Zero waste grocery shopping is one of the best ways to drastically cut down on your waste. Not only is food more packaged than ever, but there’s a constant push to toss your (plastic-wrapped) grocery items into more plastic.
So I mean, I know we all know disposable plastic bags are bad right? Yet a majority of people still insist on using plastic bags every time they shop.
I’m here to not-so-gently say: get over it and figure out how to stop using plastic bags.
Here’s why: did you know the amount of energy required to make 12 plastic shopping bags could drive a car for a mile? (source: EPI)
Of if that doesn’t mean anything, consider how plastic bags are actually costing you money. “Some urban communities spend over $1 million annually to remove litter, and plastic bags are a big part of the problem.” (source: EPA) That money comes out of your taxes.
Plus, you know, all that microplastic is breaking down and getting into everything we source from the sea. (Mmm.)
Is it really worth it to have a bit of convenience?
Because really, with just a few very minor tweaks, you could eliminate a huge toll on our environment. Here are four (really – just four!) categories to consider bringing on your next shopping trip:
Large cloth bags…
… in place of plastic bags.
The easy, simple solution to saying no to plastic bags. Bring some cloth bags (ones you can get for free at just about any event, DIY, or even these simple cotton ones*) I somehow manage to never have enough of them, but they are a staple!
Some people argue that cloth bags end up being more wasteful when you consider sourcing the raw materials, production, and transportation costs… which is true, to a point. This report states that:
a cotton bag would need to reused every day for a year before it offset the environmental impact of one plastic bag. A canvas tote bag? 171 reuses to break even.
But really? That’s not as apocalyptically bad as some people try to claim. I’ve had the same 6 bags for several years. If you commit to collecting a few tote bags and using them for ages, you’re good to go.
Because really, you should not be throwing out tote bags left and right.
Mesh produce bags…
… in place of plastic produce bags.
Super handy to toss loose produce or larger bulk items (like chocolate-covered fruits… mmm), I really like these mesh produce bags* I’ve had for about a year or so. They’re so light I don’t even bother to count their tare weight since it wouldn’t add much. (I sewed my own from lace curtains but it’s quite heavy so I usually only use them for produce that’s cost per item, not weight.)
I will probably consider buying some 100% cotton produce when these eventually start getting holey, but for now they work wonders. I simply toss them in with the laundry every once and a while to clean them up and they’re good to go!
… in place of plastic containers or more small plastic bags!
This is kind of next level for some people, I know. Something about weighing the jars makes people nervous – I get it! But glass jars can be a great way to transport bulk liquids (oils, nut butters, shampoo) or fine bulk items (flours, grains, etc) without issue.
If you’re in Indy, Fresh Thyme is a great place to start because they have electronic scales in the bulk section to weigh your containers without having to ask someone! Check out this post for tons of bulk shopping options in Indy.
I have two sizes that I regularly bring with me – 12 and 24 oz jars – that are all identical. That makes the tare weight (ie. the weight of the container before putting stuff inside) uniform. I also like to mark the weight with a permanent marker on the bottom to make it easier for the cashier.
On that note, if you live somewhere that people don’t normally bring their own containers, feel perfectly confident in asking the cashier to grab a manager to figure out how to charge you correctly. You got this!
A note-taking app
Whatever app you choose (I use Skriva, which I’m unable to find anywhere online now, but I love how absolutely minimal it is), I’d encourage you to include:
- your grocery list. Duh. Plan ahead – it makes unnecessary, non zero waste items much less likely to magically appear in your cart.
- any PLUs for bulk items. Please don’t be like me the first few times I shopped bulk, where I forgot to write down the codes the cashiers need to charge you for your bulk items. Some people write those numbers on the lids or jars with a washable market, but I find it’s just easier to note it down in the app. Plus, if you have items you buy frequently, you’ll already have it stored and ready, no matter what container you bring.
And that’s it! Zero waste grocery shopping doesn’t have to be an expensive, time-consuming habit. In fact, after a few trips, most of this stuff becomes second nature. Give it a try!
What are your must-haves for going zero waste grocery shopping? Or does the idea intimidate you too much?