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How to Grocery Shop Zero Waste

Written by Tara McKenna

Want to learn how to shop with your own containers and bags to reduce waste from grocery shopping? This is the place to start!

You'll also want to check out how to conduct a pantry audit to reduce waste in your kitchen, as well as 10 easy zero waste swaps for the kitchen!

Get to know your community

Keep in mind that your zero-waste life will be influenced by a number of factors, such as where you live and the resources that are available. For example, some places will have lots of bulk shops where you can bring your own containers and plenty of plastic-free produce.

However, not everyone will have access these options. Costs might also be an inhibiting factor. Sometimes produce wrapped in plastic is less expensive than unwrapped produce. It’s all a case-by-case situation, and ultimately your choice to determine what works best for you. Research and keep notes of what’s available to you in your community:

  • Are there grocery stores or bulk shops that let you use your own containers?

  • Are there any bottle return programs? (e.g. for milk, nut mylk, yogurt, etc.)

  • Where can you buy plastic-free produce?

  • Is it an option for you to grow your own produce? Perhaps you have space in your backyard, or there may be a community garden nearby where you can grow some veggies and meet your neighbours.

  • Can you buy directly from farmers? Are there farmers' markets in your community?

  • Are there any CSAs where you live? Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) lets you buy a share of that year’s harvest, and helps you to support local food and small-scale farmers. This will also provide an opportunity for you to request plastic-free produce.

Shop with Your Own Containers and Bags

Find out which local shops you can shop the bulk section with your own containers and bags (note: some places may have specific policies for this type of shopping, and if so, find out what they are). When you know where you can shop, here are next steps:

  • Make your shopping list

  • Choose appropriate containers and reusable bags for the items on your list

  • Get the tare (weight) of your container (either yourself or at the shop, and staff may be available to help you with this too)

  • Mark the tare weight on your container (using a chinagraph pencil works great for this purpose)

  • If you’re sewing savvy, you can sew the tare weight of your reusable bags right onto the bags

  • Fill your containers

  • Get the item number of each food item (you can use your cell phone and take photos of the number to reduce the waste associated with writing the number on a tag)

  • Pay! The cashier should subtract the tare weight of your container. Feel free to ask how this works in case you want to make sure.

It's a learning curve for sure, but be sure to have fun with it!

For more tips on going zero waste, read the book and head to zero waste 101!


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