Zero Waste Grocery Shopping

I have recently received this wonderful question: How do I grocery shop Zero-Waste? This question honestly depends on 1) where you live 2) what your diet is and 3) how much time you want to dedicate to this. The reason I believe you should consider these three things is that:

  1. The climate you live in can determine what local foods options are available. For example, it is a lot simpler in a tropical climate to buy local (and package-free) bananas, mangos and the likes then in Alaska or a cooler climate. The location also affects options such as farmers markets, community (or personal) gardens, and co-ops available to you. Say you live in the middle of a food desert, are you able and willing to commute to locations that offer these resources?
  2. Your diet believe it or not also plays a role, 70% of Americans diets are processed foods[1]. Processed foods come in plastic packaging, so shopping Zero-Waste includes incorporating a plant-based, or whole foods diet with less processed crap.
  3. The time you want to spend. I don't want to spook anyone off by suggesting this lifestyle take an enormous amount of time because that's not true, however it does take some planning and food prep. For example, I don't purchase pre-made almond milk because of the packaging and additives, so I get bulk almonds and every week I set aside five minutes to make homemade almond milk. There are a ton of little things and examples like this I choose to spend time on. To me it is worth it, I often can save money, its healthy for the planet and myself.

Okay! Now that we consider the above points here are ways to grocery shop Zero-Waste:  

Reusable produce and shopping bags

Reusable shopping bags can be as fancy or as simple as your taste and budget allow. If you are creative and into do-it-yourselves, you can upcycle materials, and sew bags yourself from pillowcases or t-shirts. If you would just rather buy one but are thrifty you can find suitable bags from thrift stores, garage sells, or other neat shops. On the flip side if you can and are willing to spend just a bit more money you can find natural fibers such as 100% cotton, linen, hemp, or a nice ZippNada canvas bag. These shopping bags are what will replace the plastic ones at the checkout counter so be sure they are sturdy and a decent size.

 Additionally, produce bags are the thin ones you put loose fruit and veggies in. These are substituted with mesh (or any natural fiber of your choice) that are reusable. These are my absolute favorite because of their versatility and longevity. They can be used for bulk foods, fresh produce, and used to strain nut milks!

 Always have reusable bags in the car, if you don't have enough produce bags you can just buy the produce lose, bag it in your shopping bags, and just washed the items when at home.

 Glass jars, stainless-steel containers, or any other safe reusable container

Deli items can be placed in glass jars (or other sterile containers) simply have the jars weighed before filling them with whatever goods you desire. The weight of the jar is then subtracted from the food to get a price.  

Bakery Goods

Most grocery stores have an unpackaged area for baked goods such as breads, bagels, donuts, and begets. These can be placed in a linen bread bag (or if you’re like me a pillowcase/ reused and cleaned Tom’s bag), a bread cutter is commonly available and will pre-slice your bread! The best thing is to make bread yourself but realistically this is something that most people do not have the time or resources to do. Yet if this is something you are interested in I highly recommend exploring this or find someone in your community that makes bread (it tastes so much better and is way healthier if they make it from their own starter).

Shopping in Bulk

Much of Zero-Waste shopping for staples is in the bulk section. This article is assuming you have access to a bulk section in a common store or a local health store. If this is not the case a future blog post will cover this topic, in the meantime items such as; rice, pasta, peanut butter/Almond butter, snacks, dried fruit, flour, cereals, nuts, and oats are just some of the staples you can find in bulk. Use the reusable mesh produce bags and fill them with whatever items  needed, then write the identification number on the lid into your phone (to eliminate the sticker waste).

bulk foods

What if I need a pre-packaged item?

Not going to lie, cooking your own food and meal prep is definitely key to cutting back on plastic (unless you have access to package free pre-made meals, in that case, you are lucky!) If you absolutely NEED something prepackaged go for recyclable materials such as glass, canned goods, and cardboard.

Supporting local farms and businesses

Creating a relationship with local farms and business is amazing, you can build a better connection between you and where your food comes from and may be surprised by how many local businesses are willing to cater to Zero-Waste. Personal Example of this is I buy my soap from a local woman who hand makes  and packages the soap in cardboard, I have a small health store I am able to buy produce package free, I drive out to a farmers market a town over, and have another farm that delivers some produce and meat while purchasing my bulk goods at a chain grocery store. Establishing relationships with these people can be fulfilling and a great way to form a community, with this you can often start a discussion, and ask if they would be able to accommodate you, more often not they appreciate your business and will gladly do what they can.

 cow under tree

Even with all the ways to reduce plastic waste, there will STILL be exceptions and items you just cannot buy package free. Don't get discouraged by this, it is a learning curve as time goes on you will find what works for you in your location with your lifestyle, later on there may be better resources that can further aid you in your goal! No one is perfect, we are all doing the best we can. I hope this helps, ask any questions or concerns in the comments below or email us at As always, good luck my friends!