Zero-waste grocery shopping is a sustainable lifestyle practice to reduce the amount of waste we release into the environment. Zero-waste supermarket buying might feel counterintuitive, especially as grabbing packaged goods is normalized. After a long period of purchasing habits, it seems almost impossible to get off the traditional supermarket routine.
When you think about sustainable shopping, bulk bins full of nuts, cereals, other dry goods, and liquid detergents come to mind. But while bulk bins provide an easy, plastic-free grocery shop, they aren't accessible to everyone. We have other options to reduce grocery waste consumption if your local supermarket doesn't offer bulk items.
This article presents eight tips on how to shop sustainably during regular grocery store trips and covers the benefits of zero-waste shopping.
Zero-waste grocery shopping is different from shopping regularly. Sustainability shopping requires prior planning, especially for a first-timer, because of the required steps you need to take. Planning helps reduce the chances of overbuying or underbuying. It also allows you to determine the types of organic food packaging materials you’ll need to carry along.
Having a list of the items you need allows you to go zero-waste shopping in an organized manner. You might not get everything you need at a single shop when you shop zero-waste. So, a list allows for more efficient shopping.
The purpose of zero-waste grocery shopping is to reduce the amount of plastic and other waste entering the environment. Regular supermarkets have edible products heavily packaged in plastic materials, including fresh foods and vegetables. Some argue that plastic is the best way to preserve edible products. However, it has a terrible environmental impact on our surroundings.
Furthermore, some food packaging is unnecessary. Producers pack fruits like bananas, carrots, strawberries, and pineapples in plastic packs. They also pack cereals and nuts in plastic containers and foam. Avoiding these products because they only serve to increase plastic pollution and our carbon footprint. It might be challenging to eradicate plastic use, so give yourself more time and patience.
To avoid food items packaged in plastic, go shopping with your reusable containers like glass jars, bottles, Ziploc bag alternatives, and metal containers. Designate each type of food product in desired containers. You can store grains, nuts, and cereal inside mason jars and other reusable containers. At the same time, you’ll find glass containers better suited for storing dried fruit, unlike single-use plastics.
You can also use cardboard or paper packaging. If you own plastic containers that are large enough to become storage items, you can also reuse them, a simple way of reducing the purchase of more plastic items.
Instead of filling the landfill with plastic trash that will damage our environment, let’s reuse them for as long as possible.
After deciding what food items go in your desired storage containers, the next step is to weigh the packaging containers. Recording the weight of your own containers makes it easy to remember and know the quantity suitable for each. It helps reduce the chances of food wastage.
Also, labeling the jars and containers helps with easy identification. Furthermore, you can tag it with the name, type of food, and expiration date. You can add a mini description or cooking instructions if you want to be more organized and detailed. Be sure to wash and dry each container before use.
Most supermarkets and local stores pack groceries in plastic and nylon bags. However, the aim of buying groceries in a zero-waste manner is to have less plastic in the environment. To achieve this, always carry reusable produce bags with you. You’ll typically find reusable produce bags made from sustainable fabric and other non-plastic variations, such as silicone.
It could also be a plastic bag. If you are someone just transitioning into the zero-waste lifestyle, it is advisable to reuse the plastic bags you already have in your home.
Also, you can slowly introduce knitted, macrame, or cloth grocery bags over time. A cloth bag is a suitable storage option for loose seasonal produce like fruit and vegetables. Cloth bags are also an excellent way of packaging bread- instead of using plastic wraps and foil.
Most of our local stores and supermarkets don’t sell in bulk. Sometimes, the bulk section of the supermarket has produce wrapped in plastic. You typically save a lot more money buying food from a bulk store. Zero waste shopping also protects the environment from pollution. It is an excellent choice to purchase cereal, grains, dried fruit, and nuts from a bulk store.
Some local stores have bulk bins where you can buy loose produce. You will buy at a discounted rate. Also, you can refill your food containers. Some bulk stores charge fees according to the weight and quantity of the wholesale items you purchase. Shopping at a bulk shop, aisle, or local zero-waste store reduces the number of plastic items you buy.
A farmer's market refers to a store or market that sells farm produce directly from farmers. There is much to be gained from purchasing at a farmers' market. At a farmers' market, you get fresh produce at subsidized rates. Also, you get to shop zero-waste. The farmers' market is a prime example of a zero-waste grocery store.
At a farmers' market, you can freely refuse an item in unrecyclable packaging. Overall, produce bought directly from farmers tastes better. It also minimizes the carbon footprint, food waste, and pollution caused by the food we consume. However, going to the farmers' market requires planning and shopping with your containers. Be prepared to carry your reusable grocery storage containers.
We gain a lot more from practicing zero-waste grocery shopping than shopping without care and consideration to reduce waste. This way, we get to protect our environment. Here are some benefits of sustainable shopping practices:
The primary goal of sustainable shopping is to reduce the number of plastics that enter our environment. According to the statistics, plastic packaging waste in the United Kingdom was about 2.5 million tons in 20211. However, its recycling rate was at 44%. Manufacturers prioritize plastic coverings for edible items because of their ability to preserve food over a period.
