Zero Waste Grocery Shopping – The Ultimate Guide

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Here are the things I use to keep my waste as limited as possible while grocery shopping and shopping at the Farmer's Market every week.

Learn how to shop for groceries with zero waste in mind. From the grocery store, to your kitchen,reduce waste while shopping.

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A few years ago I remember walking on the beach and finding pieces of plastic all over. I found plastic bags and it really broke my heart. Our precious lakes here full of these things.

So I vowed then as a new mom to start to take tiny steps from there on out to change our footprint and the amount of plastic we use. Being a parent and talking about limiting plastic and our waste is nearly an oxymoron it can seem like especially when I first jumped into figuring out how to make this happen.

I am by no means perfect. So I started to take the approach that every month is another chance to eliminate one more thing and find new ways all over again. I am constantly challenging the voice of convenience in my head to make room in my day-to-day to learn a new way. Life is all about challenging ourselves continually. That is where we grow after all.

How To Start Grocery Shopping With No Waste

zero waste groceries

Moving around a lot I knew the easiest way to make an impact was to start with our grocery shopping and days at the market. So I started making strides in our weekly shopping trips to make this easiest to eliminate our waste (plastic use) and so on.

We weren’t perfect but we started small and now after almost 2 years we are nearly getting so close to zero to no waste with our grocery and farm market trips. We aren’t perfect every week but compared to a year ago we have changed so much!!!

Here’s a couple of list to help you get started:

1. Preparing a Grocery List

Buying only what you need is the first step to zero waste grocery shopping. It may seem obvious, but a grocery list can help save time and money while also cutting back on food scraps by planning meals around fresh fruit or vegetables that come without any packaging! Plus why not include some “bulk” items for those times when hitting up your local farmers’ market will take too long? 

Just write bulk foods at the top of the list with instructions like bringing bags so it’s easier than ever before to remember all those yummy things waiting in an excess aisle stocked full oof goodies just waiting for their turn into something good inside our bellies…

Bringing reusable shopping totes has become almost as crucial these days

2. Pick Loose Produce

Choosing produce options involves many factors, but it is most important to choose fruit and vegetable items that are package free. If you are purchasing food with packages on them or if they come in bags make sure these can be composted at home.

Even for wet produce, avoid plastic bags.  Many stores now sell leafy greens, broccoli and herbs without packaging.  If you are placing those items in a reusable produce bag, make sure you put them in a corner of your cart or basket away from things that shouldn’t be wet.

3. Visit the bakery

Stop by your local grocery store to pick up some fresh bread. You’ll be able to get a loaf, roll or bagel tucked in your own fabric bread bag or wrap and even have them cut if you want them too!

4. Bulk Buying

Bulk bins are a great way to save money on your grocery bill and many stores offer them as well. You can fill up small bags or containers with the staple ingredients, and then weigh them before returning so that you know how much was used in each bag/container! 

These stores also have bulk cereal options for those who like their breakfast just as easy at home but don’t want all of these boxes sitting around taking up space.

5. Reuse and Recycle When You Shop

When buying packaged items, the most environmentally friendly choice is to buy those that come in refillable containers or easy-to-recycle materials.

6. Be Ready at Check-Out

There are some tricks to getting the most out of your grocery store experience. For example, place reusable bags on conveyor belts first so that they can see what kind you have and where each one goes! Group together produce items like apples or tomatoes if possible before weighing them for ease during checkout time too – this way there is less chance any individual item will go unnoticed by mistake.

Finally be prepared with a photo copy code from bulk items in case someone at check-out has questions about something specific related then just show it straight away rather than trying figure out how best word things later when people starts asking around looking confused.

Why Is Zero Waste Grocery Store Shopping Important?

The reason this has all been so important to us isn’t just because it is better for the environment but also because it literally isn’t an easy task to take care of our trash and recycling every week. We have no garage to store trash in and pay $5 for every bag we place at the end of our road that is just over 1/4 mile drive from our house.

tub of oats, peanuts, banana and other groceries in a tote

So we have to get everything into the truck and haul it down no matter the time of year. You can imagine in the dead of winter this a HUGE challenge.We wanted to first get to one bag a week and then our next now is to just 2 a month. Not only does it save us money, but it also is better for us and the environment. By the end of the year we hope to see 1 bag only a month if we can do it.

