A single country like America throws out over 200 million tons of trash a year. With most of it going into landfills we’re becoming more conscious of what is being thrown away and what we’re buying. Most of this trash comes from single use items that we purchase at the grocery stores everyday. But there are simple tips we can follow to start reducing our waste contribution. This is your complete zero waste grocery shopping guide to get you started on your zero waste lifestyle.
The best way to accomplish a zero waste grocery shopping trip is to visit your local farmers market. They’ll often have bare minimal packaging that is recyclable or not have any packaging at all which makes zero waste shopping way easier. The best things about shopping at your local farmers market is that your not just supporting the local economy but your also reducing fossil fuel emissions in the process. There’s a big difference in the amount of fossil fuels that were used to transport tomatoes from Mexico compared to the tomatoes grown locally. Once local farmers are transporting goods with electric vehicles to the market, we can achieve real zero waste.
When going zero waste grocery shopping, the best places to go to (ordering them from easy to more difficult) are the:
- Farmers Market
- Zero Waste Grocery Stores (like Nada, Nu Grocery, Package Free and Sustain LA)
- Bulk Foods Stores
- Local Grocery Stores
Going zero waste grocery shopping sometimes isn’t easy. Local grocery stores are going to be harder compared to the other 3 on the list since they use more plastic packaging on products which often come from the manufacturers. Many grocery stores will also wrap some of their own produce in plastic in order to make the product last longer. So it won’t be as easy as going to the Farmers Market or zero waste grocery stores but it can still be accomplished using some of the tips in this article.
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The #1 zero waste grocery item that you can use for years without having to buy more are canvas grocery shopping bags. Many retailers will sell cheap reusable bags that are made out of recycled plastic but all this does its move the problem around instead of solving it. Reusable canvas bags will ensure no plastic is used and after years of use will save hundreds of plastic bags per person from reaching a landfill. Each year Americans use over 100 billion plastic bags and each one of those bags can take up to 1000 years to break down.
This also includes the plastic produce bags in the produce section. Sometimes they can be made from biodegradable plastics but rather than using the plastic produce bags, reusable cotton mesh produce bags are a much better option. These will last years like the canvas grocery bags and help reduce tons of plastic waste.
Bread is one of the staples in every single grocery store. But instead of buying the plastic wrapped bread look for the store baked or locally baked breads. Some grocery stores will have bread in paper bags or open containers. This way you can place your bread in your own reusable bread bag.
If your going to a store that carries bulk items, investing in a few glass or metal seal-able containers and drawstring canvas bags will make the trip a lot easier and less expensive. Reusable Mason jars are least expensive and very easy to find. Nearly every hardware store will carry glass mason jars. Drawstring canvas bags can also be used for bulk items like nuts, beans and pastas. For bulk items like mixes, seeds and dried fruits that are sensitive to humidity using mason jars are the way to go.
Beeswax wraps are also very handy to have and can replace plastic cling wrap. Beeswax wraps are fabric sheets coated in beeswax and provide a breathable seal. These wax food wraps can be used to keep food fresh after they’ve been cut like bread, fruits, vegetables or used to cover a food container and placed in the fridge.
Here’s a minimalist summary of the five basic items you can use for reducing plastic waste at the grocery stores for years to come. These are the five that I personally recommend and I have used many of them for over 5 years. (If your a frequent bread buyer, a reusable bread bag would be item 6 on the list).
- Reusable canvas grocery bags
- Reusable cotton mesh produce bags
- Drawstring canvas bags
- Mason jars w/lids
- Beeswax wraps
Zero Waste Grocery Shopping Tips
If the product comes in plastic, use it as a last resort or don’t buy it at all. Paper, metal, and glass… all of these materials can either be recycled or composted. Not only is this a simple tip to follow while grocery shopping but if more customers did this manufacturers and grocery stores would stop using plastic packaging. Which is the whole point. If everyone stops using plastic companies will stop using and manufacturing it. Stores will then have to carry more options to sell their products. Ultimately, the customer decides what it is that stores will carry.
Rather than buying packaged soap you can fill up the mason jars with liquid soap and refill your pump containers at home. “All in One”, “3 in 1” or multipurpose soaps will reduce the amount of soap you need. These types of soaps can be used as both hand, body and hair soaps. Some stores like Whole Foods even have unpackaged bars of soap that are usually less expensive than the packaged ones. The following zero waste grocery shopping tips will help you save a lot of trash from going into landfills.
- Buy unpackaged bulk soap or liquid soap that you can refill in a reusable jar.
- Buy local fresh produce that doesn’t come in plastic.
- Loose bulk items are better alternatives to packaged ones.
- Glass and stainless steel containers are better to use than plastic storage bags.
- Plastic toothbrushes are a major plastic pollutant. Opt for bamboo toothbrushes if they’re available.
- Go for the fresh, unpackaged bread or paper wrapped breads.
- If all else fails, buy products in recyclable packaging like paper or metal if its an option.
Aside from reducing your plastic purchases and practicing zero waste methods one of the biggest changes you can make when it comes to grocery shopping is buying local. By buying goods from your local farmers (which are usually available at grocery stores) your helping your local economy. Your also helping to reduce or eliminate the amount of fossil fuels it requires to get those goods to the stores. This makes a huge difference not just in packaging waste but in the wasted resources to get them to you. This has a global impact when done at large scale and every person counts. Zero fossil fuels is a new level to the zero waste movement.