A Practical Guide to Zero Waste Grocery Shopping

A Practical Guide to Zero Waste Grocery Shopping

If you are planning to board the zero waste train, there’s no better start than grocery shopping! 

Grocery waste makes up a large portion of your trash. In fact, the food sector contributes a staggering 8 million tons of waste every year. 

Additionally, according to EPA, 23% of the waste dumped into landfills comprises of packaging and containers. Imagine the ripple effect on this planet if every one of us introduces slight changes in our day-to-day shopping habits! 

Oddly enough, people seem to fixate on the word ‘zero’ when adopting a zero-waste lifestyle. Remember that waste-free living is not about producing no waste at all, but making sustainable choices at every step of your journey.

Now, we know committing to zero waste grocery shopping is no easy feat to achieve. However, with the surge in zero-waste stores and package-free shops, it has become easier to reduce your shopping footprint. 

From preparing the shopping list to hitting a grocery store near you, here’s a step-by-step guide to shop smarter and greener:

Prepare a Grocery Shopping List

grocery shopping list

Buy less = waste less

Maintain a list of groceries that you’re running low on a chalkboard or fridge magnet notepad in your kitchen. It will help you avoid buying unnecessary items the next time you head out to a grocery store. 

Not only this is a pocket-friendly idea, but it will also help you cut down on fuel consumption by saving a few extra trips to the store. 

Above all, you’d be surprised to see how a little foresight can push you ahead in the zero waste journey.

Grab Your Zero Waste Shopping Gear

Reusable tote bag

Do not step into a grocery store without your shopping gear. That would include reusable totes and produce bags. 

If you’re planning to visit a bulk store, your zero waste shopping kit would include jars and containers as well. We will discuss more on that later. For now, let’s stick to shopping bags.

There must be a handful of these reusable bags stashed somewhere in your house. If not, you can always buy one at Everything Bags Inc.

The tricky part, however, is to remember carrying one on your little excursion. You don’t want to deal with the guilt of requesting single-use plastic bags at the store. 

We’d suggest you to always stack a few bags in the trunk of your car for emergency run-ins. If you use public transport instead, keep an extra bag in your purse or hang it near your coat. Or, you can put up a sign on your door as a reminder to take your bag before you head out.

After a while, the habit eventually grows on you. 

Buy Household Staples at Bulk Store

buy groceries at bulk store

It’s time to revive the old-school shopping habits. Buying groceries in bulk is healthy both for you and the environment. 

You get fresh and package-free food items that go easy on your pockets and the environment. Moreover, bulk goods require overall fewer transportation miles, which means reduced energy consumption. It’s a win-win! 

Here are some quick tips to go zero waste shopping at bulk stores:

  1. Bring your zero-waste shopping kit. Apart from produce bags and reusable totes discussed above, add glass jars and containers to your kit. You can use them to hold liquids like vinegar or olive oil, and dry goods (grains, flour, spices,etc.) as well.
  2. Get the tare weight of containers. Ask the staff to weigh your empty containers so that you don’t pay for the extra weight at checkout. Also, do not forget to carry a marker or washable wax crayon with you to write the tare weight on the containers.
  3. Click a photo of the label from your phone. After filling up your container with the item from the bulk bin, click a picture of the label on it to avoid printing out stickers. 
  4. Pay at the checkout. Remember to show tare weight and skew number at the counter. 

If you’re having trouble finding a bulk store or any store that offers package-free groceries, check out this list of grocery stores compiled by Litterless.

Zero-waste Shopping at Regular Grocery Store

shopping at zero waste grocery store

Let’s face it – you cannot get all the food items in a bulk bin aisle. Some groceries, such as processed and canned foods, are not available at bulk stores. 

However, that doesn’t mean you have to drop your zero waste ideology when stepping inside a grocery store. There is always a way to get around plastic packaging.  

Start off with these hot tips:

  • Buy Bigger. In other words, shop for the largest size of a food container available at the store. It is economical and involves less packaging. Moreover, you won’t have to restock the item often. For instance, buy the biggest container for items, like laundry detergent, oil, oats, rice, etc.
  • Choose alternatives to plastic packaging. Paper, glass, and metal are more sustainable and can be easily recycled compared to plastic. Buy canned foods, like beans and lentils. They offer a sustainable option. For baked goods, opt for paper packaging or cardboard boxes, and go with glass packaging for items like syrup, peanut butter, soy sauce, etc.
  • Ditch the plastic-wrapped produce. Look for naked or loose fruits and veggies. Let your produce breathe freely in your cart or carry them in reusable produce bags. 

Go Local: Buy Fresh at Farmer’s Market

local farmer's market

Hit up local farmer’s market if the produce section at grocery stores seems like a plastic wasteland to you. The local vendors will be more than happy to sell you their offerings in reusable bags. 

The fruits and vegetables sold at the market are grown locally by farmers. So, you not only shop for fresh produce right from the source but also get an opportunity to contribute to the local community. Besides, it’s fun to connect with the locals.

These markets are usually seasonal. However, you can stock up and freeze the items without any preservatives. Healthy and eco-friendly!

Return or Repurpose the Packaging Materials

food packed in mason jars

The packaging might not be plastic, but that doesn’t mean you have to toss it away or send it for recycling. Give a second life to the jars and bottles you’ve just bought to store other items. Some grocery stores even run bottle return programs. You can deposit the empty milk and yogurt jars or bottles to these stores and redeem the amount paid. 

If you’ve collected single-use plastic bags or containers, do not throw them away in the trash. They cannot be recycled, but you can definitely maximize their use. For instance, repurpose the containers to pack leftovers or store other items. Re-use the plastic bags as trash can liners or to pick up dog poo when you’re out and about.


Small steps lead to big changes. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you end up with plastic trash despite your best efforts. Remember that with every zero-waste grocery run, you are going one step further in the journey of living waste-free.

Let’s hear from you now! How do you ditch the disposables? We’d love to know your ideas on zero waste grocery shopping. Share with us in the comments section below.

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Comments (5)

I have been considering trying to do zero waste shopping starting this May. It is nice to know that I will want to think about getting containers that won’t rip the bags I wan to use. Also, I should think about getting reusable wine bags that I can use for bottles that I am buying.

Everything Bags Inc.

Good luck, Penelope! Let us know how zero waste living goes for you.

Very Helpful and Informative post.

Thank you for your efforts to write such a valuable post!

Everything Bags Inc.

Glad you like it.

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