Recycling Made Easier with Zero Waste Groceries Shopping

For recycling, like many people in Leelanau County, you bring it to recycling centers and drop it off in receptacles. It is a service as part of our taxes, but it still is work to get it there. So making a point to simplify and lower the amount of what we get rid of has been a big deal. I would always rather opt for recyclable than trashable and single-use items.

I found that groceries brought in so much trash! Especially after the last few months as we are eliminating single-use non-recyclable plastics.

A lot of farmers, like our Co-op will be happy if you clean and reuse containers that they use. They may take them back to be used again! Things such as egg cartons or berry boxes make great storage options for food items in your kitchen

Quick Tip: If you find a rubber band on the herbs and flowers you bought. Don’t slice them off! Instead, save them in your drawer or any storage item so you can use it when you need to.

That said, I wanted to share what I own that helps me stick to my routines with groceries and how I do it for you guys. These are things I use at both our co-op and local grocery store (that is similar to Trader Joe’s) and while at the Farmer’s Market. Mind you, We don’t often buy at large super grocery stores.

It is very uncommon. Though I do go to Costco for things like Toilet Paper, Laundry Detergents, and a few other items from time to time (I have a story highlight about some of the things I buy at Costco and why on my Instagram if you want to watch).

I am trying to figure out the best balance with a place like that because I think there are pluses but there is a lot of single-use going on that I am working to eliminate every month little by little (basically one product at a time). I always look for containers that are recyclable, but many times there are small single-use plastics involved with them still.

So I am always looking to do something that might either make it simpler to make that product myself with less waste or find a way to eliminate it from our lives.

Okay so here are the things I use for our trips to the market. Mind you I purchased things or asked for things for gifts over almost 2 years so just remember that. I do not think you have to invest big up front at all. Make a lifestyle change and let it become comfortable and normal till it sticks.

Things to Bring When Doing a No Waste Grocery Store Shopping

Here are the things I use to keep my waste as limited as possible while grocery shopping and shopping at the Farmer's Market every week.

When you want to effectively do a no waste grocery store shopping, this means avoiding going to large super grocery stores. It is best to buy goods from local stores and at the Farmer’s Market. As you choose what to buy, make sure to pick containers that are recyclable.

The most important thing to remember when shopping for groceries, is that you should always carry your own bag. There are a couple of items that I like to have with me and they’re listed below:

1. Organic Muslin Produce Bags

Simple Ecology Muslin Reusable Produce Shopping and Storage Bags, Organic Cotton, Drawstring, Washable, Tare Weight Tag; Set of 6 with 2 ea. L, M, S

I found these ones on Etsy which is great, but you can find some on Amazon as well. The best part is most Etsy vendors will also send them to you without any packaging that is single-use if you request it as well. I just make sure my bags are organic cotton because I don’t want to put my organic veggies into something that isn’t organic as well. A must have when you want a zero waste groceries shopping experience.

2. Reusable Cooler Bag:

This isn’t the one I use. I actually got one from a friend who didn’t want her’s anymore and now it is in my car all the time. I love it because it either keeps veggies in my car protected on REALLY cold days in the car or keeps my dairy and milk products or refrigerated things cool on hot days especially if I have a lot of errands I am running.

3. Reusable Organic Totes:

Best Canvas Grocery Shopping Bags - Canvas Grocery Shopping Bags with Handles - Cloth Grocery Tote Bags - Reusable Shopping Grocery Bags

These are my dream bags and not the ones I have. I just have totes that I have collected over time that I use. They aren’t pretty, but they work and get the job done. I love that I have so much less to deal with when I come home too. I just stuff them all back in together and then take them back to the car and set them in the front seat so I never forget.

