By Kathryn McLean

With Earth Day ahead of us this month, it’s a good time to try to be more environmentally friendly. The kitchen is a great place to change some habits.

It can be hard to avoid excess packaging at the supermarket: fresh items from berries and salads to bakery cookies are sold in plastic clamshells; yogurt in single-serve cups and oatmeal in individual pouches come in extra packaging; sliced meat and cheese ordered at the deli is handed over in separate sealed plastic bags.

So how can you have less waste from the grocery store? Choose options with less packaging. Instead of buying an eight-pack of yogurt, select a large tub and at home portion a serving into a cup.

Opt for a bag of quick-cook oats in place of a box of individual packs. In the morning, scoop out ⅓ cup of oats instead of tearing open an individual bag. If you prefer the flavoured varieties, here’s how to create those varieties yourself: a sprinkle each of cinnamon and brown sugar, a spoonful of peach jam, maple syrup, or a few dried fruits.

And once you use the last of the cheese in the deli bag to make a sandwich, reuse that bag to hold a sandwich that’s being packed into a school lunch. Using the deli bag this one extra time means you won’t be unnecessarily using a brand new sandwich bag. Every little bit counts.

Don’t put your empty jars in the recycling bin. Wash the jars and lids, and use them to store food from open packages. Rather than reaching for a plastic sandwich bag when you have a torn food package, try emptying the contents into a jar. The tight seal on the jar’s lid will keep food fresh, and that’s one less bag you’re going to use only once. I use jars to hold dry staples like rice, granola, nuts, dried fruits and spices.

You can also repurpose jars in the fridge. Mine hold all kinds of sauces and dressings, beans in their cooking liquid, and leftovers, too: roasted potatoes, chopped fruit, soup. Rather than cover a bowl with plastic wrap, I look for a clean jar that will hold the leftovers. It’s not that I never use plastic wrap, rather I always try to use something else first. It’s become a habit over the years and I’ve cut down quite a bit on buying plastic wrap and bags.

It’s easy to toss our packaging into the recycling and be glad it’s not all going into the trash bin like it was 30 years ago. But we can put even less into the recycling by using less to start with, and reusing what we have. I encourage you to try buying a bulk-sized package over individual servings at the store, or reach for a reusable container before stretching plastic wrap over a dish. The more you do it, the more it will become your habit, too.