However, plastics cause innumerable damage to our environment. A zero-waste lifestyle highlights the possibility and promise of living with little to no interaction with plastics. Zero-waste grocery shops allow us to discard plastic wraps, jars, and containers, and less waste is better for the environment.
Practicing sustainable shopping promoted healthier living. Regular supermarkets sell a ton of overly processed items that can affect our health in the long run. However, sustainable purchases provide access to fresh and wholesome foods. There is more to sustainable buys than just getting discounted bulk items. It allows you to be intentional about your choices.
It will help you make healthier meal selections, like snacking on fruit instead of eating unhealthy snacks filled with fat and sugar. Also, it encourages us to think consciously about the trash we release into the environment.
Zero-waste grocery stores reduce waste in our environment by a significant amount. They make it possible by providing the opportunity to buy the exact quantity you need. For this reason, you should consider the measurement of your containers’ tare weight essential. By measuring its tare weight, you will know the correct quantity to fill in.
There are situations whereby you’d like to try something new, but you can’t get it in small quantities in supermarkets. Sometimes, these products end up in the trash for various reasons. Zero-waste stores, farmers' markets, and bulk bins provide us access to purchase small quantities, reducing the number of waste food items that end up in trash cans.
Buying from your local store’s bulk bins provides you with a guaranteed discount. You will also save more money when you buy directly from the farmers, unlike purchasing excessively packaged products.
Zero-waste stores are not expensive because they do not spend a lot on product packaging, branding, and transportation.
When you buy from a farmers’ market or whole foods bulk shop, you contribute to the growth and support of local farmers and producers. You support their business each time you patronize them, ensuring their ability to continue earning. Also, purchasing from zero-waste shops improves the economy.
The United Kingdom imports 48% of the foods consumed, while the rest is from the agricultural sector. Sustainable shopping helps reduce the need to import foods and the resulting food miles (which contribute to polluting greenhouse gas emissions). It will also improve the state of the economy by empowering farmers and saving a lot of financial resources.
Food packaging is a significant component of your weekly trash collection, and supermarkets contribute enormously to the tons of plastic in landfill. A zero-waste store aims to reduce the damage caused by supermarkets.
A zero-waste store rejects using toxic and unrecyclable materials in food packaging. It promotes the sales of fresh, loose foods.
A farmers' market is a gathering of local farmers that wants to sell their products without the interference of the long transportation required to sell at a supermarket. Grocery stores or supermarkets are aisles of organized and packaged products. There are often arguments about the better one between grocery shops and farmers' markets. However, they have their pros and cons.
In view of maintaining a sustainable and plastic-free lifestyle, a farmers' market is a better choice. It grants you access to fresh and wholesome foods. Buying from a farmers' market endows you with knowledge about the origin of the products you intend to get.
However, supermarkets are quite different from farmers' markets. Most edible items sold in grocery shops are from other countries or products of complex supply chains. There is a wide gap between the freshness of a farmers’ market produce and a supermarket’s.
Products in supermarkets often travel long distances, so they employ preservation methods. One of these preservation methods is polyester packages. Plastic bags and wraps preserve foods for a while, but it is at the cost of our environment.
Another difference between both markets is the ease of shopping. Arguably, it is easier to shop in a supermarket because all products have their package. You don't necessarily have to take anything with you. Everything is already weighed and measured.
On the other hand, shopping at a farmers’ market requires you to carry storage packs. However, it is a small price to pay for the safety of our health and environment.
Zero-waste cooking is cooking with zero to minimal waste. It supports the use of organic ingredients and materials with recycling properties. Its primary purpose is to sustain our health and improve our environment.
However, the first step to practicing sustainable cooking starts with zero-waste shopping. So, the tips discussed in this article will guide you to achieve sustainable cookery.
Zero-waste grocery shopping is not as difficult as it seems. As a newbie, you will need a couple of trials to get used to it. However, it gets easier once you have established a routine. Always remember to go shopping with your reusable container at your local store.
In a case where you don’t have access to farmers’ markets or bulk shops, you can still practice sustainable shopping.
Just make sure to refuse packs offered at the checkout counter. However, you can reuse the previous polyester packs.
Also, you can avoid buying unnecessary junk and things you don’t need by focusing on the fresh food aisle. You can buy bread and other baked products and keep them in paper bags instead of plastic wraps.
As you implement these tips, you will find zero-waste shopping easier, healthier, and definitely worthwhile.
Ian Tiseo, (August 22, 2022). Generation of plastic waste in the UK 2012-2021.
Jen’s a passionate environmentalist and sustainability expert. With a science degree from Babcock University Jen loves applying her research skills to craft editorial that connects with our global changemaker and readership audiences centered around topics including zero waste, sustainability, climate change, and biodiversity.
Elsewhere Jen’s interests include the role that future technology and data have in helping us solve some of the planet’s biggest challenges.