4. French Market Bag:

Anew Straw French Basket Bags for Shopping and More (Flat Leather)

This is my go-to for market trips. I also have a backpack I take on really busy days I know I want to load up especially in September when I am freezing and preserving. This guy is awesome, strong, and holds a lot. I love it and my mother in law got the one I use for me, but this one is on Etsy. Mur Lifestyle also has some different styles as well.

5. Reusable Bio Bags for Bulk Spices:

You don’t have to use these but I do because they can seal well. There is a discussion about these being better than regular plastics on the earth or not. Either way, I use them over and over for spices and other things because they zip up tight and are easy to pour out spices into containers. I just wash them and let them dry over and over again. When they start seeing the last of their life I let them go, but I figure it is better than the alternative which is the tiny plastic bags at the co-op.

6. Mesh Reusable Bags:

TheBagGuy - Organic Cotton Mesh Bags

These are new ones I just got. I found that the Muslin were great for kale and other large things or rices and so on, but these guys are great for apples, pears, tomatoes, and so on. It makes it easy on the person that is checking you out. This is especially true at grocery stores that aren’t use to people bringing their own produce bags. I find I get so many nasty looks at larger stores when I request to use my own things and it slows their process down.

7. Mesh Tote:

Net Shopping Bag BYETIVE Grocery Bag Cotton Mesh Produce Bags for Vegetables

This is awesome for hauling potatoes and other really dirty veggies it leaves zero grocery waste when shopping. The dirt slips through and I think they are just pretty too!

Since I shop mostly for bulk dry goods at our Co-op (most high-end grocery stores and Whole Foods have these sections) I either reuse bags or I use my produce bags. Just secure them well in your bags. Our co-op uses plastic recyclable containers for their bulk goods as well as the containers as well, so I will just reuse them over and over and then eventually recycle them after about 4-5 uses.

They are happy and actually consider that for making donations (aka the incentive they use for people to reuse bags and so on). I use my produce bags there as well. If you shop in a large grocery store chain you may think about getting see-through or mesh style bags so your checkout person scoffs about it less. But I use these bags constantly and just wash them.

Tips on What To Do After Shopping

Now when I get home from the store, I store everything in either in the veggie chiller or in glass containers so it stays fresh longer. I place all dry goods in their jars in the pantry and then replace all bags back in my grocery bags I have. If they need washing I do that, but usually that is pretty minimal since they are used for such a short time. If there any plastic bags I have acquired I rinse them and let them dry and then add them into my bag. I usually end up with 3-4 a season that need to be tossed or are just falling apart. I hope to eliminate more and more.

One thing that can be a challenge is spices. Buying them in bulk is the best way, but they are hard to transport without plastic bags. This is where I will reuse the plastic bags often. I have glass labeled containers they all go back in, but I use plastic bags from the co-op and just reuse them. I do the same with bulk flour and salt as well. Seriously I realize our co-op is unreal and we are very lucky to have it. Oryana. I love you!

Wrap Up..

I plan to do another food storage post on how we have eliminated plastic in our kitchen when storing our foods. Then I also will do one about how we are eliminating single-use plastics from crackers, snacks, etc. as well by the end of the year as well.

Lots more will be had about this conversation, but remember this, I am not perfect!!! I every day take little tiny steps forward in this fight. I don’t bite it all off at once. Focus on awareness first and foremost before we take any big step. Look at what you throw out with new eyes and figure out where you can start with one change and then another. Little by little let things stick and change your lifestyle. That’s the most important thing!

Please consider checking out our other posts if you liked this article about zero waste groceries — 

Free Seasonal Food Market List

Hello! I’m Megan Gilger,

A strong believer that nature and the seasons are our greatest teachers. We live on a hill in Leelanau County, Michigan just a stone’s throw from Lake Michigan. This land we are responsible for is where we are focused on building a life around the seasons and intention. We spend our days here building a regenerative model of living and focusing our garden on native plants and intensive polyculture planting styles. My focus is less on self-sufficiency and more on community-sufficiency through how we grow and connect through the seasons.
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