According to the EPA, there was an estimated 77.9 million tons of food packaging waste in 2015. That number is astonishing! While recycling or repurposing that packaging is better than throwing it away, it's always best to just refuse and reduce your waste right from the source.
Don't overwhelm yourself by trying to change everything at once. Start by making just one small change with each trip to the grocery store. Eventually, all of this will become habit, especially when you start seeing the savings on your grocery bills.
First and foremost, you will need to build yourself a “reusables” kit. We recommend the following:
- Glass jars of all sizes
- Mesh produce bags
- Natural cotton bulk bags (or reuse your UO drawstring bags)
- Glass storage containers
- Bread bag
- Also, don’t forget your reusable grocery bags!
Instead of buying new, consider repurposing containers you already have, or checking a thrift store. Our Urban Oreganics 2oz. or 4oz. glass jars are perfect for refilling with bulk spices (more repurposing ideas here), and save larger jars from sauces, nut butters, and jams for other bulk bin foods (more on that later). Labels can be removed by soaking in hot, soapy water overnight. A little lemon essential oil works to get the last bit of sticky off.
A lot of your produce and bulk bin reusables will need to be weighed for pricing. If you have a kitchen scale, you can weigh them at home before you leave for the store and write the weight directly on the container. If you do not have a scale at home, check-in at the customer service counter and ask them to help you get “tare” weights on your containers. Bring your own sharpie and some tape to jot down the weight and item number for the checker to see on each container.
Unfortunately, some stores might not allow you to bring your own containers, so check on Litterless or call your local grocery store to inquire before shopping. Some stores even give an additional discount if you bring your own containers and bags (win!). However, this is still a new concept in some areas, so some checkers may be very confused or even assume their store doesn't allow this simply because no one has done it before. You can politely ask to speak to a manager or supervisor, if needed, to double check their policies and spread the zero waste knowledge.
Now that you have your reusables ready and have checked with your local store, the last thing to do is plan your trip. Going to the store with an meal plan will help deter wasteful impulse buys. Check out our meal prep blog post for how we shop (and how we save hundreds of dollars a month).
AT THE STORE
Reusables ready, list in hand, let’s walk through the store and with zero waste in mind!
Utilize those glass storage containers at the deli counter, salad bar, olive bar, etc. You may get a sideways look, but most stores will allow it. Use this amazing bread bag (or a simple cotton drawstring bag) to grab a fresh loaf from the bakery. When stocking up on fresh fruits and veggies, opt for produce bags - or no bags at all! Most produce can go into your cart loose, since you're washing them once you get home anyway.
Another way to minimize your grocery waste is to steer clear of the center aisles at the grocery store. Those types of groceries use a ton of packaging, typically are not super healthy (lots of preservatives), and can quickly increase your grocery total. Try making some of your favorite snacks from scratch instead of grabbing a package of them next time. When you are buying packaged food, remember, you are paying for the packaging, too! Check our healthy eating Pinterest board for fresh-made alternatives.
Don't forget to utilize the bulk bins! It’s cheaper, you aren't bringing home any packaging waste, and you also have the advantage of only buying the amount you need for a specific recipe - which means no extra unused ingredients getting pushed to the back of your pantry.
Depending on your local offerings, you can get just about anything in bulk including; oats, beans, rice, nuts, seeds, flours, sugars, loose candies, dried fruit, freshly ground nut butters, local honey, olive oil, loose tea, and spices.
When it's time to head to the checkout counter with your filled containers and reusable bags, your checker will deduct the “tare” weight on your reusables to get the proper weight.
Once you get home, it's time to meal prep and store everything properly to keep it from spoiling. Use a labeler (Dymo embosser, Silhouette cutter, Brother label maker), to add cute labels so you don't accidentally use baking soda instead of baking powder. Yes… it’s happened before.
NO ACCESS TO BULK?
It’s understandable that some areas will not have access to a variety of bulk items. Here are some great alternatives you can try if bulk isn't accessible to you:
- Buy food packaged in glass or cardboard, instead of plastic
- Eat more produce & other naturally package-free items
- Grow your own produce
- Shop at your local farmer's market
- Compost & recycle
We hope this helps on your journey to a waste-free household. Did we miss anything? What are your best tips for a waste-free grocery trip?
Be sure to check out our previous posts to help you on your journey towards a zero waste/minimalist lifestyle: