Waste-Free Grocery Shopping

When I was younger, I remember people making a huge deal about saving the trees. So here I wanted my mom to use the plastic bags, not the paper. What was I thinking? I was thinking I was helping the earth, but I was not! Now that I am more educated on the matter I know how plastic doesn’t go away. It can only be broken down into smaller pieces, in the end. Going Zero-Waste in your grocery shopping alone will make such a huge difference!

Take a moment to think about all the trash you throw away at home. The majority of the trash I used to take to the curb came from my kitchen. It was the packaging my food came in that created the most trash. But what could I possible do to eliminate it? Literally everything came in packaging from rice, to milk, to cereal. Even some produce was wrapped in plastic. As I did my research I began to find that there were stores that let you bring and fill up your own container. I go to a few different stores. My local farmers markets for fruits, vegetables, meats, bread, and the occasional cheeses. I go to either Richards Foodporium or Lucky’s market for my dry food, peanut butter, honey, and oils.


For different foods you need to bring different containers. For example, if I need to get meat, I bring a tight sealed glass container. Then I will go to the meat counter and ask for whichever I want. Be sure to tell them you do not want it wrapped up. Sometimes they will use plastic to weigh it out. Ask if they can weigh your container without the meat in it, then with it and calculate for you. You most likely will still end up with a sticker to scan at the counter. I haven’t found a way around that yet.

Dry Foods

For dry things like rice, beans, nuts, dried fruit, coffee, chocolate, I bring mason jars. You will go to the check out counter with all of your containers BEFORE you fill them. The cashier will take the weight of your empty jar, called a tare, and write it on the jar (or a piece of paper if you prefer, or you can use a dry erase marker). You then take it and fill it with whichever items you desire. You want to pay attention, because each item is going to have a code so the cashier knows how to ring it into the computer. I shop at the same store all the time, and I use the same mason jar for the same item, each time. So, I have written the item code, and a description of the item, directly onto the jar. It makes my life so much easier.


When you get your produce, do you use those thin plastic baggies for each item? Did you know those are not recyclable? I just put my fruits and vegetables directly into the cart or my reusable bag. They have all been handled by workers so they need to washed well when we get home, anyway.

I have run into some problems in the produce section, however. Some things come in packages like spinach, grapes, cherries, berries and more. At my local grocer I can find spinach not in the plastic container, but they are smaller and in bundles.

For the cherries and grapes I had avoided them unless I had a really bad craving. Until last week! I was so ecstatic when I walked through the doors and I saw cherries in a bin, unpackaged! I got a tare on one of my larger containers and filled on up. I have yet to see grapes or strawberries like that. For strawberries and blueberries, we have a local u-pick farm we can go to and stock up. What we don’t eat, we freeze for smoothies.

There are these nifty reusable produce bags I see people use. They remind me of bags mermaids would use. They are basically crocheted bags for produce. I plan to try some out soon, because I love getting lots of apples, and I think it would make it a lot easier to check out and transport them.


Now dairy is a bit tricky. You can get cheeses from the deli, similar to how we got our meat. I use dairy free milk, so mine comes in a cardboard container I can recycle. Some brands of cow milk actually come in a similar box, too. The cap is plastic, unfortunately. I’ve been saving mine for something, maybe an art project one day?

Why did we ever stop using glass bottles for milk. Too bad we don’t still have milkmen that come to our doors every morning. Another way you can get milk without plastic, is checking local stores, farmers markets, health food stores, and indie groceries.

Ask around for milk in glass containers, you’ll probably find a higher quality milk with less processing. I’ve also heard of some sellers having a refill system where you bring your container back each time and get a fresh glass to take back. This way, you’re never throwing out anything.

Bread and Other Foods

I almost forgot one of my favorite things, bread! This is very simple, I just bring in a cloth bag and walk to the bakery. I speak with the baker and ask for whichever delectable bread I would like and just have him place it in my bag. A lot of small snacks, you can make your own such as granola bars, chocolates, sweets, etc.

There are some other foods, too, I found a bit difficult in the beginning. I could not find olive oil or coconut oil anywhere except one place and it was way too expensive for me. I still get these in glass containers (usually from Trader Joes). If I can find somewhere that sells them in glass in bulk, I would prefer that. I am still looking, but have yet to find it. I reuse the jars that I do get, though. The coconut oil comes in a mason jar style jar.

Reusable-Take Home Bags

To end this amazing waste-free shopping experience, never leave your reusable bags at home. I have one huge one that lets me lug an entire grocery trip inside, on one shoulder, while carrying my daughter inside in her car seat. I suggest having three to four in your car at all times. Always bring them into the grocery store in case you buy more than planned. This way you don’t have to run out to the car for the others, or worse, end up using plastic ones (opt for the paper ones in that case).

Along with those reusable bags, I find keeping a few mason jars, and other clean containers in case you’re out and about and need something. Also, some produce bags if you choose to use them. I find bringing a marker in the beginning is very helpful. This can help you mark the item number and tare.

Small Steps Make Big Differences

I find that going zero-waste in the grocery store has had an amazing impact not only in me reducing my waste output, but also increasing my socialization. I have had the opportunity to talk and get to know the different workers in the different departments. They know and love my daughter. It has been an opening into my community that I wouldn’t have thought of otherwise.

1 thought on “Waste-Free Grocery Shopping”

  1. I love this post. (I love the idea of this whole site!) I already use my reusable bags (which you can totally use in other stores as well). I love the childhood anecdote at the beginning of the post. The other tips are ones I am going to try to integrate more often into my grocery store. Thanks for the great insight!

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