We stopped buying single use plastic products. Here’s what happened.


Queenie Peng

Plastic is really bad for the environment[1]. It takes up to 1000 years to degrade[2]. It affects marine life and litters our streets. We are in Chicago. Everywhere we look, there’s a piece of plastic stuck somewhere. We started an experiment to go plastic free grocery shopping for 1 month. These are our findings.

1. Our cost of food has gone down 70%.

We are surprised. We thought we would have to pay more for our grocery. Here is a comparison of food prices with and without plastic packaging. The prices are from 5 popular grocery stores in Chicago.

Average food prices in Chicago (September 2020)

Interesting, right?

Another reason behind this result is that plastic wrap food usually comes in bulk. We end up buying more food than we need. Buying food per pound helps us think about how much we will eat. For a family of 2, we usually buy about 1–2 pounds of each produce. Here are the price differences.

Food prices per pound vs per package (September 2020, Chicago) Corn, red onion, potato prices are way lower per pound.
Food prices per pound vs per package (September 2020, Chicago)

We save so much if we go for zero packaging food. After all, people are paying a premium for the plastic package without thinking. We also don’t waste as much of food. It’s win-win!

2 . We eat healthier

We can’t order food delivery anymore. It used to be a big chunk of our monthly bill. Most of the time we cook at home. We make homemade french fries instead of buying chips. It tastes better! We bring our own containers to restaurants when we order takeout.

3. Opt out a lot of options for shopping

I don’t know if it’s only us feeling this way, but a lot of products have too many options. Opting out of plastic leaves only a handful of brands. Saves a ton of time for shopping.

4 .We create a lot less trash

Less packaging. Less trash.

Here are the cons.

1 . It was difficult to find meat and bread that don’t use plastic or styrofoam.

Only 1–2 stores of the 5 have paper packaging for meat. For bread, we have to look for a local bakery for zero plastic options.

2 . Food delivery is no longer an option.

I put it as a pro and con in this section. Pro is that we saved a lot of money.
Con is that we can only do takeout and bring our own food containers, which is not convenient.


[1] https://www.happinesswithout.com/plastic-pollution-statistics/

[2] Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme