Zero waste grocery shopping has been a personal goal of mine for quite some time now. I’ve collected enough reusable bags, Mason jars, and strategies to last a lifetime.
Now that I’ve worked through a few kinks, I have to say, beginning zero wasting grocery shopping is not as simple as the Instagram green goddesses would have us believe. For one, you may be hard-pressed to find a single store that can meet all your zero waste grocery shopping needs. We don’t all live in Vancouver or Toronto. Personally, I live in a much smaller town surrounded by farms. We have a lot of choices for locally-grown food, bulk items, and natural products, but they are spread among many properties and the mass majority are not in the zero waste grocery shopping game (yet).
And so, as I initially strolled along Bulk Barn noting that it was only good for bulk teas, herbs, spices, grains, and baking supplies, my glass Mason jars clinking and drawing far too much attention, I thought, “There has to be an easier way.”
Zero waste grocery shopping is far from a streamlined process and much of that change needs to come from the top-down for more people to join the movement, but for now, I have some tips to make it a little easier.
Speaking from experience, these 6 tips can make your zero waste grocery shopping goals more attainable.
1. Know your grocery needs in advance.
Begin by doing a full inventory of your pantry and refrigerator. Write down what you need for breakfasts, lunches, dinners, snacks, and drinks for the upcoming week.
I find it helpful to organize my list by common grocery store sections: produce, bakery, meat, bulk, etc.
Knowing exactly what you need saves time in the store and prevents mindless spending that can lead to food waste. It also allows you to see which stores or markets you need to visit for your zero waste grocery shopping needs.
2. Have a plan for those Mason jars.
Don’t do what I initially did. Don’t lug around every Mason jar you’ve saved “just in case.” Look at your list and look at the sizes of your jars. Consider your needs, budget, and what’s available for bulk sale in your area.
Remember that when you go to bulk stores, you’ll need to visit the cashier first so they can weigh the jar before you fill it. Bringing unnecessary jars along adds time and effort, not to mention temptation to overspend.
3. Bring a box.
If you can find a box with a section insert like those found in liquor stores, all the better. I can’t stress this enough. You can secure your jars in the box, easily transport them, and prevent that horrendous clinking sound.
If you don’t have such an insert, simply bring a tea towel or two to wrap around a few jars and then place them all in a cloth bag. Alternatively, you can bring a box and make your own insert with a few pieces of cardboard.
4. Utilize farmers’ markets.
Aside from supporting your local farmers, shopping these markets means reducing packaging waste. You can find bulk produce, paper-wrapped meats and pastries, and homemade sauces and spreads in glass jars while getting some fresh air and connecting with your community.
5. Get dry goods from bulk bins.
This tip helps you save in two ways: You reduce wasteful packaging and you reduce the overall cost of your groceries.
Here are just a few essential items you can find in bulk stores: noodles, oats, flours, tea blends, dried fruits, and nuts.
Remember, you don’t need to rely solely on glass Mason jars for your bulk store finds. You can also wrap things in beeswax paper, repurpose small cardboard boxes, or tea canisters.
6. Pace yourself.
This is not about perfection. I repeat, this is not about perfection. If you enter into zero waste grocery shopping with your expectations sky-high, you will be highly disappointed and unlikely to continue.
Try to incorporate a new tactic each week or even split your grocery shopping between essential weekly items and bulk goods so you don’t have to travel to several stores in one day.
Find what works for you and your family’s grocery needs and feel good about making an effort.