I typically don't buy berries in plastic cartons as part of my effort to make less packaging waste. You may choose to keep buying them despite the rest of your zero waste efforts: surely, if there's something worth buying in packaging, it's plump and juicy blueberries, not pallid store-bought cookies. (Maybe you disagree, in which case, buy the cookies).
Bringing my own water bottle and reusable utensils with me when I leave the house: not a sacrifice. Spending nine months of the year without berries: a bit of a sacrifice. Here, some tips for making it less so.
-Eat your fill, all summer long. I think of this as the Zorba method, after this quote from Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle:
"In Nikos Kazantzakis's novel Zorba the Greek, the pallid narrator frets a lot about his weaknesses of the flesh. He lies awake at night worrying about the infinite varieties of lust that call to him from this world; for example, cherries. He's way too fond of cherries. Zorba tells him, Well then, I'm afraid what you must do is stand under the tree, collect a big bowl full, and stuff yourself. Eat cherries like they're going out of season."
Eat berries like they're going out of season because, well, they are. Buy them from the farmers' market all summer long, first the tiny early strawberries of spring, then blueberries and gooseberries and blackberries and my very favorite, black raspberries.
You can buy them in the cardboard or wooden cartons that most farmers package them in, or transfer them into your own container at the market and hand back the carton to the farmer with a smile. Or, even better, go berry picking, eat your fill, then do step two, below.
-Freeze some, too. They taste best fresh, but extending the length of berry season is tempting, too. Frozen blueberries have been one of my favorite snacks all my life. (I used to show up to middle school with fingers tinted slightly blue from my breakfast of them). Now I make my own by buying lots of extras at the farmers market and freezing them in a single layer on a baking sheet, before transferring them to a sealed container in the freezer.
If jam is your jam, then do that, too. For me, jam - no matter how good - is a different animal entirely from whole berries. I might make a few jars of it this summer, but I'd rather freeze the berries whole and enjoy them that way. Either way, the trick is to eke them out over the course of the remaining months of the year; I've become resigned to the fact that mine usually vanish by September.
-Buy them as food waste. On a recent grocery shopping trip with Julian at our favorite co-op in Madison, I found the food waste section for the first time. Slightly damaged or too-ripe produce, marked down to sell rather than thrown away. They had a couple of plastic cartons of berries in which a few of the berries showed mold spots, but the rest were perfect. Reasoning they'd end up in the landfill anyway, we bought them, and to have blackberries unexpectedly early in the season was such a treat. If you use a food waste delivery service like Imperfect Produce, you could also snag the occasional carton of berries there, too.
-Buy them at the grocery, then recycle the plastic carton. Buy them as a special treat to put on top of your birthday cake, buy them because they're the only fruit your kids will eat, buy them because they're the treat you simply refuse to do without. You're only human. Berries are perfect and delicious. Do what you need to do.
Other ideas for plastic-free berries? Which approach do you use in your household?