I find grocery shopping frustrating on a normal day, but zero waste grocery shopping without a bulk store? How is that even possible? Well, it’s taken me awhile, but I’ve finally gotten to the point where I have some solid zero waste strategies that help me decrease my waste while grocery shopping.
While farmers markets do exist in Vegas, I don’t have time to stop at them every week. And although this city is big, we’re not cool enough to have a total bulk foods store, although my fingers are crossed that one may pop up soon. Until then though, this is how I shop for zero waste groceries without a bulk foods store:
Quick note: I’m vegan, which means I don’t buy any meat, eggs, or dairy and don’t have any of the waste associated with those products. If you’re still transitioning away from meat/dairy/eggs, there are many resources floating around the internet to help you, but you won’t find ‘em here.
I use reusable produce bags
Y’all, I’ve always loathed those plastic film produce bags, even before I knew about their impact on the environment, because those suckers are hard to open. I now have a set of mesh bags in different sizes with drawstrings, and I LOVE them. They’ve really elevated my shopping experience because 1) I feel kinda fancy pulling out a cool mesh bag and 2) I don’t have to fight to get those plastic bags open. This is the easiest way to start your zero waste grocery shopping journey because literally anyone can do it.
I avoid processed foods
My health has definitely benefited from my commitment to avoiding single-use plastic. Most of my favorite (read: guilty pleasure) snacks come in superfluous, plastic packaging. And that means goodbye, oreos, my dear friends. Avoiding processed foods has improved my diet as I focus on more whole foods and things I make myself. Buying unprocessed means that I’ve started making my own snacks because ya girl’s gotta have her snacks.
I look for package-free
Although I avoid processed foods, whole foods can still come in packaging, so I try to find package-free produce. Sometimes this means doing a bit of searching, and sometimes it means going to a different store. However, I haven’t ever seen cauliflower without plastic packaging, and I still buy salad greens in plastic tubs, which is not zero waste grocery shopping. When I get to the point where I can go to the farmers market every week to buy loose greens, I’ll be real happy. Until then though, I try to buy heartier greens like kale that usually come bound together with a rubber band, which I can reuse.
When I can’t buy package free, I buy cardboard, glass, or metal packing
Some things only come packaged because I’m not to the point where I can make everything at home. So when I buy packaged food, I look for cardboard, glass, or metal packaging. Cardboard is easily compostable, and I reuse the glass containers that sauces and olives come in. Metal containers are recyclable too, although I try to avoid recycling at all (post on that coming up soon). However, I do buy some things in plastic, namely tofu and bread. In a perfect world, I’d make my own bread and have my kitchen filled with the smell of baked goods all day long, but I’m not quite there yet. Most of the stores near me have a “fresh baked” section where they house baguettes, bagels, and the like without packaging. I don’t buy bread super often, but when I do, I usually buy it in the bag.
I buy in bulk when I can
I’ve scoped out a few stores near me that have small but workable bulk sections. I plan my shopping so about once a month, I get my grains (quinoa, rice, oats, etc), dried fruit, and some pre-made things like granola. I also love to get my spices in bulk because they’re fresher and I can get the exact amount I’ll use. Sprouts and Winco are the winners in this category, but Smiths (my local Kroger) also has a small section
A quick note about buying in bulk: I recently read a blog post that said you couldn’t be truly zero waste until you bought solely from a bulk store. I was honestly taken aback because no one who buys from a bulk only store is zero waste anyway. Bulk stores get most of their stock shipped to them (which creates waste) in plastic bags (which is what we’re trying to avoid). Shopping in bulk sure does eliminate a lot of consumer waste (packaging), but it’s not the end-all of living zero waste. If you don’t have access to a bulk store or section, then take comfort in knowing that it doesn’t totally answer the zero-waste quandary.
For things I can’t get in bulk, I buy bigger
I love coconut yogurt for breakfast with some granola. However, in my current situation, I can’t make coconut yogurt all the time. Instead of buying those single serve containers and creating a bunch of plastic waste, I buy my yogurt in the pint containers. Is this truly zero waste? Nope, but it’s loads better than buying single serve yogurts. (And, just FYI, those pint size yogurt tubs are reusable and versatile.) My wholesale love Costco is a great help with this effort as well. Zero waste? Nope again, but I can buy pretty close to bulk in a price range that works for me and cut out some waste. When I do buy bigger containers of food, I only buy what I know I can use because I don’t want to contribute to food waste.
Zero waste grocery shopping without a bulk store is doable, but to do it successfully, you’ll have to lower your expectations. Unless you live off the grid and grow/raise/harvest/make all your food yourself, you won’t ever be truly zero waste. That’s just a fact of the consumer society we live in. But you can get close to zero waste by avoiding packaging, using reusables (when possible), finding bulk options, and buying bigger portions of foods.
Do you have any fail-safe ways to decrease your waste while grocery shopping? Drop me your fave zero waste grocery shopping tips in the comments below.