Sustainable Living

How To Have A Sustainable Shopping Trip

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Shopping, in general, is not thought of as the most sustainable activity. It brings up images of consumerism, unnecessary purchases, excess consumption and a whole lot of plastic packaging. But all that aside, sometimes you need to shop because you literally need to buy something, such as food, toiletries, or a gift for somebody. Shopping, while not always essential, can also be a treat and a relaxing therapeutic activity.

Many of us would baulk at the idea of giving up shopping for anything but the absolute essentials. Thankfully, there are ways to make your shopping trip more sustainable, so you can still enjoy shopping as an occasional treat but without going overboard, and have a minimal impact on the environment. Here are my tips for how to have a sustainable shopping trip.

How To Have A Sustainable Shopping Trip

1. Bring your own carrier bags

If you need to buy things, you can help to minimise your environmental impact by bringing your own carrier bags rather than opting for a plastic bag at the checkout. Foldable shopping bags are a great, space-efficient option and I always carry one or two in my handbag if I am planning to go to any shops.

A fabric mesh shopping bag filled with groceries including cucumbers, vegan Tzatziki and a lemon.
Photo by No Revisions on Unsplash

2. Make a shopping list to avoid impulse buying

The key to a sustainable shopping trip is to only buy what you need. How many times have you impulse-bought something that you don’t really need, but it caught your eye at the time? If you have a habit of doing this, it’s a good idea to make a shopping list before you set out, and try to stick to it. This way, you know what you are looking for and you can head directly to the required shops.

If you’re not sure where you might find a certain item, it’s a good idea to research where sells it before you head out, rather than browsing round different shops looking for it, where you might get tempted to buy other things.

3. Bring your own drink and snack

It’s likely that you’ll get thirsty or hungry at some point during your shopping trip. In anticipation of this, your most sustainable option is to bring a drink from home, in a reusable bottle or flask, rather than buying a drink out. As well as saving you money, this saves on a plastic bottle or cup. Also, keep a few small snacks in your bag to keep you going.

That said, eating out can be an enjoyable treat that many like to incorporate into a shopping trip, evidenced by the number of cafes and food outlets you find in shopping areas. If you do decide to buy food or drink out, opt to visit a cafe and sit in, so you can have proper crockery and cutlery rather than takeaway cups and containers. You can also plan ahead by bringing your own reusable coffee cup and/or food containers and cutlery in case you do want to buy takeaway.

A grey reusable coffee cup on a wooden surface.
Photo by Daniel Norris on Unsplash

4. Support small businesses

Many small businesses are more sustainable than their larger counterparts, and are doing their best for the environment. Therefore, it’s a good idea to support them on your shopping trip, to help keep their business alive as an alternative to the larger, less sustainable chains. There’s a local, independent, sustainable, vegan deli near me and I like to treat myself to a cake or a sausage roll from there when I’m passing, just to support them and their sustainable practices.

5. Take public transport

All major shopping areas generally have good transport links. Consider taking public transport when you go for your shopping trip. This will make your journey more sustainable than taking the car. I admit that I don’t take public transport very often, because I live in a rural area where there is about 1 bus a week, literally. However, I have occasionally driven to my nearest train station, which is about a 7 minute drive away, and then taken the train into my nearest city to go shopping.

Another sustainable transport option is to car share. Could you synchronise your shopping trip with friends or family members? It doesn’t always have to be a social event or a shopping trip ‘together’. You can go your separate ways, buy what you need and meet back at the car at a set time.

6. Pay attention to packaging

One aspect of shopping that can be unsustainable is the packaging. Many products are packaged in excess plastic packaging that is just so unnecessary and bad for the environment. If you want to have a more sustainable shopping trip, considering the packaging is a must. When you have a choice, opt for products that are minimally and sustainably packaged.

7. Avoid brands that you know are unsustainable

Some brands have a bad reputation for sustainability. The first that come to mind are fast fashion brands, some of which have very environmentally damaging and unethical production processes. It’s best to avoid going into those shops altogether, because then you won’t get tempted. Do some research into alternative brands that are not so bad, or consider shopping second-hand.

