and frozen meat with plastic wrap, you can request a particular type of packaging used for your order. However, this request is most likely accepted by farmer’s markets and butcher shops, as they offer more personalized services than supermarkets. As such, they're likely more than happy when you bring your own containers.
Not storing meat properly, whether cooked, raw, or frozen, will lead to food wastage. And eating meat that's gone bad can result in food poisoning. As such, it is important to store meat properly because it defeats the purpose of zero-waste living when we have to throw out rotten meat.
Here are some tips on storing meat:
We cannot ignore the impact of plastics from our food packaging. It is important to take action to reduce our use of plastic to protect both our health and the planet's health. One way to do this is to avoid products that are packaged in plastic at the grocery store, including meat. Instead, we should get to know our local butchers and visit our local farmer's markets to purchase meat in sustainable packaging.
We can also become sustainable packaging advocates in our local communities by educating others about the dangers of plastic packaging and encouraging supermarkets to reduce their use of plastic.
It is also important to properly store meat in our homes and reduce food waste to reduce the amount of plastic we use and protect the environment. By taking these steps, we can make a real difference in reducing our use of plastic and protecting the health of both ourselves and the planet.
OECD (2022), Global Plastics Outlook: Economic Drivers, Environmental Impacts and Policy Options, OECD Publishing, Paris.
Tiseo, T. (2022, August 22). UK: household plastic packaging waste 2022 | Statista. Retrieved December 6, 2022
Jen’s a passionate environmentalist and sustainability expert. With a science degree from Babcock University Jen loves applying her research skills to craft editorial that connects with our global changemaker and readership audiences centered around topics including zero waste, sustainability, climate change, and biodiversity.
Elsewhere Jen’s interests include the role that future technology and data have in helping us solve some of the planet’s biggest challenges.