Curious about how zero waste grocery shopping works? Shopping bulk the first time can be intimidating. There’s a lot to figure out, like what containers work best, how to transport the containers, where to store the containers between shopping trips, etc. But learning to shop package-free was probably the lifestyle change that had the biggest impact on reducing my weekly trash.
There was a lot of trial and error before I figured out a system that worked for me and the stores I frequent. On my first few zero waste shopping trips, I lugged a wicker basket full of glass and plastic containers to the store. Not only was it heavy and awkward, but it was too big to fit in the wheeled baskets provided by the package-free stores. Then I started bringing mason jars in a reusable grocery bag, which solved the weight and fit issues, but then they constantly fell over while I was shopping. As soon as I’d remove one jar, the others would topple over. Ughh.
Now I carry jars in a canvas tote bag with dividers. And I use that wicker basket to keep my trunk organized 🙂
What’s in my zero waste grocery shopping kit
Four 1-liter mason jars: These are a good size for the dry goods I buy. And because the jars are all the same weight, it makes things a lot easier at weigh-in and checkout. If I need a small quantity, I don’t fill the jar all the way.
Cotton wine tote bag: This tote bag for four wine bottles from SAQ ($5.95 CAD) fits four 1-liter mason jars perfectly. The dividers prevent my jars from banging into each other or falling over while I’m shopping. Plus, the compact size of the tote bag means that it’s not too awkward to carry even when it’s full.
Specialty containers: I leave these in my bulk shopping kit for items that wouldn’t work in a mason jar (like eggs, oils, etc.). When I run out of something, I wash the empty container and set it by my front door. I take it to my trunk the next time I head out.
Small tote bag: This holds consigned glass jars or bottles that need to be returned. When I arrive at the store, I bring this tote bag with me, get my deposit back then shop as usual. Now I have an extra bag to use at checkout if needed.
Sturdy wicker basket: This basket now has a permanent home in the trunk of my car to keep bulk items from jostling while I’m driving.
Produce tote bag (pictured below): This contains my DIY produce bags for buying fruits and vegetables.
How my zero waste grocery shopping system works
At the store: I grab the tote bags I need (consigned jars, bulk and/or produce) from my trunk and head inside. If I have containers to return, I do that first. If I’m bulk shopping, I weigh my containers then fill them up. If I’m buying produce, I put package-free fruits and vegetables directly into my cart. If I want to keep items together (like apples), I’ll put them in one of my produce bags. At the checkout, jars and produce get weighed and the container weights subtracted. After paying, I head to my car without a piece of plastic packaging. I return my bulk bag to the wicker basket in my trunk, place my produce bag next to it and drive home.
At home: I bring my bags into the kitchen and either put the jars directly into my cabinets or pour the contents into existing pantry jars. I grab clean mason jars to refill my tote bag. I empty produce into my fridge and fruit bowls. When everything’s put away, I set my tote bags by the front door so they’re ready to go back in my trunk the next time I head out the door.
I hope this post demystifies the zero waste grocery shopping experience and gives you the courage to try it! Now that I’ve changed my habits, I actually prefer shopping bulk, as does my son. He used to hate going grocery shopping; now he won’t let me go without him! I let him fill all the jars then I write down the bin numbers with a washable marker (or make a note on my phone). When we leave the store, we each sample a newly purchased bulk treat 😀