I was told to ask this question here.

Note: This question is in the context of reducing trash at home.

Say I buy some meat at the grocery store. I would prefer to bring my own container and not use their packaging, but they do not allow me. So, I thought that I could just take the packaging out, dump it in their trashcan (or recycling?), and then put the meat in my container. I would like to do that for all products (such as bread, chicken, vegetables, toys, tools, etc).

I know it would be weird, but is it ethical? If it is not even legal, let me know.

Bonus question (for curiosity): What about doing it after you took the products to home? Is it ethical to return to the store to dump the packaging?

  • 3
    Why are you interested if it is ethical? You seem to forget the much more important question Is it effective? Both depend on your goal(s), which you do not share with us.
    – user2451
    Commented Jul 2, 2017 at 18:33
  • One of the issues with using your containers is how does the store owner know your containers & the containers of all the other customers who would like to have their containers used are totally germ free? How do you ensure that your containers are totally sterile when you hand them over to store owners? Why would store owners want to risk having their food products contaminated with germs from customers containers which could then expose others to possible food poisoning? How is ethical is that?
    – Fred
    Commented Jul 3, 2017 at 2:58
  • Welcome to Sustainable Living! Since your question is about ethics I'm not sure it's on topic here. What exactly is it you are trying to achieve?
    – THelper
    Commented Jul 3, 2017 at 6:45
  • 1
    Where are you (please add to the question)? Here in Germany and Holland supermarkets tend to have recycling bins for their customers to use.
    – PJTraill
    Commented Jul 4, 2017 at 20:52
  • Within what system of ethics do you want an answer? And why? I suggest you ask what the consequences would be and make your own ethical decision.
    – PJTraill
    Commented Jul 4, 2017 at 20:53

4 Answers 4


If a store offers a publicly accessible rubbish bin, then it would be ethical to ask the store for permission to discretely transfer their product to your own containers inside or near the store and discard the packaging in their bin. In some cases it's already normal to discard packaging near or in the store, such as in a food court or mall.

Your suggested approach is an interesting one, but is unlikely to be seen as particularly constructive or positive. Stores certainly wouldn't welcome additional mess to clean up (such as spilled product), and may want to retain a more professional and polished image.

A Different Approach

You are clearly willing to put substantial effort into the goal of reducing waste, which is fantastic. A more constructive approach would be to open communication with stores, as @martin-maat suggests. If you researched some options for improvement that could work for the store, they might be willing to work with you.

For example you could ask what it would take to get them to change to recyclable packaging, or to allow bringing of one's own container. They might agree to do it if you get support from 100 or 1000 customers.

In the case of a high complexity store like a supermarket, there's not going to be a quick fix, especially when changing their processes involves increases in cost or inconvenience.

The Bigger Picture

There are waste management groups that look at this kind of problem from a high level perspective; perhaps you should try to find one and see what you'd need to do to get involved?


I don't think so and I do not think it would be an effective statement. The store will likely have practical reasons for packaging and could not change their ways even if they wanted to. And they would probably be happy to dispose of your trash for you as long as you buy from them. But ethically, I would say once you buy it, it is your responsibility.

For some products it may be feasible though to do without packaging. The best thing to do in my opinion would be to express your concern, ask for unpackaged versions and take your business elsewhere if they cannot help you. This may mean you will not have your favorite whatever at all because your request is not marketable yet. But someone has to start creating the market...


This is not ethical.

From an economic ethics point of view, you are throwing away your own trash (which you bought and thus acquired a responsibility for) in someone else's dumpster. This basically amounts to stealing, since someone else is paying to have that trash disposed of.

From an environmental ethics point of view, you are not reducing the amount of trash you are generating by buying the same products, so your actions are neutral.


Where I live, stores do not recycle as thoroughly as people do. Therefore, when I buy meat on a Styrofoam tray, I want to put that (rinsed) tray in my home recycle, not the stories generally mixed-together trash or garbage. So your approach isn't going to be effective as a short term way to reduce food packaging in the landfill.

Further, the people who take care of the garbage probably don't look in it at all. If they do, and see packaging, they are more likely to think someone removed the packaging as part of stealing the product than as an objection to the existence of packaging. So your approach isn't going to be effective as a longer term way to reduce packaging used by that store.

What can work is to buy somewhere else. For example my supermarket has prepackaged meat on Styrofoam trays, but it also has a butcher counter with more expensive meat that is wrapped in paper for you as you ask for it. There is also a butcher in town that does the same. I buy my veggies as part of a CSA from a farm, and the vegetables are often not wrapped at all. They sell eggs, but we all bring our cartons back and they get reused over and over. If you buy somewhere else, and write the old store a letter saying what you are doing and why, you may see more options available at the old store some day. But even if they never change, you have, and you've reduced the waste you caused.

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