Read more: How To Refresh Your Wardrobe The Cheap and Sustainable Way

8. Combine all your shopping into a single trip

If you are popping to the shops every time you need one or two items, then you’ll be using a lot of fuel (if you drive there), and potentially getting tempted by impulse purchases every time you go. Instead, I recommend adding things to your shopping list when you think of them. When your shopping list gets long, or you need something urgently, go and do all your shopping at once. This saves on transport fuel and costs, and also gives you fewer opportunities to get tempted into impulse buying.

9. Combine shopping with recycling

Shopping areas often have recycling points nearby, and some shops take certain items for recycling. For example, most chemists have a take-back scheme for expired medications; you can recycle electrical items at Curry’s or B&Q; the Co-op has recycling bins for soft plastics; you can recycle batteries at most supermarkets. By remembering to take your recyclables with you, you can combine your shopping trip with doing something good for the environment.

A recycling point with separate bins for cans, plastic, paper and others.
Photo by Robbie Martyn on Unsplash

10. Shop in charity shops

Buying second-hand from charity shops saves items from landfill and saves on the production of new items. It also supports the charity. Sometimes it’s a matter of luck whether you can find the specific items you are looking for in a charity shop, so it can take some patience and willpower to trawl the charity shops without getting tempted by impulse purchases. But when you find a second-hand gem for a cheap price, it can really be worth the effort!

Read more: An Eco-Friendly Clothing Haul – Charity Shops and Depop

11. Give back

As well as getting new stuff, there are ways you can give something back on your shopping trip. Give money or food to a homeless person on the high street. Donate your old and unwanted belongings to a charity shop. Put your loose change into a charity collection box. Do a good deed for a stranger, such as helping an elderly person carry their shopping bags to the car. Support a local environmental or charity event that’s happening in town. This can help to offset any negative impact that your shopping might have.

12. Consider buying online

In terms of sustainability, there are pros and cons to buying online. It doesn’t really save fuel because your delivery driver will use that instead of you. Online purchases also generally come with more packaging, and you have less control over the packaging options. However, the plus side is that it’s easier to stay focused when buying online. If you write a shopping list and search only for those items, you’re less likely to get tempted by impulse purchases because you are not seeing other items ‘in the flesh’ or getting persuaded by sales assistants.

There is also a wider range of retailers to choose from online. On the high street, there might be limited sustainable options, but online you can search and find the most sustainable businesses that meet your needs and budget.

Related post: How To Be More Sustainable When Selling Online

When shopping online, you also get more time to think and consider your purchases. Get into the habit of reviewing your cart before placing your order, and asking yourself whether you really need all of those items.

Will You Have A Sustainable Shopping Trip?

This post isn’t intended to burst the bubble of your enjoyable shopping trips, but rather to help you think more about how you could make your shopping more sustainable. It’s actually pretty easy to have a sustainable shopping trip, and it won’t necessarily cost you more. By taking steps to avoid impulse purchases, you will save money, which will help you to buy from more sustainable brands which, admittedly, are often more expensive.

It’s okay to have a treat sometimes, and buy some things on impulse – it happens and it’s part of the fun of a shopping trip! But if you have a list of what shops to go in and what you’re aiming to buy, you will naturally reduce your impulse purchases. Also, by shopping from sustainable brands, local small businesses and charity shops, you can buy more guilt-free treats, knowing they’ll have less of an environmental impact.

Even simple steps like bringing your own carrier bags, investing in a reusable coffee cup, avoiding excess packaging and taking the bus can all add up to make your shopping trip more sustainable and help the planet.

How will you make your next shopping trip more sustainable? Do you have any more tips for a sustainable shopping trip? Please share them in the comments below!

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How To Have A Sustainable Shopping Trip


  1. Shopping list is so fun and definitely bringing my shopping bags. Great tips…

    1. Sophie says:

      I always keep shopping bags in my handbag just in case… Thanks for reading!

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