A guide to zero-waste grocery shopping
Easy steps to a zero-waste grocery routine
Words— Kate Dingwall
It’s 2019. Plastic bags are so gauche. You make a conscious effort to buy organic produce on the regular, and meatless Mondays is a thing in your house. And now, your hip friend, who probably owns many house plants and frequents the hot yoga studio, is talking about zero-waste grocery shopping.
What exactly is zero-waste grocery shopping?
Well, it’s the process of providing your own containers and vessels when you grocery shop in an effort to reduce the waste you create.
Yes, this sounds like a lot of effort for a weekly shopping routine, but as soon as you get in the swing of things, zero-waste is an easy routine to adopt. By bringing jars to carry your groceries and you can immediately use that jar to store your beans, legumes and the like on your shelf at home - no unpacking needed. Having your own cloth bags means you’re free of the barrage of plastic bags under your sink that always seem to pile up.
Even larger brands are starting to reconsider their packaging impact. In the next year or two, Tide detergent will come in stainless steel versions of their current containers. Haagen Daaz followed suit, and will now come in a sleek stainless steel tub that you can either clean yourself or Haagen Daaz will pick-up your old containers. If you buy Crest, your mouthwash will now come in a posh glass bottle.
Do you have no clue where to begin? Is the thought of millions of jars utterly overwhelming? Even a small step towards no-waste is a big one, so here are a few baby steps towards reducing your impact.
Before You Shop—
- Do your Homework: Take a search through your city to what stores offer zero-waste shopping. They’re more common than you think! There’s a zero-waste grocery store in Brooklyn that will deliver your groceries sans-packaging for a nominal fee, with more popping up across the continent every day.
- Accept it Isn’t Normal: It will feel natural to stroll into a grocery store and pick up your usual assortment of eggs cartons, boxed pasta and bagged vegetables. As it is your norm, it is probably most other people in the store. So as you transition to zero waste, accept most people aren’t on your level yet. It’s like shopping organic back in 2014 - those who did were the hippie set, but now, shopping organic is a sign of higher quality. Just rock your zero-waste habits and remember - you’re a few steps ahead of the trend.
- Invest is Key: Taking steps toward zero-waste is an investment, we won’t lie. But it is well worth it in the long run. Stainless steel containers, while not exactly dirt cheap, will be a regular to way to keep pantry items correctly stored. Glass snapware is the same - it’s a great option for storing leftovers as well as bulk items. And, with bulk shopping, it is easy to take a small one and refill it right in the store.
- Reusable Bags: If you’re still not bringing your own reusable bags - seriously? It’s 2019, and popping to the dollar store and stocking up on five to ten plastic shopping bags will save many tons of plastic bags, and, they’re far sturdier for lugging groceries home. If “I forgot them at home” is forever your excuse, opt for the kind that folds up into a pouch and throw it in your backpack or purse.
- Think Small - Every little decision contributes to the impact you have. Skip the straw when you’re ordering takeout and use a disposable one. Say no to napkins, plastic cutlery and the like if you’re planning to eat your takeout at home. Skip your receipt at the cash unless you really need it, and hey, why not use the reusable bag to take things home? Invest in a metal waterbottle, why don’t you! A few small conscious decisions can add up to real positive impact.
- Compost - If your city doesn’t already provide compost bins, make your own! Take a plastic bin with a lid and use it to dispose of all your food waste. Decomposed compost is great to fertilize plant soil, so maybe you can finally start keeping your plants alive for more than three months.
At the Store—
- Buy Bulk - Bulk Barn is your mecca for this, but most grocery stores will do just fine. First, bring a container. Mason jars are great, as are stainless steel tins, cloth bags, glass snapware. Weigh it, and either snap a picture of the PLU or write on your container with a crayon. Boom, you’re done. Beyond bulk pantry items, consider buying your mouthwash, shampoo, and other personal care items using this method as well.
- The Little Things - Receipts, bread ties, paper grocery lists - skip them. Ask ahead of time to skip the receipt, or reuse your twist ties (hanging Christmas tree ornaments, cleaning between your razor blades, storing washes - get creative!)
- Weigh Your Bags - If you’re bringing your own containers from home with plans to stock them full of dry goods or veggies, weigh your container prior to bringing it to the cash. Jot down the weight, then weigh your goods and compare the difference.
- Hit the Farmer’s Market - The best place to really flex zero-waste? The Farmer’s Market. The majority of packaging is usually restricted to plastic bags, rubber bands, and reused containers. It’s also super cool if you ask to go package-free - that means the seller will be able to use that packaging for a future customer.
- Shop More Frequently - This may seem counterintuitive - will shopping more help you create less waste? When you shop for the week, you tend to purchase more to make up for unmade plans or the longer span of time (is your freezer full with items that looked delicious at the time, but you’ve never touched? Mine sure is). As the Europeans do, go to the grocery store and pick up just what you need for the next few meals. This will encourage you to buy more vegetables, fruit, and fresh produce, and consider how much food you actually need.
- When in Doubt - Unfortunately, many items aren’t available with a zero-waste option. The best you can do on your end is to pick the most recyclable packaging. Understand that plastic never truly can be recycled, so opt for materials like glass, metal and paper when purchasing packaged goods.
- Rinse, Reuse - When buying packaged goods, keep the integrity of the project by rinsing and reusing any bags or containers you can. Those hard plastic containers your UberEats order came in? Rinse them out and they’re a perfect vessel for work lunches.